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A. The Carthind/Corotani Connection
There is no doubt as to the meaning of the epithet "Guortheneu" applied to Vortigern in Nennius's HISTORIA BRITTONUM. Guortheneu or Vorteneu is the "Very-thin" (Vor-, "very", -teneu, "thin"). In Old Irish Vorteneu would become Fortana, while there are the cognate L. words praetenuis and pertenuis.
The real question concerns where this epithet came from. It is found nowhere outside of the HISTORA BRITTONUM in the early sources, and is in Nennius mentioned only once. To try to discover the origin of Guortheneu, it might be helpful to take one more look at the seven Irish Fortcherns.
1) Fortchern, the smith of St. Patrick (Annals of the Four Masters Year Entry 448); as this Fortchern is paired with another smith, Laebhan, i.e. St. Lomman (?), this Fortchern is almost certainly to be identified with:
2) Foirtchern son of Fedelmid of Trim.
3) Vortigern of Ballyhank, East Muskerry, Co. Cork (inscribed stone).
4) Vortigern of Knockboy in Decies Without Drum, Co. Waterford (inscribed stone dated c. 700-900 AD).
5) Foirtchern of Monte Cainle (probably the Hill of Conlig/Coinleac in north Co. Down), a contemporary of St. Columba.
6) Foirtchern of Rath Seimhne (Island Magee, south Co. Antrim).
7) Fortchern, brother of Cathchern, son of Tigernach.
The Vortigern stone found in a souterrain in Ballyhank was accompanied by another stone, dedicated to a "Corbagni Koi Maqi Maccoi Corotani", Corbagni Koi son of a descendent of Corotani". If we allow for Guortheneu being a clumsy, Latinized Welsh attempt at Corotani, is it conceivable Vortigern Vorteneu was a reference to this Ballyhank Vortigern, himself a descendent of this same Corotani.
I would also call attention to No. 7, since Tigernach was the son of Mac Carthind, from whom came the Cenel Meic Carthind. Mac Carthind, in turn, was son of Eircc, son of Colla Uais, one of the semi-mythical founders of Airghialla. Could not Guortheneu be a substitute for this Carthind? This would make Nennius's Vortigern Vorteneu into Vortigern of the Meic Carthind.
However, there are two Carthinds found in Wales. One is a possible Macaritini in Glamorganshire, dated to 450-550 AD (see the CISP inscribed stone project), and another a Carotinn in Cardiganshire, dated to the early 9th century. There is a Mac Cairthinn commemorated at Painestown, Duleek Lower, Co. Meath, and a Mac Cairthinn at Clochan Carthainn, Iveragh, Co. Kerry. Tirkeeran or Tir Cairthinn, the "Land of Cairthinn", in North Co. Derry was named after the Ui MacCairthinn of Lough Foyle.
The 5th century St. MacCairthinn of Clogher was St. Patrick's tren fer or "strong man". In 446 (Ulster Annals), a Mac Cairthinn son of Caelub fell in battle.
In conclusion, I think it is possible that the Guortheneu/Vorteneu epithet assigned to Vortigern in the context of Nennius may derive from a mistaken reading or garbled oral transmission of a form such as Corotani or Cairthinn. While against strict philological law, which demands that a Welsh Guortheneu derive from a Vor-/For- word, the association of the two Vortigerns with Corotani and Cairthinn may not be mere coincidence.
B. Vortigern Vorteneu and L. Clodius Macer
Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that the Gloiu of the Vortigern pedigree really was (for the sake of argument) the Gloiu of Caergloyw or Gloucester. This town is believed to have been first occupied around the time of Claudius (c. AD 49). The legionary fortress was built roughly between the years of 64-66. Three emperors, all from 68-69 AD, appear to match up quite well with Vortigern's ancestors back to Gloiu:
L. Clodius Macer (macer being the L. equivalent of Vorteneu) Galba (which, with the usual metathesis and common substitute of v for b, easily devolves into Globi/Glovi) Aulus Vitellius, son of Lucius Vitellius.
Now, if we line these names up like this:
Such an arrangement appears to make philological as well as chronological sense out of the Vortigern pedigree. I am reasonably certain the pedigree is antiquarian fancy, with the Gloiu name associated with Galba, the two Vitellii being represented by Vitalis and Vitalinus and Vorteneu being a perfect Welsh rendering of Macer. If looks at the pedigree, which has only a couple of generations to Gloiu, cited as the eponymous founder of Gloucester, no other interpretation can bridge this relatively small temporal gap.
What it means for Vortigern in this context is, simply, that Vortigern or "Over-lord" is being used in this one specific instance as a substitute for emperor. The question then becomes: was it similarly used as a title for a later British Vortigern? Or is this an isolated case?
In my previous article on Irish Vortigerns, I had suggested that Vitalis the father of Vortigern was a Latinized form of Fidelmid the father of Foirtchern of Ath Truim, modern Trim. The Vitalinus and Gloiu names were represented by the Vitalianus tombstone of Cwm Gloyne in SW Wales. But as Fidelmid was the son of Loegaire, one cannot help wonder why Vitalianus would have been substituted for the father of Fidelmid/"Vitalis".
C. Vorteneu and Gurthinmoch
According to philologist Christopher Gwinn (information obtained via private correspondence), the Pictish epithet Gurthinmoch may be related to Vorteneu. To quote Mr. Gwinn in full:
"I can't make much of Gurthinmoch; the name looks a bit corrupt. About the best that I can come up with is that the name is based on Guortheneu, noting that the second element (teneu "thin") has in Modern Welsh a byform, teneuwch, meaning 'thinness.' Perhaps the name appeared in Archaic Welsh as *Uortenauoch and -eu- was confused with (or wrongly corrected by a copyist to) -m."
The byname Gurthinmoch (*Uurthinmoc, variant Gurthimoch) belongs to a Pictish chieftain (or chieftains) named Drest.
The name of Vortigern's son Brittu has led to some speculation that this name is identical to the Pictish name Brude, a name or title born by many Pictish kings (variants include Breth, Bred, Bredei, Breidei, Brete, Bridei, Brideo, Bridiuo and Bruide).
The early sources mention a Pictish king Bridei son of Maelcon or Melcon. The latter has been identified by some with the Gwynedd king, Maelgwn, who in Gildas is the strongest of the five British tyrants. If this identification is correct, then there were marriage ties between the North Welsh and the Picts.
But can we go so far as to suggest that Brittu son of Vortigern and Bridei son of Maelcon are the same personage? That, in fact, the "Over-lord" Vortigern is none other than Maelgwn Gwynedd? Or was Maelgwn merely one of many Vortigerns, if the argument is accepted that Vortigern in Wales was a title and not a name?
Vortigern's Epithet 'Guortheneu' is Copyright © 2001, August Hunt. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
Comments to: August Hunt
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