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Post-Roman Britain

Eudaf Hen and Ewyas

by Peter Kessler, 1 April 1999

Tradition which survived through the Welsh bards remembers a figure by the name of Eudaf Hen ('the Old') or, to give him the Romanised version of his name, Octavius. His origins are purported to be in the modern Gwent area of Wales.

At the time of his supposed existence in the later part of third century Roman Britain (or more probably the fourth century given some of his familial connections), his specific native region bears the label of Ewyas (or perhaps Euas). This later was divided into Gwent in the west and Ercing in the east.

Like many prominent men of his era, Eudaf would have dressed as a Roman, but may also have maintained continuity with his Celtic traditions by claiming descent from Celtic 'gods' - and possible ancestors - in this case Llyr Llediarth ('Half-Speech'), god of the sea, and his son, Bran Fendigaid ('the Blessed'), who was made mortal as a ruler of the Silures tribe which governed the Gwent region until the coming of the Romans.

These 'gods' were in all likelihood glorified versions of historic Britons who ruled the Dumnonii and Silures, and perhaps others, and perhaps bearing the title 'high king' of pre-Roman Britain.

Eudaf also apparently claimed the title 'Lord of the Gewissæ'. This was almost certainly applied to him by later Gwent or even Dumnonian rulers to establish the legitimacy of a possible brief overlordship over the Thames Valley Gewissæ until, as part of the West Saxon kingdom, they became a dominant force in the mid-sixth century.

There is the possibility that this title was more correctly applied in reference to the Hwicce, Anglo-Saxons of a later kingdom which was based on Gloucestershire and which had its own British origins in Caer Gloui.

The West Saxons led the fighting against British territories around Gloucester and the River Severn in the late sixth century, but it was the Hwicce who seem to have grabbed their own territory from at least some of the West Saxon conquests.

After Eudaf Hen, Ewyas was ruled for a short period by Arthfael, son of Einudd. The claim of ruling the territory was then passed onto his son, Gwrgant, and his own son, Meirchion.

This final potential ruler of Ewyas died childless and the, by then, leading figure in Britain's national governance, Vortigern, placed his own eldest son in charge of the territory [1].

By circa 474, Gwrfoddw Hen, son of Amlawdd Wledig, had laid claim to the eastern half of Ewyas. The territory of Ercing emerged from that portion, taking its name from its capital of Din Aricon.

Early Ewyas seems to have encompassed rather more of Wales than the later Gwent and Ercing territories, apparently reaching north towards the Black Mountains just below modern Clifford in Herefordshire, and perhaps taking in part of Herefordshire itself. This region was also taken out of Gwent, this time to form the northern point of Ercing.

[1] This point marks the division of Ewyas into Gwent and Ercing.

By the time of the Domesday Survey [2], Ercing had long since disappeared, and Gwent was slightly reduced.

Ewias (a later spelling, and maybe an Anglo-Norman pronunciation) was a semi-independent principality which covered an area roughly between the line of Offa's Dyke path beneath the Black Mountains in the west, Craig Serrethin in the south, the line of the Golden Valley in the east, and Yager Hill and Cefn Hill to the north, just below Clifford.

Although it cannot have survived for long during the Norman period, its capital is still remembered today in the village of Ewyas Harold.

Map of Britain AD 450-600
This map of Britain concentrates on British territories and kingdoms which were established during the fourth and fifth centuries AD, as the Saxons and Angles began their settlement of the east coast (click or tap on map to view full sized)

[2] Domesday 'Ewias', the spelling little changed.


Text copyright © P L Kessler. An original feature for the History Files.