02 August, 2013

Location of Rheged: the poetry

Rheged (also spelled Reged, Reget) was a kingdom in early medieval Britain.  Its most famous king, Urien, was active some time in the late sixth century.  He is recorded in Historia Brittonum and royal genealogies, and was lauded in the poetry attributed to Taliesin.  However, the name of the kingdom itself is known only from poetry; Historia Brittonum describes a military campaign by Urien against the kingdom of Bryneich (Bernicia) on the coast of what is now north-east England, but does not name or locate Urien’s kingdom.

In an earlier post, I discussed the location of other known kingdoms and the (limited) place name evidence, and came to the conclusion that Rheged was located somewhere in a large region on the west coast of Britain stretching roughly from Strathclyde to Lancashire.  Can the poetry narrow down the location any further?

Taliesin poetry

The Battle of Argoed Llwyfain

In the morning of Saturday there was a great battle,
From when the sun rose until it gained its height.
Flamdwyn hastened in four hosts
Godeu and Reged to overwhelm.
They extended from Argoed to Arvynyd.

--Book of Taliesin, The Affair of Argoed Llwyfain, available online

‘Argoed Llywfain’ translates approximately as ‘Near the elm wood’, which is not very helpful for specifying a location; there were a lot of elm woods in sixth-century Britain. The element ‘llwyf’, ‘elm’, is found in several modern place names spread over a wide area, including Ashton-under-Lyne (east of Manchester), Lympne (Kent), Leamington Spa (Warwickshire) and Lymington (Hampshire) (Room 1993).  ‘Elm’ names may not be quite as ubiquitous as ‘derwent’ (‘oak’) names, but they seem sufficiently widespread to be little help in identifying a specific location.

‘Arvynyd’ looks to me like a compound of ‘Ar’ (near, adjacent) and ‘Mynydd’ (mountain), in which case it would translate approximately as ‘Near the mountain’, also too general to be helpful (caveat that I am not a linguist and it may mean something quite different).  If it does mean ‘near the mountain’, the phrase may not refer to actual place names at all but may mean that the army being described was flanked on one side by woodland and on the other by high ground (quite a sensible position to take up before a battle).  Or it may be a poetic construct in the same vein as phrases like ‘from the mountains to the sea’, perhaps to indicate that the army was so large that it filled the whole plain, or something similar.

‘Godeu’ is bracketed with Rheged and was presumably another region or kingdom.  It could be an ally fighting alongside Rheged forces in the battle being described, or another target for Flamdwyn’s attacking army.  Tim Clarkson says that ‘Goddeu’ or ‘Godeu’ means ‘the trees’ or ‘the forest’ (Clarkson 2010 p. 35).  He suggests on linguistic grounds that it could have become Cadyow or Cadzow.  This was the previous name of the modern town of Hamilton on the River Clyde south of Glasgow (Clarkson 2010 p. 36-7), and survives in the name of nearby Cadzow Castle.  If correct, this may indicate that the Battle of Argoed Llwyfain was fought somewhere near this area; or that a kingdom in this area was allied with Rheged at the time; or that Flamdwyn was a threat to this area.  If it is a general topographical place name indicating a wooded area (caveat that I do not know how secure the translation is), it seems to me that there may also have been other places with the same name.

The Battle of Gwen Ystrad

The men of Catraeth arose with the dawn,
About the Guledig, of work a profitable merchant
This Urien
At Gwenystrad, continuously offerers of battle.
Hand on the cross they wail on the gravel bank of Garanwynyon.
I saw a brow covered with rage on Urien,
When he furiously attacked his foes at the white stone
Of Galystem. His rage was a blade;

--Book of Taliesin, The Battle of Gwen Ystrad, available online

‘Gwen Ystrad’ translates approximately as ‘white valley’. ‘Ystrad’ is cognate with the Scottish place name element ‘Strath’ and indicates a large, broad valley, rather than a narrow mountain glen.  The phrase immediately conjures up an image of the wide limestone dales of Yorkshire with their white or grey rock outcrops, but many other places could be equally well be described as a ‘white valley’.  ‘Garanwynyon’ is presumably a river name or a description of a river (and the river presumably had gravel banks), but if it has ever been identified I don’t know of it.  Similarly, if the ‘white stone of Galystem’ has ever been located I don’t know of it.

‘Catraeth’ is traditionally identified with Catterick in Yorkshire.  The identification is uncertain (I may come back to this question in another post).  If correct, it would be compatible with a location for Gwen Ystrad somewhere in the Yorkshire Dales, as Catterick is at the mouth of Swaledale and on an important Roman road.  However, it is worth noting that the poem refers to ‘the men of Catraeth’ fighting with Urien; it does not say that the battle of Gwen Ystrad was fought at Catraeth. In any case, early medieval armies were quite capable of fighting battles considerable distances from their home territories, so Catraeth (wherever it was) may not have been in Rheged at all.

A Song for Urien Rheged

To me has been extended.
The lofty Llwyvenydd,

--Book of Taliesin, A Song for Urien Rheged, available online

The Satisfaction of Urien

Urien will not refuse me
The lands of Llwyvenydd.

--Book of Taliesin, The Satisfaction of Urien, available online

The Spoils of Taliesin, a Song to Urien

Like a wave that governs Llwyvenydd.

--Book of Taliesin, The Spoils of Taliesin, a Song to Urien, available online

These poems imply that Llwyvenydd is an estate or territory controlled by Urien, where Taliesin is made welcome.  Llwyvenydd contains the same Brittonic place-name element ‘llwyf’ (elm) as Argoed Llwyfain.

The River Lyvennet near Penrith has a name that looks as though it might be a modernised form of ‘Llwyvenydd’.  Tim Clarkson is of the opinion that the resemblance is no more than superficial (Clarkson 2010, p.73). I am not a linguist, so I have to take his word for that.  He does not suggest an alternative derivation for Lyvennet, so presumably it could be derived from ‘llwyf’. As discussed above, ‘elm’ place names are widespread, so the name element is too general to be much help with identification. However, although ‘elm’ place names are widespread, the name ‘Lyvennet’ itself is unusual; it is much closer to ‘Llwyvenydd’ than the ‘Lyne’ or ‘Lym’ forms of other ‘elm’ place names.  This is far from conclusive, but it is at least a straw to clutch. 

The Death-Song of Owain

The soul of Owain, son of Urien […]
There will not be found a match for the chief of the glittering west

--Book of Taliesin, The Death Song of Owain, available online

The lovely phrase ‘the glittering west’ immediately calls to mind the Lake District, or the coastlands of Cumbria and/or Galloway.  This is pure speculation on my part, and I do not know how reliable the translation is.

Other Taliesin poems

Other poems attributed to Taliesin give a list of battles and a description of what appears to be a sizeable cattle raid.  Not all of the places mentioned can be identified.  However, of those that are identifiable, all except Powys (in what is now mid-Wales) are in what is now northern England or southern Scotland, suggesting that this area was the focus of Urien’s activity. See earlier post ‘The battles of Urien Rheged’ for more details.


It seems clear that Rheged was located somewhere in the region bounded approximately by Strathclyde on the north, the Pennine chain on the east, Lancashire or possibly the Mersey area (depending where one places the kingdom of Craven) on the south, and the Irish Sea coast on the west.  This region was not the core territory of known early medieval kingdoms, but centres of high-status early medieval occupation have been identified by archaeology at Birdoswald and Trusty’s Hill. It seems a likely setting for the various un-located kings and kingdoms named in poetry and genealogies, including Rheged.

Urien’s military career was associated mainly with northern England and southern Scotland, as far as can be judged from the place names that are identifiable. His son Owain and (probable) great-grand-daughter Rhianmellt were also associated with the north of England and/or southern Scotland.  Given that early medieval armies could campaign over considerable distances (see earlier post on campaigning ranges), this is consistent with the broad geographical region described above, but does not necessarily narrow it down much.

Unfortunately, the names in the Taliesin poetry are also too general to definitively locate Rheged.  ‘Llwyvenydd’ and ‘the glittering west’ are clearly identified as places where Urien and Owain lived and ruled, as distinct from somewhere they fought battles, which makes them the most interesting for identifying Rheged’s core territory.  ‘The glittering west’ could apply to anywhere on the west coast if it refers to the gleaming sea (assuming the translation is accurate).  ‘Llwyvenydd’ contains the place-name element ‘llwyf’, ‘elm’, which occurs widely in place names. The resemblance of ‘Llwyvenydd’ to the modern name of the River Lyvennet near Penrith may be significant, or may be chance.  Even if Lyvennet is derived from ‘Llwyvenydd’, there may have been other places called ‘Llwyvenydd’ in the sixth century whose names have now been lost.

One of the poems describing Urien’s battle exploits says that he ‘came in the day to Aeron' and could imply that he was not an aggressor there (see earlier post on the battles of Urien Rheged). Aeron may be a reference to the region around modern Ayr. The mention of Godeu in ‘The Battle of Argoed Llwyfain’ may refer to the area around modern Hamilton. These may indicate that Rheged had some association with these areas, which may suggest a location in what is now south-west Scotland, perhaps on the southern border of Strathclyde.  Such a location would be consistent with battles fought at Dumbarton Rock, Bremenium (High Rochester), Stirling and Lindisfarne. As the poem says that Urien ‘came in the day’ to Aeron, it may be an indication that Aeron was somewhere that he travelled to, rather than his home territory, and the mention of ‘Godeu and Rheged’ side by side suggests that they were considered separate areas.  If so, this may indicate that Godeu and Aeron were regions in their own right, not considered part of Rheged, and that Urien’s home territory of Rheged lay elsewhere. It is unlikely to have been to the west, since Ayr is on the west coast, or to the north, since it seems unlikely that there was enough space for a substantial kingdom between Ayr and the territory of Strathclyde.  It could have been to the east, in the upland area around Selkirk and Galashiels, or to the south nearer to the Solway Firth. Both these locations would be reasonably consistent with the identifiable locations of Urien’s battles.  Selkirk is perhaps a better fit with the battles than Solway (although it is worth bearing in mind that there are other battles that have not been identified). Furthermore, someone raised a memorial stone with a Latin inscription in the Yarrow Valley near Selkirk some time in the sixth century. Unfortunately, the names on the stone bear no resemblance to the names in the Rheged genealogies (otherwise the mystery of Rheged’s location would be conclusively solved!), but it indicates that someone important was associated with the region at about the right time. Conversely, Solway is a better fit with the phrase ‘lord of the glittering west’, and the River Lyvennet is an obvious candidate for the Llwyvenydd place name.

So, although there are a few more clues in the poetry, they still do not give a conclusive answer. Rheged could have been anywhere on the western side of Britain from Strathclyde to Lancashire.  Its position within this region, its size, its boundaries, and any changes over time, are all open to interpretation. The two strongest candidates are perhaps the area around Selkirk (which fits well with the locations of Urien’s battles), and the area around the Solway Firth, which fits with Llwyvenydd if this later became the River Lyvennet, and with the ‘glittering west’. But a case could be made for almost anywhere, as Tim Clarkson says (Clarkson 2010 p.74-5).

Personally, I like the idea that Rheged was located around the head of the Solway Firth, including at least the northern part of the Lake District, the Eden valley, and part of the north shore of the Solway. This forms a reasonably coherent region with Carlisle at its hub, potentially controlling access to the coast on both sides of the Solway, the Eden valley radiating to the south, Annandale and Nithsdale radiating to the north, and the Roman roads across the Pennines along Hadrian’s Wall or to Catterick.  Water transport could also have connected both shores of the estuary. 

The high ground of the Pennine spine forms a natural barrier to the east.  The high ground of the Southern Uplands forms a similar natural barrier to the north. The ridge west of Nithsdale or the ridge of Cairnsmore of Fleet could form another natural barrier part way along the north shore of the Solway.  To the south, the high ground of the central Lake District and Mallerstang at the head of the Eden valley could form another natural barrier. It may (or may not!) be significant that the historic county boundary between Lancashire and Cumberland ran through the middle of the Lake District, across the high ground of the central fells. 

The many lakes and tarns of the Lake District and the gleaming sea and sands of the Solway could happily be described as ‘the glittering west’.  The Lyvennet valley, a tributary of the Eden, is in this area and close to the Roman road over the Pennines to Catterick. Birdoswald is in the middle of this area.  Trusty’s Hill might be within it, depending on the location chosen for the hypothetical western boundary.

The early medieval period was a time of flux, and kingdoms may not have stayed stable for long.  Bernicia and Deira certainly combined, separated and recombined more than once before they eventually merged into a more or less united Northumbria, and kings fought and conquered each other regularly.  Other kingdoms may have done the same.  This suggested area for Rheged may have been divided into smaller units at times, or may have extended further at other times, especially under particularly successful kings.

As ever, other interpretations are possible.

Map links

Book of Taliesin, available online
Room A. Dictionary of Place Names. Bloomsbury, 1993. ISBN 0-7475-1511-5.
Clarkson T. The Men of the North. Birlinn, 2010. ISBN 978-1-906566-18-0.


Beth said...

I have to confess I hadn't been paying as much attention to geography as you have, but the boundaries I'd come up with match yours almost exactly.

Argoed Llwyfain has sometimes been identified with Leeming Lane, but as you point out, the 'elm' element is quite common. Still, the proximity of Leeming to Catterick is interesting with regard to the possible location of Catraeth.

Arvynyd does mean something like 'before the mountain', so pretty non-specific. Translations of the line vary, but the most common is that there is a mustering from Argoed to Arvynyd, rather than an army extending from one to the other, as Skene's translation seems to imply. Doesn't help to locate either of them, though!

As for Goddeu, it apparently has several meanings, but in this case 'trees' (as seen in the poem title 'Cad Goddeu'/'Battle of the Trees') seems to be considered the most likely. I'd probably want to see older forms of the name Cadyow before accepting it as Goddeu - also, your point that as a topographical name it could have been applied, like the 'elm' and 'oak' elements, elsewhere, is needless to say very relevant.

The Gwen Ystrad poem is a slippery piece from what I can gather. Ifor Williams cites suggestions for the location of Gwen Ystrad itself ranging from Wensleydale through Winsterdale to the Gala Water. (Wensleydale, of course, linking nicely with a Catraeth/Catterick identification.) I remain bemused by what he has to say about Galystem. First he posits a corrupted form of the Anglo-Saxon 'geolu stan' or 'yellow stone' (modern Galston in Scotland), as a gloss on Llech Velen, which he believes is the correct form of 'Llech Wen' ('white stone' in Skene's translation.) Then in the following paragraph, he suggests 'galystem' is a corrupted form of a word meaning 'enemy scatterer'. So...place name, or something else? It seems it's a case of 'take your pick'...

It's worth pointing out a couple of the older forms of Lyvennet - Leveneth, Lyvened and Lyvennyd.

I know we've dicussed the 'glittering west' before, and on that note there is also the place name Erechwydd, which might mean 'flowing water', or 'fresh water' - including lakes. :)

This is a bit of a monster of a comment - sorry about that! :)

Carla said...

Beth - it's interesting if we have both picked the same boundaries independently. Great minds think alike :-)

As Argoed Llwyfain is named as the site of a battle, it need not necessarily be in Urien's home territory, and could be quite a distance away given that early medieval armies could campaign over long distances if they wished. So Leeming Lane, or for that matter many of the other Lyne, Lym- etc place names, could be candidates for the location.

A mustering from Argoed to Arvynydd fits with my suggestion of the phrase as a poetic construct. Perhaps to indicate a larger-than-usual muster of a whole region's population?

If Gwen Ystrad could mean 'white' in the sense of 'fair', then the range could expand even more... If it means 'fair valley' it might even be a nickname or a poetic name, like Powys 'the paradise of Britain'. The trouble with hypotheses involving corrupted forms is that it widens the possibilities even more, because there are probably several possibilities for the 'uncorrupted' original. It probably is a case of 'take your pick' for Galystem. Out of interest, does he discuss how or why a poem written in Welsh about a Brittonic king and attributed to a Brittonic bard would have picked up a corrupted Old English place name? Would it suggest that the name in Old English was established, and that the place (wherever it was) didn't have a Brittonic name or the poet didn't know it? Bede sometimes gives Old English and Brittonic names for the same place, e.g. Chester, which suggests that sometimes the same place had names in several languages.

Good point about the older forms of Lyvennet, which look even more like Llwyvenydd.

Yes, Erechwydd as 'fresh water' or 'flowing water' would fit the Lake District very well. Although almost anywhere with a decent river would :-) I was going to say that it may be a downside of topographical names, that they can often be applied to several places, whereas personal names ('Fred's farm', etc) may be more distinctive. But personal names disappear as well, like Degsa's Stone and Cnobheresburg. So actually the problem is more to do with the lack of written records - no charters, wills, land grants, inscriptions. Most remiss :-)

Don't apologise! I like the comment discussions :-)

Rick said...

Do we know what the word 'Rheged' means? I don't recall you mentioning it, which could mean either that the meaning is not known, or that it is non-helpful (e.g., a name like 'Land of Heroes' would provide information, but not about geography!)

Does Clarkson expand on his doubts about Lyvennet? (Again, I assume not, or you would have had more to say about it!)

Carla said...

Rick - John Koch in the Celtic Encyclopaedia says it is related to the word for 'gift', which doesn't help much with identifying a location.

Not in Men of the North, although possibly he may have written more extensively about it elsewhere. The impression I got from Men of the North is not that he necessarily thinks the identification of Llwyvenydd with Lyvennet is wrong as such, more that it's an unproven hypothesis and shouldn't be taken as a fact.

Beth said...

Great minds think alike :-)

Heh. :) It certainly is an interesting convergence. :)

Yes, any of the Lynes or Lym- names could also be candidates. Such as the Lyne that runs north of Bewcastle and south of Longtown to join the Esk - I wonder if that's why Kathleen Herbert located Argoed Llwyfain on the Bewcastle Fells?

The Argoed Llwyfain poem certainly suggests that there was some urgency as regards the muster, so yes, it could well be that it was in response to a situation that also required a considerable body of warriors. Argoed often tends to be treated by translators as a place name (it appears in the Gododdin and the Llywarch Hen poems), but it could as easily be a poetic construct, yes.

Gwen Ystrad could even be named after a man, which is another of Williams' suggestions. I can't remember exactly what he said, but it had something to do with the name 'Gwen' having a higher syllable count than the descriptor 'gwen' (I'm not even going to begin to think about that - he's the linguist!). That might also be why he suggested 'velen' instead of 'gwen', but I'd have to check; not that it would be any help in locating the place in question.

No, Williams didn't expand on the 'geolu stan' theory. I did wonder if it was a sort of unspoken admission that the poem was later than the others (as Tim Clarkson has pointed out, the dating on this one has been called into question). But since he gives an alternative explanation, it might just be that he was presenting all the possible hypotheses, without really having analysed the ideas in depth. If indeed Galystem is a corruption of an Old English place name preserved in modern day Ayrshire, it's hard to see why it would appear in either a genuinely early poem (when Old English presumably wouldn't have been as widespread, at least not in the area Galston lies in) or in one composed much later (where the poets probably wouldn't have been interested in including obscure English place names, and even if they were, how did they manage to gloss the corrupted name correctly?). Unless, of course, 'Yellow Stone' is a place which wasn't Galston, and/or was very well known until relatively late, and/or subsequently disappeared off the map. That's rather a lot of unlesses when a simple correction to 'enemy scatterer' or whatever would do. That's my two penn'orth, anyway. ;) I do take your point about the use of both Old English and Brittonic names, though. Chester's dual name was a recurring aggravation to the protagonist of the last novel I wrote, as it happens. :)

As you say, just about anywhere with a river could be 'Erechwydd', hence suggestions such as the River Eden, or somewhere between the Trent and Ouse. Indeed it was very remiss of these historic bods not to write more down. Where's that nice map Urien peers at so much in Bride of the Spear, that's what I'd like to know...

Don't apologise! I like the comment discussions :-)

Thank goodness! Because I have a feeling this comment is going to be even longer than the last one... ;)

Senchus said...

Excellent blogpost, Carla - with an interesting discussion thread too.

Picking up on a couple of points in previous comments....

When Sir Ifor Williams suggested that 'galystem' should be emended to 'galyscein' ('enemy scatterer') he was offering an alternative to the suggestion - made by his former tutor Sir John Morris-Jones - that 'galystem' might be Old English 'yellow stone' (and hence maybe Galston in Ayrshire). The abbreviation 'T 166-7' in Sir Ifor's note refers to a quote taken directly from pages 166-7 of Morris-Jones' edition of the Taliesin poems. Likewise, Sir Ifor saw no need to follow Morris-Jones in reading 'Llech Wen' as an error for Llech Velen, which leaves us with an apparent reference by Taliesin to a place called 'White Stone'. I imagine there are plenty of candidates on a modern map of Southern Scotland/Northern England, e.g. Wanlockhead in Dumfriesshire , formerly Wanlock (Cumbric: [G]wen Llech = 'White Stone').

My scepticism on the identification of Llwyfenydd ('elm district') as the Lyvennet Valley is a reaction to the way this theory has become a fixed point in sixth-century political geography. It was first suggested in 1946, when many historians had already become attached to the idea that the heartland of Rheged lay somewhere near Carlisle. Archaeological evidence of Romano-British settlements along the Lyvennet seemed to support the theory, and there are traditions of an ancient hero called Owain in this part of Cumbria. But the problem with all of this, as Carla mentioned, is that the place-name element ‘llwyf’ (‘elm’) is very common and, although Lyvennet probably means 'elm district', it can hardly have been the only place so named in the sixth century, even if it is the only survivor 1500 years later. The ancient settlements in the valley may have been abandoned before Urien's time, while the local Owain traditions appear to commemorate a much later hero (a king of Strathclyde) or were inspired by the Owain of Arthurian legend.

In spite of my scepticism, I would prefer Rheged to be where most people think it was: in Cumbria or Dumfries & Galloway. Archaeology shows us that these lands were certainly ruled by rich, powerful people in post-Roman times - the folk who occupied Trusty's Hill and other sites. If we could be sure one of these rulers was Urien, we could start joining the dots and filling in some very large gaps in our knowledge. Unfortunately, we don't really know where Urien's kingdom was, regardless of how many 'sounds like' place-names we find on a modern map. I've tried this approach myself, e.g. by trying to connect Taliesin's Goddeu with Cadzow, but it's nearly always a wild shot in the dark. In the case of Rheged, the usual mantra is 'most historians generally agree that the kingdom was situated....etc etc' but it doesn't turn a theory into a fact. Carla is absolutely right when she says 'Rheged could have been anywhere on the western side of Britain from Strathclyde to Lancashire'. The only North British kingdoms I would place on a map with any sort of confidence are Alt Clut at Dumbarton, Gododdin at Edinburgh and Gwenddoleu's realm at Carwinley near Carlisle.

Rick said...

not that he necessarily thinks the identification of Llwyvenydd with Lyvennet is wrong as such, more that it's an unproven hypothesis and shouldn't be taken as a fact

A crucial distinction! (And even more so for fiction.)

Carla said...

Beth - yes, that may well have been why she placed Argoed Llwyfain in the Bewcastle Fells. The Lyne area is even forested, although it looks like recent plantations. There might even be a candidate for the waterfall where the headwaters of the White Lyne flow down through a bit of craggy ground at Middle Crag here. There could possibly be a bit of a waterfall where the stream goes between the crag markings, although the stream might be too small and there doesn't look to be much of a bowl above. FWIW, I always imagine the waterfall in the novel to be a smaller version of Gillercoomb near Seathwaite in Borrowdale.

If Gwen Ystrad could refer to a personal name, that widens the range of possibilities even more. If it was a 'Yellow Stone' it could refer to a standing stone or even a prominent boulder, which might not have survived into modern place names at all. I am intrigued as to how Chester's dual place name was an aggravation for your protagonist :-)

If the historical Urien had such a map (presumably a late Roman map?), it probably went the way of all flesh, courtesy of bookworms, damp and neglect (as with the scrolls that Owain finds abandoned in Caer Voran towards the end of Bride of the Spear), or was stored in a monastic library and went up in flames when the monasteries were sacked by Vikings / rival armies during the Wars of Independence / the Dissolution.

Senchus/ Tim Clarkson - hello and welcome! Many thanks for coming by to comment. Thanks for the background about 'galystem'. How would 'enemy scatterer' fit with the rest of the line? - would it be something like 'the white stone of the enemy scatterer', or what? If it would, it immediately calls to my mind something like Clach nan Con Fionn in Coulin near Torridon, which is a prominent (natural, I think) white boulder that according to legend is where the giant Finn tied his hounds. A name like that, referring to a landmark rather than a settlement, could very easily be lost over time. I agree, there must be many candidates for a 'White Stone' in northern England/ southern Scotland! If the name did refer to a landmark, like a standing stone or a prominent boulder, it might not even be on a map.

I too prefer Rheged to be somewhere around the Solway in Cumbria and/or Dumfries and Galloway, which is why I 'pinned the tail on the donkey' where I did. I'm conscious that it's an attractive theory, though, not a fact. Which is one of the reasons I try to be careful to distinguish between 'evidence' and 'interpretation' in articles here.

It seems curious to me that no trace of the name Rheged apparently survives in modern place names, unlike, say, Elmet. Do you have a suggestion as to why that might be? My guess, for what it's worth, is that 'Rheged' was a new coinage for a sort of super-kingdom comprised of several previously independent territories, perhaps put together forcibly by militay conquest; that the super-kingdom fell apart after the military leader who created it died (as Northumbria had a tendency to fall apart into Bernicia and Deira); and that the name disappeared with it, having not been used long enough to really take root. What do you think?

Rick - why even more so for fiction? I like to know where the evidence stops and therefore where my imagination can take over, but surely that's at least as important in non-fiction as fiction?

Beth said...

Tim - thanks for clearing up the 'galystem' business. I was going by memory and evidently forgot that Williams was critiquing Morris-Jones' theory rather than offering it as a possible interpretation. Next time, I'll check the book before I post a load of largely irrelevant stuff. ;)

The Lyvennet has received more than is perhaps its fair share of attention, although given the similarity to 'Llwyfenydd' as compared to say 'Lyne', or 'Lym-' element names, you can see why. It doesn't give it more veracity than the others, as you say - it just has a claim to acknowledgement as a possible candidate.

Kathleen Herbert mentioned slight evidence of 'Dark Age' occupation of what was thought to be a Roman signal station near Castle Hewin north of Penrith, but I've never been able to track that down. As you point out, there's no conclusive evidence either way for occupation from the Brittonic early medieval period in any of the Lyvennet settlements examined so far. (I don't think they've been excavated recently, though?)

Is there anything in the tales of Owain to link him to the king of Strathclyde, other than the name?

From a personal point of view, in terms of fiction, since I have to choose somewhere to locate Rheged, I've gone largely with the established theory; though as far as the history goes, I know theory is what it's likely to remain. Just until someone turns up that nice inscribed stone, anyway! ;)

Carla - I hadn't thought to check the terrain, but that does look like it could at least be a possibility. The waterfall at Gillercomb does look just right, actually. Checking the location on the map, I found it was on a route we'd intended to walk but never made it to - something to keep in mind for the next Cumbrian visit. :)

Stones seem to crop a few times in the poetry. Drws Llech ('Door Stone') in one of the Llywarch Hen poems, and Maen Gwyngwn (possibly 'Stone of the Venicones tribe') in the Goddodin. Perhaps boundary stones of some kind? Not necessarily even officially placed ones, but just convenient markers in the landscape, like the promionent boulder you suggest. Yep, the name could easily have faded away.

As for Chester, my character was Welsh and, shall we say, a smidgen conservative. Everyone (including his fellow Britons) drove him up the wall by calling Chester 'Legaceaster' when - as everyone knows - its proper name is Caer Legion. :)

Though it's very in keeping with the depiction of Urien in Bride of the Spear, I don't know whether I can see a real early medieval king having such an item, though I suppose it's always possible. However, I'd imagine that any map would have been covered by so many scribblings as kingdoms changed boundaries, amalgamated, split, etc, that it would be practically eligible. ;)

Beth said...

P.S. Or even 'illegible'. ;)

Carla said...

Beth - I'd definitely recommend Gillercoomb. It's one of my favourite ways up Great Gable, and the waterfalls are spectacular in spate.

There's also Degsa's Stone in Bede, and Egbert's Stone, where Alfred the Great called his muster. A standing stone or a prominent boulder might well make a good landmark or meeting place. Some perhaps had legends attached into the bargain; presumably there was a story about Finn and his hunting dog attached to Clach nan Con Fionm, and presuambly there's some story behind names like the Bridestones on the North York Moors.

At least he didn't call it Deva. Now that would have been ultra-conservative :-)

I suppose a map is no harder to produce than a manuscript, possibly easier. If the late Roman army had campaign maps, and if they were still considered useful, they could have been copied (and possibly updated as required!). Urien in Bride of the Spear is said to have written the current names of fortresses and kingdoms on an old Roman map. I suppose he could have kept updating it as needed, and then when it became illegible (or even eligible - eligible for copying? eligible for replacement? :-)) he could have given it to a monk and told him to make a fair copy, then started again.

Beth said...

The association of Fionn's hunting hounds with the rock reminds me of Carn Cafall in Wales, where Arthur's dog is supposed to have left the imprint of his paw. I hadn't heard of Egbert's Stone; the number of stones named after people does seem to lend some credence to the theory that Llech Wen might mean 'Gwen's Stone' just as well as 'White Stone'. Perhaps the Bridestones have something to do with the common tale of wedding parties dancing on the Sabbath being turned into stone circles?

Yes, calling it Deva would have been pretty conservative indeed...probably a bit too conservative for him. And anyway, why use one word when you can use two? ;)

As for Urien's map - definitely eligible for replacement, if his spellchecking was anything like mine. ;) But I'm sure he was much more thorough. :P

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion.

For my money, I think that ascertaining where Urien held sway and where Rheged actually was are two different questions.

We aren't talking about defined realms in this day and age. What we have instead is a very fluid situation, in which little kingdoms are trying to become bigger ones. Rheged is, I think, not a territorial name but is instead a term which defines a temporary hegemony under a particuarly poweful warlord (the Urien figure) who was able to extend his influence far beyond any core realm.

Rheged probably means something like "bountiful". If it does, the line in one of the poems about Rheged being good at giving starts to look like a clever pun.

As everyone says, names like Llwyfein or Gwen Ystrad ("white valley" or "white shore") are sufficiently vague that you can put them more or less anywhere. Tim Clarkson (a compelling writer and one whom I am aware recommends you and vice versa) did a good job of dividing and conquering the Rheged=Cumbria evidence in Men of the North, but in so doing he made the mistake of seeing each piece of evidence as discrete. He did the same with the usual association of Catterick=Catreath, but that is another story.

I would argue that anyone seeking Urien should be looking in the Eden Valley area, near the Roman Road network and the watershed of the fertile valleys of Lune and Eden.



Carla said...

Beth - yes, it's probably the same sort of story. I guess that someone telling a story about Finn or Arthur or some other great legendary hero might have found it attractive to add in some local landmarks to provide more of a connection for the audience. Or someone noticed a strange-shaped rock in the landscape and made up a story about it to pass the time or to keep the kids quiet.

Egbert's Stone was the muster point for Alfred's levies before the Battle of Ethandun (it's named in the ASC or Asser's Life of Alfred, I forget which, or it might be both). The approximate location is fairly clear but as far as I know the exact place is uncertain (and there isn't an inscribed stone extant labelled 'Stone of Egbert' or 'Here Lies Egbert' or 'Egbert Raised Me'. Unfortunately.)

Stones named after/associated with people call to mind the Pictish symbol stones. I can easily imagine those being referred to as Brude's Stone or Drust's Stone by people who understood the symbols. There are also the Latin inscribed stones in Wales and the Norse runestones. Lilla Cross/Lilla Howe on the North York Moors might also fit into the same sort of tradition. I wonder if some of the 'X's Stone' names refer to something like this.

Could be for the stone circles. The Bridestones I was thinking of, aren't a stone circle, they are weirdly shaped natural rock outcrops, a bit like the tors on Kinder Scout in Derbyshire but made of a different rock. I have no idea where they got their name; maybe a bride turned to stone by some supernatural force?

AR - Hello and welcome! Your suggestion of Rheged as a name for a temporary hegemony under an especially powerful warlord seems broadly similar to my suggestion that Rheged might have been a short-lived name for an enlarged territory that did not last. A temporary hegemony would be consistent with the apparent lack of survival of the name Rheged into modern place names; there don't seem to be any 'X-in-Rheged' names, unlike Thornton-in-Craven or Sherburn-in-Elmet.

The Eden Valley is a possible location for Rheged (as is anywhere in the west from Strathclyde to Lancashire). Would you like to expand on your argument for placing Urien there? I'm guessing that the Roman road to Catterick and the River Lyvennet place name play a part, is that right?

Tim said...

Carla - On the apparent non-survival of 'Rheged' as a place-name, you wrote: 'My guess, for what it's worth, is that 'Rheged' was a new coinage for a sort of super-kingdom comprised of several previously independent territories, perhaps put together forcibly by military conquest; that the super-kingdom fell apart after the military leader who created it died.'

This is certainly a possible scenario and would, as you point out, have a kind of analogy with Northumbria. Both realms would then be more-or-less artificial in origin. The idea of Urien's 'empire' (or whatever it was) falling apart on his death is probably pretty close to what happened. These early kingdoms had not developed enough features of statehood to be stable political entities. They were held together by strong, charismatic individuals whose authority didn't automatically pass to an heir or successor. In many cases the new king had to start from scratch, so whoever succeeded Urien would not have inherited his 'empire'.

Non-survival of the name 'Rheged' suggests to me that, unlike Elmet, it was not the name of a kingdom, or not a very large one anyway. The second element of Dunragit in Galloway seems to be an unrelated Gaelic word, a point supported by the place-name expert Andrew Breeze in his recent article on Rheged.

Carla, you also wondered about the line of poetry containing 'galystem' if this word is emended to 'galyscein'. It becomes something like 'the scatterer of enemies delighted in the fury of battle'. Llech Wen seems to belong to the previous line, according to the translation by Meirion Pennar (in the very nice Llanerch Press edition of Taliesin). I agree that it was probably a well-known landmark like the Stone of Finn's Hounds, Degsastan and Maen Gwyngwn.

Beth - yes, without our 'Urbagen fili Cinmarci' stone we're at liberty to put Rheged wherever we choose. The Solway region is as good a place as any. Nobody (not even a sceptic like me) can say it definitely wasn't there.

I haven't seen Kathleen Herbert's book but local folklore associates Castle Hewen with the legendary hero Owain (or Ewan) Caesarius who is said to be buried in the Giant's Grave at Penrith. In a blogpost I suggested that the figure behind all this was probably one of the Owains who ruled Strathclyde in the 10th-11th centuries, rather than Urien's son. Castle Hewen's name goes back to 1285 and presumably even earlier. It was a settlement of circular buildings on a low hill and was certainly occupied in Roman times, maybe later - an archaeological report in the 1970s suggested that the largest building might be a Dark Age hall.

The Owain folklore in Cumbria is pretty confusing. A famous King Owain of Strathclyde attended a meeting with King Athelstan of Wessex at Penrith in 927. I think the Ewan Caesarius legends in this part of Cumbria owe something to this Owain and something to the Owain of Arthurian legend (who was none other than Urien's son, drafted into Welsh tales of Arthur because of the fame of Taliesin's poems in Wales). A seemingly independent body of folklore about Owain ab Urien was already circulating in Southern Scotland by c.1150 and may have been around long before. It associates him with events in Lothian and makes him the father of St Kentigern, but says nothing of where he came from.

Rick - Rheged might mean something like '(Land of) the Gift-Givers'. It could even be an ancient pre-Roman tribal name.

Rick said...

... why even more so for fiction

My thinking is that nonfiction history both allows and expects explicit uncertainty about facts. But in a story you mostly have to pin things down. (At least if they figure directly in the story.)

So in the case of a story set in Rheged, Urien himself might not be sure who he could fully count on and who might be unreliable, but it would be hard to show him as unsure where Rheged is. Which means the author has to decide on the evidence one way or another.

On maps, reproducing a map sounds tougher than reproducing a text - depending on the standards for a 'good' map.

If you are copying a manuscript, no one (I would think) expects you to duplicate the exact letterforms - just represent the intended letter clearly. Copying a map, as we usually think of maps, means reproducing proportions and relations much more exactly.

Proviso: Ancient maps seem to have been schematic, and at their best were rather like the familiar London Underground map. Such a map can take a fair amount of distortion, so long as it shows (for example) the right Roman roads going to the right places. Maps that closely reproduce the shapes of coastlines and such only appear, as far as I know, around the 14th century.

Carla said...

Tim - many thanks for your reply. There are traces of a similar sort of dynamic in medieval Wales, where charismatic leaders manage to unite large areas under their rule, like Owain Gwynedd and Llewellyn Fawr, only for it all to fall apart again after their deaths as their various sons, brothers, etc all squabble for power. And whichever son/brother/nephew/cousin/grandson emerges as the next leader has to fight his way to power over a large number of rivals, all of whom then have a motivation to take revenge by undermining or opposing his rule. I imagine sixth-century politics to be a bit like that, only more so.

Rick - ah, that makes sense. Yes, a historian can say 'this is unknown...', but a novelist has to make a decision and go with it, and with the consequences that flow from it. E.g. placing Rheged in a coastal location implies (to me) that it probably had at least some sort of maritime capability. If I'd placed it in a landlocked location in the uplands around Selkirk that wouldn't have applied!

Indeed, manuscripts don't attempt to copy the letter forms. Each scribe writes their own hand, and sometimes it's possible to tell how many scribes were involved in creating a particular manuscript. I'm not sure when accurate to-scale maps came in, but probably quite late, because of the difficulties you mention. 14th C doesn't sound unreasonable. Hence the importance of having someone in the crew who had sailed the route and/or the general area before. Somewhere in the Vinland Sagas, the man who eventually discovered Vinland announces his intention to sail from Iceland to Greenland and says 'this will be thought foolhardy because none of us has ever sailed the Greenland Sea'. In his case he missed Greenland but made landfall in Vinland instead, but presumably most ships that missed their destinations didn't have such a happy outcome.
Insofar as I imagine Urien's map, I think of it as a schematic representation with major rivers and major Roman roads, the Roman towns and forts they went to, perhaps with the addition of non-Roman contemporary strongholds such as reoccupied hillforts, and maybe an approximation to the sort of terrain that might be encountered, e.g. that there's a range of hills or a big forest to be crossed between X and Y. The Antonine Itineraries preserve lists of places and distances along major roads, and a post-Roman ruler might have access to something like that and/or a schematic map with similar information. Knowing that Ravenglass is about 20 miles from Ambleside with a couple of sizeable mountain passes (Hardknott and Wrynose) in the way is useful information

Anonymous said...

Hi Carla,

Partially, but not entirely. Basing any case on a chance reference in a poem is unwise, to say the least!

That said, although I'd agree with Tim that the evidence for Rheged=North Cumbria/Costa Del Solway is hardly compelling, the alternatives are even less convincing. What I think we need to do instead is look at Rheged as one point on the line that leads from the Late Roman period through to Northumbria and beyond. Archaeological digs (most famously at Birdoswald, but also at Carlisle, South Shields and now Maryport) are starting to present a picture of post-Roman continuity and mutation amongst what had been the Late Roman limitanei on the Wall and in the hinterland of what is now Cumbria and Northumbria.

I'm with Breeze (and Ptolemy, who might reasonably have been expected to know what he was on about) in shifting the Votadini south to Northumberland and I think that the traditions about Rheged - an independent, Christain British polity with an apparent awareness of a Romanised past - suggest that Rheged and Gododdin shared something culturally. So, if the Gododdin belong to the east end of the old frontier, it is a reasonable hypothesis that Rheged might belong to the west. The clues from the written sources, including the poems (contemporary if you are on Team Williams et al but later if you are on Team Isaac and believe that his hatchet job on Gweith Gwen Ystrad can be stretched to the rest) sit perfectly well with such an identification, without actually proving anything conclusively.

My argument is, of course, rather more complex than this but it forms a biggish chunk of my Masters (in progress) so I'm sure you'll understand that I don't want to splurge it all out until I've got my ducks in a row.



Beth said...

Carla - So that's what Alfred's Tower is doing there... (I've only ever seen it from a distance, and to my shame have never read about it until now.)

Good point about inscribed stones!

Ah, right - I hadn't realised that about the Bridestones. Certainly the High Bridestones circle has the legend I mentioned attached to it, but I guess it is more plausible for that than the rock outcrop Bridestones; although maybe, as you suggest, there was some sort of variant legend there.

Tim - Owain was obviously a popular name! That an Owain met with Athelstan at Penrith is very interesting in the light of Castle Hewen and the Giant's Grave; I'll have to take a look at your post.

Possibly that 70s archaeological report on Castle Hewen is the thing I've been looking for - certainly I haven't found much about the settlement in online resources other than general statements that 'there might have been something Dark Age there'.

IIRC the Aberdeen Breviary says that St. Kentigern's father was 'King of Cumbria', but I'd imagine that's a) not necessarily referring to the Cumbria we recognise today? and b) too late to make anything of.

Carla said...

AR - Indeed, which is why Rheged could be placed almost anywhere in the west between Strathclyde and Lancashire. In Britain and the End of the Roman Empire, Ken Dark suggests a theory that there was an organised attempt in the fifth and sixth centuries to revive Roman military organisation in the north of what is now England, which might be consistent with your comment about post-Roman continuity and mutation. Good luck with your Masters!

Beth - Yes, Alfred's Tower is on one of the candidate sites.

The medieval Life of St Kentigern commissioned in the 12th C by Herbert, Bishop of Glasgow, says that Kentigern's father was Owain son of Urien. If the auther of the Aberdeen Breviary knew of that, and also knew that Owain and/or Urien were associated with Cumbria, he could have got 'King of Cumbria' from the combination. Whether he meant 'Cumbria' to refer to the area we know as Cumbria today is a different matter - he might have been using it to refer to an area where people predominantly spoke Brittonic, in which case it could just as easily have been Strathclyde that he had in mind. He may also have combined the Owain of the Life of Kentigern with a more recent Owain of Strathclyde. If he thought of 'Cumbria' as Strathclyde, this would make perfect sense. (One could wish that Urien had chosen a more unusual name for his son and heir! Although if Owain ap Urien was really a great historical hero, I suppose later generations would probably have called their sons after him, whatever his name, so there would still be a group of namesakes to confuse us. Ho hum).

Caveat that I haven't read the Herbert Life of Kentigern as full text, much less in the original, so I'm relying on the summary in Cynthia Whiddon-Green's thesis online (see link in my post about Owain map Urien). It says there that the Owain who was father of Kentigern was also the son of Urien, but whether that's in the original text I don't know.

Beth said...

Carla - Yes, Strathclyde was really what I had in mind when I questioned what 'Cumbria' might have meant. As for the Lives, I believe one of them contains what appears to be a corrupted form of Urien (something like Erwegen or Erwegende) as the name of Owain's father; and since Jocelyn doesn't even seem to mention Owain, I'd assume that must be the Herbertian Life.

Carla said...

Beth - Since Kentigern was associated with Glasgow, a related possibility is that whoever wrote the Aberdeen Breviary assumed he was part of the local royal dynasty. Tim Clarkson says that in the 10th and 11th C the Clyde Britons were referred to as Cumbrenses or Cumbrians (Men of the North p. 172), so that might be what the author had in mind.

You must be right, if the name is in a Life of St Kentigern it's presumably the Herbert Life, since Jocelyn manages not to mention the name of Kentigern's father at all. I wish more of the Herbert Life had survived.

Anonymous said...

Ken Dark has come in for a bit of stick for his theory. in his papers for Britannia, he postulated a period of abandonment followed by a planned reoccupation. His evidence is rather better than most commentators are prepared to give him credit for, but I'd disagree with him on two points - firstly, the abandonment bit and secondly, the notion that there was a single, universal effort to regarrison the Wall. I suspect that many historians saw populist theories about the Dux lurking somewhere in the background.

Cumbria almost certainly means much more than the modern English county. The name is cognate with modern Welsh Cymry and means something like "the fellow men". I think we can safely assuem that it covered British Strathclyde too.

Alone amongst the British kingdoms of the north, Strathclyde emerged from the darkest of the dark ages.
Her borders are a matter of debate (lines on maps rarely take account of geography and population densities) and are likely to have fluctuated, but clues such as the name of Dunmail Raise and the meeting at Eamont Bridge suggest that at least in the tenth century, Strathclyde included what is now north Cumbria and the top half at least of the Lake District National park.

Possibly coincidence, but Eamont Bridge remained the boundary between Cumberland and Westmorland until 1974 and I'm pretty sure that Dunmail Raise fulfilled the same function. Grasmere, a couple of miles to the south, was in Westmorland and Keswick, a few more miles to the north, was in Cumberland, so the border had to be there or thereabouts.



Anonymous said...

On Beth's Castle Hewen point. As Tim says, legend links it to Owain Caesarius (whose surname is suggestive of the Roman world). However, many of the legends concern a character called the Giant of Tarn Wadling (note the inversion compound). Tarn Wadling was a real tarn which lay at the foot of Castle Hewen, but which was drained a long time ago.

The Giant of Tarn Wadling crops up in the Arthurian cycle and although many of the legends do not give his name, the links to the giant Owain C are plain.

In addition, although the name "Castle Hewen" is not really used today, the nearest farm is still called Ewan Close, which is also likely to derive from "Owain".

None of this is evidence for the location of Rheged, but it's all very interesting nonetheless.



PS: I think the Castle Hewen dig reports are in Tullie House in Carlisle.

Carla said...

AR - I'm cautious about the idea of a systematic reoccupation of the Roman forts under a single integrated authority. It seems to me that the various forts could just as easily have been reoccupied piecemeal, possibly at different times. The date range for the Birdoswald halls seems pretty wide, and elsewhere in the same book Ken Dark also argues that Roman artefacts continued in use and thus that sites dated as 'Roman' on the basis of finds could actually be post-Roman. So I'm not sure that there's enough evidence to test the hypothesis that all the sites were occupied at the same time, which would be necessary if they were part of an organised reoccupation. Even if they were all simultaneously occupied, it's still another step to say that they all answered to the same authority. I don't know how one could test that at all.

Yes, 'Cumbria' may have been widely used. It may have indicated a political or cultural identity as much as anything to do with geography. Tim Clarkson says that the Strathclyde Britons were called Cumbrenses by 10th and 11th C writers. Given that at least the northern part of modern Cumbria was under Strathclyde control at the time of the meeting at Eamont Bridge, the name of the historic county of 'Cumberland' and the modern county may have derived from there?

Whether the Cumberland-Westmorland-Lancashire border has roots any further back than the 10th/11th century, I have no idea. I rather like the idea that it did (Dunmail Raise is on the watershed, which is a logical sort of place for an early boundary). Historic Lancashire is rather an odd shape, with some of the county 'over sands' in what's now southern Cumbria, with as far as I can see no land connection with the rest of the county across the estuary. I rather like the idea that the odd shape reflects an early territory that perhaps regarded Morecambe Bay as a resource rather than a barrier. Such a territory might have been part of Urien's Rheged empire for a while. It might have been 'Rheged' itself, if you take the River Leven draining Windermere as a candidate for Llwyfynedd, and Morecambe Bay is as good a candidate for 'the glittering west' as Solway. I located Rheged around the next estuary north to move it nearer to Goddeu (if that is Hamilton) and Aeron (if that is Ayr), but that's based on the poems, which refer to Rheged in Urien's day. If the 'Rheged' of the poems refers to a sort of enlarged 'super-kingdom', it might already have expanded considerably from whatever the original core territory had been. One could place 'Rheged' around historic Lancashire and Gwenddoleu's territory, whatever it was called, around the Solway, perhaps falling under Urien's control after Arthuret and perhaps giving Urien the start of his territorial expansion. All of which is purely speculative.

Thanks for the information about Castle Hewen. Out of interest, do we know when the name 'Owen Caesarius' was in use? If it is late, I am wondering if 'Caesarius' had come to be a generic term for 'really powerful ruler' (rather like 'Caesar' developing into Kaiser or Tsar), rather than specifically a link to the Roman past.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carla,

I agree with you about Dark. The internet is awash with sites which purport to explain northern political history on the following basis:-

1. The Dux lived at York. Unproven hypothesis.

2. The last Dux was Coel Hen. Possible, but unproven and almost certainly unprovable.

3. Coel Hen seized control of his command and turned it into an independent polity. Unproven hypothesis.

4. The generations following Coel Hen as attested in the various genealogical tracts represent unbroken lines of succession in which Coel Hen's empire fractures into ever smaller pieces before being gobbled up by the nasty Northumbrians. This argument is based largely on the assumption that the later genealogies of Urien, Gwallog, Cadwallon and the rest are also king lists. In fact, genealogies and king lists are not the same thing.

If we take this "evidence" away, there is really nothing to support the notion of a pan-Northern British polity in the post and sub Roman period.

I'd argue that there was continued occupation at some sites and that the inhabitants, whilst aware of their Roman past and perhaps even believing that they remained part of a Roman present, were not being directed from afar to refortify the old frontier.

I'm afraid I don't know enough about Owain C to comment on when the Caesarius name was first used - but I'm not aware of that name/title being used for any other legendary heroes. It might have been, of course, but if the name was only ever really attached to one figure, I'd see that as an admittedly feeble piece of evidence to support the notion that the Owain in question was remembered as part of a lost Romam world - and this fits the figure of Owain ap Urien far better than any of the various Owains of Strathclyde. In addition, given that Strathclyde rulers tended to be based at the rock of Dumbarton, I also query why Owain legends would be so pronounced on the one-time southern edge of the realm but be apparently absent in the heartlands?

As far as the survivial of Cumbria is concerned, I don't really know. But given that Cumberland only became part of England in the time of William Rufus and given that there is evidence of both linguistic and social difference between Cumberland and the rest of the country, it is perhaps the case that the Cumbrogi were sufficiently distinct that the name just stuck within England.



Carla said...

AR - Quite so. It's an attractive theory, especially if looking for a context in which to place a historical 'King Arthur', and I'd have no objection to seeing it in fiction, but it's unproven - and likely will remain so, unless some substantial new source of evidence turns up.

Continued occupation at some sites seems clear from archaeological findings - e.g. someone was certainly building timber halls at Birdoswald - as might be expected, given that ex-Roman forts would have useful features like defences, maybe some serviceable buildings and a water supply. Some sort of awareness of the Roman past also seems quite likely, although it may have been hazy and possibly (partially) invented. Bede says that Eadwine of Deira/Northumbria used a Roman standard, there's the peculiar structure at Yeavering that might be a segment of a Roman theatre constructed in timber, and there's the 'Cesar' in the upper reaches of the East Anglian genealogy. Latin titles turn up on 5th/6th C inscribed stones in Wales, and whoever rebuilt Wroxeter in the 6th C seems to have done their measuring in Roman feet. Earlier discussions here have touched on the potential value of claiming a link, real or invented, to past Roman authority.

Good points re Owen Caesarius.

Anonymous said...

Hi Carla

Birdoswald has certainly changed much of the thinking about sub Roman continuity on the Wall. Are you aware of the ongoing dig at Maryport? Evidence of an early Christian community is emerging at the edge of the fort. South Shields has also chucked up some interesting material and there is evidence of some continuity at Carlisle too.

Have you seen Rob Collins' work on this?

I'm not inclined to give Arthur house room up here. I recently stumbled across a dreadful pseudo history (as Guy Halsall calls them) which attempted to link a historical Arthur with some sort of continuity of the cavalry garrison at Stanwix. The usual ragbag of hypotheses piled onto suppositions and lathered in guesses!



Brian Williams said...

Urien, alongside Arthur, is one of the most written about historic figures of their period, but most of it entirly wrong because writers have followed each other without thought as to correct interpretations of both Arthur's and Urien's actions.
There is a reality about Rheged and Gorre that is nowhere near the claims made in the past, or present.
In any of the stories you plan to write in the future your setting for Rheged should be in North Wales in the very specific region east of the River Cynwy to the River Clwyd. For Gorre you need to come further south.
The reality of those places of the actions, that link tightly to all that properly went on at the time, and in the time-line that lock everything in place, is that those regions will give you plenty to
write about by way of the links are water-tight.

You, nor anyone else, will lighly
accept such a claim until it is backed-up by solid detail where the whole period is brought out of the Dark Age into the light.
The History of Wales and the Borderlands 'A Continuity of Errors'is currently in draft form awaiting editing, so it should not be long before the details become a lot clearer and history lessons will have to be re-organised!

Carla said...

AR - Yes, the Maryport dig is turning up some very interesting material. We mentioned it on a comment thread in an earlier post somewhere. I commented that it might be a good model for Patrick's home at Banna Venta Burnaie, wherever that was.

I've seen Rob Collins' book on Hadrian's Wall but at £80 it's a bit beyond my price range for now. Maybe interlibrary loan will be able to help.

Do you have a link or a reference for continuity at Carlisle? I know Beth would be very interested in it.

The thing with Arthur is that there's so little evidence that it can be interpreted as consistent with almost any theory. Even the existence of a historical Arthur is uncertain, so any theory about the details of who/where/what he might have been is almost bound to involve building a house of hypothetical cards because there isn't much else. Which I guess is part of Arthur's enduring attraction.

Beth said...

AR, good point about Owain Caesarius' localisation. Perhaps that's what was at the back of my mind when I queried the phrase 'King of Cumbria' - I suppose I wondered whether people could have conceived of a king coming from within Strathclyde Cumbria who wasn't actually based in Strathclyde itself. But I suspect that's a moot point; Carla's suggestion that Kentigern was linked with the Strathclyde nobility by virtue of his being based in Glasgow sounds pretty convincing to me.

Thanks for the tip on the dig reports for Castle Hewen. Tullie House have always been superlatively helpful in the past, so I might contact them about it. I'm also doing my Masters on the subject of Rheged, albeit in the form of fiction; nevertheless, I do like to gather as much relevant info as possible. As Carla said, I'd certainly be interested to know more about the continuity at Carlisle. I'm aware of the Late Roman material such as the gold solidus and possible 5th century pottery sherds, the activity opposite the fort principia and the respecting of Roman roads/buildings elsewhere in the city - as well as the ubiquitous 'dark earth'. But other than that it seems like someone fast-forwarded to the 7th century.

As for Stanwix, I wouldn't put any money on Arthur ever having been there (even assuming he existed), but I'm mighty interested in the traces of post-Roman occupation which have been hinted at but not written about much (caveat that I don't have access to a large number of academic works), either to confirm or deny what was found.

I've been gazing longingly at Rob Collins' book myself, but though the spirit is willing, the bank account is weak...

Carla said...

Brian Williams - Hello and welcome. Many interpretations are possible. Good luck with your book!

Beth - 'fast forwarded to the 7th century'; a good description! At least it wasn't all the way to the 11th :-) I ought to update my notes on post-Roman Carlisle; I didn't really need to go into details for Exile, so I haven't looked at it much for a long time. What sources would you recommend?

Beth said...

Carla - Yes, better the seventh than the eleventh! Tbh, most of what I've gleaned has come from online sources, most specifically Liverpool Museum's Early Medieval Assessment, which I think you mentioned having a copy of? That provides a good synthesis, though there really doesn't seem to be much material to discuss. More info may have come to light since the PDF was compiled, but since nothing has appeared on databases such as Pastscape, I've assumed that it probably hasn't. References in older pieces to the possible post-Roman structures are usually linked to John Zant and spoken of as forthcoming - I haven't been able to find any sign of such a publication, though, unless there's a discussion in the two volume Carlisle Millennium Project report. Possibly Mike McCarthy's Roman Carlisle and the Lands of the Solway has something to say, but being too stingy to splash out on it until I know more about the contents, I admit I haven't yet checked. And Rob Collins' book might tackle the subject in greater depth, I suppose, but unfortunately I'm not in a position to know! Perhaps AR might? Sorry, that's not a terribly helpful list of sources! But there honestly doesn't seem to be much out there that (obviously) covers the subject.

Anonymous said...

Hi both,

Mike McCarthy has done a lot of work at Carlisle and there was also the Millenium Project (Zant?). The Life of St Cuthbert suggests that as late as 685, there were visible Roman walls and a working (presumably Roman) water system in the town, although I accept that this is a temporal leap from the post-Roman period! That said, as Dark rightly says, given the lack of coinage and pottery, relatively small amounts of evidence get us quite a long way. The solidus is good evidence for the late development of a substantial house on Scotch Street, which in and of itself is rather at odds with the picture of decline painted by the traditional narrative.

If purses are howling, Rob Collins has written some good articles too - there's a good one in Limes, some parts of which can (I think) be obtained for free if one subscribes.

Would Maryport still not have been called something like Alauna in Patrick's day? "Ellen" (after the river) remained part of the place name of Ellenfoot until the place was totally renamed in honour of the landowner's wife, Mary.

I;d say we can't link Maryport with Patrick's birthplace as the "Banna" bit of Bannavem Taberniae is synonymous with Birdoswald's Roman name (Banna) and probably comes from Brythonic "bannau" ("peaks").

Brian - very interested to hear your version of events. The Rheged=bits of North Wales link is an ancient one, but I thought it had been largely rejected as being a medieval reinvention perpetrated by those for whom the north of Wales had to mean Wales as it now exists, rather than "Wales" as it once existed? Where do Rhos and Gwynedd fit in if their dynasties are sharing their core territory with the Coeling kings?



Beth said...

Just to add to the sources - I missed out Snyder's An Age of Tyrants, which gives further information about the timber buildings (5th century) amongst other things, along with a useful bibliography. Again, though, it's not much.

Carla said...

Beth and AR - many thanks!

I meant Maryport not as Patrick's Banna Venta itself, but more as a model for it, i.e. as a possible example of the sort of place Patrick's Banna Venta might have been. If one was trying to imagine Banna Vanta, the results from the Maryport dig might be a good place to start.

The Life of Cuthbert in 685 is very close to my period, and the still-working fountain and (presumably) aqueduct is most interesting.

Anonymous said...

Hi both,

Mike McCarthy's "Roman Carlisle etc" is very good and, better still, is available for public loan from Cumbria's library service. As is Mattingly's blockbusting "Imperial Possession", which sets out an interesting theory that the military, towns and countryside comprised three separate communities, each with a differnt experience of Rome and/or Being Roman. You might like to have a look at that theory in the context of Maryport being similar to Patrick's Banna.

Mike McCarthy has been involved in all sorts of digs in and around the town and he also wrote a paper arguing that Rheged might be in Galloway (Rheged: A Landscape Perspective).

Rob Collins' Limes article sets out a summary of the late Roman changes at a number of Cumbrian forts and if you read that in conjunction with Dark's list (in his largely debunked refortification paper), you can get a fair, albeit out of date, picture. Throw that in to the mix with more recent evidence, including Tony Wilmot's work at Birdoswald and what is happening at Maryport and a clearer picture of post Roman continuity is slowly starting to emerge.

Alas, there are still gaps between Constantine III and Cuthbert, but one other little piece of evidence which is often overlooked is Urien's name. His name - which is a Welsh rendering of Urbgen(is) - means "City born". His parents might just have liked the name, of course, but is it not more likely (assuming he existed at all) that he was so called because he came from a place which was still considered to be an "urbs" in the mid sixth century? If that is right (and I accept that I am getting dangerously close to wild speculation), there appears to me to be ony one valid candidate for a city as the term might have been understood at the time - Carlisle.*



* Urbs probably meant rather more than "built up area", but that is another story.

Carla said...

AR - Pity that Mike McCarthy's Roman Carlisle is out of print. Maybe inter-library loan can help.

I've noticed the name 'Urbgen' before and wondered about its possible significance. I'm a bit cautious about reading too much into it because, as you say, his parents may just have liked the name. Continuing the speculation, if it did indicate that he was born in a city, I wonder why his parents might have thought this was worth recording and broadcasting to the world? A deliberate link with the Roman past, perhaps, though why not for anyone else in the genealogy? Possibly because the 'city' in question had only recently come under the family's control, maybe? Or because the family was from a culture that didn't generally have much to do with cities, so having a son born in one was something of a novelty?

Bede uses 'Urbs Legionis' as the Latin name for Chester, if I remember rightly. Perhaps it meant a really important Roman site - though probably the only 'built-up areas' in early medieval Britain would have been ex-Roman cities anyway, so that may be a bit circular.

Beth said...

AR - Thanks for those sources. I have Mattingley, and McCarthy's Galloway paper, but it looks like I have a couple more to get hold of! Do you know which Limes the article is in? I searched, but couldn't find it.

As far as 'Urien' is concerned, I admit to not having any up-to-date discussions of it (if there are any), but Rachel Bromwich, at least, threw a spanner in the Carlisle works by suggesting that 'Orbogenos' ('of privileged birth') was to be preferred to Urbigenus as the original form of the name.

Anonymous said...

Of course, Urbgen might not have been a birth name. Early medieval British kings tended to have names suggestive of enormous military prowess and some of those at least are likely to have been given later in life - Dunaut, for example, is unlikely to have had hsi epithet "fat" (Bwr) from birth.



Carla said...

Beth - interesting suggestion re Orbogenos. I was going to say that 'privileged birth' could surely have applied to a lot of sons of royal houses, then I thought that perhaps it might be a name intended to confer good luck or good fortune. Either way, interesting that it doesn't seem to have been a common name. I can only think of the one Urien/Urbgen. Caveat that there might be others who weren't recorded; it's not as though we have a complete sample.

AR - yes, I wondered if it could be a nickname, but forgot to type that before posting the comment. Nicknames and epithets seem to have been quite common if HB is anything to go by, although it seems more usual for them to be added to the name rather than replace it. If it was a nickname, it also raises the question of why being 'city born' (if that was the meaning) was thought to be a feature worth commenting on.

Arwe Reged said...

Hi both,

Beth - it's 'Hadrian's Wall and the Collapse of Roman Frontiers' in Limes XX (Anejos de Gladius 13) 2009, pp 181-197.

I've also heard the "privileged birth" explanation for Urien's name. If true, I agree that the Carlisle case takes a blow. However, it's still an intriguing name which might tell us something about the development of early kingship.

If it is "city born", then why indeed is it worthy of comment? It's possible that (given the general lack of cities up here, then and now!) being city born was something of a rarity. But my argument is that even if Carlisle had degenerated to become a largely uninhabited dog kennel (which is unlikely), folk knew that it had once been the civitas capital. In this context, "city born" is a title which links the individual to the civil governance of the Roman past and ergo to political legitimacy.

In teh same vein, Urien was also apparently remembered as "Godebawc", a word meaning "Protector". The word is an official (albeit somewhat antiquated) late Roman title. The same word also crops up on the Vortipor stone and is applied to Vortipor himself - probably the same "tyrant" who Gildas has such hysterics about.



Carla said...

AR - many thanks! I agree it seems unlikely that post-Roman Carlisle was a derelict ruin, especially as it had a population and a still-working water supply in the 680s. Yes, 'city-born' could be a direct reference to the old civitas capitals, and might perhaps indicate a family with (claimed) links to whoever ran the civilian government in late Roman Britain. It's interesting that apparently the same title, in Latin for Vortipor and translated to Brttonic for Coel Hen, turns up in widely separated locations. I suppose 'protector' is a standard sort of attribute for a ruler to claim, so it may be coincidence, or it may indicate that Roman titles retained prestige for a long time.

Beth said...

AR - Thanks for the reference. I haven't yet found a full text that I can access, but I'll keep searching. Might help if the ever-helpful Google didn't think I was looking for citrus fruits... ;)

Carla said...

Beth - as you're doing a Masters, do you have access to a university library that could help?

Beth said...

Carla - Good idea; thanks. :) Not quite sure what my options are regarding journal loans at the moment (I only became fully registered yesterday and haven't checked everything out yet) but I'll definitely look into it.

Carla said...

Good luck!