Monday, January 2, 2017

MOUNT AGNED, ST. AGNES AND SULIS MINERVA

Little Solsbury Hill

The Antonine Itinerary XIV (see Rivet and Smith) describes a route from Isca (Caerleon on Usk) to Venta Silurum (Caerwent) and thence across the Severn trajectus to Abone (possibly Sea Mills on the River Avon).  The route then continues to Aquae Sulis or Bath/Badum/Badon.

The hill of Agned is placed chronologically between the Severn Trajectus and Bath/Mount Badon.  Discounting for a moment Breguoin (Bregomion, Bregion, etc.), might this hill have been in the vicinity of Bath?  Or, might it have been another name for a hillfort at Bath?

I believe I finally have the solution to this vexing problem.  As I’ve mentioned before, the English name Badum (in Welsh, Badon) was chosen because the Roman-British name of the place was Aquae Sulis, the ‘Waters of [the pagan goddess] Sulis.’  Now, Sulis was identified at the site with Minerva, the Roman version of Athena Parthenos (Latin Parthenus), ‘the Virgin or Maiden.’  This immediately reminds us of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s ‘Castle of Maidens’ title for Mount Agned. 

It gets better.  A hillfort over Bath is to this day called Little Solsbury Hill.  Sols- here is believed by most scholars to be for the goddess Sulis.  So where does Agned fit in?  My earliest research, during which I consulted the best of the Celtic linguists and place-name specialists, showed that the most regular etymology for Agned was a Welsh form of Latin Agnetis, the genitive form for St. Agnes.  I thought nothing of this at the time, for I was woefully ignorant about that particular saint’s VITA.  But here is the relevant abbreviated version of her Life:

“Saint Agnes was twelve years old when she was led to the altar of Minerva at Rome and commanded to obey the persecuting laws of Diocletian by offering incense. In the midst of the idolatrous rites she raised her hands to Christ, her Spouse, and made the sign of the life-giving cross.”

Some good resources on Agnes and her relationship with Minerva:

http://www.mappingthemartyrs.org/items/show/42

So while there is no evidence for the worship of St. Agnes at Bath, I feel that what we have in the Agned name is simply this: the hillfort of Sulis was the site of Arthur’s famous battle.  As neither Sulis nor the Roman goddess of virgins with whom she was identified could be mentioned by monkish writers like Gildas, the place was referred to by the name of the saint who was the patron of virgins – Agnes.  Thus Mount Agned or Mont Agnetis is Little Solsbury Hill at Bath.

I’ve earlier discussed Mount Breguoin as a Welsh attempt to translate a hill-name near the Lid Brook just NE of Little Solsbury Hill.  In all likelihood, then, all three hill names in the Historia Brittonum are, in typical Celtic fashion, meant to designate the same hillfort, i.e. the Fort of Sulis.

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