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Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Britain

 

Ewyas (Romano-Britons)

FeatureWith the expulsion of Roman officials in AD 409 (see feature link), Britain again became independent of Rome and was not re-occupied. The fragmentation which had begun to emerge towards the end of the fourth century now appears to have accelerated, with minor princes, newly declared kings, and Roman-style magistrates all vying for power and influence while also facing the threat of extinction at the hands of the various barbarian tribes which were encroaching from all sides.

FeatureIn the west, largely in what would become modern Wales, this process seems to have started earlier and taken place more quickly. Even by the start of the fifth century it is apparent that several territories had emerged here. The process seems to have been triggered by the reorganisations of Magnus Maximus in the late fourth century (see feature link), with what later tradition would claim as the creation of the 'kingdoms' of 'North Wales', 'South Wales', and 'Mid-South Wales'.

Founded as a territory of the Silures Britons, Ewyas was situated on the eastern edge of the medieval Welsh concept of Mid-South Wales which found its way into the written tradition. That region is now in the English county of Herefordshire, and probably also includes eastern portions of Gloucestershire.

Also sometimes known as Ewias or Euas in the variable spellings of several centuries of rapidly-changing Welsh language, the latter version may have been in use by the ninth century AD. The region or kingdom of Ewyas seems to have been as well-established and as early to find its independent feet as Dumnonia to the south - its existence seems to coincide quite easily with the later days of Roman governance of the island. Theoretically it is feasible that this - and possibly other - regions gained a degree of prominence during the third century breakdown in direct rule from Rome, during the 'Empire of the Gallic Provinces'. No evidence remains to support this theory though.

The capital of Ewyas was the Roman city of Caerwent (Caer Gwent, capital of the later principality of Gwent). It should be noted that the Brythonic language has gone through five stages to reach modern Welsh: 'Primitive' (in the 500s-700s), Old Welsh (in the 800s-1000s), Middle Welsh (in the 1100s-1400s), 'Early Modern' (in the 1400s-1700s), and 'Late Modern' thereafter. Until the 'Middle', the word 'caer' was actually 'cair', from the Brythonic 'cajr', meaning 'fort, fortified place'.

FeatureVery typically, the rulers of Ewyas traced their lineage to some of the greatest figures of Celtic history in pre-Roman Prydein, the list of ancestors dating back to the landing of Julius Caesar in 55 BC. Much of this until the fourth century is semi-legendary, but may well have been based on some element of fact, perhaps an oral pedigree of Silures nobility which was later turned into a Welsh pedigree. Its greatest individual figure was Eudaf Hen, supposed high king of Britain (see feature link).

The origins of the name are, unfortunately, unknown. Speculation allows the idea that it could be derived from a nickname, possibly one for Eudaf Hen himself. It could be a derivation of the Brythonic word 'ewa', meaning 'uncle'. Many of the Welsh principalities were named after important rulers, so perhaps this tradition predated the collapse of Roman authority in the country. The Britons and later Welsh were also not above using puns to provides names, such as using 'Cunoglassus' (of Rhos) to name a redhead, with the name meaning 'blue dog'. Does 'Ewyas' mean 'uncle's place'?

Roman Canterbury

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, Hywel George, & Trish Wilson, from The Landscape of King Arthur, Geoffrey Ashe, 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)), from Wales and the Britons, 350-1064, T M Charles-Edwards (Oxford University Press, 2013), from History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth, from A History of the English Church and People, The Venerable Bede (Leo Sherley-Price translation - revised by R E Latham), from The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain, Peter Salway, from Atlas of British History, G S P Freeman-Grenville (Rex Collins, London, 1979), from Gwent In Prehistory and Early History: The Gwent County History, Vol 1, Miranda J Green & Raymond Howell (Eds, University of Wales Press, 2004), from Etymological Glossary of Old Welsh, Alexander Falileyev, and from External Link: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales.)

fl c.30 BC

Caradoc ap Bran / Caratacus

Son of High King Bran Fendigaid.

c.30 BC

Although not an historical reference, the first mention of or link to the Silures as a specific tribe is through the semi-mythical high kingship of Britain. Caradoc, or Caratacus, is a son of the semi-legendary High King Bran Fendigaid, and both his brothers are linked by later tradition to eastern parts of Silures territory, which tradition claims as Ewyas. This later Romano-British territory is located on the modern Welsh border, and incorporates parts of Herefordshire and Gloucestershire.

Map of Britain AD 10
By the end of the first century BC and the start of the first century AD, British politics often came to the attention of Rome, and the borders of the tribal states of the south-east were pretty well known (click or tap on map to view full sized)

fl c.AD 22

Alan ap Bran

Second son of High King Bran Fendigaid. Ruler of the Silures.

fl c.24

Sadwr ap Bran

Third son (amongst 9 others from AD 26). Ruler of the Silures.

c.30 - 43

Given the traditional pedigree of the rulers of Ewyas and later Gwent, it is possible that Caratacus of the Catuvellauni plays some part in the rule of the Silures tribe. Tradition does not link him directly to the earlier high kings of Britain, or even to the earlier kings of the Catuvellauni, but as Celtic rulers are often elected from amongst a select number of nobles, often interrelated, it is a possibility.

fl c.65

Eurgain

Sister. Returned from Rome to spread Christianity.

fl c.60

Coellyn ap Caradog

Son of Caradoc. Titular Silures ruler?

fl c.100

Owain ap Beli

Son of Beli. Titular Silures ruler?

2nd century

In the early part of the second century AD, the Silures tribe is finally granted civitas status and a capital at Venta Silurum (modern Caerwent, later the capital of Ewyas and then Gwent).

Venta Silurum (Caerwent)
The fourth century walls of Venta Silurum (Caerwent) once stood up to 5.2 metres high, and survived as part of the later medieval town

fl c.140

Meirchion Fawdfilr ap Owain

Son.

fl c.180

Cwrrig Fawr / Goruc Mawr 'the Great'

Son.

fl c.215

Gwrddwfn ap Cwrrig

Son.

fl c.250

Einudd ap Gwrddwfn

Son.

260 - 274

The territory of the Silures, or at least eastern parts of it, is known as Ewyas by the third century AD. Precisely when this name is first used is unknown. 'Ewyas' later evolves into 'Gwent'.

The Roman fort at Leucarum - built about AD 75 and now known as Loughor on the river of the same name - is reoccupied late in the century and remains operational until the early fourth century, a span of perhaps forty or so years, before being permanently abandoned (potentially due to Glevum and Venta Silurum both being refortified at that time).

Perhaps not coincidentally, this places the reoccupation during the period in which the whole of the north-western part of the Roman empire is run as an independent but fully Roman state with its own series of emperors. It is generally known as the 'Empire of the Gallic Provinces' (Imperium Galliarum, or the 'Gallic Empire').

Chedworth Roman Villa
The great age of villas in Britain (this example is at Chedworth) was in the third and fourth centuries, probably as a result of wealthy landowners from Gaul joining their peers in Britain and using former imperial estates

FeatureDoes Ewyas gain a theoretical measure of self-government during this period, perhaps under the command of a nobleman by the name of Octavius? Does he have links to the Silures which are later claimed for him (see feature link)? Does his rise pave the way for that of Magnus Maximus, his claimed son-in-law?

fl c.283

Eudaf Hen / Octavius 'the Old'

Son? Ruler of Ewyas. 'High King' of Roman Britain.

fl c.283

St Elen Lwyddog 'of the Host'

Dau. m Magnus Maximus of Roman Britain (died 388).

fl c.285

Gereint ap Einudd

Son of Einudd. Father of Conan Meriadog of Dumnonia.

c.300 - 306

Around the very start of the fourth century changes take place at Venta Silurum. A great deal of refortification is undertaken, not only here but also at Glevum (in the former Dobunni tribal territory) and Caerleon (in the remainder of the former Silures territory), as preparations to face a possible threat from the River Severn.

The threat is probably presented by a sudden increase in Irish raids, but whether the defences are ever put to the test or not is unknown. Perhaps linked to this threat, and others, in 305-306, Britain is sub-divided into four provinces within the Diocese of the Britains. Ewyas falls within Britannia Prima.

Sequential Maps of Roman Britain AD 43-425
Britannia's two provinces were subdivided into four by Emperor Constantius' reorganisations of AD 305-306 (click or tap on map to view full sized)

fl c.320

Arthfael ap Einudd

Brother. Ruler of Ewyas?

fl c.340

Gwrgant ap Arthfael

Son. Ruler of Ewyas?

fl c.380

Meirchion ap Gwrgant

Son. Ruler of Ewyas? Lost territory to 'Mid-South Wales'?

383 - c.430

FeatureA territory which encompasses 'Mid-South Wales' is created by Magnus Maximus as part of his defensive restructuring of many of Britain's regions to ensure its protection while he pursues his imperial ambitions overseas (see feature link).

According to tradition he places his son, Eugenius, in command of the new territory with a capital in the territory or district of Cernyw. It is possible that it incorporates Ewyas, which would explain the lack of traditional rulers for this period.

c.430

By this time, although Ewyas may still form part of the territory of 'Mid-South Wales' under Eugenius, it appears to fall under the control of Vortigern, now the most powerful man in Britain. He grants the Ewyas territory to his eldest son, Vortimer, while the remainder of the mid-south Wales territory quickly evolves into the principality of Cernyw.

Vortigern meets Hengist and Horsa
Vortigern's policy of hiring mercenaries to help with Britain's defences was entirely in line with those of the late Roman period, but the chaos in the country - plague, mercenary revolt, civil war, frequent pirate raids - probably convinced Hengist and Horsa (shown here being greeted by Vortigern) that land was ripe for the taking

Vortimer's new holding is renamed after Venta [Silurum], chief town of the Silures people. By this time, though, 'Venta' may already have been amended to 'Guenta' during the early shift towards Primitive Welsh. 'Guenta' soon becomes 'Gwent', and the territory is almost immediately sub-divided to produce Ercing out of its eastern section.

 
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