History Files

Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Britain


MapCaer Baddan / Aquae Sulis (Romano-Britons)

FeatureThis late Romano-British city and the possible territory it commanded seems to have begun as a constituent part of the territory of Caer Gloui, which also encompassed the city of Caer Ceri. Caer Gloui emerged from the fading central administration of Roman Britain as an indirect continuation of the former Dobunni tribe. In the mid-sixth century the territory was divided, possibly following the traditional practice of granting each son of the ruler territory of his own.

The name of the territory, which became a kingdom in its later days, was not recorded but it was certainly based upon its capital of Caer Baddan (Roman Aquae Sulis, which was otherwise known as Aquae Calidae and which seems initially to have been part of the territory of the Belgae people). The city had been founded by the Romans in AD 43, soon after the surrender of the north-eastern Dobunni, but it appears to have been based on earlier roots. Traditionally, the baths were founded by High King Bladud, after he was guided to the water's healing properties by the goddess Sul. Whatever the veracity of the oral tradition that passed on that story, it is likely that the Britons were making use of the spa waters before the conquest.

It was mentioned at the date of its conquest by the West Saxons in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Typically, they seem to have retained the city's name, preserving it in a Saxon form; the Brythonic Baddan of uncertain origin (possibly only existing because it may have been extrapolated from the Saxon form) became Bašum, Bašan, or Bašon, all meaning 'at the baths' (the 'š' is sounded as a 'th'), or even Bathanceaster (the 'fort of Baddan'). All of these forms are remarkably close to the assumed form of the Romano-British name when compared to the transition process for many other British place names.

The Saxons appear to have had a superstitious horror of Roman ruins in Britain, perhaps fearful of ghosts, so they would often 'curse' the ruins with ritual objects, sometimes throwing them down wells to ensure the city could not be re-used. The latter is certainly true of Caer Celemion. Despite this fear, the Saxons also seem to have been very impressed with Roman ruins. There is even an eighth century Saxon poem called The Ruin which appears to describe Bath.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from The Cambridge Historical Encyclopaedia of Great Britain and Ireland, Christopher Haigh (Ed), from The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain, Peter Salway, from Glevum - The Roman Origins of Gloucester, Nigel Spry, from the Historia Brittonum (The History of the Britons), Nennius (J A Giles, Ed & Trans, 1841, published as part of Six Old English Chronicles (Henry G Bohn, London, 1848)), and from External Link: Bath History Tours.)

409 - 440

FeatureIt seems that initially, the city of Caer Baddan remains under British central administration following the ejection of Roman authority in 409. It is only later, in the 430s, as two power factions begin to emerge, that it appears to fall under the administrative control of the magistrate at Caer Gloui.

During this period, while there is probably some attempt to maintain normal, Romanised urban life, there is some contraction in the city's lifestyle and standard of living. The great bath complex gradually falls into disuse, although the hot springs continue to be taken by the locals.

Roman Aquae Sulis
An artist's impression of Roman Aquae Sulis, later known as Caer Baddan to the Romano-British and which retains that name in an altered fashion today (Bath)

441 - 446

In the early 440s, in conjunction with Caer Ceri, the city's Roman defences are repaired. It could be this period in which the north-facing Wansdyke is constructed by British forces in Wiltshire (probably overseen from Caer Baddan). Saxons intent on carving out territory for themselves have begun advancing along the Thames Valley, encroaching on Caer Celemion's northern border (by circa 470), and into the Chilterns to encroach on the territory of Cynwidion.

Despite this apparent British revival, in 446 serious plague hits southern Britain and Saxon mercenaries across the country revolt. Caer Baddan presents a scene of chaos with raiding parties attacking the few citizens who remain resident. A Roman house of this precise period (located by archaeologists in Abbeygate Street) contains the severed head of a young girl which had been thrust into an oven.

fl c.500?


Figure from Mabinogion and possible regional magistrate.

The Mabinogion names a King Meleagant of Somerset, who kidnaps Guinevere, forcing potential high king of Britain, Arthur, to rescue her. In its earliest form this name is shown as Melwas, a Brythonic name that probably places its bearer either in Caer Baddan or Glastenning if one accepts that this individual has any kind of basis in fact, of course. Glastenning is ruled out because the names of all of its rulers are known, leaving this large gap in Caer Baddan's rulers as a more likely candidate.

The name can be broken down, with the first part, 'mel' possibly being a misremembering of 'mael', which means 'servant'. The second part, 'was', may be another word for 'servant', from the Brythonic word 'gwas', which can also be used for 'boy'. The result is 'servant boy', or 'boy slave'. This is clearly another ironic Welsh nickname meaning the exact opposite, so the Mabinogion either uses a real name that is meant ironically, or a nickname. Either way, it certainly serves to make the name and its bearer more likely to be an historical figure, even if he is barely remembered.


FeatureIt has long been theorised that the pivotal encounter between Britons and Saxons, Mons Badonicus, or the siege of Mount Badon, is fought at or near Caer Baddan. There is a former Iron Age hill fort at Little Solsbury Hill, just to the north-east of the city which had been fortified and occupied until the first century BC. Although there is no archaeological evidence to support a proper reoccupation of this site, it seems plausible to suggest its re-use in this period, if only as a lookout post. Caer Baddan is defended to the south-east by the West Wansdyke, so the natural route into the west country would be to the north of this.

FeatureIt is probably this route that the Saxon army under the Bretwalda, Ęlle, takes. With it likely being known in advance that this force is on its way, the Britons could use Little Solsbury Hill as their battleground, giving them command of the approach to the city, and the high ground against their enemy. The position is probably lightly fortified, with staves, creating a position that could be besieged by the Saxons over the course of a day or two, and from which the British cavalry could then thunder into their ranks, slicing up the Saxons and causing the great slaughter remembered by later chroniclers.


MapIf not before (see Melwas, above), then it could be around this time, either upon the death of Aurelius Caninus or his successor in Caer Gloui, that the single kingdom that is commanded from there is split three ways, into Caer Baddan, Caer Ceri & Caer Gloui. This is probably a result of the kingdom being divided between sons, an act that is based on traditional Celtic practise. The act suggests that a true kingship is being practised by this time, rather than the previous Romanised role of magistrate.

? - 577

Farinmail / Ffernfael

Last British king. Killed fighting the West Seaxe.


In a campaign that is identical to that probably adopted by Bretwalda Ęlle almost a century before, the West Seaxe king, Ceawlin, thrusts south-westwards from the Upper Thames towards the Bristol Channel. The blow is delivered against the western Britons and is a complete success. The Brito-Welsh are defeated at the Battle of Deorham (Dyrham, or Hinton Hill, eight miles north of Caer Baddan), and all three of their kings are killed. Their cities fall to the Saxons.

Hinton Hill in Somerset
Hinton Hill lies near the village of Wellow in Somerset, and in 577 it was the site of the Battle of Deorham between the allied free Britons of the three cities of Caer Baddan, Caer Ceri, and Caer Gloui and the invading West Saxons (External Link: Creative Commons Licence)

Caer Baddan appears to fall first, as the British may hurriedly erect an addition to the West Wansdyke where it seems to block the Fosse Way. Such last ditch efforts prove fruitless and Caer Ceri and Caer Gloui also fall. With this collapse, the territory of Caer Celemion to the east is now totally isolated and Pengwern and Gwent are now on the front line. Cadbury Castle is also abandoned around this time, perhaps suggesting an evacuation of its occupants.

However, it appears that the Britons behind the West Wansdyke hold out. It seems possible that the three cities had been receiving military support from Glastenning or Dumnonia, and that these kingdoms hold onto what they can of Caer Baddan's territory after the city's fall. The Hwicce soon migrate into the northern remainder of the territory. The city is inhabited by the Saxons of the Somersaete who retain the name, but pronounce it as Bathanceaster (the city or fort of Bathan). In time it becomes the city of Bath.