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Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Britain

 

Pagenses / Paganes (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'.

Centred around Shropshire at Caer Meguaidd, and covering much of the modern Welsh border as far north as the River Dee (Deva), the later Welsh principality of Powys derived its name from the descriptive Latin pagenses, meaning '(land of the) country dwellers' or 'people of the pagi', with a pagus (singular) being the Roman equivalent of a district council area. In essence, the name denoted a rural territory, and tradition suggests that it was one which stretched right into the Midlands. It clearly did not exist prior to the application of Roman administration though (given its name), and may only have formed as a reaction to the Magnus Maximus reorganisations in the west.

The Latin word pagenses appears to have been adapted as 'Paganes' to name the territory in its early days, when Latin was still a viable source of names and could still be spoken by the upper class. The region appears to have covered much of the southern half of the former territory of the Cornovii, with possible extensions east and west, and even south into what had once been Dobunni territory.

FeaturePaganes was almost certainly Vortigern's native land (see feature link), with an ancestry being given for him which connects to the famed first century BC figure, Lludd Llaw Ereint of pre-Roman Prydein. Remarkably, Ludd's son, Amalach, connects Vortigern's ancestors to those of his neighbour in Venedotia, Cunedda Wledig. It seems that Amalach had two sons, one of which, Euddolen, founded the line which would lead to Vortigern. How much of this is based in historical fact and how much in myth or mangled oral tradition is entirely unknown.

It also seems probable that, although in Vortigern's time Paganes may have extended to the northern Welsh coast, this access may have been lost in time, perhaps following the region's division in two in the later sixth century into Powys in the west and Pengwern in the east. The joint king of Dogfeilion and Pengwern in the seventh century seems to have had easy access between his two kingdoms without having to enter Powys.

According to tradition, Vortigern's second son was handed the Paganes territory when Vortigern became the dominant figure in post-Roman Britain, calculated to have been somewhere around AD 425. Vortigern's eldest son, Vortimer, was given control of Gwent, while his third son was handed a pocket of territory in the west, that of Buellt.

FeatureThe name 'pagenses' may have been used throughout the fifth century to describe this territory, which extended to encompass the West Midlands. It may only have been during the sixth century, as the Romano-British language changed rapidly in the face of the destabilisation of the former Roman administration, that the Welsh form of its name, Powys, emerged. In fact, it may be the case that this use of pagenses, 'paganes', and then 'powis' in its later form may have been more widespread across Britain (see feature link, right, for more information).

The early Paganes capital was probably Caer Guricon (Roman Viroconium, modern Wroxeter), but this perhaps did not remain in use in the sixth century. It declined during the course of the fifth century, with many buildings falling into disrepair. There is evidence to suggest the abandonment of Viroconium around 520, perhaps in exchange for a more defendable location.

Roman Canterbury

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson & Hywel George, 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 the Life of St Germanus of Auxerre, Constantius of Lyon, from The Oxford History of England: Anglo-Saxon England, Sir Frank Stenton, 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 Etymological Glossary of Old Welsh, Alexander Falileyev, and from External Link: RIB 3145: Tombstone for Cunorix (Roman Inscriptions of Britain).)

55 - 54 BC

FeatureLed by Cassivellaunus, several British tribes are involved in the fight against the unwanted Roman expeditions of Julius Caesar which enter the country via the Kent coast (see feature link).

The second expedition embarks from Portus Itius in Gaul, which probably lies in the territory of the Morini. British tribes which resist the expedition include the Atrebates, Belgae, Cantii, Catuvellauni, and Trinovantes, while others surrender to the invaders, namely the Ancalites, Bibroci, Cassi, Cenimagni, and Segontiaci.

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.45 BC

Amalach / Afallach ap Lludd

Son of High King Lludd Llaw Ereint. Claimed too by Venicones.

fl c.10 BC

Euddolen ap Afallach

Son. Brother of Owain ap Afallach (Venicones).

AD 43

The might of imperial Rome invades Britain and quickly starts to conquer individual kingdoms. The Cantii and Trinovantes are amongst the first to fall, while the northern Dobunni appear to surrender. The soon-to-be first Roman Governor leads the campaign to convert Prydein into Britannia.

Eudos ap Euddolen

Son.

Eifydd ap Eudos

Son.

Eudeyrn ap Eifydd

Son.

Euddigan ap Eudeyrn

Son.

Rhodri ap Euddigan

Son.

Gloui / Gloyw Gwallthir 'Long-Hair'

Son. His sons were Bonus, Paul, Mauron, & Guitolion.

c.310

The traditional pedigree here falls far short of consisting of enough names to fill three centuries and approximately nine or ten generations of descendants. Instead it is likely that only the names below are known for sure to later bards and writers, with them attempting - rather poorly - to provide a required connection back to a legendary 'great' of pre-Roman Prydein.

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.310

Guitolion / Gwidolin ap Gloyw

Son. He and his brothers 'founded' Caer Gloui.

fl c.340

Vitalinus / Guitaul / Gwidol ap Gwidolin

Son. Important figure in Caer Gloui?

fl c.375

Vitalis / Guortheneu ap Gwidol

Son. Important figure in Caer Gloui?

c.410 - 425

FeatureThe territory of the Paganes emerges from the '(land of the) country dwellers', the pagenses, a combined set of pagi, Roman administrative units. The region appears to serve as a power base for Vortigern, son of Vitalis (see feature link). This raises the likelihood than it Vitalis who is involved in organising these country-dwellers into a recognisable territory.

FeatureTraditionally, 'Vortigern' (a title, but possibly also a given name) is married to a daughter of Magnus Maximus (see feature link), and therefore holds a good deal of prestige and influence.

With Vortigern's brother-in-law, Eugenius, holding 'Mid-South Wales' and the descendants of another brother-in-law, Antonius, holding 'South Wales', Vortigern has the probable necessary backing to mount a bid to control Britain's post-Roman central administration.

St Germanus of Auxerre
The Alleluia Victory saw St Germanus lead the Britons to a bloodless victory over marauding Saxons, perhaps demonstrating that the country was finally managing its own defence

fl c.418 - c.435

Vortigern / Wortigernos ap Guortheneu

Son. Governed post-Roman Britain around 425.

c.425

As Vortigern has gained overall control of Britain's ruling council, the traditional sources state that he devolves authority in the land of the pagenses to his sons. He hands control to each of them by dividing up portions of the territory in the form of Gwent, Paganes, Buellt, and Guorthigirniaun. His second son, Cadeyrn Fendigaid, succeeds him in the Paganes territory, ruling in his name.

fl c.430

Vortimer / Gwerthefyr Fendigaid

First son. Ruled in Gwent.

fl c.435 - 447

Cadeyrn Fendigaid 'Blessed'

Second son. Ruled Paganes. Killed at Aylesford in 455.

fl c.430

Pascent / Pasgen ap Gwrtheyrn

Third son. Ruled Buellt & Guorthegirnain.

c.441

During a time of large-scale unrest in Britain, the Saxon foederati based around the country rebel and pillage the country in the face of light British opposition. It seems that Cadeyrn Fendigaid joins in the fighting (as he would be expected to do as a son of Vortigern).

According to the scanty evidence available, his son, Cadell Ddyrnllwg, governs the Paganes in his stead at this time. Given Vortigern's probable age by this time and a possible birth date for him of about AD 390, he could already be a grandfather to Cadell.

Lowbury Hill in Berkshire
Increasingly beleaguered British territories began turning civilian structures into military ones, such as the former Roman temple at the top of Lowbury Hill (near Compton in west Berkshire), which apparently became a look-out point which faced towards the River Thames

c.441

During a time of large-scale unrest in Britain, the Saxon foederati based around the country rebel and pillage the country in the face of light British opposition. It seems that Cadeyrn Fendigaid joins in the fighting (as he would be expected to do as a son of Vortigern).

According to the scanty evidence available, his son, Cadell Ddyrnllwg, governs the Paganes in his stead at this time. Given Vortigern's probable age by this time and a possible birth date for him of about AD 390, he could already be a grandfather to Cadell.

However, Cadell would be very young at this time, possibly no more than fifteen years of age at best, so it is possible that his governance of the Paganes is in name only, and a regent handles the day-to-day administration.

Although the dating shown here for Cadell is perhaps a little compressed, and Cadell could have been born later, his grandson is Brochfael Ysgythrog 'of the Tusks', who appears to flourish around 530-540. These dates fit in entirely with any possible birth date for Brochfael and for his father too, given that Cadell is probably very young in 441. This sequence of dates seems much more likely than claims which place (an aged) Cadell as ruler around 520.

Romano-Britons burying treasure
With discord building in the country between about 420-450, many Romano-Britons left in a hurry, burying their wealth in the hope that they could return in better times to collect it

441

Cadell Ddyrnllwg 'Gleaming Hilt'

Son of Cadeyrn. Governed during Cadeyrn's battles.

c.441

Also during this time Britons in the south and west are emigrating to Armorica in droves. Irish raids on the west are becoming heavier. They are driven away from Venedotia by the strong rule of Cunedda and his sons, so the Paganes probably looks an even sweeter target right now. One powerful Irish band captures the capital and Cadell (and his presumed regent) is forced to go into hiding.

441? - 447

Banadl / Benlli

Usurper Irish king. Killed when capital city burnt down.

446

FeatureSt Germanus' second visit to Britain sees off the last of the Pelagians (see feature link) and confirms the subjects of Elafius (probably of Caer Gwinntguic) in the Catholic faith of the Roman Church.

447

Having occupied the capital for about six years, the pagan Banadl is killed during a revolt by his Christian Romano-British subjects. Cadell Ddyrnllwg is helped to regain his seat of power by Germanus, and still controls the West Midlands and eastern Wales.

During the same period, the mid-400s, the minor principality of Maelienydd is formed, seemingly out of a cantref - a standard division of territory - which is detached from the Paganes. Guorthigirniaun borders it to the west and the Paganes surrounds it to the north, east (truncated by Offa's Dyke about three hundred years later), and south.

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)

447 - c.460

Cadell Ddyrnllwg 'Gleaming Hilt'

Restored by St Germanus. Began 'Cadelling' line of rulers.

c.440s

In some literature, Cadell Ddyrnllwg is claimed to be responsible for sending 'out a branch into Glywyssing' (Glywyssing being the later name for Cernyw), which would suggest that he places a family member on its throne.

It seems an unlikely claim given the hereditary nature of the succession in Cernyw, but perhaps the line of succession there has been manipulated to show a direct descent from the greater figure of Eugenius.

Cadell is also known in some pedigrees as Cassanauth Wledig, Prince Cassanauth, perhaps as recognition of his rank in post-Roman British society and its seeming grandeur when compared to later Welsh princes who are increasingly hemmed in by encroaching foreigners.

455

FeatureBy now the newly arrived Jutish foederati have seen how weak are the British defences and begin a takeover of the kingdom of Ceint, aided by the many older foederati settlements in key areas of the land, especially along the Saxon Shore forts and at Canterbury (see feature link).

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

They are probably further encouraged by the chaos in Roman Gaul following the murder of the magister militum Aëtius. Hengist's polyglot army fights Vortigern (although the Historia Brittonum would seem to place his death at the time of the visit of St Germanus in 446) at a place they name Ægelesthrep or Ægelsthrep (probably Aylesford or, less likely, Epsford, both in Kent). Horsa is killed, as is Cadeyrn Fendigaid, former ruler of the Paganes.

As the east of the island is engulfed by the chaos of the foederati revolt, later tradition (mostly contained within the Historia Brittonum) states that Britain's current national leader, Vortimer of Gwent, is poisoned while Vortigern flees to the province of Guorthegirnain, so called from his own name, where he conceals himself with his wives: but Germanus follows him with all the clergy of the British Church, and upon a rock prays for his sins during forty days and forty nights.

What Germanus is doing here almost a decade after his visit is unclear, so it is possible that events have become (highly!) confused. Could Vortigern's death in fact occur after the Saxon revolt of circa 441, which would place it much closer to the visit by Germanus?

Gwrtheyrnion
The history of Guorthegirnain - later Gwrtheyrnion - in central Wales prior to the early modern period is shrouded in mist, with only a few brief glimpses of half-seen events

Either way, the death of Vortimer apparently allows Vortigern to temporarily reclaim the country's leadership before he is faced by Ambrosius Aurelianus. Vortigern flees (again) to his ancestral lands, 'at the fortified camp of Genoreu, on the hill called Cloartius', in Ercing, by the River Wye. There he meets his end when Ambrosius sets fire to his fortress with him inside it.

fl c.480

Cunorix

Ruler in Caer Guricon. Independent? Irish?

c.480

The Paganes city of Caer Guricon (Roman Viroconium, today's Wroxeter) is fast fading in glory, although it has not yet been refortified (in wood). An inscription which comes from this approximate date bears the name of its ruler, one Cunorix. The name 'Cuno' means 'dog' (ie. a servant, of a deity), while 'rix' or 'rex' means 'king'.

The choice of 'cuno' makes it highly likely that this individual is pagan but, unusually, there is no name-check for his god (such as 'Cunedag', meaning 'the servant of Dagda'). The inscription, somewhat damaged, would appear to read 'Cunorix macus Ma- q̣ui Coḷiṇe', meaning 'King Cuno, son of [probably] Maqqos-Colini' (the father's name is partially damaged, but Colini is a proper name).

It may be Irish, which would suggest a potential link to Banadl, usurper in the Paganes around 441. But it may also be from the same Pictish border area as Cunedda of Venedotia, in Venicones territory. Has Paganes control of Caer Guricon been lost, if only temporarily?

Roman Viroconium
The old Roman fort at Viroconium, one of their largest settlements, was substantially and skilfully rebuilt in timber between about 530-570, and then mostly dismantled by 600, during the period in which Pengwern may have achieved a semblance of independent Romano-British rule

fl c.490

St Cyngen Glodrydd 'the Renowned'

Son. Sometimes identified with Aurelius Caninus (Caer Gloui).

c.490

St Cyngen is sometimes referred to as Cynan (all spelling is variable for this period, made worse by rapid language shifts from Brythonic to Welsh and Cornish and later translations into English). He is not only the ancestor of several generations of princes of Powys, but is also counted as being an ancestor of Nowy Hen, who in the mid-eighth century inherits through marriage the principality of Brycheiniog.

fl c.490

Rhodri Ddyrnllwg?

Possible father, and regent until Cyngen reached maturity.

fl c.520

Pascent / Pasgen ap Cyngen

Son of Cyngen.

fl c.530

Brochfael Ysgythrog 'of the Tusks'

Grandson of Cadell Ddyrnllwg. 'Consul of Chester'.

Brochfael's name is an intriguing one. The second part of it is the familiar 'fael', which can also be shown as 'mael' in other variations and 'maglo' going further back in time. It means 'servant, slave, follower', and so on.

The first part is rather more puzzling. 'Broch' seems to derive from proto-Celtic 'broko', meaning 'anger', which also means 'badger' ('angry animal'). It still means both in modern Welsh, but its origins as a name are unknown. Was there some (local) deity who was a personification of anger? Or was there some family emblem from tribal days, a badger totem perhaps?

Vale of Meifod
Brochfael is presented as a warrior hero who was fond of hunting, one of his resorts being the Vale of Meifod near Welshpool (shown here), but he is also connected with Pengwern, the eastern region of Powys - 'Brochwel Yscithroc, consul of Chester (a very Roman title!), who dwelt in a town then called Pengwerne Powys, and now Shrewsbury (Salopia)' - modern Shropshire

This Brochfael may popularise the name to an extent. He is known as a warrior figure of his age, perhaps two generations removed from Arthur the 'battle leader'. His name is subsequently borne at least twice more, by rulers of Meirionnydd and Dunoding.

A later form of the name is Brochwel. During his lifetime, Paganes is frequently referred to as 'the land of Brochwel', and the poet Taliesin is his bard for a time. He is particularly known for an incident involving St Melangell, a stunningly beautiful young woman who has taken to the life of a hermit, living in a small cell in the wilds of what will become Powys.

One day, Brochfael is out hunting a hare which hides in Melangell's skirts. The dogs refuse to attack, and the prince becomes so enamoured of the lady's pious beauty that he asks her to marry him. She humbly declines, so Brochfael instead gives her land on which to build a monastery. Brochfael goes on to marry Arddyn Benasgel, daughter of another warrior prince, Pabo Post Prydain of the Pennines.

The Pennines
Pabo claimed as his share of his late brother's lands the central 'spine' of Britain, between the east and west coasts of northern Britain, but it was a relatively tough land to tame

fl c.540

Morgan ap Pasgen

Son of Pasgen. Cadell's descendants rule diminished Powys.

c.570

It seems likely that Paganes is divided around this time. In dating which is pretty approximate - and which includes a large period across the middle of the sixth century which cannot fully be accounted for - Cynan Garwyn inherits the region.

Seemingly, though, this is only the western part of Paganes. There is a Brochfeal in 613 who may be either Mawn or Iago ap Brochfael, both Cynan's brothers. One or both may govern the eastern half of the region in the form of Pengwern.

This can also be said to be the end point for any remaining notion of 'Roman-ness' which may have remained in the office of a ruler of any territory in the west and north of Britain (and that of magistrate in the south and east). A kingdom or principality of Powys can said to be created out of this potential division of territory.

 
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