Vortigern

Attested:  A ruler in sub-Roman Britain mentioned by all the usual sources Gildas, Bede, Historia Brittonum, etc, as discussed carefully by Robert Vermaat.  The commonly quoted spelling with vowel O rests upon just one manuscript of Gildas from the AD 1100s.  Spellings with vowel E by Bede may rest on an earlier source and Uuertigerno is in probably the earliest surviving manuscript that overtly mentions this man by name.

Where:  Vermaat summed up his best guess thus: “At the end of the Roman era in Britain, there was a man of high standing, whose family had large posessions in the western Midlands, central and south Wales. This man ... had acquired a high position in either the British church or in the Civil Service of the Roman Empire. He was also a rich land-owner, married to a daughter (Sevira) of the late usurper Magnus Maximus. By the year 425 he became the most powerful man in Britain, though he ruled with a Council of representatives (proto-princes) from the Civitates and other emerging centres of regional power. His own power was based largely on the province of Britannia Prima, and a large part of that province later became the kingdom of Powys.”

Name origin:  It is customary to divide this name Vor–tigern and to translate it as ‘great king’ or ‘overlord’.  Neither Matasovic (2009) nor Delamarre (2003) have found a satisfactory etymology for Irish tigern ‘overlord’ and its Celtic cognates, but they do not seem to have discussed a link to duke and its Germanic cognates (as in Herzog), or to Greek ταγος ‘commander’, which raise similar questions of their underlying etymology.  See discussions of Tagea, plus Prasutagus, Caratacus, and Togodumnus.

Notes:  The later English spelling Wyrtgeorn, suggests that one should not exclude dividing the name Vert-i-gern, meaning something like ‘desirous of change’ or ‘disrupter’.  Wyrt naturally means wort, or ‘rootstock’, but that might be reinterpretation of an original Vert- related to Latin verto ‘to turn’, while georn was a precursor of modern yearn, related to German gern.

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Last edited 3 January 2020     To main Menu