CONTESTS RHUN AP MAELGWN - THE UNANSWERED QUESTIONS
Research by Dr J White-Phillip
Narrative by Darrell Wolcott
a previous paper , we addressed a Welsh oral tradition wherein the husband of Maelgwn's daughter makes an expedition
to Gwynedd to contest Rhun ap Maelgwn for his kingdom. Elidyr "the gentle giant" from Strathclyde in north Britain,
is said to have sailed his army to Arfon to claim Gwynedd on behalf of his wife, the legal heir of Maelgwn, against the claim
of Maelgwn's illegitimate son, Rhun. That tradition reads as follows 
Elidyr Mwynfawr, a man from the North, was slain, and after his death the men of the North came here to avenge him. ... and
they came to Arfon. And because Elidyr was slain at Aber Mewyddus in Arfon, they burned Arfon as a further revenge.
And then Rhun, the son of Maelgwn, and the men of Gwynedd assembled
in arms and proceeded to the banks of the Gweryd in the North, and there they were long disputing
who should take the lead through the River Gweryd."
the end of our paper, we concluded:
" 3. Upon learning of this raid, Rhun assembled an army to avenge the damage. Exactly where this
expedition went, or what it accomplished, is unknown. "Aber
Gweryd" is the Welsh name for the Firth of Forth, which is nowhere near the route an army might take to reach Strathclyde,
so one wonders whose lands Rhun meant to attack.
4. Rhun and his army campaigned in the North for several months,
being away from home so long that their wives sought temporary
lovers in their absence...."
Following our recent research involving Strathclyde and the “Men
of the North”, we propose a solution to this problem. As we previously pointed out, there is no reason whatsoever that
a raid in Strathclyde (Cumbria) necessitates traveling to Edinburgh, which is located just south of the river “Gweryd”
on the Firth of Forth. From the text of the passage, it appears as though Rhun's men traveled to a place south of the river
and waited there before continuing on to battle, but nowhere in the passage is it stated that his men ever crossed the Forth
and continued north.
We think it is possible that two separate events occurred during the lifetime of Rhun that
culminated in Rhun granting the men of Arfon 14 legal privileges. We think that these two events were merged into “one
very long northern expedition” in the retelling, but that they likely occurred 10-20 years apart:
1) A raid on the north ca 547/550
2) Participation in the battle of Catraeth ca 560/570
the poem, “Y Gododdin”, where the bard Aneirin describes the "Battle of Catraeth", we find mention of men we can
trace to the old north as well as men from Gwynedd. We will not attempt a full analysis of the very long and complicated
text here, since our aim is only to establish two key points:
1) whether "the
men of Arfon" could have participated in the battle of Catraeth some years after their avenging “raid” in the
2) whether we could find enough evidence to convincingly date
this battle to 560/70
Do we find men from Gwynedd at Catraeth?
In our analysis of the poem, there is mention
of a Heilyn who appears to be connected to “Bancarw”, near Aberconwy in Rhos. We also find men from Rhufoniog,
including a Gorthyn Hir; a man who fought previous battles around the Aled river. A son of Urfai is mentioned in the
same passage as the man who was “son of a rightful king, Lord of the men of Gwynedd, of the blood of Cilydd [of] Gwaredog”.
The latter is a place-name in Arfon, which was mentioned in the Life of St Beuno. 
We also find a mention of
a Gwair Hir ap Fferfarch who fought at “Rhyd Benclwyd”, an event that is presented as occurring “prior to”
this battle. That was a battle at a ford near the head of the Clywd river in Dyffryn Clwyd, thus identifying another man from
Gwynedd who was at Catraeth.
Academic consensus dates this battle to c. 600, why?
Stephens  provides the
rationale, explaining that “Aedan Mac Gabran” is one of the men named “Aeddan” included in this battle.
We don't think we need to identify a Pictish king as this Aeddan when we have plenty of men named Aeddan in Wales. In its
support, those who espouse this theory identify this battle with “Degsastan” and cite a passage from the Irish
annals describing that King's defeat in battle with the Saxons ca 600/3.  The battle was fought principally between Dal
Riatan Scots and the Saxons during the time of Ethelfrid (r. 593-616).
don't think this citation has anything to do with a battle fought between Brythons and Saxons. Additionally, we think this
battle was fought at least a generation before AD600.
3. When did the poem's author, Aneirin, live?:
names himself “son of Dwywei”, who Stephens identifies as “Dwywe, the daughter of Gwallog ab Lleenog”.
If we accept Stephens' identification, we'd chart her birth to c. 515. If we place this poet as a her son, we would
date him to approximately 530/540. Had he still been alive in 600 to witness this battle, he'd have outlived most men
of his era. If we instead date the battle to 560/570, the author would have been near age 30/40, and also of an appropriate
age to serve as a bard for Urien Rheged (510) and his son Owein (540). Our dating of Aneirin:
340 Coel Hen
485- Gwylog Pabo Post Prydain 480
520 Dwywei=======Dunod 510
535 Aneirin 
What were the ages of the warriors at Catraeth?:
have tried to identify the men named in this poem. We didn't attempt our own identifications, but rather dated the men whom
other researchers have “identified”. Here, we focused on the question: Did Stephens' identification of participants
support his justification for placing the battle in “around 600 AD”? We have left his notations "?" and
“probably” in assignments where he indicated he was not confident.
present 3 groups of the men we have been able to successfully date:
A. Men probably identified
Cynon ap Clyddno: (545)
Gwarthan, the son of Dunawd: (540)
Elfin, “the son of Urien probably”: (540)
Ethinyn ap Boddw Adaf: (540)
Moryen, “ail Cradoc”: (530 or 545)
Hyvedd Hir ap Caradog Freich Fras: (510)
Marchlew ap Caradog Freich Fras: (510)
Madoc ap Llywarch Hen: (550)
Pyll ap Llywarch Hen: (550)
ap Llywarch Hen: (550)
Medel ap Llywarch Hen: (550)
Peredur Arveu Dur: (515/525)
ap Hywgi ?: (515)
Manawyd [ap Llyr ?]/ap Rhirid: 540
Cynric (from Aeron): (540)
(from Aeron): (540)
Cynrein (from Aeron): (540)
B. Men too old: excluded from further calculations and participation in the
battle as “already dead”
Cyvwlch Hir/“Cyvwlch Addwyn ap Ceredig”:
Geraint “ab Erbin" ?: (450/480)
son of Fferog”: (480)
Isaac ap Gwyddno Garanhir: (480)
Rhuvawn ap Gwyddno Garanhir: (480)
(the son of Ysgyran): (480)
C. Men too young; excluded from further
calculations and participation in the battle as “not born yet”
ap Gwen (580)
Dinogad ap Cynan Garwin (585)
Morial ap Cyndrwyn (610)
Gwion ap Cyndrwyn (610)
Gwyn ap Cyndrwyn (610)
Cynvan/Cynan ap Cyndrwyn
Rhychward ap Morial (640)
Gwgan Gleddyfrudd ap Caradog Freich Fras II: (850)
We concluded from this exercise that Stephens' identification of men did not support his estimated date of 600, since
his list includes men born 425-850. We discarded about half of the men he identified, for reasons cited above, and used the
candidates actually born in the 500's for subsequent calculations. We cannot say with certainty that we have a representative
sample of the "300 men" who participated, but we are only working with men who were identified by others.
If we average the ages of the 17 men in Group A when adjusted
for a battle in 600, these 17 men would have an average age of “63.8”, in an era where the average life
expectancy is “not more than 60”. In this test, our list includes two men at 90, four men at 85, two men in their
70's, four men at 60 and five men in their fifties. (If the army of Goddodin was comprised of senior citizens, it's no wonder
they were soundly trounced.) When the date of the battle is adjusted to the middle of our estimated time frame (565), we find
the mean average age of the 17 men is “28.8” with a mode of 25. Our list includes “young men” under
20 as well as older men in their 50s, but looks more like a reasonable fighting force than the same men would be in
the year 600.
We wholly rejected Evans'  interpretation of this poem, which places the battle in 1098, at Aber Lleinog. His identification
of the men involved are wholly inappropriate for a battle in the 6th century, including: Hugh Lupus, Earl of Shrewsbury;
Magnus Bareleg, King of Norway; and Owain ap Edwin accompanied by his brother Uchtryd. In support of his thesis, he
presents Harleian Ms 3859, pedigree 9 (Guallauc ap Laenauc ap Masguic clop), which he interprets as “Gwallawg son of
Llaenog son of Masguic the Halt”. He identifies these men using the Black Book of Carmarthen, defining Hugh of Shrewsbury
as Gwallog who was “pierced in the eye by an arrow”, while explaining that Maesguic clop (his grandfather in the
pedigree) is actually the contemporary man Magnus Bareleg who shot Hugh in 1098, accompanied by linguistic justifications
which we will not present here. For obvious reasons, we have not considered Evans' identifications in our analysis.
We think the Battle of Catraeth was fought in c. 565, plus or minus 5 years. This was within the lifetime of Rhun ap
Maelgwn, who may have selected the Gwynedd men who would respond to the invitation from King Mynyddog Mwynfawr of Edinburgh.
That man had invited the Brythonic Celts from all areas of Britain to send him brave warriors to drive the Saxons of Bernicia
out of his lands. It is said that 300 mounted and gold-torqued princes responded to the call, were "for a year" housed
and feted with unlimited horns of mead by their host, then bravely and enthusiastically rode into battle where they were greatly
Returning now to the Rhun ap Maelgwn tale recited in the opening paragraphs of this paper, we suggest:
a. Rhun did take an army to Strathclyde to lay waste to the lands of the men who'd ravaged Arfon. This
was, however, the final act of that whole event. The Strathclyde men had no hostility toward Rhun personally, their
beef was with the men of Arfon who betrayed their promises to Elidyr. They had purposely timed their punishing raid
upon Arfon to a time when Rhun was temporarily away from Gwynedd, and they neither killed nor injured anyone. They fully
expected Rhun to make a face-saving counter raid against their lands. This was accomplished quickly, and everyone had made
their point. There was no need, nor longing, for further avenging.
b. After a space of 15 to 20 years, Rhun was asked to provide men to help the King of Lothian drive the
Saxons (actually they were Angles) out of his lands. Volunteers from most of the Brythonic Celt kingdoms in Brtain responded
to this call. Each delegation was led by one or more tribal elders, men who were not active warriors, but whose experience
had made them able strategists. They assembled at the King's court in Edinburgh, and the young warriors partied and drank
while their elders talked overall strategy and tactics for the coming battle. We suggest that Aneirin's line saying
they partied and drank mead "for a year" was merely a poetic device for "a fairly long time", as everyone awaited the arrival
of other "fellow countrymen" who were reported to be "on the way". It was during this waiting period at the host's
court, on the south shore of the River Forth, that the elder advisors chose the men of Arfon to be in the van of the army
as it engaged the enemy. No doubt other assignments were issued to other units. It would mostly be only
the elders, who remained safely away from the battlefield, who returned home to Arfon following an absence of several months.
And we think it was their heroism at the Battle of Catraeth which earned the men of Arfon the 14 legal privileges granted
working with this poem, we used a number of translations including:
Evans: The Book of Aneurin Revised and Translated J. G. Evans, Llanbedgroc, 1922
Jarman: Aneirin Y Gododdin: Britain's Oldest Heroic Poem, Jarman, A.O.H., "The Welsh
Classics" series, vol. 3. Gomer. ISBN 0-86383-354-3
Skene: The Four Ancient Books of
Wales. ed. by William F. Skene. Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1868.
Stephens: The Gododin of Aneurin
gwawdrydd: by Aneurin; Stephens, Thomas, 1821-1875; Powel, Thomas; Cymmrodorion society, Whiting & co, London,
 In the "Lives
of the British Saints" by Baring-Gould and Fisher, we learn that King Cadwallon ap Cadfan of Gwynedd gave St. Beuno a tract
of land at Gwaredog in Arfon, in return for a gold scepter. When it later was found that the king did not own this land,
St Beuno asked for other land or at least the return of his scepter. King Cadwallon gave him neither
Stephens, whose work is included in our "References"
 Annals of Ulster
U600.1; ….the battle of the Saxons in which Aedán
U606.2; Death of Aedán son of
Gabrán son of Domangart, king of Albu...
 ByS 12 corruptly cites a St. Deiniol who some think was a brother of Aneirin. But the mother of the
Saint was a daughter of Llynnog ap Mar, and his father was an earlier Dunod whose ancestry includes a Pappo ap Ceneu, often
confused with Pabo Post Prydain
 J.G. Evans, whose work is included in our "References" This is merely a nickname by which most referred
to the man. It probably means "a mountain man having a large amount of ore". An alternate translation "gentle
giant of the mountains" is also possible. If he were the Lothian king in 565, he was probably either Serwan ferch Llawdden
Llyddog of Edinburgh, or Cawrdaf the son of that Serwan. Obit dates for those men are not known.
 The "300 men" were just the mounted "princes"; it is not known how many foot-solders each commanded. The
text of the poem only hints at the sizes of the opposing armies, with phrases like "one hundred thousand and three hundred
charged against each other", "nine score to one around each mail-clad man" and "they slew 7 times their number".
 The poem is not really a descriptive account of the battle, but an unconnected
series of eulogies for various named men who died heroically .The notion that, among those fighting against the Angles, only
one or two men survived the battle is not an established fact. That they were soundly defeated, with a heavy loss of
life, is historically true.