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Two Caer Brittons? Dumbarton and Bristow
May 20, 2013
4:28 pm
Forum Posts: 6
Member Since:
March 12, 2013
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I have some questions about your back yard.

Running "Caer Britton" in common search engines brings up references to two Caer Britton toponyms. Apparently, one morphed to Dumbarton via p-Celtic>q-Celtic translation; the other morphed via Brittones>Brito>Saxon approximation Bristow>Bristol. But were there ever two Caer Brittons, or do we only derive the "Caer" because the early accounts were written by p-Celtics?

The locations were once both strategically important Brythonic fortresses. Proto-Bristol was the critical link between Brythonic land/tribes from Cornwall to those of Wales, eventually severed by the Saxons at the Battle of Deorham. Proto-Dumbarton anchored the northward Brythonic extension of Strathclyde and Cumbric Brythons to its northern extremity, presumably the cairn marked border near the top of Loch Lomond (with Dal Riata land?).

Both were named by Romans as militarily important strong points of the "Brittones". The northern one, however, had its (I assume Goidelic) ancient descriptive name al Cluith, "The Rock", which persisted into Dark Age or later times. "Celtic culture: a historical encyclopedia", Volume 1, edit. John Koch, gives Caer Glud, Al Clut, Alo Cluathe as the seat of Ystrad Clud/Strathclyde, but also Dun Breatann as a later Irish naming. Clach nam Breatann, at the cairn marked border, is consonant, but of what antiquity? Dun Barton seems a possible conversion of Caer Britton via Dun Britton/Dun Brittones, but not of the older and persisting name, and less credible than from Dun Breatann. Linguistically though, is there a credible trajectory for Britton/Brittone to become Barton by p>q Celtic conversion?

Speculatively, one might also muse on the possibility that both were trading points for the Veniti, given Brythonic possession and similarly strategic locations from the sea trading perspective.

Finally, it's bugged me for years, whence, when and why the "m" in Dumbarton?

February 10, 2019
2:00 pm
Forum Posts: 38
Member Since:
December 16, 2015
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Last point first:
If you listen to many inhabitants of our capital city you would be forgiven for supposing it to be called Embrough.
It is a matter of easier pronunciation to say Dumbarton rather than Dunbarton (try it and see).
As a disciple of William of Occam I am inclined to the view that there is no need to seek more of an explanation than that.
So I suspect that the variation has to do with writing versus speech....
But this is just me guessing.....

February 10, 2019
2:19 pm
Forum Posts: 38
Member Since:
December 16, 2015
sp_UserOfflineSmall Offline

Regarding your second paragraph this is dealt with extensively in "Arthur: Legend, Logic & Evidence" (2018).
The terms of the treaty ending Arthur's campaign against the Scots in 498 provided for Fergus mor mac Earca (note the 'a' on the end) taking the throne of Dalriada and the annexation by the Damnonii of what became "The Lennox" (and thereby creating the Kingdom of Strathclyde). There is no reason to suppose that Clach nam Breatan was the real border (why not go for the watershed, after all - and as I understand it it is natural rather than manmade), However The Scots did have free rein in Menteith after this, so one might imagine that they had free passage between the clach and the watershed.
Before this campaign Dumbarton Rock had been an exclave beyond the end of the Antonine Wall (cf Guantanamo Bay, Akrotiri etc.).

By the time of the annexations the bulk of the population in the Lennox spoke Gaelic rather than Pictish so these names (along with the personal name Galbraith) were those used by the locals to identify the 'incomers' or 'foreigners'.

In the light of the above I suspect that a bit of rethinking will be required about the reason for - and the dating of - the name Bristol. Indeed I see that even Wikipedia offers a completely different etymology.

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