Post-Roman Caerwent

The culture of the Roman lowlands of England extended into South Wales where two major Roman states are known, the Silures based on Caerwent and the Demetae based on Carmarthen. The boundary between them is not known, but it is usually assumed that the Vale of Glamorgan was Silurian. The Demetae state, from which Dyfed comes, was colonized and ruled by the southern Irish while Rome still governed Britain. In Vortigern's time Cunedda recovered Kidwelly, but the rest of Dyfed was not subdued until Arthur's time; thenceforth the dynasties of Agricola and Vortipor ruled the kingdom for centuries.

Unlike the Demetae the name Silures died with Rome. During the fifth century the dominion of Caerwent, known as Gwent, was reduced to a strip of land between the rivers Usk and Wye. After 410 the town's ruler was Honorious Ynyr, a Roman sounding name. Further it is the only civitas capital where ordinary events of urban life were reported in the surviving texts of the sixth century. The lands west of the Usk were soon lost to Gwent and fragmented between local lords, by tradition the sons of a probably mythical Glivis. An anonymous late sixth century writer who knew this land well placed the border between Demetia and Gwent on or near the Usk and a hundred years later the Englishman Aldhelm of Malmesbury equated all South Wales with Demetia. In the early years of the seventh century Bishiop Dubricius ministered both Gwent and Glevissig [Glamorgan], but a generation later Teilo of Carmarthenshire is reported as both bishop of Demetia and Glevissig. Probably in 645 Glevissig threw off Demetian sovereignty and in the tenth century took the name of Gwlad Morgan, the lordship of Morgan or Glamorgan.

All of this seems to suggest that Roman life appears to have continued in Caerwent well after the time of Gildas (c.500-c.540). Medieval texts record many Roman names lingering on and the surviving inscriptions prove the point. Old fashioned Roman names like Pompeius and Turpilius, distinguished Italian names rare in the Provinces, persisted well into the seventh century. The teacher Illtud inherited a mansion on a Cotswold scale, its buildings decayed, but its estates intact. The owner of another villa near Chepstow kept the baths repaired and used them 'usually on Saturdays'. Gildas in his old age defended the abbots of these parts who travelled in carriage and pair, 'because it is the custom of the country', and speaks of well-educated monks who know more of learning and letters than elsewhere in Wales and talks of men who wined and dined in civilised comfort.

Docco or Congar, one of the earliest known of the British Saints was said to have been consecrated at either Caerwent or Exeter. He was a young man in the 430's and claimed to be the grandson of the Emperor Constantine, evidently the British Emperor of 407. His death is placed in 473 when he was said to have been an old man.

In the second quarter of the sixth century Bishop Dubricius probably had his see at Caerwent or possibly Gloucester. The town may well have been in decline at this time for between 511 and 558 a great number of well-educated men from Gwent emigrated to Brittany so that as early as the 540's it was known as Lesser Britain. Around the same time (540's) the Welsh saint Cadoc was schooled in Caerwent by an unknown Irish teacher. It may be that this was the well respected school of Tatheus which was known to have existed here.

In 584 King Mouric of Gwent defeated the Saxons under Caewlin at the battle of Tintern ford near Brockweir, where his father King Theodoric, risen from his monks cell where he had retired leaving his kingdom to his son, was killed. There was then peace for thirty years, only broken in 614 when King Idon of Gwent had to defeat a Saxon force somewhere between Monmouth and Abergavenny.

King Mouric's kingdom was partitioned on his death, but reunited by his ruthless grandson Morcant, who annexed Archenfield and Demetiae in 645 and committed a great slaughter in Gwent in 647. Morcant then attacked the West Saxons and fought two battles near Bath, one probably at Bradford on Avon soon before 655. In the period 655-8 he was reinforced by Cornovian Morfael, the last British lord of Lichfield, but in 658 they were defeated at Penselwood near Salisbury and driven back to the River Parret. Finally in 665 Morcant was defeated and probably killed in the second battle of Badon which was obviously fought between Bath and Salisbury. His son and grandsons continued his rule in the only fertile strip of Roman Britain that remained to the original inhabitants, the land where Roman letters and Roman manners lingered longest, the land where Gildas and his fellow reformers had been bred.

The above, with a few of my own observations, is taken from Morris, J., The Age of Arthur: A History of the British Isles from 350 to 650 [London, 1989], 207-8, 229-30, 254, 308, 350, 366, 410.

Copyright©1994-2007 Paul Martin Remfry

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