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The Sources
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The text of the Pillar of Eliseg
Robert Vermaat

The Pillar of Elise, 1950The Pillar of Eliseg (or Elise or Eliset) is of very great interest to the study of Vortigern. Although none of its inscription can now be read, the possibility exists that this monument contains unique information about Vortigern and his family. The shaft bears an elaborate Latin inscription, which has weathered away and is now illegible to an unpractised eye. On the opposing face is a later inscription, also in Latin, recording the restoration of the monument in 1779. Luckily, considerable portions of the original inscription were read by the antiquarian Edward Llwyd in 1696; and his transcript seems to have been remarkably accurate. With the help of this, much of the surviving text of the original Pillar of Elise, 195031 lines is recoverable. And just in time, judging from the comment of sevral experts: Westwood (1879) states that the word `Cattell' is `almost the only word now legible'. Macalister (1949) states, `The decipherment would probably now be beyond hope had it not been for Lhuyd's copy, made in 1696'. Nash-Williams (1950) says that the `Inscription is now mostly weathered away'. Redknap (1991), describes it as `now worn and incomplete'.

The small crosses interspaced in the inscription serve to break it up into paragraphs, the first two giving the the genealogy of Concenn and Eliseg. The third paragraph is incomplete, but seems to record the exploits of Eliseg and the enlargement of his kingdom, whether with the help or at the expense of the English. The next paragraph seems to summarize the achievements of Concenn himself, followed by a glorifying of the dynasty by reference of their ancestors, the Roman Emperor Magnus Maximus and Vortigern.

Dating

The earliest dating is by Macalister, who in 1928 dated the Pillar to Ad 708-99. Nash-Williams, in 1950, dated the monument between 800-25, which is still the accepted date. This dating has consequences for the trustworthiness of this text and its implications for Vortigern, his family and the dynasty of Powys. The trustworthiness will be discussed elsewhere, in the article about the Pillar of Elise itself.

Names

Below are the personal names (PN) found within the text:

  • Concenn (Language: Brittonic; Gender: male)
    In general on the genealogy on Eliseg's pillar see Bartrum/1966, 46. Macalister/1949, 147, `Concenn is apparently the Cyngen (Brut), or Cinnen (A.C.) king of Powys, who died in Rome A.D. 854'.
    Nash-Williams/1950, 124, `Concenn was the last of the line, dying after a long reign, in Rome, whither he had gone on pilgrimage, in or about 854'.
  • Cattell (Language: Brittonic; Gender: male)
    Macalister/1949, 147: `Catell rex Pouis died in 808 A.D. according to Annales Cambriae'.
    Nash-Williams/1950, 124: `Cattell, mentioned in l. 1, is generally accepted as the king of that name who died in 808'.
  • Brochmail (Language: Brittonic; Gender: male)
    Macalister/1949, 146-147, states that `Brochmael...[does not] appear in the annalistic history', he does however record the Harleian genealogy which places `Brocmayl' as the father of Catel who was father of Cincen.
  • Eliseg (Language: Brittonic; Gender: male)
    Nash-Williams/1950, 124: `Eliseg (or Eliset), in whose honour the present monument was erected, represented the tenth generation of the dynasty and apparently flourished in the middle of the 8th century'.
    Davies/1982, 110: `In the middle of the ninth century Cyngen of Powys could still remember that his great-grand-father Elise had annexed land for Powys away from the power of the English'.
  • Guoillauc (Language: Brittonic; Gender: male)
    Macalister/1949, 146-147, records that this name is recorded in the Harleian genealogies as that of the father of Eliseg, he also states that the name does not appear in the annals.
  • Maximus (Language: Latin; Gender: male)
    Macalister/1949, 149: `This Maximus was the usurper who rebelled against Gratian...and was himself put to death by Theodosius'.
    Nash-Williams/1950, 124: `the Roman Emperor Magnus Maximus, the `Maxen Wledig' of Welsh tradition'.
  • [Cina]nn (Language: Brittonic; Gender: male)
  • Pascen[t] (Language: Latin; Gender: male)
  • [Maucant] (Language: Brittonic; Gender: male)
    Harleian 3859.22 and 27 give Maucant the place of son of Pascent, while the Pillar makes him the latter's father.
  • Britu (Language: Brittonic; Gender: male)
    The text itself identifies Britu as the son of Vortigern and Severa the daughter of Magnus Maximus. The text also states that Britu was blessed by Germanus of Auxerre, although it may be possible that it was Vortigern who was blessed here. See note
    [12].
  • Guarthi[gern] (Language: Brittonic; Gender: male)
    Nash-Williams/1950, 124: `King Vortigern'. This is the Vortigern of Bede's Ecclesiastical History, the `superbus tyrannus' of Gildas. Truthfully, it should be mentioned that it is possible that not Vortigern is mentioned here, but Vortimer. However, I hold that for next to impossible, because Vortimer has no function in any legend apart from his short stint as defender of Britain. He is non-existant in pedigrees. See also note
    [12].
  • Germanus (Language: Latin; Gender: male)
    This is not Germanus of Auxerre, although the identification has been made through contemporary (with the Pillar) legends, who needed to make a link between early saints and later foundations. the germanus of the legends is most probably Garmon of Man, who was the founder of many churches in Wales.
  • Severa (Language: Latin; Gender: female)
    The text uniquely identifies Severa as the daughter of Magnus Maximus and the wife of Vortigern. She is not mentioned anywhere else, neither in annals, nor in pedigrees, nor in later myths. The name is perfectly normal Latin, which does a lot for the acceptance of this information. More about Sevire
    here.
  • Conmarch (Language: Brittonic; Gender: male)

The text

First 13 lines of the text.
This is a detail of part of the text recovered by Edward Llwyd in 1696: lines 1 - 14.

Below I have printed the text on the Pillar of Elise. In the left column the expanded text by Nash-Williams (1950) and the middle column being his version of the translation, with notes to where it differs from the former, as well as Macalister (1949), Bartrum (1966) and Howlett (1998).

Transcript of the text. Transcript of the text.

This is how the transcript of the text appears today on the MS.

Pillar of Elise   Colofon Elise
_________________

+ Concenn son of Catell, Catell

  _________________

+ CONCENN FILIUS CATTELL CATTELL

son of Brochmael, Brochmael son of

  FILIUS BROHCMAIL BROHCMAIL FILIUS

Eliseg, Eliseg son of Guoillauc.

  ELISEG ELISEG FILIUS GUOLLAUC

+ Concenn, therefore being great-grandson of Eliseg,

  + CONCENN ITAQUE PRONEPOS ELISEG

erected this stone to his great-grandfather

  EDIFICAUIT HUNC LAPIEM PRO AUO[1]

Eliseg. + It is Eliseg who

  SUO ELISEG + IPSE EST ELISEG QUI NEC[.]

annexed the inheritance of Powys [--]

  XIT HEREDITATEM POUOIS[--]

throughout nine (years?) from the power of the Engl

  PER VIIII [ANNOS.]E POTESTATE ANGLO[2]

ish which he made into a sword-land by fire

  RUM IN GLADIO SUO PARTA IN IGNE

+ Whosoever shall read this hand-inscribed stone,

  [+ QUIC]UMQUE RECIT[A]UERIT MANESCRIP

let him give a blessing on

  [TUM LAPID]EM DET BENEDICTIONEM SUPE

the soul of Eliseg + It is Concenn who ...

  [R ANIMA]M ELISEG + IPSE EST CONCENN

... with his hand

  [--]GMANU [--]
    [3]

.. to his own kingdom of Powys

  [--] AD REGNUM SUUM POUOIS

.. and which

  [--] [4] ET QUOD [5]

[--] the mountain

  [--] [6]MONTEM [7]

(one line lost, possibly more) [8]

  [--]

[--] the Monarchy

  [--] MONARCHIAM

Maximus of Britain

  [--] [9]MAXIMUS BRITTANNIAE [10]
Concenn, Pascent ... Maun, Annan.   [CONCE]NN PASCEN[T] MAUN ANNAN[11]
Britu moreover son of Guarthi   [+] BRITU A[U]T[E]M FILIUS GUARTHI
gern, whom Germanus blessed   [GIRN] QUE[M] BENED[IXIT] GERMANUS[12] QUE[M]
and whom Severa, bore to him, the daughter of Maximus the King,   [QU]E PEPERIT EI SE[V]IRA FILIA MAXIMI R
who slew the king of the Roman   [E]GIS QUI OCCIDIT REGEM ROMANO
s. + Conmarch painted this   RUM + CONMARCH PINXIT HOC
writing at the command of his king   CHIROGRAFIUM [13] REGE SUO POSCENTE
Concenn. + The blessing of the Lord (be) on Con   CONCENN + BENEDICTIO DOMINI IN CON
cenn and all members of his family   CENN ET SUOS IN TOTA FAMILIA EIUS
and upon all the land of Powys   ET IN TOTAM [RE]GIONEM POUOIS
until the Day of Judgement. Amen.   USQUE IN [DIEM IUDICII AMEN][14]

Notes

[1] Another translation could be 'ancestor'.
[2] Macalister and Howlett have: EX MAN[U] CAT(...)EM PER U, ("from the hand of Cat(...)em through [--]") I have as another possibility: ...PO(st) MORT(em) CA(u?)TEM, translated with "after the death of.. Ca(u)tem"
[3] Nash-Williams seems to leave out a lot here. Macalister has: + IPSE EST CONCENN [QUI NACTUS ESTMC IUN]G MANU SUA QUAE AD REGNUM SU]UM PUOIS ("This is Concenn(PN) who captures 1100 acres by his hand which used to belong to the kingdom of Powys"), while Howlett has: + IPSE EST CONCENN QUI NACTUS EST MC IUNGERA MAN U SUA QUE AD REGNUM SUUM POUOIS ("Concenn(PN) is the very one who attached 1100 yokes with his own hand which to his own kingdom of Powys formerly belonged").
[4] Again, much conservatism by Nash-Williams. Others see much more, but manage no better translation. Macalister has: "[--] [P]ERTIN[E]BANT ET APUD [--] SEAISNCANESINEC [--]ISR[..] EM [..] ("and in"), while Howlett has: "OLIM PERTINEBANT ET APUD [--]SE [.]AISNCANESINEC [--]ISR[--]EM[--] ("[--] and in his presence").
[5] I can discern the letters: ...ER(?)NBANI..S.. This is an illegible part, ignored by all.
[6] It may be illegible, but this could be: .??//??AIFUCAUESIM
[7] More letters here: .I.P..EIN (illegible)?...
[8] One line lost, possibly more, but ignored by Nash-Williams and the others.
[9] Macalister and Howlett definately read the end of a name here, before Maximus: ...AIL.
[10] Howlett translates MAXIMUS BRITTANNIAE with "greatest of Britain".
[11] Macalister has: "[--]NN PASCEN[--] MAUN ANNAN", meaning"[son of Cina]nn(PN). Pascen[t](PN) son of Maucant(PN)?] [--] ". I think that the usual rendering as Maun, Annan, could indeed be a mistake for Maucant. This Maucant would then have been the son of Britu and grandson of Vortigern. Interestingly, the Harleian pedigrees give a Maucant, but as son of Pascent rather than his father. A later form is Manogan.
[12] According to the Historia Brittonum, Vortigern had three sons, AND St. Faustus. Britu must therefore be a fifth son, or an alias of one of the other four (read more here). We are also not sure who was blessed by Germanus, Britu or Vortigern. Read more about that blessing here. But as Vortimer was reputedly blessed by Germanus, was he also to be identified with Britu, or is he in fact the 'Guarthi[..] mentioned on the Pillar - Guarthimir?
[13] Macalister translates CHIROGRAFUM with "copy", Howlett with "artefact written by hand".
[14] Macalister has "for ever", Howlett "until eternity".

See as well at this site: Deeds most ancient, an article by Keith Nurse.

Bibliography

  • Bartrum, P.C.: Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts, (Cardiff 1966).*
  • Bu'Lock, J.D.: Vortigern and the Pillar of Eliseg, in: Antiquity XXXIV,1960, pp. 49-53.*
  • Chadwick, N.K.: A Note on Faustus and Riocatus, in: Chadwick, Studies in Early British History, pp. 254-263.*
  • Laing, Lloyd Robert and Jennifer Laing: A Guide to Dark Age Remains in Britain, (London 1979a).
  • Nash-Williams, V.E.: Early Christian Monuments of Wales, (Cardiff, 1950).*

VortigernStudies is copyright Robert Vermaat 1999-2007. All rights reserved