Design by Dragon Enterprise

© 2007 Armchair History

Early Inscriptions

Valuable information concerning some aspects of the early history of this part of Gwynedd from the end of the fifth to the end of the sixth centuries can be gathered from the inscriptions carved on memorial stones. The evidence of these inscrip­tions is also important for the study of the develop­ment of the Welsh language from its Brythonic antecedents as wall as for the study of the forms of Latin Used in Britain.

Seventeen inscriptions from Caernarvonshire have survived (it is known that one from Pen-prys, Llannor, has disappeared). The inscriptions are in Latin and the lettering is in the Latin alphabet, but the inscription at Llystyn Gwyn, Bryncir, is in Latin together with a name in Ogam characters. The Ogam ` alphabet ' was a system of notches cut across the angle of the face and side of the stone (there are twenty `characters' in the alphabet). Ogam developed in Ireland and there are inscrip­tions in Wales with Ogam alone as well as with Ogarn and Latin together. The Llystyn Gwyn stone provides an example of a ` bilingual ' inscription - Latin: ICORI FILIVS POTENTINI, Ogam: ICORIGAS. This, and a similar ` bilingual ' inscription on the Clocaenog (Denbigh) stone, are the only two in North Wales with Ogam. The use of Ogam testifies to the persistence of Irish influence in Wales, but the significance of the Ogam on this stone in Eifionydd has not yet been fully explained (the Irish origin of the names Llyn and Portinflaen, or Porth Dinllaen, is relevant in this context).

The inscriptions can be dated by reference to Latin epigraphic styles and also according to the formulae employed in them. It is possible to identify the influence of forms which are character­istic of Christian Latin monuments in Gaul on about twelve of the Caernarvonshire inscriptions. The formulae of Ogam inscriptions were different and their pattern can be discerned in some of the Latin inscriptions - for example, at Llanfaglan, Llannor (VENDESETLI), Eglwys Rhos, Llanaelhaearn, Llystyn Gwyn, and Penmachno (] FILI AVITORI). Another Latin inscription was added on the Pen­machno stone. The words on it have been abbrevia­ted and the interpretation is uncertain. According to one interpretation, a precise date is recorded, namely, ` in the time of the consul Justinus' (that is, A.D. 540); another reading has been suggested - ' (the grave of) a most loving and righteous husband '. In any case, it is not certain that the two inscriptions on this stone were carved at the same time.It is most likely that these stones were set up to mark the burial places of notable Christian persons (men and women). The Eglwys Rhos inscription states that SANCTINVS was a SACER[DOS] ` bishop ', probably. The Aberdaron inscriptions, which were at one time sited near Capel Anelog, name two priests (the term is presbyter): VERACIVS and SENACVS. Senacus is said to be resting with a multitude of brethren (CVM MVLTITUDNEM FRATRVM), and this suggests that there is refer­ence here to a grave within the cemetery of an ecclesiastical community, the nucleus perhaps of the later clas at Aberdaron. Occasionally a formula was used which was not necessarily factually correct; for example, one of the Penmachno inscriptions, CARAVSIVS HIC IACIT IN HOC CONGERIES LAPIDVM (` Carausius lies here in this cairn of stones'). Both this stone and one at Treflys (Cricieth) have the Chi-Rho symbol - a monogram formed from the first two letters of the Greek form of the name of Christ: X(chi) and P(rho). There are no other examples of this symbol with an inscription in Wales. Not every memorial stone was set up near an eccles­iastical foundation - for example, the inscribed stone at Cesail Gyfarch, Penmorfa, which names CVNACVS (corresponding to Welsh Cynog) and the stone at Llystyn Gwyn, Bryncir. The stones discovered at Llannor were used to provide two sides for a later grave (it is not known whether this was a Christian burial). The name VENDESETLI is recorded on one of these - it corresponds to the later Welsh form Gwynhoedl. Since the Llannor inscription is probably of fifth century date, it is difficult to establish that it commemorates Gwyn­hoed] the saint associated with Llangwnnadl whose period, according to the Welsh genealogies, seems to have been the sixth century. On the other hand, it is possible that the inscription may refer to the lay patron of a Christian foundation in the district. The early name of the district was Nant Gwnnadl (and this explains why the name of the parish is not ` Llanwnnadl ').The significance of two of the Penmachno stones has already been noted. On one of the others it is stated that CANTIORI[X] lies there, that he wasVENEDOTIS CIVE[S] and a close kinsman of Magios who was magistratus. Venedotis is an adjectival form of the Brythonic name for Gwynedd (*Ueneda); the corresponding Welsh form would be Gwyndod and there is a reference in the 'Stanzas of the Graves' to Gwrgi, ` Gwyndodydd lew ' - ' the hero of the men of Gwynedd '. Cantiori[x] was an important Gwyndodwr whose family shared his pride in the dignity implicit in the term cives, ' citizen '. The exact nature of the office of magistratus at this period is not clear, but the word suggests that there was a fairly well­ established social organization in this part of Gwynedd. Taliesin, at the end of the sixth century, eulogizes Gwallawg who was ygnat (ynad) in Elfed - a district in Yorkshire which included Leeds - and it may be that magistratus and ygnat were synonymous terms for equivalent offices. It should be noticed that neither clues nor magistratus occurs on any other Christian inscription in Britain. Moreover, references to the professional occupations of laymen are extremely rare in the Christian inscriptions of Britain. The Llangian inscription is therefore of particular interest: MELI MEDICI - ` Melus the doctor', son of Martinus. The term medicus does not occur on any other monument in Britain.

A man who died far away from his native territory is commemorated on the Llanaelhaearn stone: ALIORTVS ELMETIACO. He was a stranger whose roots were in Elfed but he was neither the first nor the last to move ' from kingdom to kingdom ' to serve a lord in his court or in his war-band.

The inscriptions from Caernarvonshire record 16 personal names. Ten of these are Latin names and there are Welsh derivatives of some of them. Thus, IOVENALI FILI ETERNI is named on one of the Llannor inscriptions; the first name is a form of Juvenalis, and louanaul occurs as the name of a cleric in the ' Book of Llandaff '; Eternus appears in Welsh as Edyrn and Edern. The name SANCTINVS in the Eglwys Rhos inscription corres­ponds to the Welsh form Seithin. Celtic elements can be identified in the other 16 personal names. For example, at Llanfaglan - FILI LOVERNII ANATEMORI, that is, ' [the stone of] Eneidfawr (literally, ' Great Soul ' or ' The magnanimous one ') son of Llywern '; Ilywern is one of the Welsh names for ' fox ' and it occurs as a persona! name, Louern, in the ' Book of Llandaff ' and in the place-name Llanfihangel Ystum Llywern in Gwent. LOVERNACI is named on an inscription at Merthyr, near Llan­newydd (Newchurch), Carmarthenshire. Reference has been made to Vendesetli/Gwynhoedl (Llan­nor) and to Maglos (Penmachno): the Welsh form of Maglos is mael, ' prince, leader', and this element is found in the names of Maelgwyn, Cynfael, Brochfael and Arthfael. In Cantiori[x] (Penmachno) and Icori[x] (Llystyn Gwyn, Bryn­cir), the second element -rix corresponds to Welsh rhi, ' king '; forms corresponding to the first elements in these two names are found in personal names in Gaul, and Cantiori]x] probably meant ' king of hosts'.


Early Inscriptions