Saturday, December 28, 2013

Camp Bastion ar Ieithon

When Sir Richard Hoare visited Radnorshire in the early 1800s a local named John Williams informed him that the extensive Roman remains in Llanfihangel Helygen parish went by the name of Castell Collen.  This may have been news to some locals who, it's said and in common with folk up and down Wales, called such sites Y Gaer, but Castell Collen ended up in print and that was that.  What the unfortunate Roman auxiliaries sent to such a remote outpost of empire called the place is not recorded, although another John Williams, the county's 19C historian, believed it was Magos.

So you're a Sarmatian cavalryman newly drafted into the Roman army and where do they post you - with an entire empire to choose from, Camp Bastion ar Ieithon.  Not a small place, it had room for a 1000 troops, it must still have felt like drawing the short straw. OK there was a bath house and some fancy latrines, but the weather was miserable and the neighbourhood was troublesome.  That's the thing, away from the legion towns of Chester and Caerleon, the only places in third century Wales where you were likely to find the military were Cardiff, Caernarfon, Caersws, Forden, Castell Collen and, just over the modern border, Leintwardine.

If Cardiff and Caernarfon can be explained by the need to combat Irish pirates, what were the military bases in East Central Wales all about?  Well the archaeologists tell us they were to combat the Ordovices -  a tribe who just couldn't be trusted to behave in polite society.  Certainly those military forts did a fine job of encircling the later-day kingdom of Maelienydd - like we said troublesome neighbours.

The archaeologists seem pretty convinced that the Ordovices were a tribe of Central Wales while the historians tend to favour Gwynedd*.  T M Charles-Edwards, for example, plumps for Gwynedd because a tribe based on the upper Severn valley "would hardly have been so formidable a people as they appear in Tacitus's narrative."   Maybe so, although Central Wales would play a fairly pivotal role in resisting the later Saxon and Norman power.  I tend to think that Meirionnydd was the centre of Ordovician power and  there are certainly historic and linguistic ties between it and Arwystli, Gwerthrynion and Maelienydd.  Southern Radnorshire, especially Elfael Is Mynydd, may well have been part of Silurian territory.

I've been reading some informative online stuff from Cadw about developing a visitor experience package for, amongst other sites,  Castell Collen - yes I know - it seemingly appeals to cultural explorers.  I guess this means improving access and maybe putting up a few information boards.  The report also reminds us that some Welsh people might actually sympathise with the natives rather than the Romans and that this needs to be borne in mind when developing those visitor experience packages.

Well I'm certainly rather proud of the fact that our Radnorian forebears proved a bit of a handful for the Roman invader, so too later generations and their resistance to the Normans and their role in supporting Glyndwr at Bryn Glas.  Reading of how the 19C squirearchy stretched the law for fear of the Rebeccaites also makes me smile - the magistrate who dismissed a case against some locals engaged in midnight fisticuffs with the river bailiffs because the officials had failed to show their letters of appointment was a highlight.  As the franchise expanded Radnorians gradually took control of their own local governance - seeking to oppose the excesses of the Malthusian workhouses and trying to keep local lads away for the trenches of the Great War.  Of course it all came to an end with the ever increasing power of the centralised state and its bureaucracy, typified locally by the establishment of Powys and bodies like the DBRW.

I've also been reading a paper from that very county council, it's basically a justification for high pay for top officials - "large complex bodies with multi-million pound budgets."  All that 1970s talk about halting rural depopulation is summed up by a comment that the county has a low birth rate - Malthusians again - and a large outward migration of young people with a large inward migration of old people.  Depopulation solved by methods that might appeal to folk in the Balkans.

Never mind that Powys might "employ very few young people under the age of 21" the high pay for top officials will have "a beneficial impact on the quality of life in the community as well as on the local economy."  Oh and of course recruitment to those senior grades "will ideally include people from the private sector as well as the public sector and from outside as well as inside Wales."  Well of course it will.

Where are the Ordovices when you need them?

* Some, the BBC are an example,  mention that a mosaic map in the Forum at Rome does not include Gwynedd as part of the Empire, what they fail to tell us is that the mosaic was the work of Mussolini!

No comments: