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Descent into Darkness

The end of the Roman Empire is a dark period in the History of Eryri; even darker is the time just after the fall of Rome. Towards the end of the era of roman occupation, the western fringes of Britain, including Eryri were periodically under attack by Irish raiders. The fortifications at the small harbour, on the western side of the mouth of the Seiont seem to bear witness to this; these attacks continued after the departure of the Romans.

Harried by these raiders, and needing to fill the void of rule left by the withdrawal of the troops, new British kingdoms and rulers came to the fore. Each group had to contest for power in a period of change and uncertainty, gone were the old rules and expectations. Thus the details of developments in this age are at best vague and very few in number. Even more uncertainty as to the occurrences and timing of events has been produced by bardic enhancements and blandishment of the true picture; adding legend to fact has obscured what indeed may have been real events.

Indeed the Roman General Magnus Maximus, who took control of the Western Empire in AD383 -apparently from his base in Segontium -, became the Mascen Wledig of legend in Y Mabinogion. He is supposed to have been the husband of Helen, a British princess, and to have been the founder of a number of the Welsh 'tribes' who began their rise to power in the 5th and 6th Centuries.

 


 


Another, more questionable legend or 'history' is that of Cunedda, who came down from what is now Northern England to help repel the Irish raiders. Apart from the 'Irish' name of the Lleyn peninsula, connected to the tribe that established Lein(ster), there is very little evidence of Irish occupation.

He is supposed to have been the husband of Helen, a British princess, and to have been the founder of a number of the Welsh 'tribes' who began their rise to power in the 5th and 6th Centuries. Another, more questionable legend or 'history' is that of Cunedda, who came down from what is now Northern England to help repel the Irish raiders. Apart from the 'Irish' name of the Lleyn peninsula, connected to the tribe that established Lein(ster), there is very little evidence of Irish occupation.

Many legends are linked to the hill forts in the area; which were certainly being reused in the period after the Roman departure. Vortigern and Emrys were both associated with Dinas Emrys, near Beddgelert (O.S. 606 492). Whether or not this is true, the presence of 5th and 6th Century imported pottery at this site points to its reuse and some form of external influence. Pottery finds of this period are rare, wooden ones were most often used, after the supply of mass-produced Roman pottery dried up.

The Princes of Gwynedd were certainly associated with Aberffraw on Ynys Môn (Anglesey); this was their principal court from the 6th to 13th Century.

 

 


Lesser courts were dotted around the rest of their domain in Eryri. That they moved around these courts is not in question: however, their lives and methods of rule are quite difficult to outline due to the scarcity of artefacts of this period. What can be said is that there was probably little change in the way that the majority of the peoples went about their daily lives. The roundhouse style of buildings, more usually associated with Iron Age dwellings, were still occupied in many areas during this period.

The only remains from the 5th and 6th centuries to have survived to the present day are some of the early Christian stone built churches. The wooden enclosures and churches of some of the early hermits and priests have disappeared under later development and refurbishing. However, what is certain is that many of the churches were located at sacred sites; the early church assimilated the paganism involved with these sites and some of the 'saints' took on their mantle; for healing or for fertility perhaps. At a later stage, this led to problems with the church in Rome. It is difficult to say with any certainty when the llan 'enclosure' was established in Nant Peris; this was the original location of Llanberis. It is nevertheless almost certain that the spring of Ffynnon Beris (O.S. 608 583) was a sacred spring and that 'Sant Peris' took on its sacred powers. Another clue to ecclesiastic use of the valley is at Ynys Ettws (O.S. 624 568); the word Ettws is a corruption of betws as in Betws-y-Coed. A betws 'bead-house' or rather more properly an oratory; this was a small religious prayer house - usually along important trackways.