Sept of the Brigantes – The Setantii

“…The Setantii were the ancient British inhabitants of the north west littoral of what is now modern-day Lancashire. Mentioned by Ptolemy in his second century geography of Britain (the earliest written record of their existence), they are thought to have been a sept or clan of the Brigantes tribe which dominated northern England throughout the Roman period. Later commentators also talk of the Segantii, a name referring it is claimed to “the dwellers in the country of water”. The tribe was defeated by the Romans in AD 71.

Historical linguists suggest the nt element in Setantii confirms the tribe were indeed Brythonic Celts descended from the Iberian “beaker folk”. Certainly, the tribe appears to have been linked to Sétanta, the birth name of the British/Irish hero Cúchulain and meaning “he who knows the way”. His tribal centre was at Teamhair (Tara) in present-day County Louth. This in turn suggests that the Setantii may have been present on both the Ulster and Lancastrian seaboards of the Irish Sea and were a seafaring group (“dwellers in the country of water”).
This assumption is supported by Ptolemy’s observation that the tribe possessed the only pre-Roman port on the western coast of Britain at Portus Setantiorum. This port is now generally thought to have been situated off Rossall Point near present-day Fleetwood at the mouth of the River Wyre. The southernmost boundary of the Setantii tribal lands was Seteia, the Mersey River . Their territory is thought to have reached as far north as Borrow Beck, just south of Tebay, in southern Cumbria. A form of their Celtic tongue survived in this area until the twelfth century.
The ancient Irish epic Tain Bo Cuailnge records the history of Sétanta, son of the God Lug. At the age of seven, Sétanta inadvertently killed the watchdog of the smith Culann. He offered to take the dog’s place for a time and became known as Cúchulain, the Hound of Culann, ever after. Described as short and dark, his battle-frenzy was legendary. In his final battle, Cúchulain had himself strapped to a pillar so that he might die standing. Afterwards, his blood was scattered over the soil of Ireland.
There are also links to Welsh epic and Arthurian legend. In the Welsh epic of Culhwch and Olwen, Seithennin, the bard, is grandfather to Gwenwynwyn, generally identified as Gawain, Arthur’s First Fighter. Historians suggest this may indicate that the Setantii were among the first to resist the English invaders in the fifth century and that Gawain was the name under which the mediaeval descendants of the Setantii in England kept alive their collective tribal memory.
The involvement of the Setantii seems to be implied in Nennius’ account of the twelve battles of King Arthur. He points out that four of these battles took place on the banks of the River Dubglas (black water / blue-black water), now identified as the Douglas, a tributary of the Ribble, in southern Lancashire….”
Letters sent to the south of England by a Roman military commander in 81 AD are said to mention a tribe in the Morecambe/Heysham area called the Setantii, of a people known collectively as ‘Brigantes’, who painted themselves blue with woad and continually attacked the Roman encampment. The letters state that the ‘blue-painted savages’ worshipped the sun, and Druids were their priests…”
“…the similarity of these tales may indicate a common source, or even that Gawain is identical in origin with CuChulain as the tales about him may be indigenous to the north of England; in ancient times, the north-west of England contained a tribe called the Setantii, while the original name of CuChulain was Setanta. It may well have been that CuChulain was a Setantii hero with a reputation on both sides of the Irish sea, whose memory was kept alive under the name of Gawain by the medieval descendants of the Setantii in England. J. Matthews points out that the story of Gawain’s birth and his being set adrift in a cask parallels that of his brother Mordred and suggests that originally Gawain was Arthur’s son, who fathered him incestuously on his sister who, in the original story was Morgan. The adult Gawain became Morgan’s knight and his story is predated by the mythical tale of the Celtic god Mabon whose mother, Modron (earlier Matrona), is the prototype of Morgan. He also suggests that Galahad replaced Gawain as a Grail quester because of Gawain’s pagan associations. That Perceval similarly replaced Gawain was suggested earlier by J. L. Weston.
In some works, his strength waxes and wanes with the sun; in the most common form of this motif, his might triples by noon, but fades as the sun sets. His knowledge of herbs makes him a great healer, and he is credited with at least three children: Florence, Lovell, and Gingalain, the last of which is also called Libeaus Desconus or Le Bel Inconnu, the Fair Unknown. In later Welsh Arthurian literature, Gawain is considered synonymous with the native champion Gwalchmei…”
“… Agricola later sailed his 9th Legion into Morecambe Bay and after subjugating the troublesome local Celts and eliminating their Druidic priests (including, presumably, those in the Setantii stronghold of Heysham) he moved inland to fortify the hilltop settlement of Longovieus (Lancaster)…”

2 Responses to Sept of the Brigantes – The Setantii

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