Heroic Age Logo The Heroic Age, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 1999  

Artúr mac Aedan of Dalriada

Notes and Bibliography


Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Elizabeth Ragan and Tim Clarkson for reading early drafts of this study. Their comments greatly enhanced this work.

  1. No medieval source spells his name Arthur.

  2. He is supported as the historical King Arthur by Chadwick 1953:115–183 and Carroll 1999.

  3. According to Bede (1.1; Farmer 1990:46), the Pictish foundation legend states "Having no women with them, these Picts asked for wives of the Irish, who consented on condition that, when any dispute arose, they should choose a king from the female royal line rather than the male. This custom continues among the Picts to this day." Bede wrote his Ecclesiastical History of the English People in c. 731. Molly Miller (1982:151) has interpreted Bede's statement to indicate a "preference for brothers, then for their sisters' sons when royalty passes to the next generation." Miller (1982:150–155) has also hypothesized that intermarriage among the leading families of the Picts and foreign rulers could have produced kings descended from former Pictish kings on both their matrilinear and patrilinear lines.

  4. The royal court of Strathclyde was the closest foreign power center to Dalriada and relations must have been strained due to this proximity and Dalriadic control of the entry into the Firth of Clyde, a vital communication and trading route for Strathclyde.

  5. Sims–Williams 1996:30–34; Miller 1975:280; and Smyth 1984:21.

  6. Din–Guaïroï was a fortified British center, possibly belonging to Outigern, who is recorded fighting against Ida. Æthelfrith "gave his wife Din–Guoïroï, who was called Bebbab, from his wife's name it was named" (Historia Brittonum § 63, Hopkins and Koch 1995:283).

  7. It is possible that Æthelfrith's predecessor, Hussa's son Hering, was given refuge during exile from Bernicia in the first half of Æthelfrith's reign. The Anglo–Saxon Chronicle (version E) records that Hering son of Hussa led Aedan's forces against Æthelfrith at the battle of Degastan in 603. If Hering took refuge in Dalriada from the beginning of Æthelfrith's reign, it is possible that he arrived very close to the time of Artúr's death, c. 590–595 (Moisl 1983:112–116). From this time Dalriada became a refuge for numerous exiled Angles, including Æthelfrith's sons Oswald and Oswy from 616–634. Moisl (1983:115–116) also suggests that an Osric son of Albruit (d. 628) may have been a grandson of Aedan by one of his daughters.

  8. Abbot of Iona (679–704).

  9. Bannerman (1974) asserts that the History of the Men of Scotland was composed around the year 650. Anderson (1980) places its composition at 650–700.

  10. Aedan's son Eochaid Buide/Eocho Bude succeeded Aedan as king c. 606.

  11. Domangart is also, in the History of the Men of Scotland, referred to as a grandson of Aedan by either his son Conaing, making him a brother of Artúr, or by Aedan's son Eocho Bude (Bannerman 1974:91–92).

  12. An alternative possibility is that Artúr mac (son of) Aedan and Domangart mac Aedan existed but were not recorded in the History of the Men of Scotland at all. Conaing may have named two of his sons after his brothers. Bannerman (1974:91) suggests that Aedan probably had several grandsons old enough to fight and die in his battles and Adomnan simply assumed that all the descendants of Aedan who died before him were sons.

  13. AT appears to be cobbled together from at least three different sources over a significant period of time. The entry's construction is discussed in more detail later in this section.

  14. Aedan's daughter Maithgemma of Monad married Cairell of the Dal Fiatch. According to the late Acta Sancti Laisriani, a Gemma, probably Maithgemma, was the saint's mother, a daughter of Aedan and a niece of a British king. This would indicate that Aedan had married a kinswoman of a British king (Bannerman 1974:89; Chadwick 1953:169). Laisrin, also known as Molaisse, is also remembered in the Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee on April 18. Stokes (1983:117) gives a further poetic reference: "Molaisse, a flame of fire, with the quires of partnership, abbot of Raithchell, king of the synod, son of Maithgemm of Monad"; Stokes also notes that Molaisse's mother is called a daughter of Aedan mac Gabran, king of Scotland, in the Book of Leinster. Considering Aedan's addition to the Strathclyde dynasty, I would suggest his wife was a kinswoman of Rhydderch Hael, the only king of Strathclyde contemporary with Aedan.

  15. Bannerman suggests that there was a Brychan of Brycheiniog in southern Pictland. According to Bannerman (1974:78) "Brychan's grave and those of several of his daughters are located in Mannia, probably Manaw Gododdin in mid–Scotland."

  16. It is usually assumed that Gafran ap Aeddan is an inversion of the Dalriadic kings Aedan and his father Gabran. However, this is not necessarily so. Aedan may have married a royal female of Strathclyde and named an otherwise unknown son after his father. Aedan has his usual epithet "the treacherous" or "the wily" in the genealogical tract The Descent of the Men of the North, so we can be sure he is the intended figure (Bromwich 1978: app. II). Gafran and Aeddan are obviously tacked on late, since they are both at least a generation too early if they are inverted and two generations early if not inverted. Interestingly, Gafran son of Aedan is mentioned in triad 29: "the warband of Gafran son of Aeddan, who went to sea for their lord" was one of the "Three Faithful Warbands" (Bromwich 1978). It is possible that Aedan married a woman of Strathclyde and was added to their genealogy as a son rather than a son–in–law. Aedan appears to have had at least one other wife, who was probably Pictish.

  17. The British names of Conaing's children (Artúr/Arthur and Rígallán/Rhiawallon) further suggest that Conaing also married a British woman. However, it is possible that Artúr mac Conaing was named after Artúr mac Aedan, an older brother of Conaing who may have been left out of the History of the Men of Scotland. Aedan's grandson Morgand (Morgant) son of Eochaid Find mac Aedan also had a British name. Interestingly, Morgand is not in an earlier list of the sons of Eochaid Find within the same document. The "two sons of Tuathal, son of Morgand, son of Eochaid Find son of Aedan" are mentioned in the last list of men descended from Aedan mac Gabran (Bannerman 1974:48). This line has more generations than any other line of Cenél Gabrain. It is possible that these men represented the leading men of Cenél Gabrain at the time the History of the Men of Scotland was compiled.

  18. According to the Annals of Ulster (abbreviated AU), Aedan also won a victory in "Manonn" in 582. It is unknown if this battle was fought in Manau Gododdin or on the Isle of Man. Scholarly consensus is that this particular battle was indeed fought on the Isle of Man, as noted in the Annals of Clonmacnoise and the Annals Cambriae (Bannerman 1974:83).

  19. The History of the Men of Scotland, AT, and AU all agree that Bran was the son of Aedan (Bannerman 1974:92).

  20. The Historia Brittonum records that Cunedda left Manau Gododdin c. 388. However, calculations based on a genealogy of Cunedda's ancestors place him c. 450. It is difficult to envision both a Pictish tribe of the Miathi and a British region coexisting in such a small area. It is possible that the territory of the Miathi and British Manau are one in the same. Both regions of the kingdom of the Gododdin were named after Celtic gods rather than tribes. Manau reflects the god Manwydan (Welsh)/ Manann (Irish), and Lothian reflects the god Lleu (Welsh)/ Lugus (Irish).

  21. At the battle of Circenn in 586, the Pictish king Bruide son of Maelchon was killed (Anderson and Anderson 1991:xx). Significantly, he was succeeded by Gartnait son of Domelach (Bannerman 1974:92–94). It has been suggested that Domelach was his mother and Aedan mac Gabran was his father (Bannerman 1974:93–94). The conflicts between Bruide son of Maelchon and Cenél Gabráin were of long standing. According to tradition, Gabran had married Lucan, daughter of Brychan of Mannia, probably Manau Gododdin where Brychan and several of his daughters were buried (Bannerman 1974:78). In c. 558, Bruide son of Maelchon seriously defeated Aedan's father Gabran and possibly reversed Irish settlement in Pictland (Bannerman 1974:77–79). Gabran died later that year (Bannerman 1974:78). Aedan's cousin Conall appears to have had a peaceful relationship with all his neighbors; only one battle in the Inner Hebrides is recorded for Conall (Bannerman 1974:78–79). Iona was recorded as being granted to Columba by both Conall of Dalriada and Bruide of Pictland. It has been suggested that he obtained permission from Conall as the local king and permission from Bruide as overking of Pictland and Dalriada (Bannerman 1974:79). When Aedan became king he may have decided to renew the claim to territory in southern Pictland and repay Bruide for the defeat suffered by his father in 558. If the equation of Gartnait mac Aedan and Gartnait, king of Picts, is true, Aedan got the ultimate revenge.

  22. According to a poem on the birth of Brandub mac Echnach and Aedan, "Aedan was born near the Forth and [it] refers to him as the king of the Forth" (Bannerman 1974:85). If Gabran married a daughter of Brychan of Manau Gododdin (Bannerman 1974:77–78) it is possible that he was indeed given refuge there and used those forces on his return to Dalriada. If this Brychan was a Pict of the Miathi rather than an inhabitant of Manau Gododdin, it is possible that Aedan became king of Fortrenn by Pictish matrilineal succession.

  23. In the Life of St. Berach Aedan grants the saint his fortress at Eperpuill (Aberfoyle) on the Forth to build a monastery (Bannerman 1974:85; Anderson 1980:146).

  24. Brychan's Prophecy (11th century) claims that Aedan fought the Picts for 13 years . The hostility between the Picts and Aedan is corroborated in Scéla Cano meic Gartnáin, which also implies Aedan married a Pictish princess (Bannerman 1974:86).

  25. It should be noted that Marjorie Anderson believed that traditions of Aedan had become confused with his descendent Kenneth mac Alpin. However, it is not impossible that Aedan served as a prototype for Kenneth.

  26. The History of the Men of Scotland does list a son named Garnait, the only son of Aedan with a recognizably Pictish name. The Chronicle of the Kings of Scotland claims Garnait succeeded Brude son of Maelchon. Brude son of Maelchon was probably the overlord of Dalriada during the reign of Aedan's predecessor Conall and he severely defeated Aedan's father in battle in the year of his death, 558 (Bannerman 1974:78–79). It is quite likely that the Pictish princess Aedan is reputed to have married was the sister of Brude son of Maelchon.

  27. It is possible that Domnall approached Owain from the east out of Fife or even Gowrie, claimed above to have been owned by Domnall's brothers, clashing with Owain ap Beli at Strathcarron, where Domnall was slain.

  28. These men followed Talorcan son of Eanfrith of Bernicia to the Pictish throne (Anderson 1980:169). It is likely that Talorcan was helped to the throne by his uncle Oswy of Northumbria. Oswy, after his father's death, maintained strong ties and perhaps oaths to Dalriada, perhaps dating from his exile there. It is not unlikely that Oswy would have aided two sons of his friends in Dalriada to the Pictish throne.

  29. It is possible that Aedan placed his son on the throne of Fortrenn because legally he was a heir to the throne, but Aedan may have been the real power in Pictland through his son.

  30. If Aedan was born near the Forth, it would suggest that his mother could have been from the Miathi.

  31. Here we can see the stylized "303" losses also seen in the early poem Y Gododdin. Perhaps significantly, Y Gododdin, which is the first text to mention Arthur, was composed before A.D. 638. We can infer that the battle of Miathi was a very costly and bloody battle. It is interesting to note that in 1.8, where the battle of Miathi is most directly discussed, the losses of Aedan's sons or grandsons are not mentioned, underscoring the contrived nature of 1.9.

  32. Aedan's marriage to a British woman was likely a political move to ensure relative peace with Strathclyde. Dalriada's expansion into southern Pictland rather than the closer Strathclyde emphasizes the likelihood of a treaty between Aedan and Strathclyde. Such a treaty would not have extended to the British of Manau.

  33. There is only one triad, probably composed in Strathclyde, that remotely links Arthur to the Strathclyde–Dalriada region. The triad of the "Three Unrestrained Ravagings" describes two conflicts between Arthur and Medraut, while the third occurred when Aedan of Dalriada ravaged the court of Rhydderch Hael of Dumbarton (Bromwich 1978; Coe and Young 1995:85).

  34. Arthur ap Bicoir's credentials are at least as good for being the historical King Arthur. There is no reason why the first use of the name Arthur must refer to King Arthur. The name Arthur could have existed for centuries in Roman Britain. At least this man was British and slew a man with a name similar to Medraut. The fact is that both Arthur ap Bicoir and Artúr of Dalriada lived too late.

  35. Descendants of Artúr mac Conaing may have entered the church and renounced their patrimony accounting for his absence in the History of the Men of Scotland. One hundred years is a bit of a stretch but a grandson of Artur mac Conaing mac Aedan could have been a monk of Iona who attended the synod.

  36. The Roman fortress of Camelon is on the eastern end of the Antonine Wall but I believe it is slightly too far south to be within the territory of the Miathi. Camelon and the nearby structure known as Arthur's O'on would probably have been in the British territory of Lothian in the kingdom of Gododdin. Therefore Camelon is an unlikely site for the battle between Dalriada and the Miathi.

  37. According to the Arthurian legend, Arthur had a sister named Morgana or Morgan le Fey who was the mother of at least Gawain and Modred. Typically she was married to King Lot(h) of Lothian. Morgana is also associated with Avalon.

  38. Martin Howley, pers. comm., Jan. 28, 1999: from Hogan's Onomasticon Goedelicum (p. 101): "Gabrán mac Ailb, fr. him is named B. nGabráin, Ll. 378; Bealach nGabrain, named fr. Gabran, son of Ucha, son of Auigen Urgnuid, K. of Lein., Fir. 434; Alb, son of Augen Aurgnide, whose son was Gabran a quo B. Gabrain, X, 72; so named fr. Gabrán, a hound of Failbi Fland that pursued a wild pig of Druim Almaine, called Lurgan, and died on the way back, Bb. 198 a; so called from Gabran, son of Fitrecan, of the Cenél nUcha, Bb. 70, 68b."

  39. Martin Howley, pers. comm., Jan. 6, 1999: Hogan's Onomasticon Goedelicum (p. 101) identifies Belach Gabráin as the well–known passage from Leinster to Ossory, prob. at Goresbridge, on the Barrow, leading to Gowran, c. Kilk." Stokes (1905:375) suggests Belach Gabrain is the modern Gowran Pass in Co. Kilkenny, Ireland. F. J. Bryne (1973:133) also illustrates a settlement called Gabrain on the Osraige/Ossory side of the Leinster–Osraige border, northwest of St. Mullins.

  40. Belach Gabráin has been located on a common passage between Leinster and Ossory.

  41. Ordinance Survey 1997: coordinates J6; Glennie 1994:90; and Skene 1988:35–36.

  42. Alcock (1989:64–66) favored the region of the Roman city of Lincoln for these battles.


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