Thursday, January 21, 2010

Put it in Perspective

We tend to view history from the perspective of today. Nowadays Radnorshire is very much a pipsqueak when compared with, say, London, but was that always the case? In medieval times, when London had a population of around 50000, the lands that became Radnorshire probably had around 16000, not much less than today. Look at history from that perspective and this part of East Central Wales was a much bigger player than it is today. Historians sometimes miss that kind of thing.

Something similar happens when we consider Britain in the immediate post-Roman period. This blog is written in English and not Irish, so it's natural to see the Anglo-Saxons - the eventual victors - as being the greatest threat to Roman Britain. If you lived at the time perhaps you would have seen things quite differently, with the Irish and the Picts posing far more of a problem.

Look at a map of Irish placenames in Wales and we find that they are concentrated in West Wales, including Ceredigion, and from there into the strategic heartland of Britain run two great rivers the Wye and the Severn. Guarding the headwaters of these two river routes you find the old Welsh kingdoms of Gwerthrynion (basically the old hundred of Rhayader) and Arwystli. Gwerthrynion itself seems to be named after Vortigern, a likely military leader of Britain in the early 5th-century. So were these little kingdoms originally established as military provinces against the perceived major threat of Irish expansion into the Midlands?

Anyway here's an interesting link which argues that Stanage - that part of Radnorshire on the Teme, east of Knighton, has important Vortigern connections. Perhaps Time Team should dig them up.


Pascal The Rascal said...

Hi, You write "Look at a map of Irish placenames in Wales". I'd be grateful if you can post a link to, OR the title of an atlas which has such a map. Thanks

radnorian said...

There's a map showing Irish placenames in Wales in the book "Wales in the Early Middle Ages" by Wendy Davies. Page 88, figure 31 in the 1982 edition.

The map there references an article by M Richards "The Irish Settlements in south-west Wales" in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland xc 1960.

Hope this helps.