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  Vortigern Studies > Vortigern > Guest Articles > August Hunt (5)

Guest Author:
August HuntVisit August Hunt's website: The Quest for Arthur's Grave

  August Hunt, (1960), published his first short stories in his high school newspaper, THE WILDCAT WIRES. These were followed by stories and poems in THE PHOENIX literary magazine of Clark Community College, where he received a writing scholarship. Transferring to THE EVERGREEN STATE COLLEGE in Olympia, WA, he continued to publish pieces in local publications and was awarded the Edith K. Draham literary prize. A few years after graduating in 1985 with a degree in Celtic and Germanic Studies, he published "The Road of the Sun: Travels of the Zodiac Twins in Near Eastern and European Myth". Magazine contributions include a cover article on the ancient Sinaguan culture of the American Southwest for Arizona Highways. His first novel, "Doomstone", and the anthology "From Within the Mist" are being offered by Double Dragon (ebook and paperback). August, a member of the International Arthurian Society, North American Branch, has most recently had his book "Shadows in the Mist: The Life and Death of King Arthur" accepted for publication by Hayloft Publishing. Now being written are "The Cloak of Caswallon", the first in a series of Arthurian novels that will go under the general heading of "The Thirteen Treasures of Britain", and a work of Celtic Reconstructionism called "The Secrets of Avalon: A Dialogue with Merlin". 

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The Grave of Vortigern at Ystyuacheu

August Hunt

Vortigern Studies

Robert Vermaat has elsewhere written about the Stanzas of the Graves which places Gwrtheyrn Gwrtheneu's grave (doubtfully) at an unlocated Ystyuacheu. To date, all efforts to locate this grave have failed. What follows is an attempt to both find this elusive burial site and to explore its significance in the broader context of just who Vortigern might have been.

According to Andrew Hawke of The National Dictionary of Wales, and Welsh placename expert Dr. Hywel Owen of The University of Wales, Bangor, the placename Ystyuacheu should be rendered in a more modern fashion as something like Styfacheu/Stafacheu/Stofacheu. Unfortunately, such a form is also unlocatable. Dr. Owen has himself searched unsuccessfully for such a form.

Andrew Hawke (via personal correspondence) did mention, however, that MS. copyists frequently confused the letters u and n. This being so, I proposed that perhaps the first -u- of Ystyuacheu might, in fact, have originally been a -n-. This would yield a Stynacheu/Stanacheu/Stonacheu.

In all of Wales, I found only on such Stynacheu/Stanacheu/Stonacheu site which made sense both etymologically and in terms of what we know of Vortigern. This is Stanage on the Teme River in Radnorshire. Stanage is from either OE stan + ecg, "stone edge", or the ME stan + egge, with the same meaning.

The difference in the ending of Stanage and a hypothetical Stanageu/Stanagau may be accounted for in the same manner as the process by which the Cymracized English placename Stange became Stangau. The forms for Stange/Stangau here presented were provided by Peter Wihl, the Carmarthenshire place-name expert:

STANGAU at SN761261 on map sheet SN72 900ft. Parish of Llandeusant. 1948 OS 1:25000 First series.
STANGE 1840 OS 1" first edition ( David & Charles reprint).
STANGAU 1891 OS6" First edition.
SLANGE 1805-12 OS2" Original Drawing Map.
RHIW alias STANGE 1808 Blaen Sawdde Estate Map. West Glamorgan Archives, Swansea.

Dr. Hywel Owen explains the change in the terminal of this placename:
"Stange is a dialectal variant of stangau. The writers of some documents quite commonly 'corrected' the local pronunciation by inserting the standard form."

Dafydd Hawkins, Powys placename expert, has this to say on Stanage:
"Stanage does mean as you suggested and its situation explains the meaning of the name. However, it has a Welsh equivalent "y Fron-faen" (modern spelling, "the stone breast/steep hillside"). The English and Welsh versions seem to have existed side-by-side among the relative speech-communities for centuries, but the Welsh version seems to have disappeared around the end of the 16th century, as the Welsh language became extinct in that area."

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales has this on Stanage from the Neolithic to the Early Medieval period:

Reference: 96561
National grid reference: SO33107307
Period: Early Medieval
Broadclass: Defence
Type: Motte
Pre 74 County: Radnorshire
County: Powys - Powys
Community: Knighton
Community Record Originator: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales

Reference: RD055
National grid reference: SO331731
Period: Medieval
Broadclass: Defence
Type: Motte & Bailey
Pre 74 County: Radnorshire
County: Powys - Powys
Community: Knighton
Community Record Originator: Cadw

Reference: 248
National grid reference: SO33107307
Period: Medieval
Broadclass: Unassigned
Type: Motte
Pre 74 County: Radnorshire
County: Powys - Powys
Community: Knighton
Community Record Originator: Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust

Reference: 4136
National grid reference: SO3272
Period: Iron Age
Broadclass: Domestic
Type: Find
Pre 74 County: Radnorshire
County: Powys - Powys
Community: Knighton
Community Record Originator: Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust

Reference: 4137
National grid reference: SO3371
Period: Neolithic
Broadclass: Unassigned
Type: Find
Pre 74 County: Radnorshire
County: Powys - Powys
Community: Knighton
Community Record Originator: Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust

In my opinion, Stanange on the Teme, or more precisely the Early Medieval motte/mound at Stanage Farm, is meant to represent the "castle" in which Vortigern burned to death on the Teifi (according to Nennius). The question then becomes; 'Which tradition is correct' - that which placed Vortigern on the Teifi or that which places him on the Teme?

To begin with, the similarity in the two river names could easily have led to confusion. Dr. Hywel Owen, Welsh place-name expert at The University of Wales, Bangor, believes that:
"The oldest forms of the Teme are of the type _Temede_ (which appears in Welsh as _Tefaidd_ (though the name now appears to be lost), whilst the earliest spellings for _Teifi_ are _Te(i)bi_, with an earlier form in Ptolemy (2nd. C. AD) _Touegobios_ or _Touerobios… Teifi and Teme are etymologically related. Cf. Thames, in Welsh Tafwys. You will find Lang. Hist. Early Britain 486-7 and Enwau Afonydd a Nentydd Cymru 168-9 useful. There is much discussion on the exact meaning, which can probably never be satisfactorily resolved. For your purposes, that may not matter."

Rivet and Smith (THE PLACE-NAMES OF ROMAN BRITAIN) think that:
The British name [of the Thames] was *Tamessa. It was long thought to be built on a base *tam-, "dark" (cf. Sanskrit tamasa, "dark", Latin tenebra, "shadow"). However, it now seems more probable that the name is one of a very large number of names based on the IE root *ta-, *te-, "to flow". The argument, as propounded by W. Nicolaisen in *Beitra"ge zur Namenforschung 8 (1957) 256f., is that the root *ta- or *te- is so widespread in river names both in Britain (6 examples given) and on the continent (examples from Spain, Italy, France, Belgium) that it is easier to think that so many rivers over a vast area were simply called "flowing one", than that they were called "dark".

RJ Thomas (Carmarthenshire Fisherman's Federation) suggests that the name [Towy], in common with river names based on the root 'Tam', possibly means 'to swell or grow' - as contained within the Latin-derived word 'tumescent'. The origin of this name (Tywi) is very obscure. The consolidation of the of the root 'teua-', 'teu-', 'te-' become apparent, as seen in the Welsh 'tyfu' (to grow)[to which I would add W. tyfadwy, "growing, thriving", and tyfiant, "growth, increase"], the Irish 'teo' (strength), the Latin 'tumeo' (to swell), the Sansgrit 'tavas' (powerful): cf. R Taw, Devon. 'Strong river' is the right description for this type of river. Also, incidentally, the root 'tyw-' in the (Welsh) word 'tywyll' (dark) is apparent, though it does not shed any great light on the name under scrutiny. From what I have seen of them, Towy's waters are dark, as Lewys Glyn Cothi (15th century) says:

"Nid av vi i Dywi, val dall
Neu ddwr gwineuddu arall."
(I will not go to Towy as a blind man/
Nor to any other wine-dark water.)

The authoritative word on this subject comes from Paul Cavill of The English Place-Name Society at Nottingham University:
"… the idea that the river-names Thames and Teme are related is right. The etymologies are those proposed by early scholars, ultimately going back to an Indo-European root temes- meaning 'dark'. The Latin word tumeo may be distantly linked in etymology (though I have my doubts), but had no bearing on the formation of the name, so can be dismissed. Rivet and Smith have drawn on more recent work which gives the root as ta-, te-. The value of this is that it links the Welsh river-names lacking the -m- element with the others, and takes away the problem that some of the rivers are not particularly dark. Peter Kitson in Trans Philological Soc 94, 1996, suggests that the root is particularly applied to rivers which are muddy. But generally, there is some similarity between calling a river Thames or Teme and calling a Welsh one Avon. In terms of etymology, Teme and Teifi are linked because -f- is the result of lenition of earlier Welsh/British -m-; the change is found in e.g. Tarvin from Lat-Br *terminus 'boundary'. Ultimately the etymological root is the ta-, te- one. So '(muddy) river' is the best etymology for the name."

The truly interesting thing about the Teme site is that it is, as already mentioned, located in Radnorshire. That portion of Radnorshire between the Wye and the Ithon rivers, which lies west of Stanage, was once known as the cantref of Gwrtheyrnion, i.e. the land of Vortigern. Stanage lies in Maelienydd cantref, which bordered on Gwrtheyrnion.

So, are we to see the Stanage site as a relocation of Nennius' Teifi site? Or was Nennius in error when he put Vortigern's death on the Teifi?

Alas, I have no way of answering this question with the sources of information currently available to us. But Stanage does seem a reasonable identification of the Ystyuacheu of the Stanzas of the Graves.

The Grave of Vortigern at Ystyuacheu is Copyright 2001, August Hunt. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Comments to: August Hunt

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