Research

The Brothers of Thunder series was inspired by the discovery that around 1200 years ago there was a viking fort built near where I live, on what is now the Rosneath Peninsula — on the site of a friend’s house (castle, actually) and almost next door to my parents’ house. This shouldn’t have been as much of a surprise as it was — my children’s primary school crest has a longship on it — but while the presence of vikings further down the coast has always been accepted, the extent they may have settled further into the Firth of Clyde or even on the shores of the River Clyde has only recently been considered more seriously.

One event which has long been accepted as factual, however, is the Siege of Alt Clut in 870CE, marking the end of Alt Clut (Dumbarton Rock) as the capital of Strathclyde and the movement of power up the river to Govan/Partick. This also signals the end of the Kingdom of Ystrad Clud under King Artgal and the beginning of the Kingdom of Strathclyde under King Rhun.

At that time Alt Clut (rock of the Clyde) was the capital of the Kingdom of Ystrad Clud. The people living in the kingdom were Britons who spoke a language which for simplicity’s sake I will call Brythonic — a form of Old Welsh. It reached from a point north of Loch Lomond, Clach a Bhreatunnaich (Rock of the Britons), to roughly the Solway Firth although the borders changed over the centuries of its existence.

The invasion was orchestrated most likely by Ivarr the Boneless (Imar), reputedly the son of Ragnar Lothbrok, and Olaf the White (Amlaib Conung) the Viking king of Ath Cliath (Dublin) at that time, who was possibly also Ragnar’s son. With names appearing in various languages in different documents it has been difficult for historians to be certain exactly who was whom.

Norse longships sailed up the Clyde and besieged the rock for four months. Virtually impenetrable, it was only when the well dried up that the Britons were forced to surrender. The Norsemen plundered the fortress, removing everything of value, including hundreds of Britons, including King Artgal himself, were taken to the slave markets of Ath Cliath. According to the sagas hundreds of ships were needed to transport all the spoils back to Ath Cliath.

King Artgal of Alt Clut was one of those captured and taken to Ath Cliath by the Norse invaders where he was murdered two years later possibly at the request of King Causantin of DalRiada and Pictland. Artgal was succeeded by his son Rhun who moved the capital upriver from Dumbarton Rock. It seems likely that the new King of Strathclyde lived in a palace in Partick while much of the government of the area was conducted from Govan directly across the river.

Any Norse influence in this government is undocumented — indeed, virtually no documentation exists from this Kingdom. All of our knowledge of this part of what is now called Scotland comes from chronicles written about it by foreigners and should be read with that in mind.

The presence of a Thing at Govan, however, and the increasing number of viking finds in the area surrounding the Clyde in recent decades means that some form of alliance between the Britons and the Norse or at the very least a regular presence and significant influence of Norsemen in this area is not an impossibility.

In this series of posts I will explore some of the viking finds in this area, some of what is known about life in Ninth Century Scotland and consider the problem of naming anything in an area in which such a variety of languages has been spoken over the centuries.

Tim Clarkson’s book, Strathclyde and the Anglo Saxons in the Viking Age is an interesting and very readable modern interpretation of the historical evidence surrounding the Kingdom of Strathclyde.