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Chapter IV
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Celtic Britain

by Nora K. Chadwick

published by Frederick A. Praeger
New York
1963

The text and engravings are in the public domain.


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Chapter VI

p77 Chapter V

Institutions, Architecture and Way of Life

The institutions of the Celtic countries of Britain vary considerably because of the very wide differences in their origins and early political history. The Irish, the Welsh (including the Britons of southern Scotland) and the Dálriadic Scots, are all primarily a pastoral cattle-keeping people, with many ancient customs and institutions in common. Nevertheless the Picts, the Irish of Dálriada, and the Britons between the two walls each developed individually. Wales on the other hand is a much more self-contained and homogeneous country; but the English influence had to some extent penetrated into the customs of the South Welsh court before the codification of the Welsh laws. Welsh written law represents the modified laws and customs of Wales.

Apart from the stone inscriptions, funerary in character, and recording little more than proper names, the earliest information which we possess of individuals in Britain after the Roman Occupation is derived from their oral poetry. Although this was not written down before the ninth century, and is preserved in manuscripts of a still later date, a considerable body is believed to have been transmitted faithfully by the bards from the sixth and seventh centuries. We can accept their pictures of the time as virtually a contemporary record. The function of the bards was to record and to extol the life of their patrons, a society which had other form of day-to‑day journalism and propaganda. It follows that the records of the bards will be true within certain well-defined limits; but only partially true, and not an exact reflection of the society to which they belong (cf. p79 below).

p78 Our chief body of early bardic poetry, and consequently our most intimate knowledge of early Celtic society in Britain, is that of the Britons of southern Scotland. At the close of the Roman period the Celtic peoples of the north, like the Britons of the south, had developed a society largely dependent on personal initiative, involving strength of character and individuality. The heroic ideals actuating these leaders of a society struggling for survival have inspired every poem which has come down to us, and at the same time they interpret for us the inevitable failure of such a society to survive in the modern world.

This early British society constituted what we have come to call a Heroic Age, and has been described in ch. III above. Their cohesion was fluid, depending on the personal loyalty of a teulu ('war-band') or comitatus ('personal military bodyguard') to their leaders, to whom they looked for support in time of peace, and towards whom in time of war they recognised and fulfilled their obligations. The leaders themselves obtained their prestige by right of their ancient hereditary aristocratic lineage, and depended on their own prowess and reputation to maintain it. To extol and enhance this prestige of the military leaders was the chief function of the bards. Such a society knows nothing of an ordered state, and lacks the first principle of survival, the ability to combine and subordinate the individual to a centralised and stabilised order.

Accordingly the Britons of southern Scotland, having no organised state, had no developed trade or coinage, no architecture except in wood and earth and rough stone forts. It is to be suspected that the chiefs tended to occupy Roman centres, both here and in Wales and elsewhere. The British prince Gwenddoleu, who was killed at the battle of Arthuret, had his seat at Caerwhinley, a name which may well be derived from Caer Gwenddoleu (cf. p64 above), and which was probably situated in the Roman fort at Netherby, near Longtown in the p79north of Cumberland. A similar overlap is perhaps to be found at Carlisle, almost certainly Urien's centre, on the great Roman road to the north.


[image ALT: An engraving of a standing stone, maybe two meters tall, with a rough incised carving of a horse and rider.]
Fig. 15.
Horseman. Pictish incised carved stone, Migvie, Aberdeenshire (after Diack). Note the absence of stirrups
The society presented to us by the bards is that of a military aristocracy with its inevitable emphasis on noblesse oblige, and on heroic honour. The qualities most prized in chiefs of these little local British courts were courage and generosity; in those of their followers, loyalty and gratitude, and services rendered, in return for past support and benefits received. A prince and his followers lived in close proximity to one another, sharing the evening feast and its accompaniment of music and song. In time of war they moved as one man, following their chief unquestioningly to victory or to death. The heroic poets give us a picture of life as they saw it in their professional capacity in small courts and small communities, where their songs could be heard by all and were well paid for. Personal and specific details are the essence of heroic poetry and the source of the minstrel's livelihood. His audience, the teulu, did not understand policy or organisation, and a minstrel who sang of such things would quickly starve. His is therefore a somewhat distorted picture of an irresponsible adolescent society, unproductive and largely predatory; occupied in warfare and hunting, fond of display and of horses, fine clothes, fine showy weapons; a society proud, boastful and honourable. Yet these intrepid northern heroes of the ancient Celtic world were Christians, and though the records of their Church have perished, later traditions would suggest that they shared the ideals and standards of the rest of the early Celtic Church.

Our earliest picture, then, of the Britons of the sixth and seventh centuries, is largely based on poetical records of the Britons of southern Scotland, supported as it is by the slender notes of Nennius; and we may safely according to it as true of a wider area also. Gildas's picture of Maelgwn Gwynedd, the great North Welsh prince of his own day, is just such a Heroic Age p80prince, a Christian sojourning in youth in a monastic retreat, developing in later life into a ruthless warrior, and exchanging the monastic psalms for the panegyrics chanted to him by his minstrels at the feast. We have, however, to bear in mind that policy and some measure of constructive planning on the part of the leaders is necessary to enable even a Heroic Society to hold together and survive for a time.

We have some knowledge of a traditional framework of government for each of the Celtic countries; and from their legal documents we can reconstruct a widespread system of economic and hereditary law for both Wales and southern Scotland, and these can be supplemented from the far greater and better preserved body of Irish law. In general such laws, common to all the Celtic peoples of our Islands, represent the traditional customs of a community whose wealth is largely in cattle. Fines are computed in cows and in slaves. But the British have relatively little to tell us of the legal status of women and their property rights, such as we have in the Irish Laws,1 and nothing of the elaborate provisions for sick maintenance and treatment, of which the Irish Laws give us elaborate information.2

We know, however, from references in the Welsh Laws3 that, like the Irish, they represent codification of custom compiled and modified from time to time by professional lawyers before they were written down in the form in which they have been recorded under the name of King Hywel Dda in the tenth century (cf. p86 below). We can trace adaptation to changing conditions. Moreover, the Welsh Laws have an archaic stratum which can sometimes be detected with the help of the Irish legal texts. It is remarkable that nearly all their basic legal terms are native — such terms as court, judge, claim, prosecution, penalty, contract, surety, debtor, creditor, and others. This, as Binchy points out, suggests that the Romanisation of the British tribes must have been very superficial.4

p81 The most important of the Celtic institutions is the kingship, which is universal, though there are some important differences as between individual Celtic countries. In Wales the old Celtic word for king () went out of use early, its place and functions being taken by rulers known under various names such as arglwyd ('lord'), tywysog ('prince'), brenhin ('king'), the three terms being legally synonymous. The old word survives, however, in the feminine rhiain, used of a 'dame' or 'lady', and appears in the literary name Rhiannon, the queen of the supernatural regions. In historical times we know of no ruling queen among the Welsh or the Irish of Argyll, but in Wales there are an appreciable number of instances of succession through the female. Each brenhin had a court or llys, his royal seat, sometimes fortified; and here also he literally held court and tried suits, local custom dictating the verdict of a jury in such suits.

The exact meaning of Pictish kingship is not clear, nor is the relationship of the various provinces in the early period. In one of the medieval surveys of Pictavia we read of regna, and the Irish annals speak of a 'king of Fortrenn', but we cannot be sure that these terms are used strictly. Bede speaks (H. E. V.21) of a rex Pictorum, but he refers to the Picts in general under various terms — gens, provincia, natio. Adamnán (II.42) refers to a regulus ('petty king') of the Orkneys.

It is in regard to the succession to the kingship that the Celtic countries differed most from one another. In Wales succession was patrilinear, but not necessarily following primogeniture. In all the Celtic countries tribal kingship was in theory open to every adult male member of the royal line whose great-grandfather or nearer ascendant had been king. As official heir to the throne he had special legal privileges, and in Wales was termed gwrthrychiad (lit. 'one who looks forward', or 'expects'). Asser of Wales uses the word secundarius for the appointed heir, and the term in use in Welsh laws is edling, which has been borrowed from the Anglo-Saxon aetheling. In p82the laws of Hywel Dda the right to nominate his successor is assigned to the king. The successor here may be his son or his brother or his paternal nephew, whereas under the old system a much larger number of relatives were eligible. The Codes suggest that succession was settled during the lifetime of the reigning king or chief, but in the historical period the genealogies suggest that for both the Welsh and the North British patrilineal succession from father to son was almost universal. In Dálriada, however, the custom prevailed which is known as tanistry (tánaise rí, second to a king), which is patrilineal, but by which kings were succeeded, not by their sons directly, but by their brothers in the first instance, and then by their nephews. The practice of direct patrilineal succession does occur in Dálriada in the time of Aidán mac Gabráin where Adamnán relates (I.9) that Aidán appointed one of his sons to succeed him as a matter of course; but this is perhaps one of the Welsh elements which we know to have been introduced into the royal House of Argyll at this time (cf. p48 above). The custom of tanistry was, however, general till a late period.

The Pictish law of succession differed fundamentally from those of the other British kingdoms. This is indeed the most remarkable of their institutions. Bede was aware of succession through the female as a living custom among the Picts in his day. He writes (H. E. II.I): 'Whenever doubt arises they will choose their king by the female rather than the male ancestry of their kings,' and he adds that 'everyone knows that this custom is still maintained among the Picts.'

Antiquarian tracts bear out Bede's statement in general, and in the third Pictish king-list (cf. p58 above) only two kings have names attached to them of fathers who have reigned. There is no clear evidence of succession through the fathers' line till the ninth century, but a record of the fathers of the reigning kings is believed to have been kept, perhaps from the p83fifth century. Kings married and had families and homes more or less permanent, but their sons could not succeed. The fathers of the kings are sometimes foreigners,5 and this may in fact have been usual. The organisation of the royal family seems to have been in general matrilocal as well as matrilineal, but not in general matriarchal.6

Among all the Celtic peoples the tie of kindred was the strongest and most enduring of all their early institutions.

In pre-Norman Wales the people as a whole were divided into two principal classes:

(1) the so‑called free tribesmen, known by various names, the uchelwyr, breyr, and innate boneddig, who were the dominant class, presumably descended from the conquering Cymric (Celtic) population; and

(2) the unfree, or subject populations, known variously as taeog, aillt, alltud.

The free tribesmen are exclusively those who claim blood relationship, and are the members of the cenedl ('kindred group'). The unfree class of whatever origin were not included among the tribesmen, and were not subject to the rights and responsibilities of the cenedl. In general they carried on the agricultural work of the community. Below these were the class of slaves, the actual property of their owners, to whom a large part of the manual labour fell.7

The cenedl formed the basis of society, the kindred or clan, the family in the wide sense of the Scottish clans today, claiming to be descended from a common ancestor, within the ninth degree, through the male line within various strictly recognised grades of relationship. As Giraldus Cambrensis observes, 'The most ordinary folk among this people keep careful account of the family pedigree.'8 At the head of each unit of the cenedl was a single 'head' — a pencenedl.9 Perhaps the most interesting feature of the cenedl is that it functioned for legal purposes much as the individual does in modern society. The cenedl 'hung p84together', a wrong done to one of its members was a wrong to the 'kindred' as a whole, to be avenged by them as a whole, the responsibility of each member being apportioned according to his status within the 'nine degrees' of the cenedl. A crime perpetrated by one member must be expiated by the cenedl as a whole, according to a similar scale of responsibility.

Perhaps the most telling illustration, both of the solidarity and of the practical working of the cenedl in legal proceedings, is the vendetta or 'blood-feud', which was still active in early Wales; but by the time of the formulation of the early laws into a system it had become a recognised custom for the kindred of the slain man to accept compensation by the payment of galanas, 'blood money; or wergild, the amount being fixed according to the rank of the slain. 'They are ready', says Giraldus again, 'to avenge not only new and recent injuries, but also ancient and bygone ones, as though but recently received.' Similarly, in the compensation (sarhad) due for the lesser crime of insult or injury short of homicide, the cenedel as far as the second cousin had joint responsibility for the crimes of their kinsmen,10 the Welsh law codes, like the Anglo-Saxon, containing precise regulations for payment of every limb and member of the body injured.

The operation of galanas and sarhad, like many other of the Welsh laws and customs, was evidently equally operative in southern Scotland. No codes have survived, but the perpetuation of these ancient institutions is proved by the continuous enactments to abolish what remained of them, more especially of those of the Britons and the Scots. The laws of King David of Scotland show distinct traces of the wergild and the responsibility of the cenedl for its payment, mostly in cows;11 in the twelfth century the 'law which is called weregylt' is still specified and assessed in cattle, and the continued right of vengeance on the part of the kindred of the slain is still recognised. The social classes continue to be referred to under certain p85Celtic titles, e.g. in the treatise Regiam Majestatem, where the Scottish compiler has added to his work a quite independent document of much earlier date.12 A particularly interesting late code of North British Laws is known as the Leges inter Brettos et Scottos,13 where the compiler must have made use of some older system of laws in the language of Cumbria, for three technical legal terms have been preserved in Cumbric, all having close relations in the legal terminology of early Wales. The regulations consist of fines for certain offences referred to under their Welsh terms, and all assessed in cows. The laws have probably been formulated in the early part of the eleventh century when the king was seeking to regulate relations between the very diverse elements of the united Scotland.14

In Wales the chief units of administration are the tref, the cantref, and the commote. The tref is the smallest unit and originally meant a 'house' or dwelling-place. The free landowners lived, not in villages, but at some distance from one another, as is natural in pastoral communities; and the free tref formed the unit associated in the family property, whether for payment of dues for the upkeep of the court, or for the inheritance of land among the cenedl. In addition to the free tref there existed also a taeogtref, or village community of unfree, i.e. servile, tenants, who shared joint responsibility for the tilling of the soil and had certain privileges (such as ploughing rights) in common, and this unit seems to have corresponded approximately to the Anglo-Saxon tun. A still smaller unit of the taeogtref, was the tyddyn, a tiny hamlet comprising a farm and the cottages of the farm-'hands', the tyddyn being frequently four in number to a taeogtref, and sharing a church in common.

According to tradition the whole country was divided into cymwyds (Angl. 'commotes'), corresponding to the division employed in the Welsh Laws (cf. p80 above), and possibly relatively late. The commote comprised a large number of trefs, p86grouped together for purposes of administration.15 The commotes were grouped in small units of two, three, or four, to form a still larger division known as a cantref (lit. 'a hundred trefs'), and were in fact the basic unit into which, at least in late times, the whole country was divided. 'Thus,' as Edwards says, 'the commote was the basic subdivision in a hierarchy of subdivisions, and was as definite an institution in medieval Wales as was the hundred in England.'16

In the laws it is the commote which appears to be the living and active body, the references to the cantref being for the most part literary, with a smack of antiquity about them.17 In the medieval traditional stories of Wales known as the Mabinogion (cf. p110 below), the cantref is the territorial division of Wales invariably referred to; and still in everyday speech today Cardigan Bay is commonly referred to as the Cantref y Gwaelod, recalling the mythical kingdom ruled by Seithenyn, which became inundated by the sea, and disappeared for ever under what is now Cardigan Bay. It will be seen that modifications have taken place from the earliest times to the period when a written code was formulated. The legal code represents an organism rather than a creation or enactment.

The Welsh code of laws is our most important and earliest surviving monument of the institutions of Celtic Britain.18 All versions of its preamble claim that it was promulgated by the South Welsh king, Hywel Dda (cf. p80 above) from his seat known as Ty Gwyn, 'The White House', on the River Taf, and allusions throughout the text also refer to the code of Hywel. The preambles are without doubt all later. The Preamble claims that Hywel assembled representatives from throughout his kingdom to codify and unify variant local and tribal practices. There were in Wales trained laymen and judges whose duty it was to ensure the faithful transmission and execution of earlier codes, and various such authorities are cited in the code itself. Evidently there were also written law books p87earlier than that of Hywel, but they have not survived. The earliest extant manuscript is written in Latin and that was probably its original language; all our manuscripts are later than 1150, and represent editions compiled from time to time by later district lawyers. Three of these later recensions differing considerably from one another are extant, and many glosses and much illustrative matter have crept into the text.

The 'Laws' are a strange document. They tell us perhaps more about the court and its officials in Hywel's day than of earlier times, and there is no doubt that the picture of the court here presented has been influenced from England. Nevertheless it throws much light on early Wales. The court was made up of twenty-four officers, and their duties, rights, and perquisites occupy most of the first part of the code and throw light on many matters of court life, such as the social status of military and civil officials and the emoluments of the members of the royal households. Regulations relating to court officials include their duties and their privileges and remuneration, their daily routine, and even the clothes they wore. Among the most interesting are the sections relating to the penkerd, 'the chief of song', and the bard teulu, 'the bard of the royal entourage'. The former has his land free, and sits next to the edling (cf. p81 above) in the hall, and his function is to sing to the king. The bard teulu also has his land free and his horse from the king, as well as his harp and a gold ring from the queen; but he sings only after the penkerd, and his seat in the hall is lower, and when the queen wishes to hear a song in her bower he must sing to her three songs softly lest the hall be disturbed.

An important, and doubtless more ancient, section of the laws consists of a penal code, regulating the penalties for murder and theft and for galanas and sarhad (cf. p84 above); and the law of inheritance is clearly provided for.

A third section regulates valuations and fines. An interesting part fixes values of property, such as the king's barn, a sword p88with a gold hilt, a harp and its tuning key — both separately assessed — as being essential to the minstrel's livelihood. Valuations of livestock are laid down, e.g. bees, which we are gravely assured have their origin in Paradise. The most entrancing of these intimate glimpses of life in early Wales is the penalty for killing or stealing a cat which guards the king's barn — 'Its head is to be held downwards on a clean, level floor, and its tail is to be held upwards; and after that wheat must be poured over it until the tip of its tail is hidden, and that is its value.'

To which a further gloss adds a note on the teithi ('points') of a well-bred cat: 'It should be perfect of ear, perfect of eye, perfect of teeth, perfect of claw, without marks of fire, and it should kill mice, and not devour its kittens, and should not go caterwauling every new moon.'

Readers of the Medieval English text of the 'Rule for Ankeresses' will appreciate the value of the cat in medieval p89times to guard stores, and its importance is fully recognised by the sculptor of the Monasterboice high cross in Ireland, and by the illuminator of the Book of Kells; but the Welsh are the only people who have introduced the cat into their laws in a spirit of light humour.


[image ALT: A detail of a decorative initial in a medieval manuscript, howing two large cats and four kittens and some Celtic tracery; it is captioned as being part of an initial in the Book of Kells, a medieval Irish manuscript.]
Fig. 12. Detail of the monogram beginning St Mark's Gospel in the Book of Kells (Irish)

Nothing in the Laws of Hywel Dda, or indeed in any laws of the Celtic people, suggests the existence of town life or of organised commerce, and the total absence of native coinage or any system of weights and measures would seem to preclude extensive trade, though barter must have been practised extensively, even with foreign countries. The contemporary Life of St John the Almsgiver, Patriarch of Alexandria, written by his countryman, Leontius of Cyprus, some time after 641, relates (ch. 10) that while a famine was raging in Britain a ship laden with cornº was sent there from Alexandria by the Patriarch; on arrival it traded its freight of corn, receiving half a 'nomisma' for each bushel, in addition to half a full ship's freight of tin.19

Evidence of trade between the west of Britain and the East Mediterranean world from the fifth to the seventh century is increasing. A tiny fortified enclosure, less than a third of an acre in extent, at Dinas Powis in Glamorgan yielded sherds of Mediterranean pottery and amphorae, and glass beakers probably from Merovingian Gaul, testify to foreign trade; the massive fortifications suggest the stronghold of an affluent Welsh chieftain and his immediate family on what is apparently an Iron Age site.20 A trading station, probably of the fifth or sixth century, located at Bantham in south Devon,21 had produced pottery of East Mediterranean type, and similar pottery has been found at Tintagel on the north Cornish coast,22 at Gwithian in west Cornwall, and even as far north as Dunadd; which suggests that pottery and other commodities were being brought by sea from the Byzantine world in the sixth century.


[image ALT: A vigorous stylized engraving of a bull.]
Fig. 13. Slab with Pictish incised bull, Burghead, Elgin (after Allen and Anderson)

In general, the material culture and economic well-being of p90the Celtic peoples of our period were not far advanced. All counted their chief wealth in cattle. In Wales their seasonal nomadism is enshrined in their place-names, such as the very common hafod, and hafoty, the 'summer hill pasture; and 'summer dairy' and its ty, 'dwelling', 'cot'. Their forays and cattle raids were small-scale depredations made among neighbours, natural enough where food organisation had not developed. Agriculture was carried on, as the wheat impressions in some of the hand-made local pottery show; but it was on a relatively small scale. Their whole wealth in the ninth century is crudely summarised in the tribute exacted by the Saxon king Athelstan at Hereford — a tribute of gold, silver, p91cattle, hunting-dogs and hawks. It is the life of an aristocracy of the open air; a life, in peace-time, of hunting, fishing and cattle-keeping. Such a life inspired the little cradle song which has somehow found its way into the text of the Gododdin (cf. p104 below), sung by a nurse to the child Dinogat:

When thy father went a‑hunting,

With spear on shoulder, and cudgel in hand,

He would call his big dogs,

'Giff, Gaff': 'Catch, catch!' 'Fetch, fetch!'

In his coracle he would spear a fish,

Striking suddenly like a lion.

When thy father went up the mountain

He would bring back a roebuck, a wild boar, a stag,

A spotted grouse from the mountain,

A fish from the falls of Derwennydd.

As many as thy father caught with his spear

None would escape except those with wings.23

Our knowledge of the architectural monuments of the Celtic peoples is confined largely at present to their fortifications and hill-top citadels, but at Dinorben in Denbighshire traces of a large circular house and an oblong aisled hall suggest ambitious sub-Roman buildings probably of fourth-century date, on a site going back to the Early Iron Age.24 Earlier sites, both of the Iron Age and of the Roman period, were frequently re-occupied. The deserted Roman fort of Caer Gybi on Holyhead was re-occupied, and a post-Roman addition made to Y Gaer ('the Fort') at Brecon. Castle Dore, 'King Mark's Castle', in Cornwall, and Lydney Temple (cf. pp29, 36 above), both have an Iron Age nucleus. The Iron Age sites of Garn Boduan and Tre'r Ceiri near Nevin in Caernarvonshire were both reoccupied from the fifth to seventh century.25 Dinas Emrys near Beddgelert in the same country shows an intermittent or continuous occupation from the Early Iron Age, and p92includes a small defensive fifth-century fort. Of great interest here is the evidence of foreign trade, including fragments of two classes of pottery similar to those found on Dark Ages sites in Cornwall, believed to be of Mediterranean origin, the most remarkable being a base of a pot stamped with the Christian symbols. Occupation of the homestead therefore clearly continued into the fifth century, and the second phase, with its fortifications, marks the conversion of the site into a Dark Age chieftain's stronghold.26

In recent years progress has been made towards a more scientific study of the different types of fortification.27 In Scotland, important types are:

(1) oval or oblong forts with heavy stone walls; apparently chiefly within the main Pictish area;

(2) simple circular structures known as 'ring forts', widespread throughout the area of the Southern Picts, sometimes with auxiliary defensive works around them, or on the remains of earlier Iron Age forts, such as Turin Hill in Angus;

(3) citadel forts, in which the citadel is surrounded by contemporary earthworks, and generally placed on a rocky hill-top; such in Dumyat (Dunmyat) in the Ochils, probably, as its name suggests, a strong fortress of the Miathi (cf. p48 above). The most interesting of the earlier defensive structures of Scotland are the tower-like brochs; but these are essentially of the Iron Age or Roman periods, and only known to have been occasionally used later. Some important forts are referred to in historical records. Dunadd (cf. p60 above) was occupied intermittently from the early sixth till the ninth century.28 Simpler structures are the duns of southern Scotland, consisting of a strong stone wall surrounding a flat, steep, even precipitous hill-top. In Wales, fortified enclosures designed to protect single families or very small communities are also coming to light, such as Castell Odo, near Aberdaron in Caernarvonshire,29 and Dinas Powis (cf. p89 above).

p93 An interesting form of architecture is the long, shallow, underground 'earth-house', or 'souterrain',30 found throughout the early British area, and heavily concentrated in Scotland in the territory occupied by the Southern Picts, where they are popularly known as 'Pictish dwellings' or 'caves', or 'weems' (cf. Irish uaimh, 'a cave'). They are common also in Cornwall, where they are known as fogous.31 The Fifeshire place-name Wemyss is doubtless derived from its concentration of natural coastal caves, but 'weems' are also found in Ireland, sometimes in prehistoric forts; one has even been discovered in the burial ground of the Protestant cathedral of Killala in Co. Mayo, and another in the churchyard of Glen Columcille in Co. Donegal. Their purpose is unknown, but some are evidently post-Roman in date, or perhaps in reconstruction, for Roman worked stones have been built into the walls. In some instances traces of dwellings have been found on the surface above them. Perhaps they were originally larders, like our modern cellars. They are wholly unsuited for human habitation, even as places of refuge.


[image ALT: A long balloon-like line; above it, a fragment of stone decorated with a ropework moulding.]
Fig. 16. Ground plan of earth house at Newstead, and stone with Roman moulding found in it, evidently part of a Roman cornice (after Anderson)

p94 On the whole the majority of Celtic and Pictish dwellings will have been constructed of wood. The extensive use of iron in the period immediately preceding, resulting in the widespread felling of timber and the clearing of the land for more intensive agriculture, would doubtless make the felling of building timber an easier matter than stone quarrying. At the Roman camp at Inchtuthilº in Perthshire the great amount of timber used produced for the excavators nearly 12 tons of iron nails.32 That the British were not wholly ignorant of the amenities of civilised life is illustrated by an inscription at the monastic site of Maughold on the Isle of Man to a certain Branhui, who 'led off water to this place';33 and in Wales the Romano-British village of Din Lligwy on Anglesey, believed to be a concentration of native British houses constructed in a Roman tradition, with formal rooms and stepped entrances, shows an appreciation of dignity in building. The upper classes were not so poor in material wealth and culture as the native manufactures would lead us to suppose.


[image ALT: A plan of a pentagonal enclosure consisting of a large central open space partly surrounded by seven small rooms or enclosures, two of which are circular. Access to the enclosure is via a single door or gate next to a small chamber. It is a plan of the Romano-British village of Din Lligwy on Anglesey.]
Fig. 17. Plan of Din Lligwyº

Hoards discovered during the present century have produced treasures of considerable intrinsic and artistic value which show that, whether by trade, or exchange, or piracy, the Britons were p95familiar with some of the best Continental objects of both ceremonial and household use. The silver treasure of fourth-century Continental origin discovered on Traprain Law in Haddingtonshire in 1919 consisted largely of remains of a superb table service, proving that such things were not outside the possible possession of the British chieftains of southern Scotland in the fifth century. This hoard certainly contained loot, for many of the objects had been ruthlessly cut in halves as for a crude 'sharing out' among raiders — 'the veritable wealth of p96a robber band.'34 The late Roman treasure reported in 1946 at Mildenhall in Suffolk,35 like that of Traprain Law, is late Classical in origin and style, and again, like the latter, consists for the most part of fourth-century objects. These resemble the Balline Hoard36 from Ireland, which was probably loot from Britain; but all show that silver objects of high quality were available in the Romano-British period. The Traprain Law treasure contained two silver spoons engraved with the Chi-Rho monogram, and the Mildenhall treasure had eight spoons, two of them christening spoons, as inscriptions within the bowl suggest, and their association with other plate shows that they were intended for use either in a church or in a wealthy Romano-British household.

In 1958 a superb treasure was brought to light by Professor O'Dell37 on St Ninian's Isle in Shetland during the excavation of a little early Celtic church. The treasure had been roughly tumbled together into a box, and covered by a small slab lightly inscribed with a cross, and then buried hurriedly under the floor of the church. The circumstances of the burial are a complete mystery, for the objects are by no means all of ecclesiastical provenance, and though here too the treasure contained a spoon, it has no suggestion of ecclesiastical design. The hoard is indeed very 'mixed' in character. Some of the objects are in mint condition, others worn and even repaired, and their dates of origin cover a considerable period of time, probably between 700 and 800. The most likely explanation is a hurried burial of treasure a little before 800, perhaps due to panic in face of a Viking raid (see further pp139 f. below).

One of the most important Dark Age hoards found in a Celtic area of Britain comes from a spot remotely distant from Shetland. This is the silver treasure found in 1774 concealed in the débris of an old tin streamwork at Trewhiddle38 on the south coast of Cornwall, and made up of various secular and ecclesiastical objects, not apparently all of the same date. The p97ecclesiastical objects include a unique example of a scourge of twisted silver wire, and a small silver chalice resembling that belonging to Hexham Abbey church and the famous Tassilo cup which can be dated to between 777 and 788. The form of ornamentation is comparable to that current in southern England at the end of the eighth century; and of over one hundred coins which have been recovered, the majority are of West Saxon and Mercian kings, and enable us to date the deposition of the treasure to 875. Both this date and the objects themselves suggest a Saxon rather than a Celtic background, although they were found in a British area; but they prove, like the other hoards, that the Celtic people of Britain were able to profit by the higher material culture of their neighbours.


[image ALT: An engraving of eight items: seven pieces of jewelry and, the largest, a rope of wire with four small balls at one end. The jewelry consists of a ring, a harp-type brooch, an engraved disc that may be an earring, and four other objects of odd shapes and uncertain function, possibly fragmentary. It is the Celtic hoard found at Trewhiddle.]
Fig. 18. The Trewhiddle hoard, St Austell, Cornwall (after Wilson, from Minute Book of the Soc. of Antiq.)

Apart from a small hoard of coins found at Trewardreath, also in Cornwall, where they had been deposited about 928‑930, the coins of the Trewhiddle hoard are the only Anglo-Saxon coins so far found in Cornwall. Indeed, early coin hoards of Anglo-Saxon origin are surprisingly rare in Celtic p98lands. The well-known hoard found in Bangor, Caernarvonshire,39 is not early than the tenth century. The National Museum of Scotland possesses an Anglo-Saxon coin from Buston crannog, which shows contact with England.

Of the life of the poorer classes in our period we know little save by inference, but the excavation of cytiau, or native huts, by Mr Charles Philips at Pant y Saer in Anglesey40 gives us our most illuminating picture of a native settlement of humble class. The homestead is believed to be a survival from the Roman period, lasting from the fourth to the sixth century, and consists of two circular stone huts within an oval walled enclosure, whose occupants grew grain on a terrace at a lower level, and kept cattle on higher ground hard by. The original internal arrangements at Pant y Saer were of the most primitive character. Later, two rectangular huts were added, from the largest of which came a silver penannular brooch and some sherds of Roman pottery and crude native ware. The brooch is a rare example of sixth-century jewellery of good quality found in Wales, though bronze objects are not uncommon and include a penannular brooch, a ring-headed and a spiral-headed pin, all from South Wales; a few glass beads from Anglesey can also be dated to the sixth century.

Crannogs or pile dwellings were common in the Scottish lochs, and have been found also at Glastonbury and in Llangorse Lake in Brecknock. People lived in caves perhaps to a greater extent than is often realised. Scottish caves were occupied by hermits of the early Church and at least three caves in the Gower Peninsula in South Wales have yielded archaeological finds from between the Roman and the Norman periods, which include coins of Charlemagne, Lothair, and Ecgberht of Wessex, bronze annular brooches and other ornaments. Again, in the Lesser Garth cave in Glamorgan41 miscellaneous objects of Irish type, and having parallels in Dunadd, suggest a date in the Early Christian period.42


[image ALT: A vigorous stylized engraving of a bull.]
Fig. 14. Iron pot, one of four from a crannog revealed at the draining of the Lock of Leys, Crathes, Kincardine

p161 The Author's Notes:

1 See Thurneysen, S. E. I. L., passim.

2 Binchy, Ériu XII.

3 For the text of the Welsh Laws, see the List of Primary Authorities below.

4 Binchy, L. L. A., 175, 23, 17; further Celtica III (1935).

5 For a brief study of the subject see my article on 'Pictish and Celtic Marriage in Early Literature and Tradition', S. G. S. VIII (1955).

6 See Fraser, 'The Alleged Matriarchy of the Picts', in Medieval Studies in Memory of Gertrude Schopperle Loomis (1927).

7 For the Cymru claiming to be of pure blood, see Seebohm, T. S. W., 61.

8 Description of Wales I, 17.

9 See Ellis, W. T. L., 46.

10 Binchy, L. L. A.

11 Seebohm, T. C. A. L., 298.

12 Ibid., 306.

13 Ibid., 307.

14 Jackson, Antiquity XXIX (1955), 88.

15 Ellis, I, 212.

16 Edwards, P. B. A. LXII (1956), 158.

17 Lloyd, H. W. I, 301.

18 For the questions of the authenticity, date and authorship, see Edwards, H. D. W. L. — an invaluable study.

p162 19 See the Life of St John the Almoner included in Three Byzantine Saints, translated from the Greek by Dawes and Baynes (Oxford, 1948), ch. 10, 217.

20 Alcock, B. B. C. S. XVI (1954), 242.

21 Aileen Fox, A. J. XXXV (1955), 55.

22 Thomas, Proceedings of the West Cornwall Field Club, Vol. II (1956‑7); ibid., M. A. III (1959). Radford in Harden, D. A. B., 59.

23 Williams, Canu Aneirin, line 1101; Introduction, 50; Translation, T. A. A. S., 1935.

24 Savory, D. H. S. LXXI (1958), 166.

25 Hogg, Arch. J. CXVII (1960), 1.

26 Savory, A. J. CIX (1961), 13.

27 See Feacham's important study in Wainwright, P. P., ch. III.

28 Craw, P. S. A. S. LXIV (1930), 126; Piggott, ibid., LXXXVI, 193.

29 Alcock, A. C. CIX (1960), 78.

30 A number of earth-houses in Angus and Perthshire were excavated by the late F. T. Wainwright, and a comprehensive survey and study of the subject by him has recently been published: The Souterrains of Southern Pictland (London, 1963). A brief survey was published in Antiquity XXVII (1953), 219. The account by Joseph Anderson, S. I. A. I, 300 is still valuable and contains some good line drawings.

31 Clark, Cornish Fogous (London, 1961).

32 Richmond, J. R. S. LI (1961), 160.

33 Megaw, P. I. M. V (1950), 171. Part of perhaps the culvert here referred to has been found on the site.

34 A. O. Curle, T. T., 108.

35 Brailsford, M. T.

36 ÓRíordáin, P. R. I. A., Vol. LI, Section C, no. 3 (Dublin, 1947), 43.

37 O'Dell, Antiquity XXXIII (1959), 241; O'Dell and Cain, St Ninian's Isle Treasure (Aberdeen, 1960).

38 See the exhaustive recent study by Wilson and Blunt, Archaeologia XCVIII (1961), 75.

39 A complete list and a plate of these coins is given by Aileen Fox, H. Y. W. A., 118, 121 and Plate IX.

40 A. C. LXXXIX (1934), 1.

p163 41 Alcock, B. B. C. S. XVIII (1960), 221; Savory, in Harden, D. A. B., 40.

42 Caves were probably the best type of private dwelling in the Dark Ages, and their owners well above the poverty line.


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