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Celtic Kingdoms of the British Isles

Celts of Cymru


Maelienydd (Romano-Britons) (Wales)

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, seemingly triggered by the reorganisations of Magnus Maximus in the late fourth century (see feature link).

The later Welsh principality of Powys derived its name from the descriptive Latin pagenses, meaning '(land of the) country dwellers', 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. 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 British Library's Harleian Ms 3859, which contains late antique and early medieval Latin texts, has material which mentions the early formation of Maelienydd. The name breaks down into 'Mael', a personal name, and an uncertain element, '-ienydd', which could be St Henedina. 'Mael' means 'servant of', effectively 'follower of', the Christian substitute for 'cun', meaning 'dog, hound of' which was used by pagans. If this Mael or his people were followers of the second century AD martyr, Henedina or Aenidina of Cagliari then the name would make sense.

However, the question remains unsolved when asking which Mael this might have been. The Paganes territory only seems to have emerged in its own right by the start of the fifth century. Its ruler, the complicated figure of Vortigern, apparently hived off some of it for his sons in the form of Gwent, Buellt, and Guorthigirniaun. In the middle of the same century, Paganes was usurped by Irish raiders under Banadl. His defeat around six years later may have required a suitable reward, perhaps in a further small division of territory once Cadell Ddyrnllwg 'Gleaming Hilt' had been restored to power.

Some modern scholars identify this Mael as one 'Millo map Camuir map Brydw', who is cited as being the great-grandson of Cadell Ddyrnllwg in Harleian Ms 3859. This would make Brydw the brother of Paganes ruler, St Cyngen Glodrydd, so clearly 'Brydw' is a later Welsh form of a more authentic fifth century British name. Accepting this pedigree for 'Mael' would push back Maelienydd's formation by another half a century, perhaps to about 490-510, and it is entirely possible that he was the 'Lord of Maelienydd' during his lifetime.

He would not be the Mael to whom medieval genealogists have appended the descriptive by-name 'Maelienydd'. Several sixteenth century collected pedigrees trace some Powysian families to a 'Mael Maelienydd ap Cadfael ap Clydog ap Cadell ap Rhodri Mawr'. That would be a great-grandson of Rhodri Mawr, the powerful ninth century ruler of Deheubarth (in the south), far too late to be a founder of Maelienydd.

Apart from this one highly elusive lord, nothing more is known of this period's Maelienydd. Some discussion does exist amongst modern scholars regarding whether it was part of a minor principality known as Ferlix. This emerged in the mid-sixth century, although much later Maelienydd was certainly part of Rhwng Gwy a Hafren ('Between Wye and Severn'), a political entity which is referred to in the poems of Taliesin.

Roman Canterbury

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, 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 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), and from Etymological Glossary of Old Welsh, Alexander Falileyev, and from External Links: Harleian Ms 3859 (British Library), and The 'Mael Maelienydd' in Medieval Pedigrees, Darrell Wolcott (Ancient Wales Studies).)

fl c. 447 or 490?


Created lord by Paganes? Nothing more known.


Having occupied the capital of the Paganes 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 St 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)

Alternatively, if this 'Mael' is one 'Millo map Camuir map Brydw', great-grandson of Cadell Ddyrnllwg, then Maelienydd could be created around 490-510 to make him 'Lord of Maelienydd'.

Nothing more is known of this period's Maelienydd. In the mid-sixth century it may become part of Ferlix, although very little is known even of this principality or cantref. Much later Maelienydd is certainly part of Rhwng Gwy a Hafren ('Between Wye and Severn'), a political entity which is referred to in the poems of Taliesin.

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