A detailed investigation of
The Name of the Roman Settlement at Wall
Reproduced with the kind permission of Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society.
First published in 1963/64 (in volume V of the Society's transactions).
Note that this article is presented in its original pagination, complete with footnotes.
Edited by Julian Ward-Davies BA Hons PGC, May 2018.
(Not part of the original publication)
© Julian Ward-Davies
One of the questions frequently asked by visitors to the excavations conducted by this Society at Wall (Staffs.) concerns the name Letocetum. The third century Roman road-book usually known as the Antonine Itinerary1 refers to the settlement at Wall as Etoceto (i.e. to Etocetum) and since it is placed in that Itinerary which follows the line of the Watling Street and gives mileages to the adjoining settlements, there is no doubt as to the identification. Until the end of the last century Etocetum was the name commonly used for the Roman settlement at Wall.
The seventh century list known as the Ravenna Cosmography2 based on much earlier Roman material, refers in its British section to Lectoceto and this is accepted as being a reference to Wall on the grounds of its similarity to Etoceto. The choice between the two names is difficult since philologists regard both as corrupt. The strange compilation of the Welshman Nennius, Historia Brittonum , gives a list of the cities of Roman Britain in their Welsh form. The list includes Cair Loitcoit, at one time thought to be a reference to Lincoln, but more recently considered to be either Wall or Lichfield.
In 1886, Henry Bradley wrote a letter to The Academy (Oct. 30th No. 756) arguing that Cair Loitcoit in modern Welsh would be Caer Lwytcoed (literally 'City of the Gray Wood') and that in Bede's reference to Lyccidfelth (Lichfield) in his History3, Lyccid is a natural contraction of Loitcoit. On the other hand, Duignan4 sees Lyccidfelth as of Saxon derivation and meaning the 'boggy field', which would indeed be an apt description of Lichfield. Bradley also claimed that the Celtic form of the Welsh Loitcoit would be Letoceton, which when Latinised, would give Letocetum. Most reputable philologists support him in this. There is no known town in Roman Britain of this name, and so it is argued this must be the name of the town whose corrupt form appears in the Itinerary as Etoceto and in the Cosmography as Lectoceto. Hence the Roman settlement at Wall is today known as Letocetum. In 1889 Bradley carried his argument much further. He again wrote to The Academy (Nov. 9th No. 914) citing a number of references to Llwyt Koet, Llwytcoed, Loytcoyt, etc. In some cases his argument is specious and unconvincing. Two of the references are reconstructed to give 'civitate quae vocatur Loytcoyt'4. This appears to be the source of the story that the settlement at Wall was a civitas (i.e. an administrative tribal centre) as in V.C.H., Staffs., i, 1908, p. 193.Footnotes page 1
1. Itineraria Romana, i, ed., O. Cuntz, Leipzig, 1919.
2. Archaeologia, xciii, 1949, p.37 3 History of the English Church and People, book IV, chap.
3. para. 1.
4. W. H. Duignan, Notes on Staffordshire Place Names, 1902, pp. 91-5.
Archaeologically to call Wall a civitas is nonsense. Nevertheless the story persists and visitors to the site periodically refer to this.
In his 1889 letter, Bradley also refers to a Welsh poem Marwnad Cynddylan attributed to the seventh-century author, Meigant. This was published in 1870 in a collection entitled The Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales and should not be confused with Marwnad Cynddylan ap Cyndrwyn which appears in the same volume. The former poem is sometimes quoted as illustrating events at Wall, but the poem is in reference to the deeds of a seventh century prince of Powys. There is no archaeological evidence of occupation at Wall beyond the end of the fourth century. The latest coin to be found there is one of Gratian dated by Dr. Kent of the British Museum to A.D. 381. No evidence of Saxon occupation has yet been found, though such evidence is notoriously elusive.
On the other hand, if the Celtic scholars are correct in recognising Lyccidfelth as Llwytcoed, the poem could well refer to events at Lichfield, the name of the old settlement persisting in that of the new. Duignan in the work referred to above, claimed that the internal evidence of the poem was against this. As the matter is of great interest not only to those concerned with excavations at Wall, but also with the early history of Lichfield a recent translation of the whole poem by Prof. Thomas Jones, M.A., D.Litt. of the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, has been obtained through the good offices of Mr. D. Smallwood and Miss L. Williams. Prof. Jones writes as follows:
'Elegy for Cynddylan'
'This poem appears to be an authentic elegy to Cynddylan ap Cyndrwyn, a seventh century prince of Powys. The earliest text extant belongs to the eighteenth century, but it contains orthographical evidence that a much earlier copy was once in existence. Because of errors in transcription, the extant text is faulty in many places and many emendations are necessary. Even then there are many difficult words and phrases in the poem, and at present any translation can only be tentative in many places.'
'For the original text edited with notes by Sir Ifor Williams, see Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, vi, 1933, pp. 134-141.'
'For a reconstructed text, see Ifor Williams, Canu Llywarch Hen, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1935, pp. 50-52.'
'For the reconstructed text presented in modern orthography, see T. Parry, The Oxford Book of Welsh Verse, pp. 4-8.'
'My translation is based on the reconstructed text by Sir Ifor Williams, but occasionally my interpretation of details differs from his.'
'Battle of invincible men...Page 3
Rhiau and Rhirid and Rhiosedd
And generous Rhygyfarch, pillars of battle.
1 will lament, until I be in my oaken grave,
The slaying of Cynddylan in his might.'
'Conflict of might, I thought
Of going to the Menai, though there were no ford for me.
I love him who greets me from the land of Cemaisa,
Lord of Dogfeilingb, strength of Cadellingc.
I will lament, until I be in my quiet oaken [chest],
The slaying of Cynddylan, a grievous loss.'
'Conflict of might, to think
Of going to the Menai, though I could not swim.
I love him who greets me from Aberffraw,
Lord of Dogfeiling, glory of Cadelling.
I will lament, until I be in my silent oaken [chest],
The slaying of Cynddylan, and his hosting.'
'Conflict of might, succouring with wine,
I am bereft of a smile, old, full of longing.
I lost, when he seized the cattle of Pennawg,
A man brave, fierce [and] unsparing.
He would attack oppression beyond the Tern, an arrogant land.
I will lament, until I be in the unmoving earth,
The slaying of Cynddylan of dear good name'.
'Conflict of might, how good was the fate
Cynddylan enjoyed, hero in battle;
Seven hundred warriors in his company;
When a youth wished for danger, how ready he was!
He did not die at a wedding feast, he was not married.
God, with what other folk, where did he fall?
I will lament, until I be at the end of my course,
The slaying of Cynddylan, renowned for nobility.'
'Conflict of might, how common I am,
Every fish and beast is fairest.
Through treachery I lost, bravest men,
Rhiau and Rhirid and Rhiadaf,
And generous Rhygyfarch, lord of every border.
They drove their spoils from the meadows of the Tafd;
Captives lamented; cattle lowed [and] bellowed.
I will lament, until I be in a lowly acre,
The slaying of Cynddylan, renowned on every border.'
'Conflict of might, seest thou this?Footnotes page 3
My heart is burning like a brand.
I praised the possessions of their men and their women,
Refuse me they could not.
Brothers I had it were better that they were alive,
Whelps of the great Arthur, unyielding protection,
Who fought before Lichfield.
There was blood under ravens and a rude attack.
The sons of Cyndrwynyn shattered shields on guarde
I will lament until I be in the long resting place,
The slaying of Cynddylan, renowned chieftain'.
a. i.e. in Anglesey
b. i.e. the cantref of Dyffryn Clwd
c. i.e. the land of Cadell (Powys)
d. which river of this name is uncertain
e. lit. 'before the nose'
'Conflict of might, great plunder
Before Lichfield did Morfael seize
Fifteen hundred head of cattle and five litters [?],
Four score steeds and trappings for mounting.
All bishops with but one swine anywhere
He did not spare, nor book-grasping monks.
Of all the renowned warriors who fell in their blood
No brother escaped from the battle to his sister.
They fled with their wounds inflicted [?] in battle.
I will lament, until I be in the pressed earth,
The slaying of Cynddylan, celebrated by each brave.'
'Conflict of might, how pleasant it was
To my mind when I visited Pwll and Alun!
Fresh rushes under my feet until time for sleep;
Feathers under me to the top of my thigh.
And though I go there to my own land,
Kinsman there is none; there are birds to prevent it.
And though God were not to take me to the hill of wrath,
No one committed sin like to my own.'
Those interested in the philological argument are referred to Arch5 and to Kenneth Jackson's Language and History in Early Britain, 1953. I am grateful to Dr. Graham Webster, F.S.A. for drawing my attention to this last reference.
Footnotes page 4
5. Archaeologia, xciii, 1949 p.37
© Staffordshire Archaeological and Historical Society
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