Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Repost of an Old Note Regarding the Red Dragon of Wales


In the early Welsh poem "Gwarchan Maeldderw" (see G.R. Isaac's translation and commentary in CAMBRIAN MEDIEVAL CELTIC STUDIES 44, Winter 2002), we are told of the 'Pharaoh's red dragon.' The context of the poem makes it difficult if not impossible to tell exactly what the red dragon in this instance represents.  Is it a draco standard?  Or is it merely a poetic reference to Britons in their capacity as members of a field army?

The important thing about the passage is that the dragon is said to be the Pharaoh's.  The Pharaoh is what Vortigern was called in Gildas.  The name appears in later Welsh tradition as Ffaraon Dandde, the 'Fiery Pharaoh', owner of the Dinas Emrys fort prior to the advent there of Emrys/Ambrosius. The epithet for Ffaraon/Pharaoh was concocted through a misunderstanding of Gildas's Latin "Taneos dantes Pharaoni consilium insipens", 'giving foolish advice to Pharaoh.'

Thus in this poem we have the dragon standard or British warriors being referred to as belonging to Vortigern - not to Ambrosius. 

St. Ambrose and the Exhumation of Saints: The Prototype for Ambrosius and the Two Dragons of Dinas Emrys?

Double urn cremation burial

In the past, and again just recently, I've made my case for the "British" Ambrosius being but a legendary reflection of the 4th century Praetorian Prefect of Gaul of that name, perhaps fused with his much more famous son, St. Ambrose. I now have another reason for believing this last to be true, as St. Ambrose appears to play into the story of Dinas Emrys with its exhumation of the two "dragons"(originally the cremated remains of two chieftains placed in funeral urns).

For as it turns out, St. Ambrose did his own little bit of excavating of bodies.  He wrote about two such in one of his letters:


1. As I do not wish anything which takes place here in your absence to escape the knowledge of your holiness, you must know that we have found some bodies of holy martyrs. For after I had dedicated the basilica,1 many, as it were, with one mouth began to address me, and said: Consecrate this as you did the Roman basilica. And I answered: "Certainly I will if I find any relics of martyrs." And at once a kind of prophetic ardour seemed to enter my heart.

2. Why should I use many words? God favoured us, for even the clergy were afraid who were bidden to clear away the earth from the spot before the chancel screen of SS. Felix and Nabor. I found the fitting signs, and on bringing in some on whom hands were to be laid,2 the power of the holy martyrs became so manifest, that even whilst I was still silent, one3 was seized and thrown prostrate at the holy burial-place. We found two men of marvellous stature, such as those of ancient days. All the bones were perfect, and there was much blood. During the whole of those two days there was an enormous concourse of people. Briefly we arranged the whole in order, and as evening was now coming on transferred them to the basilica of Fausta,4 where watch was kept during the night, and some received the laying on of hands. On the following day we translated the relics to the basilica called Ambrosian.


The miracle which was wrought at Milan when I was there, and by which a blind man was restored to sight, could come to the knowledge of many; for not only is the city a large one, but also the emperor was there at the time, and the occurrence was witnessed by an immense concourse of people that had gathered to the bodies of the martyrs Protasius and Gervasius, which had long lain concealed and unknown, but were now made known to the bishop Ambrose in a dream, and discovered by him. By virtue of these remains the darkness of that blind man was scattered, and he saw the light of day.

Paulinus in his VITA SANCTI AMBROSII mentions the same episode.

Coincidentally, the father of these two exhumed saints was named Vitalis  This is also the name of Vortigern's father.  Long ago (http://mistshadows.blogspot.com/2017/07/appendix-ii-vortigern.html) I demonstrated that Vitalis in the context of Votigern's ancestry was a Roman/Latin substitute for the Irish name Fedelmid.


Ambrose also dug up two other saints from a garden.  See


Celsus has an interesting definition.  From William Whitaker's Words (http://archives.nd.edu/words.html):

cels.us              ADJ    1 1 NOM S M POS         
celsus, celsa, celsum  ADJ   [XXXAO]
high, lofty, tall; haughty; arrogant/proud; prominent, elevated; erect; noble;

As it happens Celsus exactly matches in meaning the original definition offered for Welsh uther by Professor John Koch.  For Uther is believed to be cognate with Welsh uachtar and meant 'high, lofty' (see CELTIC CULTURE: A HISTORICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA).

The mode of execution of Celsus was decapitation. Of course, one of the meanings of Welsh pen, as in Pendragon, was 'head' - as in the human head.

According to Geoffrey of Monmouth's fictional history, Uther was buried at Amesbury's Stonehenge. Amesbury was confused with Dinas Emrys in the tradition.  The former place-name was thought to mean the same thing as Dinas Emrys, i.e. the 'Fort of Ambrosius.'

Saturday, January 13, 2018


In past blog posts, I discussed various possible 'Llydaws' in or adjacent to Wales that could have been used as substitutes for Llydaw or Brittany proper.  Among these are the Vale of Leadon, which borders on the ancient Welsh kingdom of Ercing, as well as a possible identification with the Ui Liathain territory in Co. Cork (Munster).

Here I wish to confine myself to an actual known Llydaw in Wales - Llyn Llydaw, a large lake in Arfon, Gwynedd.

I had not paid much attention to this location in the past - and possibly to my detriment.  For Llyn Llydaw is not only a mere half dozen kilometers from Dinas Emrys, it is the feeder lake for the river that empties into Llyn Dinas at the foot of this hillfort.  I'm attaching here some maps that nicely show the geographical proximity and relationship of these sites.

We will recall that Geoffrey of Monmouth has Constantine and his sons, Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon, come to Britain from Brittany (or Llydaw).  Discount Geoffrey's clumsy (or ingenious) conflation of Ambrosius and the Northern Merlin (Myrddin) at Dinas Emrys.  Never mind that hillfort's further confusion with Amesbury near Stonehenge in Wiltshire.  If we stick with pre-Galfridian tradition (Nennius), Ambrosius Aurelianus is given Dinas Emrys by Vortigern, along with all the kingdoms of the western part of Britain, i.e. Gwynedd.

Suppose, hypothetically speaking, we allow for Uther Pendragon coming to southern Wales from Dinas Emrys in "Llydaw"?

At one time or another I've tried to make a case for Uther being either a title for Ambrosius himself (an unhelpful identification, as Ambrosius belongs to the 4th century and was never even in Britain!) or for the great Cunedda.  If we place Ambrosius at Dinas Emrys, does this help us any in our quest for the Terrible Chief Dragon?

Yes - perhaps.  But not in the way we may wish it to!

Dinas Emrys was in Eryri, and I've explained in the past how this mountain-name could easily have been confused for the Welsh word for eagle.  The same was true of Aquileia on the Continent (easily associated with Latin aquila), and so a whole bunch of famous Roman emperors and peripheral figures get relocated to Dinas Emrys in legend.  St. Ambrose (namesake of his father, a Governor of Gaul) is found there, as is Magnus Maximus (called Maximo tyranno in the HISTORIA BRITTONUM, a name/title that could easily have been associated with Vor-tigern).  Maximus is executed at Aquileia. The usurper Eugenius was killed near Aquileia (probably this is the Owain Finddu son of Maximus at Dinas Emrys). Constantine II was killed at Aquileia, and we know Gratian was there, too.  The HISTORIA BRITTONUM tells us that St. Martin spoke with Maximus (see http://www.livius.org/sources/content/martinus-of-tours-and-maximus/).  If Myrddin was linked by Geoffrey of Monmouth with Martin, this may be one reason why he chose to identify Myrddin/Merlin with Ambrosius at Dinas Emrys.  Constantius II captured Aquileia, and forces loyal to the future pagan emperor Julian (who was intimately associated with the draco and the dragon) laid siege to the city.

Ambrosius Aurelianus himself, as the 'Divine/Immortal Golden One', came to be identified with the god Lleu, made Lord of Gwynedd in Welsh story.  Lleu is found in eagle form in Nantlle in Eryri.  A.A. as a fatherless boy in the ballgame at Campus Elleti is a motif borrowed from the story of the Irish god Mac Og, 'Young Son.'  In Welsh tradition, Mabon and Lleu are identified, as both are placed in Nantlle in death.  This identification of A.A. with Lleu/Mabon may have eased the former's identification with the Northern Myrddin (Merlin), who has strong Lleu affinities. 

In short, the legends surrounding Dinas Emrys are a tangled mess.  According to Bartram, Arfon (in which Dinas Emrys was situated) was not a part of the original occupied territory of Cunedda and his sons. Pasted here is the relevant section from A CLASSICAL WELSH DICTIONARY:

"The ‘Harleian’ genealogies supplement this (HG 32, 33 in EWGT p.13) as follows:
These are the names of the sons of Cunedda, whose number was nine: [1] Tybion, the first-born,
who died in the region called Manaw Gododdin and did not come hither with his father and his
aforesaid brothers. Meirion, his son, divided the possessions among his [Tybion's] brothers. 2.
Ysfael, 3. Rhufon, 4. Dunod, 5. Ceredig, 6. Afloeg, 7. Einion Yrth, 8. Dogfael, 9. Edern.
This is their boundary: From the river which is called Dyfrdwy [Dee], to another river, the Teifi;
and they held very many districts in the western part of Britain.

A similar account is given in the second Life of St.Carannog (§§2, 3 in VSB 148) except that the
southern boundary is made the Gwaun instead of the Teifi. The secular boundary of Ceredigion was
always the Teifi. The variant version is due to the fact that the Archdiaconical region was later extended to the Gwaun, so that it included part of Dyfed (VSB pp.xi-xii).

All the sons of Cunedda listed above, except Tybion and Einion Yrth, gave their names to the
kingdoms which were allotted to them, namely, Ysfeilion, Rhufoniog, Dunoding, Ceredigion, Afloegion, Dogfeiling and Edeirnion; Meirion, son of Tybion, gave his name to Meirionydd, and Einion's kingdom appears to have been Rhos.

The sons of Cunedda thus held the north and west coastal districts of Wales, from the mouth of
the Clwyd to the mouth of the Teifi, with the exception of Llyn, Arfon, Arllechwedd, and most of
Anglesey. These seem to have been conquered later by Cadwallon Lawhir ab Einion Yrth. The position of these conquests suggests that entry was made by the sea. (A.W.Wade-Evans in Arch.Camb., 85 (1930) p.333); WCO 39, 88)...

To Cadwallon [born c. 440 A.D.], who was probably not the eldest son, it fell to extend the dominions of the family in Arfon and to conquer the greater part of Môn from the Irish inhabitants [Gwyddyl]. This can be gathered from relatively late traditions. A great battle was fought at a place called Cerrig-y-Gwyddyl in Môn, and Cadwallon's war-band tied the fetter-locks of their horses to their own feet [lest they should waver] in the fight against Serigi Wyddel, so that they are called one of the ‘Three Fettered War-Bands’ of Ynys Prydain (TYP no.62). Cadwallon was aided in the battle by his three cousins, Cynyr, Meilir and Yneigr, sons of Gwron ap Cunedda. Cadwallon slew Serigi at a place called Llam-y-Gwyddyl, ‘the Irishmen's Leap’, in Môn (ByA §29(15) in EWGT p.92). Some later versions mistakenly write Caswallon and Llan-y-Gwyddyl."

The irony here, of course, is that Cunedda came from Ireland (see my previous books and many articles), and his sons were either Irish themselves or Hiberno-British.  They may have chased out the Laigin (a tribal name preserved in that of Dinllaen and Lleyn).  But any conquest inland, including the region of Dinas Emrys in Arfon, would have been at the expense of native Britons.

What all of this tells me is that I might well have been right, all those years ago, when I proposed, only half-seriously, that Uther Pendragon was merely a title for Ambrosius Aurelianus.  This latter "fictional" chieftain of Dinas Emrys was said to be (HB Chapter 48) rex magnus or the 'great king' among the Britains.  His fort was that of the Red Dragon, symbolic of the British, so he was the de facto pen or "chief" of that particular beast.  Also, Vortigern was said to have 'timore Ambrosii', dread of Ambrosius.  One of the meanings of Uther (see GPC) is 'dreadful'.  It was not difficult to see in this combination of facts the title Uther Pendragon.


"After Geoffrey's chronicle, Ambrosius disappears from legend and romance for some time. The authors of the Prose Merlin and the Vulgate Cycle renamed him Pendragon [emphasis mine]. He resurfaces in the seventeenth century..."

Now, partly this can be explained by the Galfridian fusion of Ambrosius and Merlin at Dinas Emrys.  As Merlin now played a prominent role, that of Ambrosius would naturally have been downplayed or even to have disappeared.  However, it does not account for why the Pendragon epithet continued to be used as a separate character, and one plainly based on Ambrosius.  Instead, this would seem to be confirmation of my idea that Ambrosius IS Uther Pendragon.

My reluctance to adhere to this notion had to do with my desire (not unique among Arthurian scholars) to identify Uther with a chieftain who could actually be Arthur's father.  And that desire, I now feel, has led me seriously astray.

The only way for me to explain the Arthur name and his undeniable connection with the Irish, as well as the locations of his battles, is to remain faithful to the theory propounded in my book THE BEAR KING, i.e. that Arthur is a decknamen for either Irish Artri or British Arthr(h)i, 'Bear-king', and that this title was applied to Ceredig son of Cunedda (= Cerdic of Wessex).  

That Uther is said to have come from the Llydaw in Arfon would be correct in one sense only: the descendants of Cunedda, father of Ceredig/Arthur, had conquered and settled that region early on.  As the progenitor of the princes of Gwynedd, Cunedda was the true Terrible Chief Dragon.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

An Ardri, a Three-Fossed Fort and Arthur and Cadwy

I've recently been thinking of the Dindraethou I've recently identified pretty positively with Dawes Castle near Watchet.  Arthur is placed here with Cato/Cadwy, a known ruler of Dumnonia.  The presence of this last ruler had me thinking that Dindraethou had to be one of the Cadbury forts.  But I have no doubt that Dawes Castle is the right place - at least according to the Life of St. Carannog.

Suppose, however, that Dawes Castle (which is a Saxon fort and had nothing to do with Arthur) is a substitute for a Cadbury - a Cadbury that was called Dun Tradui/Tredui or the 'Triple-fossed fort" in the Irish CORMAC'S GLOSSARY?  And supposed this triple-fossed fort was Cadbury Castle at South Cadbury, with its evidence of major early medieval reuse?

Many years ago I naively suggested that the name Arthur could be from the Irish title ardri, 'high king.'  In CORMAC'S GLOSSARY, the high king Crimthann mac Fidaig is said to have founded Dun Tradui in Britain 'in the land of the Cornish Britains.'

Now, scholars will allow the Roman Artorius as being a decknamen used to replace an Artri or Arthr(h)i name, i.e. an Irish or British 'Bear-king.'  Could the same have happened with an Irish Ardri - perhaps originally applied as a title, not a proper name?

The Irish ard, 'high', became in Welsh ardd.  The /dd/ here is voiced like /th/. Thus is we allow a phonological development, Arddri, pronounced Arthri, could have been replaced by Artorius/Arthur.
At least this seems so to me.  I am, of course, checking with some Welsh linguists to see if such a development was at all possible.  It may not have been. I do find place-name components constantly alternating between ardd and arth.

For now - and purely for fun - let's run with the idea.  What would it mean to say that Arthur 'the Ardri' or High King was at Cadbury Castle?

Well, if I'm right and Arthur was the son of Illtud of the Ui Liathain, then he was acting in a similar capacity as his father, who served Pawl Penychen as master of soldiers.  In other words, Arthur was the general of the troops headquartered at Cadbury Castle. Perhaps he was given his "name" in memory of Crimthann mac Fidaig - as both men were Irish, and of Munster, and both occupied the same fort.  We are reminded that in the Geraint elegy, Arthur's men are said to be fighting at Llongborth. In the past I've tried to explain this away as being figurative/metaphorical.  He is called "ameraudur" or emperor (L. imperator).

Subsequent Arthurs would then all, in a sense, be "High-kings" - a glorified name if ever there was one!

Once again, though, I emphasize that this might be a very silly notion.  As soon as I know one way or the other, I will add an addendum to this post.

NOTE: As I suspected, this idea does not work.  Not a single Celtic or Welsh scholar I contacted thought it worth considering.  Their unanimous view is best summed up by the words of Dr. Simon Rodway from The University of Wales:

"In a word, 'no'. There is no evidence whatsoever for Middle Welsh *arddri, ardd only exists vestigially in place-names, have been usurped at an early stage by uchel, and if Irish ardri had been borrowed into Welsh, it would have sounded completely different to Welsh ears than Arthur. The sounds written in Modern Welsh as dd and th are totally different. Your arth for ardd can only be due to experimental early orthography."

COMING SOON: Looking Again at the Name Arthur

A very old problem for Arthurian scholars, this one: what is the origin of the name Arthur?

Many ideas out there, most invalid from a philological and/or phonological standpoint.  Conventional wisdom has it deriving from Roman Artorius, perhaps a decknamen for an Irish or British name. 

But I want to approach this from another direction.  We do not find the name in Ireland.  Purely British chieftains of the time did not choose it for their sons.  Instead, it is found only among Hiberno-British royal families.  WHY?

I will do my best to supply a reasonable answer to that question in the next few days. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018


Dinas Powys, Glamorgan, Wales

My readers will know that next to the problem of identifying Uther [Pen]Dragon - which I've now accomplished - I've been constantly vexed by what one could call "The Irish Problem."  No bad pun intended.  In a nutshell, no one has been able to satisfactorily account for the fact that all of the Arthurs immediately subsequent to the original, more famous one belong to Irish-founded dynasties in Britain.  

I've now solved that problem as well.

My past identification of the 'Llydaw' that is said to lie in or adjacent to Wales is wrong.  I had made a linguistically sound selection of the Vale of Leadon, and drawn attention to the fact that this region bordered on Ercing, which itself has many Arthurian associations. This seemed to make sense of a lot, but left The Irish Problem unresolved.

The clue to finding the answer to this riddle lies in the most recent archaeological assessment of the Dinas Powys promontory fort in Glamorgan, where Arthur's father Illtud, the terribilis miles, was the leader of the household soldiers.  According to this analysis, there may well have been Irish involved in the establishment and habitation of Dinas Powys during the Arthurian period.

I had called attention to the fact that the name Powys is the same as that of the kingdom of Powys in central Wales, which in Romano-British times had been the tribal territory of the Cornovii.  The Cornovii, as I also pointed out, bore a name practically identical to the regional designation Cernyw, the Welsh name for Cornwall.  Arthur is consistently placed in Cornwall in Welsh tradition.  There is a Durocornovium, Fort of the Cornovii, hard by Liddington Castle or Badbury.  Both these last sites are also quite close to Barbury, the 'Bear's Fort.'

Why is any of this significant?  Because in Cormac's Glossary, the fort of the Ui Liathain is called 'dind map Lethain.'  Lethain is a very common early spelling given to Irish lethan, 'broad, wide, wide-spread', the cognate of Leadon and from the same root that yielded Llydaw, Letavia (Brittany).  Cf. Welsh llydan.  According to Professor Jurgen Uhlich of Trinity College, Dublin, "lethain is simply one of several regular case forms of lethan, i.e. gen. sg. m./n., dat/acc. sg. fem. or nom pl. m.".

I also find Liathain in Irish Latin as 'Lethani' (Vita Sancta Columba).

That the two words were mistaken for each other in Irish is shown in COIR ANMANN or THE FITNESS OF NAMES (H.3.18, p. 565a):

50. Fedlimith Uillethan, that is, Fedlimith Ua-Liathain, that is in Húi Liathain he was reared. Hence he was named Fedlimith Uillethan. Or Fedlimith Ollethan i.e. huge (oll) and broad (lethan) was he: thence he was named.

Place-names containing these words may also have been substituted for each other.  In Geoffrey Keating's THE HISTORY OF IRELAND FROM THE EARLIEST PERIOD TO THE ENGLISH INVASION, I find "Drom Liathain (Drum Lee-hawin), is probably Drom Lethan (Drum Lahan), now Drumlane, co. Cavan."  This is confirmed in Edmund Hogan's ONOMASTICON GOEDELICUM: "d. liatháin Fm. i. 44; ¶  prob. for D. Leathan, now Drumlahan or Drumlane, c. Cav.; ¶  Eochaid fought against the Ernu and the Mairthine at D. L., Hk. 324, Lec. 63, 578, Sb. 4 a 1, K. 131 b, Lg. 91; ¶  most prob. in Mun."  Drum/Druim Leathan is 'Broad Ridge' (https://www.logainm.ie/en/5248).

A truly extensive search might well uncover other examples.

Francis J. Byne, in his magisterial IRISH KINGS AND HIGH-KINGS (p. 184) says "Lethain is the archaic form of Liathain." 

The Liathain tribal name is from an epithet whose root is the word for 'grey' in the Irish language and is not related to lethan/lethain.  However, it would have been very easy to have intentionally or accidentally used a spelling of Lethain for Liathain and thus created a "Brittany" within Wales.  

Many writers, myself included, have discussed in detail the many Irish kingdoms in Britain.  The Welsh sources themselves (see HISTORIA BRITTONUM, Chapter 14) tell us that the sons of Liathan "prevailed in the country of the Demetians, where the city of Mynyw is, and in other countries, that is Gower and Kidwelly, until they were expelled by Cunedda, and by his sons..." [Recall that Cunedda and his sons were the Gewissei, with Cunedda's son Ceredig being Cerdic of Wessex.  The Gewissei were Arthur's chief adversary.]

Illtud's father's name - Bicanus - bears a striking resemblance to that of the early Irish Bec(c)an.  Some of these last were native to Munster.


O Corrain and Maguire's IRISH NAMES has:

BECCAN: BEAGAN m, 'little man.'

From the Electronic Dictionary of the Irish Language:


Forms: becain

n o, m. (bec) IGT Decl. § 35.

(a) a little, small quantity: b.¤ gl. pauxillum, Sg. 14a12 . ÉC xi 110. gl. paululus, 48a3 . ar na hernigther mar i mbec, Laws v 476.28 glossed: moran i bail i ndlegar becan, 478.31 Comm. dobeir begán dobeir mórán / is dobeir in fichid marg, SG 287.1 . tucc Dīa sonus for beccān bíd, BColm. 60.16 . morán . . . beagán, 2 Cor. viii 15. so cenn begain aimsiri `in a short while', St. Ercuil 258. begcan dergci innti, Maund. 71. begān glōir do budh mōr neimh a small voice (lit. a little of a voice), ZCP viii 223.6 . le beagán do shásadh, DDána 20.26 . beccán becc íarna thionntúdh = a little after, RSClára 16a . began ┐ én mhile amhain `a little more than one mile only', Mart. Don. May 20. a few, a small number: in becan sa dib these few of them (at end of list), LU 2486 ( RC iv 256 § 25 ). in becan ro batar those few, Cog. 176.29 . cenmotha in beccan Cristaige, LB 154a 33 . tāinic Eōgan begān soc[h]raidi `with a few' (Gloss.), ML² 407. becān do maithib a muinntire, 921 . Eoin Bruinne is a bheagán ban, Dán Dé xx 37 . gluaissit begān buidhne `proceeded with a small company', Fl. Earls 20.10 . lé begán briathar `in a few words', FM v 1716.10 . As adv. a little, slightly: fri Dísiurt Lóchait antúaid bican (bicon, TBC² 772 ), LU 5249. codail begán begán beg, Duan. Finn i 84.1 . iníslighid begān, RSClára 105a . In phr. do b.¤ : in mac taisigh rob ferr do bí i nErinn do beagan that was no doubt the best, AU ii 550.9 . na biadha ┐ na deocha as measa do bheagan (= parum deterior potus aut cibus), 23 K 42 , 22.7 .

(b) little one, child; humble, lowly one: indat blaithe beccain (: Breccáin) `little ones', Fél.² Sept. 4 . becain .i. humiles , cxl . Note also: obsa becan (? of a horse) a little fellow (?), IT iii 68.1 .

The corresponding Welsh form is:


[†bych1+-an, H. Gym. bichan, H. Grn. boghan, Crn. C. byhan, Llyd. bihan, Gwydd. becán, beccán]

a. (b. bechan) a hefyd weithiau fel eg.b. ac adf. ll. bychain, gr. cmhr. bychaned, lleied, llai, lleiaf (a bychanaf weithiau).

a  Bach, o ychydig faint neu nifer:

little, small, minute, diminutive. 

I've not found this as a personal name in the Welsh sources. It is found later in Welsh as a nickname or epithet.

I'm now prepared to claim, rather boldly, that the Welsh 'Llydaw' from which Illtud's father Bicanus hailed, and from where Illtud got his wife, is none other than Irish Ui Liathain, a small kingdom in Munster.

This would explain, finally, why all the Dark Age Arthurs were of Hiberno-British extraction.  

As for the name Arthur itself, all authorities now insist this can only be from the Roman Artorius.  So either Illtud the terribilis miles/Uther Dragon took this name for his son to add a Latin dignity to his family, or as has been suggested before Artorius was a decknamen used to replace an Irish or British 'Bear-king" name.  

Beginning Work on the Revision of The Bear King Today (1/9/2018)

Not exactly sure when it will be available, but it shouldn't take too awfully long to complete.  When it's ready, I will post the Amazon.com links here. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018


Arthurian Sites 

I'd spent many a year trying to "pin down" the very elusive Arthur.  While I made progress on several fronts, I was constantly stymied by my inability to get past the false genealogy thrust upon him by Geoffrey of Monmouth or his source. I had determined that the birth story of Tintagel was manifestly fraudulent.  Eigr (Geoffrey's Ygerna) was a Welsh form of the Greek name for the headland itself or for its goddess, and as Arthur's birth story copied that of Herakles (as well as that of the Irish Mongan, in whose story a mil uathmar or terrible warrior appeared), I identified Tintagel with the Promontory (akron) of Herakles found in Ptolemy.  No matter what I did, I could not properly place Arthur (who has, literally, been placed pretty much everywhere!) on the map.

It was, in fact, my failure to link Arthur to a verifiable pedigree that, eventually, forced me to abandon a Northern candidate.  I continued to try and find convincing ways to put him in the North, but no matter how hard I tried, no matter how compelling or clever my arguments, he simply wasn't present in any of the lines of descent for the Men of the North.  As I did not believe (and still don't) that the only viable historical personage who could have been the 5th-6th century Arthur was the Roman period Lucius Artorius Castus, and as the vast majority of the Welsh traditions insist Arthur was actually in the South, for the sake of intellectual honesty and personal - and very obsessive curiosity - I had to forsake my preconceptions and start afresh in my quest for the enigmatic hero.

In my book THE BEAR KING (still available on Amazon.com under my author's name August Hunt), I came to realize that the Arthurian battles found in the HISTORIA BRITTONUM were Welsh versions of the battles assigned to the Gewessei in the ANGLO-SAXON CHRONICLE.  Approximately half belonged to Cerdic of Wessex (= Ceredig son of Cunedda), while the remainder belonged to other members of his family.  There were some arth ("bear") names in Ceredig's pedigree, and an Arth River in his Welsh kingdom of Ceredigion.  I proposed that the Roman name Arthur was a decknamen substituted for an earlier Irish or British title or name meaning "Bear-king."  This seemed satisfactory, although I was still unable to account for his father's name or title, Uther Pendragon.  Sure, Cunedda could have been the Terrible Chief-warrior, but nowhere in the extant tradition was he called such. I was merely assigning him the title, as I had done for other prospective fathers of Arthur.  And there was no justification for doing so!

Then one day, while discussing Arthurian matters with fellow enthusiast Simon Keegan, it was suggested to me that Arthur may have been the opponent of the Gewessei.  This made a great deal of sense, for if the English claimed Ceredig/Cerdic as their ally in the formation of early Wessex, why would the Welsh also try to claim him as a great hero who fought against the English?  Clearly, the Welsh - despite Ceredig's origin in western Wales - would not have chosen as their champion a man who had fought as a mercenary with the English against Britons!

I decided to run with Simon Keegan's idea, just to see where it might carry me.  To begin, I had to once again tackle the nagging problem of Uther Pendragon.

My first task was to critically examine the Book of Taliesin poem on Uther.  This process entailed actually re-translating the poem, which is of a very cryptic nature.  Most importantly, I learned from a MS. expert at the Welsh library holding the earliest extant version of the poem that the title had originally read "The Death-Song of Uther Dragon." Pen- was only added later by the rubricator.  The Welsh expert was unable to account for this change.  While interesting, this did not really mean anything to me - yet.

Next I took another look at the 'Pa gur' poem.  There we are told that the god Mabon son of Modron was the servant (guas) of Uther Pendragon.  More importantly, in this context Mabon is one of the predatory birds of Elei, this being the River Ely in southern Wales.  I asked myself the following question: if Mabon is of the River Ely, and he is the servant of Uther, might Uther himself be from or of Elei? I filed this bit of information away and went forward with more research.

I knew that Dark Age occupation of the Dinas Powys fort near the Ely had been proven archaeologically.  Could it be, I wondered, that Uther belonged to this fort?  Just a crazy notion, yet one I decided to pursue, as I really had nothing to lose at that point.

I discovered that a ruler of the right time and place was mentioned in the Welsh sources - a certain Pawl Penychen son of Glywys.  This chieftain may well have ruled from Dinas Powys.  Could he have been Uther Pendragon?

Alas, no.  No evidence of that, whatsoever.  Still, a glimmer of hope appeared at this juncture.  For another very famous early Welshman served Pawl as a leader of the household troops before (supposedly) going on to become a saint.  This was none other than Illtud, reputedly a cousin of Arthur.  Illtud was the son of a king of Llydaw named Bicanus.  I had earlier shown that this Llydaw was not Brittany, but a designation for the Vale of Leadon northeast of Gloucester that bordered on Ercing (where we find many Arthurian connections).  Not coincidentally, Uther is said to come from Brittany.  The Vale of Leadon had once been a part of the territory of the Dobunni tribe, and later of the Hwicce.

When I read the Life of St. Illtud in both Latin and English translation, I made a remarkable discovery.  This man was referred to as "terribilis miles", a descriptor which perfectly matched that of Uther [Pen]Dragon!  

I knew immediately that after only a couple decades of searching (!!!) I had, at last, found Arthur's true father.

Once I had figured this out, the rest all fell into place rather easily.  My treatment of the Arthurian battles in THE BEAR KING could be retained - with the exception of Camlan, which clearly could no longer be situated in NW Wales.  An examination of all the extant Cam- place-names in southern England revealed only one that could have a bearing on Camlan, in this case as being derived from *Cambolanda, not *Camboglanna: the great Uley Bury hillfort in Gloucestershire (see the blue pushpin in the map posted at the top of the page). 

Two exciting details emerged from my tentative identification of the Uley fort with Camlan.  First, the Uley shrine on West Hill hard by the fort was an ancient religious place that continued as a Christian center from the Arthurian period onward.  Second, the Lydney shrine just across the Severn from Uley would appear to be *Nemetaballa, the "Sacred Grove of the Apple-trees", i.e. Avalon.  While Arthur's burial at West Hill seemed most likely, his conveyance to Lydney after death was not an impossibility.  [I have marked both shrines with red pushpins on the map.]

If Arthur, like his father, were a war-leader, and was fighting from the old region of the Dobunni, then the arrangement of the Arthurian battles made a great deal of sense.  In the map posted at the top of this page, the yellow push pins represent these sites.  Both Bath and the Liddington Castle Badbury are marked for Badon, although I now strongly favor the latter as the correct location for Arthur's most famous victory.  I've also long held that Barbury Castle (green pushpin on the map) near Liddington, the 'Bear's fort', may well be an English reference to Arthur having been at that hillfort, as arth in Welsh means "bear."  Lastly, as the Dinas Powys fort of Uther bears a name identical with that of the Powys kingdom, the earlier tribal territory of the Cornovii (cf. Kernyw/Cornwall, with which Arthur is constantly associated in Welsh tradition), so do we find a Durocornovium or  'Fort of the Cornovii' near Wanborough, which itself is hard by Liddington Castle.  

That's pretty much it in a nutshell.  As I've not been able to find anything wrong with this theoretical reconstruction of the life and death of Arthur, I don't feel obliged to expand my investigatory methods in another direction.  Of course, should someone be able to dismantle any particular detail of the case I've built, the whole thing may come tumbling down like the proverbial house of cards.  And though I would be disappointed by such a painful disproof, I doubtless would once again venture forth on a new quest for a new Arthur.

Friday, January 5, 2018

COMING SOON: So Just Who was Arthur?

Barbury Castle, Wiltshire

Having now completed my researches into a possible "Southern Arthur", I need to put all the pieces together in a concise, though coherent whole.  From his father's place of origin, his birthplace, his battles, his death and his burial - I will summarize all of those in an upcoming blog post.  I do this because it may be some time before I'm able to radically revise my book THE BEAR KING and it's only right and fair to get the material out there now. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Lydney Park Temple of Nodens as 'Avalon'

In previous posts I've written about the possibility that the Temple of Nodens at Lydney Park may be *Nemetaballa, the Sacred Grove of the Apple Trees.  The argument, first proposed by Richmond and Crawford, seemed strengthened by the MIRABILIA of the Historia Brittonum, which described a miraculous apple-bearing ash tree at the mouth of the River Wye.  Alas, the Wye estuary is a considerable distance from Lydney.  This fact casts considerable doubt on the identification of the ash tree with the site of the Lydney temple.  Too bad, as the apple-bearing ash may have been conjured from a name like Avalon, where the word was fancifully derived from Welsh afal, 'apple' + onn, 'ash-tree.'

Some map work has, however, allowed me to salvage the identification.

Lydney's etymology (Mills) is "island or river-meadow of the sailor, or of a man called *Lida.  OE lida [sailor] or personal name (genitive -n) + eg."  According to the English Place-Name Society, eg is

"An island. In ancient settlement-names, most frequently refers to dry ground surrounded by marsh. Also used of islands in modern sense. In late OE names: well-watered land."

Anglo-Saxon eg, 'island', brings to mind Geoffrey of Monmouth's insula Avallonis/pomorum and the Welsh Ynys Afallach. 

However, lida/sailor is a replacement of an earlier god name.  So far as I know, this idea was originally proposed by Rhys and is discussed in P.C. Bartram's A CLASSICAL WELSH DICTIONARY:

"Nodens is probably the Nudd of Welsh legend and the Irish Nuada Argatlám, which leads to the
Welsh Lludd Llaw Eraint. This transformation of the name from Nudd to Lludd (see s.n. Lludd Llaw
Eraint) probably occurred fairly early as the latter form evidently survives in the name of the site,
Lydney. (John Rhys, Hib. Lect., p.125; Celtic Folklore, p.448)."

More recent scholars, such as John Koch, agree with this derivation:

"There, the place-name Lydney is first recorded as Old
English Lideneg in a source from c. 853. The meaning of
the place-name is ‘Lida’s island’, where the Anglicized
personal name is to be explained as a borrowing from
archaic Welsh */Lü:d/ < British Nodons. This borrowing
probably occurred in the 7th century, when
English speakers first came into the Lydney area."

As archaeology has revealed, Nodens of Lydney had pronounced marine attributes. In the Life of St. Collen, the king of the false Avalon Glastonbury is Gwyn son of Nudd ( = Nodens).

Now, as it happens, at the mouth of the Wye there is a Lyde Rock.  Place-name experts have no early forms for this name, and I've been unable to find it on maps predating the 1800s.  Other Lyde place-names in England are to be derived either from Old English hlid, 'slope', or hlid, 'gate.'  Either one may apply to Lyde Rock, as the rock may slope into the water, or it may have been metaphorically viewed as a gate to the Beachley Passage of the Severn. It is unlikely to be an Anglicized form of Welsh llwyd, 'grey.'  Certainly, it is not impossible that we have here either OE lid, 'ship', or lida, 'sailor.' I have some queries outstanding to various authorities and if I'm able to come up with anything more certain regarding this place-name, I will add it to the post. (1)

What I think may have happened is this: the author of the story of the apple-bearing ash tree may have wrongly identified the Lyde place-name at the mouth of the Wye with that of the lida of Lydney.  He thus mistakenly transferred *Nemetaballa from Lydney to the Wye estuary.

Lydney and Lyde Rock

Lyde Rock

Lyde Rock

If I'm right about this, then 'Avalon' or Nemetaballa may indeed have been the name of the Nodens shrine at Lydney.


Tradition favors Arthur's deposition at 'Avalon', which may well have been the Nodens temple at Lydney.  However, there are three strong arguments against Lydney.  

1) It was a purely pagan site.  Thus, a burial there would imply that Arthur was himself pagan.
2) Archaeology does not favor the continuation of the Lydney shrine into Arthur's period (see below).
3) The West Hill shrine at Uley did continue - and as a Christian church - and is situated right next to the Uley Bury hillfort, my candidate for Camlan (*Cambolanda).

In my mind, the only way we can justify selecting Lydney over Uley is if Arthur were pagan and his enemies had taken Uley.  It would have been necessary with the loss of the West Hill site to remove the hero's body elsewhere.  A boat taken from the River Cam's mouth at Frampton Pill to Lydney represents no difficult feat. 

Alternately, Arthur was, in fact, buried at the Uley church.  The proximity of *Nemetaballa/'Avalon' to Uley on the Cam would have been sufficient to engender a folk belief that he had been taken to the Place of Apple Trees, a mythological construct.


While working on the Welsh Mabinogion hero Terynon Twrfliant, I came across numerous references to this "Divine Lord of the Roaring Sea/Waters/Flood" being a title for Nodens at Lydney - and this despite the fact that all indications were that he was instead to be identified with Manawydan son of Llyr ("Sea").  Terynon's name is present at modern Llantarnam and I've discussed the history of that place in depth elsewhere.  Suffice it to say here that Llantarnam is not near Lydney.

However, at the time I neglected to treat of the folklore motif of the foal-snatching claw/arm in the story of Gwri Gwllt Eurin.  Nodens is often related to the phenomenon known as the Severn Bore:

The Bore can literally sweep away livestock.  It thus occurred to me that the claw/arm that steals foals every May Eve may well be a representation of the Bore, perhaps perceived as an arm of the sea, and that Terynon's act of cutting it off is probably symbolic of the receding of the tide.  Furthermore, the story of the Irish Nuadu's amputated arm is well known, and it is tempting to equate this god's limb with that of the Mabinogion story. 

In Irish tradition, the isle of apple-trees is associated with Mannanan mac Lir, the counterpart of the Welsh Manawydan.  Nuadu is equated with Necht/Nectan, a name cognate with the Latin Neptune.  All of this tends to lend more weight to the notion that the Lydney temple may, indeed, have been at least a regional 'Avalon.' 

"In early Irish literary tradition, Nuadu can be equated
with Nechtan, in view of shared aquatic attributes
and also the combination of the name and the epithet
Nuadu Necht, found in the early Old Irish genealogical
poem, from which an extract is quoted below.
3. Swift in ships, he traversed the sea as a warrior
of the west: a red wind, which dyed sword-blades
with a bloody cloud.
4. Fergus Fairrge, Nuadu Necht, strong and brave:
a great champion who did not love punishment from
a rightful lord."


"Nechtan’s name is cognate with Latin Neptunus, the Roman god of the sea (see also Dumézil, Celtica 6.50–61)." - Anne Holley in CELTIC CULTURE: A HISTORICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA. 

Insula Avallonis (the Isle of Avalon) is first mentioned
by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia
Regum Britanniae (c. 1139) as the place where
Arthur’s sword Caliburnus (see Caladbolg) was
forged, and then as the place where Arthur was taken
after the battle of Camlan for his wounds to be
tended. In the Welsh versions of Historia Regum Britanniae
(Brut y Brenhinedd), the place is called Ynys
Afallach. In Geoffrey’s Vita Merlini (Life of Merlin; see
Myrddin), Insula Avallonis is explained as insula pomorum
‘island of apples’ (cf. Welsh afal ‘apple’, afall ‘apple
trees’). Ynys Afallach thus corresponds closely to the
poetic name that occurs in early Irish literature for
the Isle of Man (Ellan Vannin), namely Emain Ablach
‘Emain of the apples’, a name applied to Man specifically
as the blessed and otherworldly domain of the
sea divinity Manannán mac Lir.



The earliest discerned phase is undoubtedly the Iron Age fort with multivallate
defences. There is no need to follow Wheeler in ascribing the outer ditch and rampart to
a post-Roman context. The only justification for this was that '... the outer bank and
outer ditch may safely be ascribed as on tactical grounds to this period.' Since there is
no evidence for dating the inner rampart to a late period the hypothesized outwork may
resume its place in the original plan of the site.

The second phase of activity is the iron mining. The inception of this work is entirely
undated and it may be entirely pre-Roman. A date for the filling of an adit is given by its
being sealed by a third century structure, but this does not mean that industrial activity
had continued to this date.

The next phase of activity falls in the second half of the third century. The coin list
implies a presence that is paralleled on other sites with occupation of this period. The
dominant character of Coin Period 18 (264-86), a coinage which is virtually extirpated
by Diocletian's currency reforms, suggests that purposeful site activity starts no later
than this date.

The problem is to define what building activity can be ascribed to this phase. The
analysis of the coins from the four principle buildings, the Temple, 'Abaton', Guest
House and Bath suggests that all participate in this period. We have already seen that in
two contexts Wheeler's huts prove to be opus signinum floors antecedent to later mosaic
surfaces. Only the rectangular structure under the tail of the rampart qualifies as a freestanding
building separate from those forming the Temple complex. This may have
been accommodation for builders or people making a living from the shrine. One must
assume that part of the Guest House furnished accommodation for higher ranking
servants of the cult, whether priest or administrator. In any event the lower grade
housing did not survive the heightening of the rampart.

The pottery from the rampart and associated contexts (see Pottery below) is
uniformly of later third to earlier fourth century date, and since it is associated with
building material derived from an adjacent structure it seems reasonable to date that
structure to a date earlier than the reconstruction of the Temple itself after the collapse
of the cella.

Elsewhere the best evidence for specific third century activity comes from the Bath
House where a coin of Gallienus is associated with an opus signinum floor now identified
below what Wheeler considered to be the primary floor of Room XXXVIII. In Room
XXXV to judge from the stratigraphical description recorded on the coin envelopes, coins
of Probus and Tetricus were associated with what seems to be a floor predating that
which bears the mosaics. If this interpretation is correct we have a similar situation to
that revealed by excavation in Room XXXVIII.

The fact that the Bath House corridor abuts the Long Building necessarily makes the
'Abaton' stratigraphically earlier than the Bath House. It could of course be argued that
the corridor forms a later addition to the bath, but there is no archaeological evidence for
this argument. A start for this building before the early fourth century is suggested by the
coins of Quintillus, Carausius, Constantius Chlorus and Constantine II as Caesar found on
the 'hut floor of pounded tile' (ie the earlier opus signinum floor of room XLVlll).
The Guest House is very problematic. Its state of preservation was already very bad
when Wheeler dug it in 1928/9. The hut floor that Wheeler claims to have found in
Room XXX could not be found during the limited re-examination in 1980/1. It could be
argued that the Guest House has to be contemporary with the 'Abaton', since it provides
the other post to the gate of the Temple enclosure. However, no evidence survives to
show that the gateposts were integral to the buildings they abutted apart from Plate
Xlllb. The gate may well be a later addition.

Problems relating to dating the Temple itself have already been discussed. It may be
noted that buildings, or additional rooms, not unlike the 'Abaton' are associated with
other Roman-British temples, eg Harlow and Caerwent. These structures are generally
later additions to an earlier sanctuary and this general observation might reinforce the
topographical argument that the Temple predates the 'Abaton'.

The later history of the site saw an embellishing of the structures, including the
laying of mosaics and the extension of the 'Abaton'. The date of these changes is
usually given as post-364 since a number of coins of Gratian are said to have been
found under the mosaics. Without further excavation involving the lifting of surviving
mosaics this chronology cannot be tested. Wheeler's own definition of 'below the
mosaics' is rather ambiguous; there is evidence that excavations in the nineteenth
century did cut through floors, whether it was the re-excavation of these features that
produced coins or whether newly found floors were lifted, which seems inherently
unlikely, is not at all clear.

It appears that the site did not enjoy the attentions of pilgrims for very long. A
comparison of the coins from four similar sanctuaries; Lydney, Harlow, Uley and
Matagne-la-Grande show that Lydney is much closer in losses in Coin Period 27 to
Harlow (which seems to have been abandoned in the post-Valentinianic period) than
to Matagne-la-Grande and Uley, the latter of which certainly continued into the fifth
century. The only material evidence of a late presence at Lydney is a brooch of fifth
century date. This object has no specific findspot and may well be a stray find
dropped by a casual visitor in the post-Roman period. On the other hand the
reduction of Wheeler's chronology to one more in conformity with comparable sites
elsewhere does not of itself prove that Lydney did not have a function in the period
down to, or even beyond, the occupation of the Forest of Dean region by Saxons. An
inability to recognize a distinctive post-Roman material culture is a characteristic
element of early post Roman studies. Nonetheless the reduction of the chronology
tends to undermine the concept of a 'pagan revival', associated with rural religious
sites, in the period when Christianity was ascendant in both the official and private
spheres of life in Britain.


From Laura Johns, Libraries and Information, Gloucestershire Libraries Enquiry Service:

Lyde Rock lies in the River Severn Estuary near the ‘Old’ Severn Bridge, it had a warning beacon installed in 1896 as described here:

 “LYDE ROCK .The light was established in 1896 to help vessels steer clear of Hen & Chickens Rocks. “ (I have attached the PDF Document that details the beacon on Lyde Rock for your information) so we can safely assume that Lyde Rock has had that name for the last 100+ years.

 I haven’t been able to find a precise etymology for the name, so it has been a process of locating resources that bear the name Lyde in reference to the River Severn and then using the dates that the name was in use to provide the answer to your enquiry.

 I  found a reference to Lyde Rock dated 1573 at British History Online:

 “A fishery in the Severn at Lyde Rock to the north of the Beachley passage was bought by John Philpot in 1573”   British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/glos/vol10/pp68-73

 On the Gloucestershire Archives website  http://www.gloucestershire.gov.uk/archives/ I found the following references to the River Severn ‘Lyde’, in these entries you can see the dates that the name was in use:

Messuage in Bettysley (Beachley); 2/9th parts of Beachley Passage or Ferry; fishing in the R. Severn called the Lyde; cottage called Kitcotes; tenement called Crookes Place.



Messuage in Bettysley (Beachley); 2/9th parts of Beachley Passage or Ferry; fishing in the R. Severn called the Lyde; cottage called Kitcotes; tenement called Crookes Place, with addition of messuage called the Green Dragon, later the Ostrich, the George Inn, at Beachley. [Both PHILPOTT family]



754 putchers at a place called the Salmon, 375 putchers at Lyde Rock


14 May 1866

I have had a look into the name “Lyde” and its origin and meaning is quite difficult to work out.  However, the most likely possibility is:

 Lyde: topographic name from Old English hlið, hlid, Old Norse hlíð ‘slope’.

This would make sense as the rock is a slope emerging out of the river at low tide. 

I’ve also had a look through the reference books we have here at Gloucester Library and there is no mention of Lyde Rock at all. There seems to be very little in the way of information regarding this name, and no information on how the rock came to be called Lyde Rock. The earliest mention of it I can find is from 1573 as shown above at British History Online.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Archaeological Phases of the Uley Shrine in the 5th-6th Centuries A.D.

Hetty Peglar's Tump Near the Uley Shrine

As previously promised, here is the information on the stone building erected at West Hill near the Uley Bury hillfort (my candidate for Camlan) at exactly the time of Arthur.

The following selection is from:

The Uley Shrines
Excavation of a ritual complex on West Hill, Uley, Gloucestershire: 1977-9
By Ann Woodward and Peter Leach

Phase 6a, end of the fourth century (c AD 380 to 400)
Following further collapse, the temple was modified
and a remnant of it reused for a short period. wooden
annexe was constructed against one of the surviving
ambulatories. Structures XIII and XIV may have contined
in use.

Phase 6b, early-fifth century (c AD 400 to 420) The
modified temple, Il(iii), was demolished and its rubble
spread over its former site and that of Structure IV.
Structures XIII and XIV were probably demolished also.
Thus, the site was cleared totally.

Phase 7a: mid to late-fifth century (after AD 420) The
hall or basilican church, Structure XI was constructed,
mainly of timber, along with its north-western annexe
or baptistery, and the central area was enclosed by a
perimeter bank of turf, Structure XIX, which was pro
vided with at least two entrances of timber construction,
Structures VI and XV.

Phase 7b(i), early-sixth century Structure XI was dis-
mantled and replaced by a stone building, Structure
VIII(i), with Structure III possibly re-established, or still
functioning, to the south. The complex was still en-
closed the bank, Structure XIX, and the baptistery,
Structure VII, survived as a free standing feature.

Phase 7b(ii), later-sixth to early-seventh century
Structure VIII was extended the addition of an apse
on the north-eastern side. Structures VII, XIX and pos
sibly III continued in use. Deposition of the head of the
Roman cult statue (Fig 72) was associated probably
with the extension of Structure VIII, but could belong
equally to Phase 7b(i).