The Summer Solstice

June 21, 2019 is the summer solstice this year, celebrated at Stonehenge and across the globe, for the longest day of the year.  “Sol + stice derives from a combination of Latin words meaning “sun” + “to stand still.” As the days lengthen, the sun rises higher and higher until it seems to stand still in the sky.”  http://www.chiff.com/a/summer-solstice.htm Within Welsh mythology, there is very little discussion of the solstices or what holidays were celebrated within the celtic/druid year.  This is not the case of Stonehenge, which archaeologists and historians have Read More…

The Beginning of the Dark Ages in Britain

The ‘Dark Ages’ were ‘dark’ only because we lack extensive (or in some instances, any) historical material about the period between 407 AD, when the Romans marched away from Britain, and 1066, when William of Normandy conquered England. “Initially, this era took on the term “dark” . . . due to the backward ways and practices that seemed to prevail during this time. Future historians used the term “dark” simply to denote the fact that little was known about this period; there was a paucity of written history. Recent discoveries have Read More…

Iron Age Hill Forts in Wales

The Iron Age in Wales occurred during the 500 years leading up to the Roman conquest of Britain.  “The earliest iron artefact in Wales is a sword dating to about 600 BCE, but by 400 BCE iron was being smelted and crafted into tools all over the British Isles. The tribes of Wales developed regional styles of working iron, gold, and other metals, following the exquisite western European style known as La Tene (after the village of La Tene in Switzerland). At the same time as iron was introduced to Read More…

Dinas Bran (Castle)

Dinas Bran is a medieval castle begun in 1260 and destroyed in 1277 during the Welsh wars with King Edward I of England. The first settlement that we know of was an iron age hill fort, from which it gets its name.  “”Dinas Bran” is variously translated as “Crow Castle,” “Crow City,” “Hill of the Crow,” or “Bran’s Stronghold.” The castle first appears in 12th century historical documents as part of a medieval piece entitled “Fouke le Fitz Waryn,”or “The Romance of Fulk Fitzwarine.” While this work claimed that the Read More…

Dolbadarn Castle

Dolbadarn Castle is only 6 1/2 miles as the crow flies from the Menai Straits, and yet, the topography of the area is such that it was built by Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn the Great) to guard the mountain pass from Caernarfon to the upper Conwy Valley.  ‘Its position at the tip of Llyn Padarn allowed the garrison to blockade anyone’s movement through that part of the north, then as now a main link to the rest of Wales. The military worth of the spot was evidently recognized as early as Read More…

Traveling on Medieval Roads

What roads medieval people used to cross England and Wales is a fascinating question and one that has occupied me for some time.   The Ordnance Survey maps at multimap.com can show you the Roman roads.  I also bought the Ordnance Survey’s Roman Britain map, precisely for this reason. The Lancashire Antiquarian argues quite strongly for the notion that the Roman roads were used well into later periods.  He writes: “It has been estimated that when the Domesday survey was taking place a minimum of 10,000 miles of usable Roman roads were Read More…

Slavery and Wales

The title says Slavery ‘and’ Wales because the degree to which slavery existed in Wales is difficult to determine.  Without a doubt, many Welsh were forced into slavery–evidence points to Welsh captives on the continent of Europe as well as in Anglo-Saxon England.  St Patrick himself was Briton/Welsh (born 387 AD) and was captured by the Irish and made a slave.  The Celts were well-known slave-keepers, as were the Romans after them.  But were the Welsh themselves, after the Romans left?  Hard to imagine they weren’t when their neighbors all around Read More…

A Medieval Siege

Besieging a castle was a far more common form of warfare than a fight on an open battlefield.  Sieges had the element of surprise and required fewer men than battle too, such that a ruler could beseige a castle with his enemy inside, while freeing other forces to wage war elsewhere. The goal in beseiging a castle was not to destroy it, but to take it, since castles were pawns in the great game of controlling land.  They were usually heavily fortified and defended, so a beseiger had several options Read More…

Better Know a Castle*: Abergavenny

On Christmas Day in 1175, William de Braose, a Marcher lord (the 4th Lord of Bramber), summoned Seisyll ap Dyfnwal, Seisyll’s eldest son, Geoffrey, and a number of other local leading Welshmen from Gwent to Abergavenny Castle to hear a royal proclamation.   He then murdered them all.  This was justified in William’s mind because of a prior killing of his uncle by Seisyll (or so he suspected, though apparently had no proof).  “De Braose and his men then mounted horses and galloped the few miles to Seisyll’s home where they caught and Read More…

Rewriting the Dark Ages

A new theory has been working it’s way through the archaeological literature that there was no Saxon ‘invasion’ of Britain after the fall of Rome.  The theory states that “9th century Anglo-Saxon propaganda distort [ed] the records for the turbulent 5th and 6th centuries. . . . Rather than Briton versus Anglo-Saxon – as in the myth of Arthur – was it simply a murderous struggle between rival British warlords?” http://www.archaeology.co.uk/articles/rewriting-the-age-of-arthur.htm The theory, at least in this article, is based on a lack of primary sources of the era.  This is an Read More…

Dinas Ffareon (Dinas Emrys)

Dinas Ffareon is an Iron Age hill fort near Beddgelert which overlooks Lyn Dinas in Snowdonia. It is one of the more remote castles in Wales and “it was here that King Lludd ab Beli buried the two dragons which fought each other, as told in the Welsh epic the Mabinogion.” Later tales (Nennius’ and Geoffrey of Monmouth’s among them) tell of King Vortigern retreating back into Snowdonia and choosing Dinas Ffareon as the place to build his fort. Unfortunately for him, each night the ground was shaken such that the fort fell down. The King’s Read More…

Roman Villa found near Aberystwyth

Thirty years ago, aerial photographers from Cambridge University noted something odd about the layout of a field near the village of Abermagwr near Aberystwyth.   They were doing a flyover during the summer, and because of the dry conditions, there were unexplained cropmarks in a field.  At the time, they noted, “a double-ditched rectangular enclosure, with traces of a possible building within.”  http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/405315/details/NANT+MAGWR+ROMAN+SITE,+ABERMAGWR,+POSSIBLE+ROMAN+VILLA/ No excavations were undertaken until this summer.  Researchers can now confirm that they are “the remains of a much-robbed late Roman villa. The Abermagwr villa had all the Read More…