LKM: Cumbria-Galloway (Solway Firth)

Solway Firth map showing Cumbria and Dumfries. Whithorn is located on the large promontory on the eastern side of Lace Bay. Across Wig Bay from Whithorn is Kirkcudbright (Church of St Cuthbert) named by the Norse.

There are hints that the area around Carlisle was an important region in the late antique/early medieval period. It has been hypothesized for some time that St Patrick came from a settlement around Birdoswald fort near Carlisle. From there his primary area of work in Ulster Ireland is not far away, and explain his familiarity with Coroticus of Alt Clut (Dumbarton) and know of the apostate Picts that Coroticus did business with. Patrick’s possible origins here and the early importance of Whithorn suggests that Galloway was an important early Christian area, which fits with Christian artifacts found along Hadrian’s Wall, especially at Birdoswald

British tribes of Galloway during Roman era.

British tribes of Galloway during Roman era according to Ptolomy. Whithorn is in the Lena estuary. Alt Clut (Dumbarton)  is named for the River Clyde. Regigonius bay is literally ‘very royal bay’ and Dun regit is located there, possibly indicating the location of Rheged. The Novantae are mentioned in Y Gododdin.

Roman Cumbria and Galloway – Province of Valentia?

Cumbria and Galloway were an important area in late Roman Britain. It anchored the western end of Hadrian’s wall and its ports brought supplies to its northern troops. Some believe that the unlocated Roman province of Valentia, organized by Count Theodosius in c. 369, out of land he recovered from the enemy straddled the western end of the wall. Given that the troops of the Dux Britanniarum command were divided into two portions in the Notitia Dignitatum and that north of Hardian’s wall is the most likely area to be recovered in the late fourth century, Valentia is may have been in Cumbria and perhaps extending into Galloway and the Border Country.

Carlisle was an important Roman site, anchoring the western end of Hadrian’s Wall. We know that many of the Roman buildings and at least a fountain existed as late as the early 780s when Bishop Cuthbert visited Carlisle.

Ravenglass (Glannaventa) was Major Roman naval base whose remains partially survive fairly far down the cost of Cumbria (south of St Bee’s head). It was the main supply point for the western end of Hadrian’s wall. It was occupied by the Romans for ever 300 years. Although the port was quite far south and Cumbria’s Lake District is very mountainous, it was well-connected to Carlisle and the rest of the wall by good Roman roads. In general good Roman roads connected many coastal sites with Carlisle.

Cumbria/Lake District
Cumbria/Lake District

Post-Roman Cumbria and Galloway

The region of Cumbria and Galloway was the active zone for the ‘Men of the North’, famous in British poetry.  Many of the ‘Men of the North’ appear to have been located in old Roman ruins along Hadrian’s Wall. All of the ‘Men of the North’, including the dynasty of Rheged, are claimed to be descendents of Coel Hen (the Old), although this is almost certainly a pseudo-geneaology. Coel may be the namesake of Colchester, a major city that may have controlled Hadrian’s Wall.

The battle of Arfderydd (Arthuret) ‡between the sons of Eliffer and Gwenddolau son of Ceidio; in which battle Gwenddolau fell; Merlin went mad.‡ (573, Annals Cambriae)

The famous Battle of Arthuret is generally located near a Roman fortlet on the River Liddel north of Hadrian’s Wall.  The battle was fought between Gwenddoleu ap Ceidio, and Gwrgi and Peredur sons of Eliffer of York and Dunod ap Pabo. Dunod is listed in the Welsh Triads and poetry as an ally of the sons of Eliffer.  It was famed when Gwenddoleu’s men fought on for a fortnight after his death until they were also massacred. The battle of Arthuret was famous for its furousity and because Gwenddoleu’s warrior bard was Mryddin Wyllt (the wild), who went mad after watching his kin die. We can only imagine the carnage that followed when Gwenddoleu’s men failed to surrender after the death of their lord as was expected.  It is possible that Mryddin was allowed to leave as a bard’s privilege? Needless to say Mad Merlin reappears in British lore as the inspiration for Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Merlin. Read Geoffrey’s Vita Merlini sometime, for quite a different view of Merlin than you are used to as Arthur’s mentor. The Vita Merlini is Geoffrey’s attempt to merge his Merlin with Mryddin Wyllt of British lore. Geoffrey wanted to claim Mryddin the prophet as his inspiration for Arthur’s Merlin (who is really Geoffrey’s creation). Geoffrey’s innovative use of British lore in his History of the Kings of Britain is a fascinating topic for another day.

The death of Columba. The death of king Dunod +son of Pabo+. Augustine and Mellitus converted the English to Christ. (595, Annals Cambriae)

Dunod ap Pabo Prydain is the last recorded Cumbrian king. He died in c. 595, during the time of Æthelfrith of Bernicia. We know that  Molly Miller suggested that Papcastle in Cumbria might be linked with Dunod’s father Pabo Post Pyrdain (‘pillar of Britain’). Of the kings featured in the ‘Men of the North’ poetry Dunod is the last survivor but we don’t know how he died. Poetry suggests that he was active in fighting British kings at Arthuret and later in pursuing Urien’s sons after his death in the 570s. The sons of Eliffer fell in 580 according to the Annals Cambriae, against Bernicia according to the Welsh traids. Papcastle or Ravenglass would have been a good location for a major British king in this period and he may have dominated the last quarter of the sixth century. The coastal area of the Lake District would have been far enough from the English to have not been directly impacted until at least the time of Æthelfrith and even then, there is no evidence of English settlement moving into the area until at least the time of Oswiu or Ecgfrith. With the Cumbrian kings being oriented toward the sea, it is quite likely that he would have been in touch with Aedan mac Gabran of Dalriada, the major regional king of the northern Irish sea in that period. In 596, months after the death of St Columba mentioned on the same line as Dunod’s death in the AC, Aedan mac Gabran lost his sons Bran and Domangart in battle. Adomnan of Iona wrote in his Life of Columba that Domangart mac Aedan died fighting the English. If Aedan fought a major battle against Æthelfrith in c. 595/6 it is quite possible that Dunod ap Pabo fell there.

St Ninian and the White House

Christianity was already well established in Cumbria and Galloway when the English arrived. It had been so since the mid-Roman period and as far as we know had never died out. Christian Latin inscriptions exist near Whithorn from the late fifth century.

St Ninians Chapel, Whithorn
St Ninian's Chapel, Whithorn

It is Bede who places St Ninian at the turn of the fifth century, at the time of St Martin. According to Bede, Ninian journeyed to Rome and on his return trip stopped in Tours where he learned of St Martin’s new monasticism and picked up masons to build his stone church (white house) dedicated to St Martin. Now it is extremely unlikely that Ninian dedicated a church to St Martin so soon after Martin’s death. Although there is some reason to believe that Ninian or Uianiau as he was known in Brythonic traveled, but not necessarily all the way to Rome. A more likely hypothesis is that Ninian is the same person as Uianiau, a correspondent of Gildas, whose manifesto is dated to c. 540s. Uianiau was a missionary in Ireland at the time, but was clearly a fellow Briton and if he was from the Whithorn area, he would be a fellow north Briton with Gildas, who was reputed to be the son of Caw of Pictland. Uianiau is known in Ireland as Finian of Moville, a teacher of St Columba. The dates for Uiniau/Finian make much more sense for Ninian of Whithorn. Uiniau’s dates would place him at his maturity in the 550s-560s, an elder of St Columba and by the 550s, a church could indeed have been decimated to St Martin in Galloway. Uiniau and Gildas were both Britons who were very dedicated to Martin-style monasticism.

People who supported St Ninian’s cult at Whithorn had every reason to claim that he was loyal to Rome and known personally to St Martin, because this made them orthodox for the English to support. The typical way to show support for Rome is to give him a pilgrimage to Rome itself and by making him known to St Martin, it makes him predate the British schism with Rome (politically and ecclesiastically). Bede could be enthusiastic for St Ninian for three reasons: 1) his reputed mission to the Picts predates St Columba, 2) he is a Roman saint, and 3) he was connected to St Martin, an exemplar of monasticism. Ninian being a Roman saint in some ways makes him a rival of the cult of St Alban and St Sixtus in Canterbury as Roman saints. Indeed had Bede known that Uiniau/Finian/Ninian was reputed to be a teacher of Columba he might have omitted him entirely. As I hope to write about someday, I think Bede had quite the grudge against Columba.  (Btw, Uiniau would be written as Winin today and there are place names in the region incorporating Winin or Finian.)

Whithorn in Galloway
Whithorn in Galloway

English Cumbria and Galloway

By the time of King Ecgfrith, Cumbria was incorporated into Bernicia in particular. Bishop Cuthbert was known to have traveled to the area regularly, placing it within the diocese of Lindisfarne. Bede reported that Cuthbert made an annual visit to his friend Herbert of Derwentwater, a hermit, in Cumbria. Bede also reports that Queen Iremenberg was visiting her sister in a convent in Carlisle when Ecgfrith is killed in May of 685. Iremenburg is later said to be an abbess by Stephen of Ripon in his Life of Bishop Wilfrid. It is quite likely that she entered her sister’s convent at Carlisle and eventually became abbess there.

The Rim of the Solway also came into English hands at about this time. In the early 8th century, Whithorn became the seat of a Northumbrian bishop. We know that Pechthelm, the first English bishop of Whithorn or Candida Casa (White House), was a friend of Bede’s and Bishop Acca’s. He had been a deacon for Bishop Aldhelm of Sherbourne and his advice was sought by St Boniface from Germany. Boniface would have met Petchthelm in Wessex. He died before 735/6. Bede claims that Pechthelm was bishop when he finished the Historia in 731. Pechthelm’s successor was Frithuwald, Bishop of Whithorn form c. 735-764. He was succeeded by Pechtwine until 776/777. He was succeeded by two more English bishops before the English lost Cumbria to Scots and Picts. Galloway was eventually settled by the Norse-Gaels (Gall-Gaidel) from whom it took the name Galloway. Both Whithorn and Kirkcudbright reflect Norse naming traditions.

Fergus of Galloway

In much later medieval times a Norse-Gael named Fergus became Lord of Galloway. He is best known as the protagonist of a French Arthurian Romance written by a Norman Guillaume de Clerc (William). Fergus is portrayed as a heroic Perceval-like figure. The woods of Galloway have figured into various Arthurian legends.

Picts of Galloway

The Picts of Galloway are a myth. The origins of the myth probably originate with Bede’s claim that St Ninian was a missionary among the Picts. There is also a Pictish symbol stone in Galloway at Trusty’s Hill. A Pictish symbol stone means that there was a Pict there but not necessarily that there were many Picts living in the area. Clarkson’s The Picts: A History tells me that the legend of the Picts of Galloway didn’t begin until Norman times when the mixed British-Scottish-Norse ancestry warriors from the hills of Galloway were the fiercest men in the army of Scotland, the most barbarian, and therefore obviously the relics of the Picts.

Trusty’s Hill has been associated with the Tristain legend, as Tristain’s original name was Trustan/Drustan, a Pictish name. (Drust is a very common Pictish royal name.) The area of Trusty’s Hill is also associated with a King March ap Meirchion. King  March/Mark and his sister’s son Trustan/Drustan bring up the possibility of fosterage in the area which could account for a stray Pictish symbol. Such a symbol could also come from an exile and his warband being given refuge in the area. Indeed an exiled warband being given Trusty’s Hill could account for the Pictish name and stone. We don’t need to appeal to stray raiders when mercenaries, exiles, and fostered nobles will all do.

19 thoughts on “LKM: Cumbria-Galloway (Solway Firth)

  1. >Coel may be the namesake of Colchester, a major city that may have >controlled Hadrian’s Wall.

    Coel = Colchester, yes possibly, BUT since Colchester is in Essex (south-east) and Hadrian’s wall in the north of England perhaps you’d like to reconsider the rest of this statement.

  2. Corbridge has never been known as Colchester, as far as I know. Its Roman name was Corstopitum and it has never been anything like a major city. Linguistically, “-chester” normally comes from the Latin “castra”.

  3. Bore da Michelle!

    Hey, I really enjoyed many of the threads in your wonderful tapestry here, but I do have trouble understanding it in parts because of your use of the word “Cumbrian” – to me, the use of the word Cumbrian is like using the word England to describe times before the Anglo-Saxons arrived!

    For example, by speaking of “Dunod ap Pabo Prydain …” and saying tht he is “… the last recorded Cumbrian king” and saying that he died circa 595, confuses the heck out of me because the following people who are variously very significantly asserted in various credible documents about Rheged right around the same time ~ and these are significant, historical people, as exemplified by Glasgow Cathedral being built upon the site of St Kentigern’s death: e.g. Urien King of Rheged died circa 590 (who is celebrated in the Welsh triads), his son Owain King of Rheged (who is celebrated in the triads as well) is the father of St Kentigern, a Rheged prince who took his ministry into the Kingdom of Strathclyde and the Cymry built Glasgow Cathedral upon the spot that he died; and Owain’s son Rhun King of Rheged is recorded as having baptised the King of Deira just a few years before Rhun’s heiress, Rhianfelt – whose name means queen and hence asserts the continuity of the Kingdom of Rheged – married Oswy of Northumberland in 638 AD, making Oswy Rheged’s High King from when Rhianfelt died.

    Also, I think that the statement about Rheged’s “dynasty” being a psuedo-genealogy is a bit strong, as it (seems!) that you’ve made the assumption that the Rheged King List is actually a genealogy: keeping in mind that the Patron Saint (or Chief Saint) of the region, Kentigern, was the son of Owain King of Rheged, and also, your hypothesis that Patrick originated in the region that corresponds to the region of Rheged, then all of the histories that commonly refer to all of them essentially refer to a group of people who were intimate with the holy men of the age, if not related to them, upon which there would have more likely been truth-telling than the fabrication of false geneologies ~ the trick is, I think, in interpreting the context that they were truthfully told, and where the ominous is not so clear, in not discounting that truth exists that cannot easily be seen.

    So when I look at the Rheged King List, vis-a-vis “… Uryen ap Cynfarch ap Merchion ap Gwrst ap Coel Hen”, I can see that Coel Hen would rank as (or equivalent to) Urien’s Great Great Grandfather: to show how well Urien might have known stories about someone ranking as or equivalent to, his Great Great Grandfather, consider this: I chatted with an 84 year old lady who told me about sitting on her Grandmother’s knee when she was a child – she remembers the stories that her grandmother told her about her grandmother, and the woman at the end of the line was the housekeeper of Governor Philip, the first governor of New South Wales, who took the first fleet to Australia!

    So if Urien and his decendants were being celebrated in the context of a holy environment, I’ve no doubt that stories about Coel Hen would have still been fresh in their minds, hence so would their capacity to join the dots between Coel Hen and Urien!

    If you understand that in my being from Cumberland, my continuing claim in my own native tongue is that I am from Rheged, so you will see what I mean: these are not just matters of history but personal ethnicity!

    But I otherwise enjoy the tapestry that you presented, I have been a silent reader of your posts for quite a whie!

    Kind regards,


  4. Hmmmn, I see that I missed out Ceneu in Urien’s pedigree above, I think that the following is accurate:

    Urien ap Cynfarch ap Merchion ap Gwrst ap Ceneu ap Coel Hen

  5. The main problem with Rheged is that we don’t know its precise location. It lay somewhere in northern England and/or southern Scotland but that’s the limit of our knowledge. Unlike other kingdoms of the “Men of the North” there is no spot where we can stand today and say ‘this place was definitely part of Rheged’. We can stand at Dumbarton and say ‘this was Strathclyde’, or at Edinburgh and say ‘this was Gododdin’. We can even stand on the old railway trackbed below Netherby Roman fort and say ‘this was Gwenddoleu’s kingdom’. But sadly we can’t do this for Rheged.

  6. I think its rather unlikely that Owain ap Urien is the father of St Kentigern. Owain was one of the superheroes of the north and therefore probably co-opted as the great saint’s father. Several scholars have concluded that the hagiography of Kentigern is a patchwork of fiction.

    Urien Rheged died while besiegning King Theodoric of Bernicia who reigned in the 570s. Rhun ap Urien is recorded as baptizing Edwin of Deira, though this contradicts Bede. There is no reason to believe that Rhun’s granddaughter passed any rights to Rheged to her husband Oswiu who was not king when they were married. He was just one of King Oswald’s brothers. Oswiu married Eanflaed within about his year of becoming king.

  7. Michelle is right. While Oswiu’s marriage to Rhun’s granddaughter presumably had a political dimension it would not have given her father’s kingdom as a dowry. Other members of Rheged’s royal family would not have allowed such a passive transfer of power to happen.

  8. Hi Michael,

    Firstly, well done on the site. Very well presented.

    On Tim’s point about not knowing where Rheged was, we do ‘know’ more than it was in northwest England/southeast Scotland. Its location is based on several things: 1) Din-Rheged (Dunragit) in Dumfries and Galloway 2) Rochdale in Greater Manchester, recorded in the Domesday Book as Recedham 3) the poems of Taliesin, which tells us that Urien ruled over Catraeth, generally accepted as Catterick in Yorkshire. I would also suggest that both Taliesin’s and Urien’s associations with Powys might indicate that it bordered it to the south. An even greater association with Powys appears with Llywarch Hen, Urien’s cousin and ruler of South Rheged. (It was supposedly divided c. 535AD into North and South Rheged, but if the poetry of Taliesin is anything to go by, Urien was still its overking).
    In short, it appears to be the western half of what was the Brigantian’s territory probably down to the Mersey.

    What is odd is that Rheged, along with the British kingdom or Brynaich (Anglo-Saxon Bernicia) in the east, both spanned Hadrian’s Wall. I say this is odd because recent archaeology indicates that the defenses were maintained probably up until the end of the 5th century. If your territory lies on both sides of the wall, why do you need defenses? Were they just being careful? It could be that Coel Hen took the territory north of the Wall during his ‘reign’ (whatever form that reign may have taken) doing what the Roman’s had done earlier and creating buffer states again against the Scots and Picts, and this wasn’t Valentia at all before this. (I have written a lengthy piece for another website about the possible location of Valentia. I didn’t want to post it here because of its length, but will if you’re interested to read it). This was in the late 4th/early 5th centuries of course, and by Urien’s time things were very different.

    Keep up the good work,


  9. “….western half of what was the Brigantian’s territory probably down to the Mersey.”

    The status of Cheshire seems to be open to debate. Some sources say that South Rheged included Lancashire and Cheshire and included Chester. Others are more cautious saying that the boundary was the Mersey.

    Wherein lies the truth?

  10. The truth is that no ancient source associates Rheged with Lancashire or Cheshire. No ancient source suggests a division of Rheged into northern and southern parts. The place-names Dunragit in Galloway and Rochdale in Lancashire contain elements which bear a superficial resemblance to the name Rheged (in its variant forms Reged or Recet) but this does not really get us very far. The kingdom may have been situated in Galloway, or Cumberland or Westmorland, or North Lancashire, or North Yorkshire, but we have no reason not to place it somewhere else, such as in the Tweed Valley or Clydesdale or Ayrshire or Lothian. The idea of Rheged stretching from the Solway Firth to the Mersey is simply a theory, drawing its strength from constant repetition in scholarly publications. Tracing the theory back to its roots, via the work of Sir Ifor Williams and others, is actually an interesting exercise in itself. It ultimately goes back to the antiquarian musings of Victorian times (and earlier). It doesn’t go back to Taliesin. The archaeological perspective is presented in Mike McCarthy’s excellent article in PSAS 2002 (‘Rheged: an Early Historic kingdom near the Solway’) where the traditional view is modified to argue for a smaller kingdom based in the Rhinns of Galloway.

  11. Tim, of course, makes very good points about Rheged. Any thoughts on Rheged are only theories, and here’s one to mull over and rip to pieces. Apologies for its length:


    It is generally argued that the inter-wall tribes are what became _Valentia_. I too would have thought this, but there are fundamental problems with this argument. They may have indeed placed Roman military overlords there as judged by the ancestors of Ceritic and Cunedda, but this doesn’t mean it was a province. It is also just as likely that these names came from Latin Christian influence or simply trying to emulate the Romans. (Warlords and holy men: Scotland AD 80-1000 By Alfred P. Smyth) It could be there were foederati, laeti or gentiles here who we’re not aware of, but if there were, they left no archaeology, apart from the coin hordes at Trapian Law. 

    There is the argument that what is now Wales may have had no units either after 383, apart from maybe _feoderati_ and _laeti_, yet it was still part of Britannia. This is a valid point, but the difference is it was still part of Britannia and between the Walls wasn’t, even though it may have protected those tribes to the North it had severed with the Wall, such as the _Carvetii_. The Empire made very little money from their western most provinces, so the chances of it wanting (and funding) another province in this area would be slim. (‘Why did the Romans fail to take Scotland?’, Breeze, 1988, p.12).

    The other point is that there appears to be no victorious march by Constans (_Valentia_ possibly being _Constantia_ previously) which would have been the case for the taking of a new region, unless the region was still regarded as Roman. He visited Britain in 343 after defeating the Franks and it’s thought it must have been for a very good reason as he crossed the English Channel in winter. He was also the last Emperor to do visit the isles (Julius Firmicus Maternus). There was also no victory parade after the retaking of the province that became _Valentia_ because it wasn’t allowed for in the case of victories over your own citizens.

    NOTITIA DIGNITATUM (c. AD 395-430)

    The Notitia lists the five provinces of Britannia, and since it appears to list them in order of importance, from the top down, Valentia is second. So it’s not an unimportant province. It can’t be, it was given a consul.


    It should be possible to discover if Valentia was between the Walls or within the original diocese by where the Notitia lists the military units as being based, but this is, of course, hampered by the difficulty of identifying all the Latin place names. There appears to be only two that are questioned – _Dicti_ (Old Worthingham?) and _Morbio_ (Ilkley?) – both in the north, and three that are unknown – _Praesidio_, _Olenaco_ and _Ulrosido_. _Praesidio_ is possibly somewhere near Bridlington. The latter two are listed as units on the Wall (Hadrian’s). If it was the case that Valentia was between the Walls then this might leave only _one_ unit that protected it, besides the 10 units of the _comes Britanniarum_, which had to protect the whole of Britannia.  There is also no evidence for the refortification of the Antonine Wall.


    As many of you will know, another candidate is what is now Wales, or a part there-of, which then would have been _Britannia Prima_. This is partly because of a 16th century Breton document that says Brochmael was the king of a region called _Gualentius_, the Latininized Breton version of Valentia. The only Brochmael known is _Brochmael Ysgythrog_, thought to be a 6th century ruler of Powys. However, Keith has calculated his floruit to c. 730AD. ( )

    This is as strong an argument as any, but there is one that adds to this. Ann Dornier (Britannia, Vol. 13, (1982), pp. 253-257 ) forcefully argues it’s possible that what was the northern half of Britannia Prima and the western half of Britannia Secunda (that’s Cumbria, Lancashire, Cheshire, Shropshire and possibly parts of Powys, Gwynedd, Denbighshire and Flintshire) became Valentia with the provincial capital at Chester. Below are quotes from her paper:


    Ann Dornier (Britannia, Vol. 13, (1982), pp. 253)

    “The section on S. Sulian in the Lion Breviary of I 516 begins thus: _Fuit igitur beatus Sulianus Jilius Bromailli regis nobilissimi qui regnum Britanniae quod Gualentius dicitur suo quondam tempore strenuissime noscitur g~be rnas s e_(.The blessed Sulian was the son of the most noble king Bromaillus [sic Brochmael] who is known to have ruled most energetically the kingdom of Britain which formerly in his day was called Gualentius [sic Valentia]). Gualentius is clearly a Latinized Breton rendering of the name Valentia.”

    Saint Sulian is also known as Saint Tysilio. It’s only recently I realised that I live only 8 miles from Llantysilio in the Dee Valley near Llangollen.


    Ann Dornier Britannia, Vol. 13, (1982), pp. 255

    “Although there are several places which might be properly considered, the weight of evidence seems in favour of Chester [I would also consider Carlisle]. It has been pointed out that by the early third century at the latest the civil settlement of Chester had acquired independent status. It was probably the civitas capital of the Deceangli; and by the fourth century the civitas of the Deceangli may have absorbed that of the Cornovii, thus increasing Chester’s administrative importance. There is a growing body of archaeological evidence that in the late Roman period Chester was more than just a legionary base with a modest civil settlement: there was clearly a very prosperous civilian population living to the west and south of the fortress; and there is the possibility that in the west at least this area was bounded by a defensive perimeter, marked by the circuit of the medieval west wall. This would bring it into line with such places as York and Lincoln. Moreover, there are hints from post-Roman sources that Chester may have been a late/ sub-Roman ecclesiastical metropolitan, and therefore by definition a provincial capital. Finally, the fortress of Chester may have been of greater military importance in the late period than has hitherto been thought (see below, pp. 257-8), and this may have been a contributory factor in the choice of Chester as the provincial capital of Valentia.” 

    Higham and Davies agree with the conclusion that it was the western half of _Britannia Secunda_ (‘The Carvetii_, 1982), But they think that its capital would have been Carlisle.


    Ann Dornier (Britannia, Vol. 13, (1982), pp. 257)

    “Why and in what context would a second consular province have been considered necessary or desirable, and why Valentia? Several possibilities present themselves. First it may have had something to do with the imperial ego. If the creation of Valentia was the work of Constans in 343 and if it was originally called Constantia after him, it may have been given consular status at its inception, befitting for a new province named after the victorious emperor. Alternatively, if originally equestrian, its elevation may have gone hand in hand with its renaming after the reigning emperor(s) in 369, perhaps as a way of underlining how great was the imperial victory in recovering the province. Secondly, military considerations may have been the important factor…” 

    If she’s right, would this mean that the diocese capital would be moved to Chester (or wherever it was), if there still was a diocese capital after London, or Maxima, was lost; or would this be elsewhere?


    Interestingly, Geoffrey of Monmouth makes Brochmail the consul of Chester (Legecester) – (_History of the Kings of Britain, Book 11, chapter 13_). Could he actually have got this right? 


    If this is indeed were Valentia was then it was done as much to cut in half the possible tribal confederacy of the _Brigantes_. The northwest was the home of the _Carvetii_ (Cumbria and part of Dumfries and Galloway) and the _Setantii_ (Lancashire) but it is thought that because _Ptolemy_ missed them off his map they were septs of the _Brigantes_ of the east. (Other septs probably included the _Parisii_ of East Yorkshire and the _Corionototae_ of the Corbridge area and probably others). If, as Stuart Laycock argues in his book _Britannia, The Failed State’_, North below the Wall were as much the cause of troubles in the 4th century as those north of the Antonine Wall, then it might make sense to ‘divide and conquer’ by splitting _Britannia Secunda_ and creating Valentia. Alfred P Smyth in his book ‘ Warlords and holy men: Scotland 80–1000’  comes to the same conclusions as Laycock.

    It may be that those west of the Pennines were happy to be divided from the their eastern overlords but there’s no way of knowing. What is known is that the _Carvetii_ region (possibly later to become _Rheged_) had the largest concentration of forts in Britain; there are over 40 auxiliary forts there, over half with _vicus_ settlements attached to them. (Source: This has a certain irony to it as this means the most militarized area probably had the most amount of Britons who actually came into daily contact with Roman military might. It was a very different story across the Pennines in what is now County Durham. This area is believed to be mostly forest and there little evidence of settlement. (‘Roman Britain and English Settlements’; Collingwood, Nowell, Myres, 1988, p.421). This could be a very good reason why the Picts had to sail much further south to raid anything of significance.

    There is also some strength to the argument that some in the East may have used Anglian _feoderati_ to protect them not only from Picts and Germanic and Scandinavian raiders but from their Western British cousins. The _Parisii_ region may have been particularly vulnerable.


    Coel Hen is difficult to tie down, as a historical person, what he was and when he lived. Genealogies can be very untrustworthy, but if he did ‘rule’ over the north, did he expand Britannia’s borders? He supposedly gave Brynaich to one son and attacked Strathclyde and both lay beyond the Wall. Did he expand Valentia into the Novante region, thereby creating what would become the northern extremes of Rheged? (see below). Many genealogies certainly went on to claim descent from him in the same way others used Maximus, whether their claim was legitimate or not. The Coelings may have dominated a great portion of the North above the Mersey/ Humber line.


    If Dornier is right, could this possibly explain the movement of Cunedda… if, indeed it ever actually happened? If he was ‘hired’ by _Valentia_, who may have had close ties with the Gododdin, he could have started in the North (as one poem has him fighting at Carlisle) and make his way down the western seaboard and ending up in North Wales, rather than just being sent there, or migrating there. Britannia Prima and/or Demetia could have then called on his assistance once he was in the area, hence ‘Cunedda’s Hill’ in Dyfed, if this isn’t a later antiquarian naming.

    The alternative is that Silicho is the one who brought into North Wales, or Maximus did.

    If Dornier is right and it did include _Cornovia_ (modern day Cheshire, Shropshire and the Wirral), then it would make _Valentia_ and _Britannia Prima_ about the same size… in theory, as no one can agree to exactly what were the boundaries of the provinces.  It could have, as she suggests, ended where the Deceangli territory may have done when first created: possibly at the River Conwy (or even maybe the Dulas). No one’s really sure about this enigmatic ‘kingdom’ (later to be called ‘The Middle Kingdom’) even Ptolemy missed it off his map, probably because it was a sept of the _Ordovices_. This, Cunedda (?) and his descendants then expanded, probably taking it from the ‘Irish’, encompassing the Lleyn, and beyond. 

    There is an alternative layout however, and that is that _Valentia_ also cut what is now Wales in half, or more like two thirds, taking in the whole of the _Ordovices_  region. This would take in most of what is now modern day Powys as well as Wrexham, Denbighshire, Flintshire, Conwy, Gwynedd and Ceridigion. Possibly the region that _Magnus Maximus_ was responsible for before being elevated to the purple.


    We still don’t know what happened to the provinces in the early to mid part of the 5th century, but it would seem logical–though not necessarily right–to assume that the military zone would be the first to fall, although Ken Dark believes they may have stayed intact into the 6th century with an active _Dux_.  However, there could be the irony that Christianity kept it together, rather than military might, but this is impossible to prove. Wherever _Valentia_ was, it would be difficult to know what state it, and Britannia, were in by the last quarter of the 5th century.

    If Stuart Laycock is right, it could be that the more Romanised south, south central and east fragmented far more than the North West, West and South West. Not only is this the division between the civil and military zones it is also the division of where the late fourth and early fifth century belt buckles are found. The Romanised areas containing over 95% of them.


    It could appear from the evidence that _Rheged_ (what was the _Carvetii_ civitas) came to dominate the whole of the northwest, or even north. I know Rheged is still a disputed issue but if it did dominate it may have (eventually) stretched from the borders of Strathclyde and Gododdin to Rochdale, near Manchecter, called ‘Recedford’ in the Doomsday Book, although Higham and Tim doubt it. It could have turned the tide on the Brigantian hegemony and dominated the whole of the North for a short while. It may even have bordered Powys at the Mersey. Could _Rheged_ have become what _Valentia_ once was? Or could _Valentia_, if it was the area proposed by Dornier, first split in half between Rheged north of the Mersey and what would become Powys/Pengwern to the south? This could explain the reference to Brochmael with what was the _Cornovii civitas_ taking the name _Valentia/Guelentius_ before becoming Powys/Pengwern. There are, of course, valid arguments as to Rheged only being the northern half of what is now Cumbria and southwestern Scotland, but if this is the case, we’re completely missing a kingdom (or kingdoms) from Rheged to Powys, unless Craven and Elmet were here.


    By Urien’s time Rheged may have changed its size and shape greatly. Urien was called the ‘Lord of Catraeth’ and if Catraeth was Catterick, it expanded across the Pennines. Personally, I’m not sure about Catraeth (the battle tract/shore) being Catterick. Like Tim Clarkson I wonder if it was in the Tweed valley, along with all those other ‘cat’ and ‘cad’ place names. Either way, this ‘mini empire’ could explain why Urien was called a Gwledig. 

    If Valentia did last longer than most, or a (fluctuating) alliance between its constituent states did, could this also be why Taliesin writes both for a king of Rheged (Urien) and a king of Powys (Cyngen, son of Brochmael)? Is this why Urien is also associated with Powys in the praise poetry of Taliesin? Some believe Urien may even have attacked it, but the poetry doesn’t really make it sound like this:

    “He was not an aggressor, there appeared not
    The uplifted front of Urien before Powys.”
    (_Arddwyre Reged_ – Book of Taliesin XXXVI)

    His supposed cousin Llywarch Hen of South Rheged (the _Setantii_ region?) certainly is associated with Powys as he fled there when the Northumbrians came to town. The fact that the Northumbrians did manage to take such a huge section of the Northwest of England and south west Scotland after the defeat of Rheged could be another indication of just how large it was.

    If Valentia was here, is this why Maelgwn was so powerful: he _may_ have been ruler over the relatively small kingdom of Gwynedd, but he held sway over Powys/Guenlentius and Rheged at the time? Is this why his sons ended up in the North? Or is the answer to this that Maelgwn wasn’t from Gwynedd at all but from the North?


    Is this the alliance that fights at Catraeth? Is this why even men of Gwynedd are there with the Men of the North, or is this because of the Cunedda connection. Or is it just because of wanting to be part of a good old scrap with the ze Germans!  Or was the Gwynedd connection just a later addition? If it was, it’s strange that it appears in the earlier B text of _Y Gododdin_.  

  12. Some interesting ideas about Valentia in your comment, Mak. It’s one of those mysterious, insoluble puzzles that will continue to exercise our imagination until something significant about it (such as an unambiguous Roman inscription) turns up. As far as Rheged is concerned I remain as sceptical as ever. You’re right about the big gap in our knowledge of what was happening in a large area of the North West, between Powys and Galloway, in post-Roman times. What has always fascinated me is an apparent desperation to fill this gap with an identifiable kingdom called Rheged, South Rheged, North Powys or whatever. Why not just leave the gap as a blank space on our maps of 6th century Britain? By inserting Rheged into this very large area we begin to lose touch with Taliesin, who gives no hint that Rheged was any bigger than Catraeth, Llywyfenydd or other districts ruled by Urien. All we know for certain about Rheged is that it was Urien’s epithet and hence his primary territorial association, presumably his core domain where his family’s ancestral estates were situated. It was large enough to support a warrior aristocracy dependant on Urien’s patronage but it need not have been particularly extensive. Taliesin’s poems surely imply that what made Urien a powerful king was not a huge ’empire’ called Rheged but the additional territories, such as Catraeth and Goddeu, that fell under his overlordship as his military reputation increased.

  13. Earlier this year (May 2012) the Galloway Picts project carried out a two week archaeological dig at Trusty’s Hill in Galloway. The results so far suggest that trusty’s Hill was a high status, possibly royal, site in the sixth/ seventh centuries. As the results come in, they are being posted here

    An earlier site near Castle Douglas in Galloway (where the Carlingwark Cauldron and Torrs Pony cap were found) – a crop mark which is a possible 30m diameter roundhouse- is going to be surveyed using geophysics 9-13 October 2012. There is also a proposal to excavate this site. See

  14. I am astounded by this blog – and the clear way it lays out history. I am part of the Ferguson Clan and after solving THE MYSTERY OF THE DAY OF DESTRUCTION FOR CLAN FERGUS on the shores of Loch Ryan the facts lost in time – it was a patricide around 1216 involving perhaps the Mortimer (ruler or sheriff) of Morey or his son or bard. Please can you shed any light on this? Thank You

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