The Celts seem to have first been recorded by the Greeks as Keltoi deriving from a native word perhaps meaning 'hidden people'. This may have been a reference to the their lack of written history - some say writing was banned by the druid class - apart from gravestones and pottery until the 6th century AD.


The Celtic culture seems to have originated in central Europe around the Danube basin, the Alps and parts of France and Germany around 1200 BC, as farming communities who became expert iron-workers. By 600 BC they were thought to have spread into Spain and Portugal and, following this, Britain, Ireland, Greece and the Balkans, although as a tribal political structure never formed an empire. In the first century AD the European Celts were largely defeated by the Romans and Germanic tribes and following the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 AD, the subsequent Roman Occupation and the arrival of continental tribes most notably the Angles and Saxons in the 5th century, the Celtic cultural was pushed to the edges of Britain. It is regarded as having survived most energetically in Ireland.

Most references to the Celts are from later centuries made by writers who lacked records and were keen to project their religious and political circumstances on the past. Such accounts need to be cautiously treated and mixed with what little contemporary archaeological evidence is available. On a broader basis, evidence detailing other parts of the Celtic a linguistic rather than archaeological term world - Britain and particularly Gaul give some idea of what life was like when Patrick was in Ireland.

Some of the main points are:

· There were no urban areas - the major port sites in Ireland like Waterford, Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway have Viking and medieval origins - others have monastic and ecclesiastical origins. 

· Significant natural barriers including bogs, undrained lowland river valleys and dense forests which covered most of the island prevented easy internal movement.

· Certain favoured areas housed small communities who were involved in some agricultural activity and pastoral farming. Oats, barley, wheat and flax were grown and sheep were an important commodity, although cattle were the main economic trading unit and status element. The importance of cattle was also shown in later sagas - most particularly the Donn Cuailgne, the great brown bull of Ulster at the centre of the Tain Bo Cuailgne legend regarding the war between Connaught and Ulster. Hunting of deer and other game was prevalent. 

· Almost all seem to have spoken Celtic, which had replaced earlier tongues and reflected a unity of culture although the island was politically and socially fragmented.

· Contact with other parts of the world was probably fairly widespread - pelts, furs and hunting hounds seem to have been the most likely exports - probably to the continent for the southern most parts of Ireland and to Britain and modern day Scotland.

· Hilltop sites were part of an ancient system of living and many were considered sacred. Most of the people lived in small communal villages, some of which were rath-like.

· In general the Celts were a warlike rural people and their religion reflected this - gods named or unnamed were associated with war, nature and fertility - the earth itself, the sun, trees or groves, streams, marshes, animals and birds. Art forms far from being crude were abstract in conception and execution.

The Romans outlined massive differences between their own religious rites and those of the Celts. Strabo (4.4.5) describes the practise of displaying as trophies the heads of victims in war. The head had great significance in the Celtic world; Caesar (De bello Gallico 6.16) tells of sacrifice including that of humans, presided over by Druids; and Pliny (Naturalis Historia, 30.13) even refers to cannibalism.

Much of this comment seems bias against the spiritual leaders of the Celts who were seen as a potentially dangerous resistance movement to be stamped out. The references to Druids and the Celtic religion by the Romans were made in Gaul mostly and none relate specifically to Ireland, although as part of the Celtic world it would not be inappropriate to relate the two tacitly, if mindful of the Roman bias.

· Pre-Roman Celts did not seem to relate burial with religion - although their thoughts on the afterlife are not readily ascertainable. This may have been the case in Ireland also. Again, we rely on Roman evidence - Pomponius (Mela De chronographia 3.2.19) writes of Celts of whom notions of an afterlife was fostered to make them fearless in war, whilst Caesar (De bello Gallico 6.14) implies that a belief of transmigration of the soul was taught by the Druids for the same purpose. Regional burial practices went on - immediately prior to the Roman occupation an identifiable Celtic burial in Britain has been found in a rough grave, the occupant in crouched or foetal position, aligned north-south, with one or two pots of food and drink, and maybe a weapon (sometimes deliberately destroyed), some jewellery or even parts of an animal.


· Few written sources are reliable.

· Distinguishing myths and legend from fact and finding historical core is very difficult.

· By the period it is recorded in the 8th century it is politically tainted.

· Little is available archaeologically for the 1st- 4th centuries AD although a lot is available for the few centuries up to the time of Christ.

· The role of druids in Ireland is vague and relies on us reading back from early Irish sagas. References of Druids in Gaul reflect a Roman Perspective and their social/political/economic relationship between the two. 

Liam de Paor (1993) suggests two main development phases occurred during the 5th century - 

1. In order to consider the forces necessary to plunder Britain on any scale given the tribal groupings in Ireland, as in the rest of the Celtic world, he suggests that there were late 4th and early 5th century tribal alliances made to pillage the Roman provinces in Britain. This brought booty - Roman silver (which was largely cut up and reused) and luxury supplies as well as new ideas regarding ornamentation and design technique - gap-ring bronze pins to fasten cloaks which became pen annular brooches for the upper classes to wear may have come from the Romans or Germans in the Roman armies, he suggests. Heavy belt buckles, straps and harnesses which came to be imitated in Irish crafts may also have been part of this plunder. Migrants from turbulent northern Gaul moving to Ireland as the last repose of the Celtic tradition in the late 5th century may also have brought numerous design ideas. As well as booty, many hundreds if not thousands of slaves like Patrick were brought to areas like east Ulster and with them came new cultural, religious and husbandry ideas, which must have made an informal impact on the people of Ireland.

2. During the mid to late 5th century these effective groupings had less of an outlay in the declining Roman parts of Britain and so decided to continue their plundering within Ireland itself creating dynastic kingdoms out of tribal territories.




Diodorus Siculus (Late 1st c. BC) V, 21, 3-6

They say that Britain is inhabited by tribes that are aboriginal, and in their lifestyle preserve the old ways; for they make use of chariots in their wars, just as tradition tells us the ancient Greek heroes did in the Trojan war, and their houses are simple, built for the most part of reeds or logs. They harvest their grain crops by cutting off only the ears of corn and store them in covered barns. Each day they pick out the ripe ears, grind them, and in this way get their food. They are simple in their habits and far removed from the cunning and vice of modern man. Their way of life is frugal and far different from the luxury engendered by wealth. The island also has a large population, and the climate is very cold, since it actually lies under the Great Bear. It contains many kings and chieftains, who for the most part live in peace with one another.

Strabo (1st cent. BC – 1st cent AD) V, 5, 5

As regards Thule our information is even more uncertain than it is for Ireland on account of its distance; for people locate it as the most northerly of lands to which a name is given. However, the fact that what Pythons says about it and about the other pieces in those parts is false, is clear from what he tells us of the districts we do know about. For in very many cases he has told falsehoods, as was stated earlier, so that it is clear he has been even less truthful as regards remote regions. And yet from the point of view of astronomy and mathematical theory he would seem to have made reasonable use of his data in asserting that those who live close to the frozen zone have a total lack of some cultivated crops and domesticated animals and a shortage of others, and that they live on millet and vegetables, fruit and roots. Those who have grain and honey, he says, also make a drink from them. The grain itself they thresh in large barns to which they bring the ears for storage, since they do not have clear sunshine. For threshing floors are useless owing to the lack of sun…

Caesar (Gallic War V, 12)

The interior of Britain is inhabited by people who claim on the strength of their own tradition to be indigenous to the island; the coastal districts by immigrants from Belgic territory who came after plunder and to make war—nearly all of them are called after the tribes from which they originated. Following their invasion they settled down there and began to till the fields. The population is very large, their homesteads thick on the ground and very much like those in Gaul, and the cattle numerous. As money they use either bronze or gold coins or iron bars with a fixed standard of weight. Tin is found inland, iron on the coast, but in small quantities; the bronze they use is imported. There is every type of timber as in Gaul, with the exception of beech and pine. They have a taboo against eating hare, chicken, and goose, but they rear them for amusement and pleasure. The climate is more temperate than in Gaul, the cold spells being less severe.

Caesar, Gallic War V, 14

Of all the Britons by far the most civilised are the inhabitants of Cantium [Kentl, a purely maritime region, whose way of life is little different from that of the Gauls. Most of those inhabiting the interior do not grow corn, but live instead on milk and meat and clothe themselves in skins. All the Britons dye themselves with wood, which produces a blue colour, and as a result their appearance in battle is all the more daunting.' They wear their hair long, and shave all their bodies with the exception of their heads and upper lip. Wives are shared between groups of ten to twelve men, especially between brothers and between fathers and sons. The offspring on the other hand are considered the children of the man with whom the woman first lived.

Later still, following the Claudian invasion, the whole of Britain became subject to detailed exploration and expedition by both the Roman army and the influx of merchants and speculators. Even the furthest reaches of Caledonia were to come under scrutiny as a result of Agricola's campaigns, recorded by his son-in-law:

Tacitus (late 2nd cent. AD), Agricola 10-12

10. The position and inhabitants of Britain have been recorded by many writers, but it is not with a view to challenging their accuracy or ability that I bring these topics up again; rather because it was then under Agricola, that the conquest of Britain was completed. For this reason, while earlier writers embroidered with their eloquence things that had yet to be fully investigated, I shall set down the truth of the situation. Britain is the largest of the islands known to the Romans, and in terms of its extent and situation faces Germany in the east and Spain in the west. To the south it actually lies within sight of Gaul, while its northern parts, with no land opposite them, are beaten by a vast open sea. The overall shape of Britain has been compared by Livy and Fablus Rusticus, the most eloquent of ancient and modern writers respectively, to an elongated shoulder blade [i.e. rhombus or an axehead]. This is indeed its shape as far as Caledonia, and the idea has been extended to the whole. However, once you have crossed into Caledonia there is a vast irregular tract of land stretching out from what was considered the furthermost shore and tapering to a kind of wedge. It was then for the first time that a Roman fleet circumnavigated the coast of this remotest sea and established the fact that Britain was an island. At the same time it discovered and conquered hitherto unknown islands caned Orcaces [Orkneys].' Thule [Shetland] too was sighted but no landing made since their orders went no further and winter was approaching. They did, however, report that the sea was sluggish and heavy to the oars, and was not set in motion as much as other seas even by the winds. The reason for this I suppose is that the land and mountains which are the source and cause of storms, are further span, while the deep mass of the open sea is set in motion more slowly. Investigation of the nature and tides of Ocean is not, however, the purpose of this work, and besides many have already dealt with them. I would add just one thing: nowhere does the sea hold wider sway. This way and that its tidal currents flow, nor does it ebb and flow only up to the coast, but penetrates and winds its way deep inland, insinuating itself amidst the ridges and mountains as if in its own domain.


11.However, who the first inhabitants of Britain were, whether they were indigenous or immigrants, has not been sufficiently ascertained, as one might expect where barbarians are concerned. The physical types vary and from these variations come a number of theories. The red hair and large limbs of those who inhabit Caledonia affirm their German origin. The swarthy faces of the Silures and their generally curly hair, plus the fact that Spain lies opposite, leads one to believe that in ancient times Iberians crossed over and occupied this region. Those who live closest to the Gauls are like them, either because the influence of their mutual origin persists, or because the countries approach each other from north and south and as a result the similarity of climate has produced a similar physical appearance. Looking at the question overall, however, it seems likely that the Gauls occupied the nearby island. You would find in Britain the rites and religious beliefs of the Gauls. There is not much difference between them in language, the same boldness in courting danger and, when danger looms, the same panic in avoiding it. The Britons, however, display greater ferocity since they have not yet been enervated by a long period of peace. The Gauls too, we learn, were experts in warfare, but in recent times indolence and a life of ease have made their appearance, with the resultant loss of velour and, at the same time, freedom. This has also happened to those of the Britons who were conquered at the outset [i.e. in the Claudian invasion]; the rest remain what the Gauls once were.


12. Their strength is in their infantry; some tribes also fight in chariots. The nobleman is the driver; his retainers do the fighting. At one time they owed obedience to kings; now they are split into partisan factions under rival chieftains. Nothing indeed is more to our advantage against these very powerful tribes than the fact that they do not plan joint operations. It is rare for two or three tribes to come together in order to repel a common danger. So, they fight individually and are collectively defeated. The climate with its frequent rains and mist is wretched; yet extreme cold is absent. The length of the summer days is greater than that in our world; the nights are light and in the points of Britain furthest north short, so that you can hardly distinguish dusk from daybreak. If clouds do not get in the way, they say the sun's glow can be seen right through the night, and it does not set and rise but rather passes along the horizon. Evidently the flat edge of the world with its low shadow does not project the darkness much…

Epitome of Dio Cassius LXXVI, 12, 1-5

There are among the Britons two very large tribes, the Caledonians and the Maeatae. The names of the others have been merged as it were into these. The Maeatae for their part live near the wall which divides the island into two [Hadrian’s Wall], and the Caledonians beyond them. Both tribes inhabit wild and waterless mountains and desolate marshy plains, and possess neither walls nor cities nor farms. Instead they live on their flocks, on game and on certain fruits, and though there are vast and limitless stocks of fish they do not eat them. They live in tents without clothes or shoes; they share their womenfolk and rear all their offspring in common. Their form of government is for the most part democratic, and they have a great liking for plunder. For this reason they choose their boldest men to be their leaders. They go into battle both in chariots with small swift horses, and on foot. They are in addition very fast runners and very resolute when they stand their ground. Their weapons consist of a shield and a short spear with a bronze 'apple' at the end of the shaft which is designed to make a loud noise when shaken and thus terrify the enemy. They also have daggers. They are able to endure cold, hunger and all kinds of hardship; for they plunge into the marshes and stay there for many days with only their heads above water; in the forests they live on bark and roots, and in case of emergency they prepare a type of food, a piece of which, the size of a bean, when eaten, stops them feeling hunger or thirst. Such is the island of Britain and such are the inhabitants, at least in the hostile part.

Herodian 3rd C. AD III, 14, 68

Most of northern Britain is marshy since it is constantly washed by the ocean tides. The barbarians are accustomed to swim in these marshes or to run through them with the water up to their waists. For the most part they are naked and think nothing of getting mud on themselves. Also, being unfamiliar with the use of clothing, they adorn their waists and necks with iron, considering this sun ornament and a sign of wealth, just as other barbarians do gold. They tattoo their bodies with various designs and pictures of all kinds of animals. This is the reason they do not wear clothes: so as not to cover up the designs on their bodies. They are extremely warlike and bloodthirsty, though their armament consists simply of a narrow shield, a spear, and a sword that hangs beside their naked bodies. They me unfamiliar with the use of breastplates or helmets, considering them a hindrance in crossing the marshes. From these thick mists rise and cause the atmosphere in that region always to have a gloomy appearance.


The following details of druidic activity were recorded by the Romans in Gaul, a part of Northern France, which shared much of its linguistic and material culture with Britain and Ireland. Although contemporary, many of these reports were at the very least dismissive and ethnocentric and seem similar to the sensational reporting of African explorers during the 19th century. More importantly, such writings may also have reflected political agendas, which underlined the druids as a dangerous ruling class who needed to be removed for effective government in these provinces.

Despite references to Druidism in Britain by Caesar (Gallic War Vl, 13), and Pliny the Elder (Natural History XXX, 13), the first record of contact between Roman and Druid in Britain occurs in Tacitus' description of Paulinus’ attack on Anglesey (Annals XIV, 30), and it is on this that claims for a druidic role in British resistance to Rome largely depend.

Of the actual gods of Britain few real details survive beyond the name, location and sometimes the sphere of influence. In many cases it is even uncertain whether the god was native to Britain or an import from other Celtic parts of the empire after the conquest

The earliest surviving account of Celtic beliefs in the north-western part of Europe was by Caesar in the middle of the first century BC.


Gallic War, 5, 13-18

13 Throughout Gaul there are two classes of men who are of some account and are had is esteem. The common people are considered virtually as slaves, never daring to do anything on their own account and never consulted on any matter. Most of them, overwhelmed with debt or heavy taxation or oppressed by the injustices of those more powerful, surrender themselves to the power of the nobles, who have the same rights over them as masters do over slaves.

Of the two classes mentioned one consists of Druids, the other of Knights. The former officiate at religious ceremonies, supervise public and private sacrifices, and expound on religious questions. Large numbers of young men flock to them for instruction, and regard them with great respect. In fact they hand down decisions on almost all public and private disputes, and if any crime is committed or crime done, or there is some dispute over inheritance or boundaries, it is they who decide the issue and determine the compensation or penalty. If any individual tribe does not abide by their decision they are banned from sacrifices this is regarded by them as the heaviest possible penalty, and those under such a ban are reckoned to be impious criminals: everyone shuns them, avoids going near them or speaking to them, in case they come to some harm through contact with them.

Over all the Druids, however there is one who presides and has supreme authority. On his death if there is anyone of surpassing merit among those remaining, he succeeds; but if a number of them are of equal standing, the matter is put to the vote among the druids, and on occasion they even fight over the leadership with force of arms. At a fixed time of the year the druids hold session at a consecrated spot in the territory of the carnutes, which is considered the centre of all Gaul. To this place come all those who have disputes, and they accept their decrees and decisions. It is thought that the druidic system was invented in Britain and then imported into Gaul. There it is those wishing to make a more detailed study of it generally go to learn.

14 the druids do not normally take part in war and are not subject to taxation like the rest; they enjoy exemption from military service and immunity to all liabilities. With the attraction of such privileges many come to learn of their own volition, or are sent by their parents or relatives. The students reportedly learn a great number of verses by heart, and for this reason they remain under instruction for twenty years. They regard it as contrary to their religious beliefs to commit their teachings to writing, though in almost all other matters such as public and private accounts they use the Greek alphabet. This rule I think was introduced for two reasons: they did not want the teachings to be disseminated among the masses, nor did they want their student s to repay upon the written word and thus pay less attention to the development of their memories.


A belief that they particularly wish to inculcate is that the soul does not perish but after death passes on from one person to another. This they think is the greatest incentive to bravery, if fear of death is thereby minimised.


They also engage in much discussion about the stars and their motion, the size of the universe and the earth, the composition of the world, and the strength and power of the immortal gods, all of which they hand on to the young men.


15. the other class consists of the Knights. When war breaks out they are needed – before Caesar's arrival it was almost a yearly occurrence for the Gauls to be engaged in making raids or repelling them – they all engage in it, and each has a band of vassals or retainers about him in accordance with his birth and wealth.


16 The Gallic nation as a whole is very much devoted to religion. For this reason those affected by more serious diseases or engaged in the dangers of battle either offer or promise to offer human sacrifice and they employ druids to act for them in this. They believe in fact that unless one life is given for another, the power of the immortal gods cannot be appeased, and they also have offered organised sacrifices of the same kind on behalf of the state. Others use enormous figures, the limbs of which, woven out of pliant twigs, they fill with living men. They are then set alight and the men perish, engulfed in the flames. The execution of those caught in the act of theft or brigandage or some other crime is considered more pleasing to the immoral gods, but when there is a shortage of people of this type they resort to executing even those guilty of no offence.


17 They worship Mercury most of an and have very many images of him regarding him as the inventor of all crafts, their guide on all journeys, and they consider him to be especially important for the acquisition of money in trade. After him they Hip Apollo, Mare, Jupiter, and Minerva,' about whom they hold much the same idols as do other rack: that Apollo dispels depose, that Minerva teaches the principle of arts and crafts, that Jupiter reigns in heaven, that Mare is Lord of warfare, and it is to him, when they have decided to fight a battle, that they generally promise the booty they look forward to talked. When they are victorious, they sacrifice the captured animals and assemble their other booty in one spot. One can see large pike of such material at consecrated places in many tribal areas, and it rarely happens that anyone dares, in defiance of religion, either to hide booty in his house or to remove anything once placed in position on the pile . For such an act is assigned the severest of penalties accompanied by torture.


18 The Gauls declare that they are all descended from Father Dis, and they claim that this is the tradition of the Druids. For this reason they measure all periods of time not by the number of days but of nights…


Pomponius Mela 1st C AD) De Chorographia III, 2, 18-19

The tribes of Gaul are arrogant, superstitious and even at times inhuman, so much so that they believe a human victim is the most effective and one of the most acceptable to the gods. Vestiges of their savage ways remain, even if the practices have been abolished... However, they have their own brand of eloquence and in the Druids teachers of wisdom.. these latter claim to know the size and shape of the world, the motion of the stars and heavens, and the will of the gods.


Hippolytus 3rd C AD Philosophumena or Omnium Haeresium Refutatio, 1, 25

Among the Celts the Druids delved deeply into the Pythagorean philosophy , inspired to this pursuit by Zamolxis, a Thracian slave of Pythagoras. Following Pythagoras' death he went there and initiated this philosophy among them. The Celts consider them as prophets and able to read the future because they predict certain events as a result of computations and hellions using Pythagorean techniques. I shall not pass over in silence the methods of this same technique since some people have even presumed to introduce heresies from these people. The Druids also makes use of magic.


Cicero Mid 1st C) De Divinatione I, 90

Not even among barbarians is the practice of divination neglected, since there are Druids in Gaul, one of whom I knew myself, your guest and eulogist Diviciacus the Aeduan. He claimed to have that knowledge of nature which Greeks call 'physiologia', and be used to foretell the future partly by means of augury and partly by Conjecture.


Pliny the Elder, Natural History Em, 13

Magic undoubtedly had a hold on Gaul, even down to living memory; for it was in the reign of Tiberius Caesar diet dicir Druids and that type of soothsayer and healer were abolished. But why mention this about a practice diet has crossed Ocean and penetrated to the empty vastnesses of nature? Britain today is mesmerised by it and practices it with so much ceremony that one might think it was she who gave it to the Persians: so unanimous is the world in its acceptance of it, even though its practitioners are quite different from one another, or even ignorant of one another's existence. Nor can one adequately reckon the debt owed to Rome in having put an end to those evil rites in which the greatest act of pistil was to murder a man, and to eat his flesh most conducive to good health.

For all their civilising influence in those parts of Britain directly controlled by Rome, this seems not to have extended far beyond the northern frontier, eventually established for good along Hadrian's wall. The following describes the tribes north of the frontier in the early years of the third century AD, the reign of Severus.



Natural History, 249-251


249. While on this topic we must not omit the respect paid to mistletoe by the Gauls. The Druids—this is what they call their magicians - hold nothing more sacred than mistletoe and the tree on which it is growing, so long as this is oak. They even choose groves of oak: simply for that fact alone, and perform no rites without its foliage. As a result it would seem that they are even called Druids from the Greek word for oak druids. In particular they consider that anything growing on oaks has been sent by heaven and is a sign that the tree as been chosen by the god himself.


250.Mistletoe growing on an oak, however, is a rare find, and when it is found it is gathered with great reverence, above all on the 6th day of the moon it is the moon that marks out for them the beginning of months and years and cycles of thirty years because this day is already exercising great influence even though the moon is not halfway through its course. They can it' in their language 'all healing'. Having prepared a sacrifice and banquet beneath the tree with all due ceremony, they bring up two buns whose horns have been bound for the first time on that occasion.


251. The priest, dressed in a white robe, climbs the tree, reaps the mistletoe with a golden sickle, and it is gathered up in a white blanket. They then sacrifice the victims praying that the god makes this gift of theirs propitious those to whom he has given it. They believe that when taken in liquid form mistletoe imparts fertility to any sterile animal and is an antidote for all poisons. Such is the reverence felt by very many tribes for such worthless matters.


Natural History XXIV, 103-104


103. Similar to this plant called Sabina is one called Selago. It is gathered without the use of any iron implement, but using the right hand protruding from the left armhole of the tunic as if the person involved were committing an act of theft. This person should be clad in white, his bare feet washed clean, and an offering of bread and wine made before gathering. It should be carried in a fresh white cloth. The Druids of Gaul teach that its possession wards off all harm and that the smoke of it is good for all eye troubles.


104.The same people mention a plant called Samolus which grows in damp areas. This should be gathered with the left hand by those fasting and be used against diseases of pigs and cattle. The person gathering it should not look at it alt. look behind him nor put it down anywhere except in the drinking trough where it is crushed for the animals to drink


Pliny the Elder, Natural History XXX, 13

Magic undoubtedly had a hold on Gaul, even down to living memory; for it was in the reign of Tiberius Caesar that their Druids and that type of soothsayer and healer were abolished. But why mention this about a practice diet has crossed Ocean and penetrated to the empty vastnesses of nature? Britain today is mesmerised by it and practices it with so much ceremony that one might think it was she who gave it to the Persians: so unanimous is the world in its acceptance of it, even though its practitioners are quite different from one another, or even ignorant of one another's existence. Nor can one adequately reckon the debt owed to Rome in having put an end to those evil rites in which the greatest act of pistil was to murder a man, and to eat his flesh most conducive to good health.


Suetonius 2nd C AD Claudius 25, 5

Claudius totally abolished the dreadful and savage religion of the Druids in Gaul. Under the Emperor Augustus it had merely been forbidden to Roman citizens.



2Unlike the Romans and Greeks the Celts had no hierarchical cosmology with a group or family of gods living on a mountain top like Olympus - they accepted the spirit world as living with them without separation. Their dwellings were the natural features of the landscape - particularly the lakes, rivers and springs but also the woods and hills. Each tribal community seems to have had its own collection of unseen spirits who were evoked and placated by offering gifts and sacrifices. All of the spirits came together at certain times as on the eve of the great feast of Samain which became All Hallows Eve and interaction between the two worlds was only possible through a tribal hero


Taranis the Celtic Sky God equated with Jupiter an altar at Chester and shard from Corbridge (both in England) show him holding lightening flash and solar wheel.


Cernunnos the Horned One very ancient symbol of authority usually in Buddha stance best visual from Rheims where he is flanked by Apollo and Mercury in subservient positions - he holds a large bag from which streams money. Nearby are an ox and stag - domesticated and wild animals over which he is said to have had sway.


Rosmerta - Celtic provider with male equivalent Smertrios - appears in Britain with Mercury.


Deae Matres - the mother goddess - most popular type - swollen breasts and abdomen type of primitive societies and very ancient.


The genii cucullati - small male figures wearing the cucullus large hooded cape covering the shoulders or a cloak over the whole body down to the knees - a word used later as cowl, usually in groups of three -the Celtic way of increasing the power of the deities. These may have been deities of death - possibly there were different deities for each life event.


Epona - the Celtic horse goddess. Depicted riding side-saddle on a small horse. Very popular in Gaul. Horses were, of course, essential and much prized in the Celtic world bringing status and underlining rank in this highly stratified society. She often held a platter of fruit and seems to have symbolised fecundity and plenty - therefore she was especially popular with the more common classes, as can be seen by the clay pipe figurines to her.

The River Deities -

Rivers like most other natural features had their own spirits, power and personality. They were difficult to cross and many travellers seem to have cast a votive gift into the waters for thanksgiving or placation

Irish-British Celtic Mythology and European Connections

The numerous links between Irish and British Celtic Mythology show that there were considerable links between the two islands.

Welsh Celtic Mythology the warrior god Lleu Llaw Gyffes seems to have had an association with the Irish god Lugh who was an important deity responsible for light and the sun as well as arts and crafts. He seems also to be the Gaulish god Lugus. Lughnasadh was the harvest festival held for this god on 1st August - later the Christian festival of Lammas.

Other overlapping figures include - Mannannan mac Lir, son of Lir the sea god who lived on the Isle of Man also known as Manawydan fab Lyr in Welsh.

Welsh mythology relates that brothers Llefelys and Lludd ruled Gaul and Britain respectively, whilst the Welsh God Llyr and the Irish God Lir (sea god) seem to have been one and the same.

Matholwch, in Welsh Celtic mythlogy was a king of Ireland who married Branwen in an attempt to promote good relations between the two neighbouring places but this alliance traditionally ended disastrously. Matholwch went from Ireland to Wales to seek the hand of Branwen in marriage and brought 100 horses with him. This union reflects the trading relations between the two Kingdoms.

The Irish Celts were renowned for their medical skills - Dian Cecht was the god of medicine.

The Leabhar Gabhala Eireann is a book dealing with mystical invasions of Ireland from the pre-Flood journey of Cesair - also known as the Book of Invasions surviving principally in the Book of Leinster. The Fir Bholg were supposedly one invading force who were traditionally slaves from Thrace. They were accompanied by the Gailioin or Laighin who were from Greece.


The Roman occupation had a considerable impact on the outward appearance of Celtic cults but probably less on religious thought and ritual - particular because Romano-Britain mainly lived in the rural area where the influence of Roman practices would have been superficial at best. The druids seem certainly to have been removed and there was cross-religious acceptance in both Roman and Celtic cultures. Roman soldiers made dedications to Celtic gods and rural dwellers often to Roman gods. A number of religions were introduced to Britain - including the so-called 'oriental cults' of Isis, Serapis, Cybele and Atys, and Mithras - although this group has been found mostly in military areas such as York, Gloucester, London and Hadrian's Wall - and its impact is overrated. One such eastern Mediterranean religion to come to Britain was Christianity - although this has been considered a Roman religion distinct from Judaism by the its arrival in any major fashion towards the close of the second century rather than an Oriental one. 


After the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and this religion became the Official Roman Religion. In AD 391 the Roman Emperor Theodosius closed all temples in the Empire and banned all pagan cults endorsing Christianity as the official religion of the empire. This command would have eventually been acted upon in Britain - one of the remotest parts of the empire although Roman for over three centuries at that time.

Christianity was widespread, although perhaps not numerically strong – Tertullian wrote of its presence in the remoter parts of Britain beyond Roman settlement, whilst at a later date Origen described Christianity as a unifying force in Britain. Most commentators accept a Christian presence in Britain by the last quarter of the 2nd century. Generally Christianity potentially was more widespread and its appeal broader than previously thought - archaeologically it is strongest in Romanised urban areas. A Pagan revival did seem to occur in the 360s however.

Christianity had been well established in Gaul by the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180) with congregations of considerable size from all strata of society according to Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastic 5.1) which related to the persecution of 177 Christians in Lyon. The Christian religion was carried to the Celts in their own language by bishops like Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon. Only three early martyrs in Britain are named at this time - Alban, Aaron and Julius. Dates for their martyrdom are lacking - but it is generally assumed to have been in the third century - the last two in 'Legionum urbis cives' - widely translated as citizens of the ‘city of Legions'. Some have added to this the name Agulus or Augulus who is listed in the Martyrologium as a 'bishop and martyr' who had been martyred in ‘Brittaniis at civitate Augusta’ - the name attributed to London by the later 4th century. A further candidate is Mellonus ( a Celtic name) - first Bishop of Rouen who seems to have been born in Great Britain (as opposed to Brittany) 'of no mean parents, a citizen of the town of Cardiola' which is otherwise unknown. He supposedly went to Rome to pay taxes in the reign of Valerian (253 AD – 260 AD), was baptised by Stephanus, the bishop himself martyred (c.257 AD) and went to Rouen.

In 314 three British bishops with a priest and deacon attended the Council of Arles summoned by Constantine to discuss the Donatist schism, suggesting a regional basis of organisation by the early fourth century. Even by the mid-century the British Church seems to have been relatively poor materially according to the evidence from Sulpicius (Severus Chronicon 2.42). Further literary references to Romano-British Christianity are virtually non-existent until the Roman forces withdraw from 410 AD. Archaeological evidence suggests that Christianity was a religion of the poor as well as the rich. The British Bishops attending the Council of Arles in 314 were: Eboracum, a (Celtic name perhaps derived from that of his church); Restitutus, Bishop of London (a Latin name favoured in the Celtic provinces) and Adelphius (Greek name thought to be from Lincoln). The priest and deacon Sacerdos and Arminius - both Latin but possibly concealing Celtic names- have been suggested to have been from Cirencester, the chief town of the fourth British Province. 

The British church assented to the decisions of the Council of Nicaea, at which the Nicen Creed was formulated in 325 and at the Rimini Council in 359 British bishops were probably present in force.


Honorius (395-423 A.D.)

Honorius' Early Life 

Flavius Honorius was born in the east in 384, the younger son of the emperor Theodosius I (379-395) and Aelia Flavia Flaccilla. In his youth he was named Most Noble Child (nobilissimus puer), and in 386 he held the consulate. He was summoned by his father to Rome when he was five, but in 391 he returned with him to Constantinople, where in 393 he was proclaimed emperor. In 394, he was called to Milan, and in 395, when Theodosius died, Honorius and his brother Arcadius jointly succeeded to the throne, with Arcadius ruling the east and Honorius the west. This year marked the beginning of the true de facto division of the empire into eastern and western halves, each under the rule of its own emperor even though, in theory, the empire remained a single entity. Both boys spent their reigns under the influence of powerful advisers. The first such power behind the throne in the west was the Vandal general Stilicho, both of whose daughters Honorius married -- Maria circa 398 and Thermantia in 408.

Honorius' Reign 

After the Visigothic invasion of Italy in 402, Honorius and the imperial court retired from Milan to the inaccessible and heavily defended city of Ravenna. Only rarely did later emperors reside for any length of time elsewhere. Meanwhile, palace intrigues resulted in Stilicho's assassination in 408, and Honorius was left to deal with Alaric and the Visigoths. The indecisive emperor, influenced first by one adviser and then by another, vacillated between resistance and conciliation. The end result was the sack of Rome in 410.

Nor were the Visigoths the only barbarian invaders of the western empire during Honorius' reign. In 405, the barbarian adventurer Radagaisus assembled a huge army in the Danubian region, invaded Italy, and ruined many Italian cities. Not until August of 406 were he and his army destroyed by Stilicho. On the last day of the same year, hordes of Burgundians, Alans, Suevi, and Vandals crossed the frozen Rhine into Gaul and slowly made their way south. In 409 all but the Burgundians crossed into Spain. In northeastern Gaul, the Franks extended their influence, and in 418 the Visigoths were granted a treaty which assigned to them much of southwestern Gaul. Gradually, therefore, more and more of the western empire was slipping from Roman hands.

Honorius' reign also was afflicted by several revolts and usurpations. In 397, the Master of Soldiers Gildo revolted in North Africa, only to be suppressed in 398. In Britain, a succession of rebellions by the discontented and isolated soldiery included those of Marcus (406-407), Gratian (407), and Constantine III (407-411). In 407, Constantine crossed to Gaul, and successfully advanced all the way to Arles. Meanwhile, in 409, the senator Priscus Attalus was proclaimed emperor, although he was deposed when Alaric and Honorius made a short-lived peace in the next year. At the same time, Constantine's general Gerontius rebelled in Spain, and in 409 elevated a certain Maximus to the purple. Honorius, for his part, sent his general Constantius to deal with the situation in Gaul in 411. The resultant falls of Constantine and Maximus, however, were followed by a revolt in northern Gaul by Jovinus, which was not suppressed until 413. The powerful general Constantius then married Honorius' sister Galla Placidia in 417, and was promoted to co-emperor with Honorius in 421, only to die of illness later in the year. Meanwhile, in 420, the "tyrant" Maximus -- perhaps the same man -- seized power in Spain, and he was not subdued until 422.

Honorius' Death 

As for the feckless and timid Honorius, he generally took little part in public affairs. He was generally passive in nature, except when he was motivated to act by fear. He left military operations to his generals, but he did become involved in a controversy over the choice of a bishop of Rome in 418. He eventually died of "dropsy" -- perhaps edema of the lungs -- in 423. He left no issue, which resulted in the proclamation of Johannes, the Chief Secretary, after his death. Not until 425 did his nephew Valentinian III, the son of Galla Placidia and Constantius, restore the legitimate dynasty. Even though the unity of the western empire was shakily maintained during Honorius' reign -- only Britain was lost for good (Honorius wrote to the Britons advising them to defend themselves) -- he left a legacy of fragmentation and feeble, lackluster leadership which eventually would result in the dissolution of the western empire.


Valentinian III (425-455 A.D) 

Valentinian's Early Years

Placidus Valentinianus, later the emperor Valentinian III, was born in 419, the son of the emperor Honorius' sister Galla Placidia and the patrician, later emperor, Constantius. He was the brother of Justa Grata Honoria. In the early 420s he was proclaimed Most Noble (Nobilissimus) by his uncle Honorius, but neither this title nor his father's emperorship were initially recognized in the east. After his mother's falling out with Honorius, the young Valentinian accompanied her and his sister to exile at the court of his cousin Theodosius II (402-450) at Constantinople. The eastern attitude toward Valentinian changed in 423, when the usurper Johannes seized power in the west. Valentinian was first reaffirmed as Nobilissimus in 423/424, and then was named Caesar (junior emperor) in 424. In the same year he was betrothed to his cousin Licinia Eudoxia, the daughter of Theodosius II. In 425 he was proclaimed Augustus at Rome after the defeat of Johannes, and in 437 he returned to Constantinople for his marriage. A partially extant poem in honor of the nuptials was written by the poet Merobaudes.

Valentinian's Reign

In the early years of his reign, Valentinian was overshadowed by his mother. After his marriage in 437, moreover, much of the real authority lay in the hands of the Patrician and Master of Soldiers Aetius. Nor does Valentinian seem to have had much of an aptitude for rule. He is described as spoiled, pleasure-loving, and influenced by sorcerers and astrologers. He divided his time primarily between Rome and Ravenna. Like his mother, Valentinian was devoted to religion. He contributed to churches of St. Laurence in both Rome and Ravenna. He also oversaw the accumulation of ecclesiastical authority in the hands of the bishop of Rome as he granted ever greater authority and prestige to pope Leo the Great (440-461) in particular.

Valentinian's Death

Valentinian's reign saw the continued dissolution of the western empire. By 439, nearly all of North Africa was effectively lost to the Vandals; Valentinian did attempt to neutralize that threat by betrothing his sister Placidia to the Vandal prince Huneric. In Spain, the Suevi controlled the northwest, and much of Gaul was to all intents and purposes controlled by groups of Visigoths, Burgundians, Franks, and Alans. In 454, Valentinian murdered his supreme general Aetius, presumably in an attempt to rule in his own right. But in the next year, he himself was murdered by two members of his bodyguard, ex-partisans of Aetius.

Although Valentinian was ineffectual as a ruler, his legitimate status and connection to the old ruling dynasty provided a last vestige of unity for the increasingly fragmented Roman empire. After his death, the decay of the west accelerated. The different regions of the west went their own way, and the last several western emperors, the so-called "Shadow" or "Puppet" Emperors, not only were usually overshadowed by one barbarian general or other, but also were limited primarily to Italy.



*Note that Scots are the Irish and Picts lived in modern day Scotland.

Ammianus Marcellinus (late 4th C. AD) XXVI, 4, 5

At this time, with trumpets sounding for war as if through all the Roman world, the most savage tribes rose up and poured across the nearest frontiers. At one and the same time the Alamanni were plundering Gaul and Raetia, the Sarmatae and Quadri Pannonia; the Picts, Saxons, Scots and Attacotti harassed the Britons with continual calamaties…

Claudian (late 4th C. AD) Panegyric on the Third Consulship of Honorius 51-6

And so as to inflame you all the more with a love of battle, he would recount the deeds of your grandfather the elder Theodosius), before whom trembled the shores of sunscorched Libya and Thule, beyond the reach of ships. He it was vanquished the nimble Moors and aptnamed Picts; he pursued the Scots with his far-ranging sword; he cleft Hyperborean waves with his courageous oars

Claudian (late 4th C. AD) Panegyric on the Third Consulship of Honorius 24-33

From here Spain, came forth your grandfather the Elder Theodosius, for whom, exultant after his northern battles, Africa wove laurels won from the Massyli. He it was pitched camp amid the frosts of Caledonia, in armour bore the summer heat of Libya, a source of terror to the Moor, conqueror of the British shore, laying waste to North and South alike. What profit to the Britons the eternal harshness and cold of their climate, or the uncharted seas? The Orkneys were drenched with slaughter of the Saxons; Thule was warm with Pictish blood and icy Ireland wept for the heaps of Scottish dead.

Pacatus (late 4th C. AD), Panegyric on Theodosius 5, 2

Shall I relate how Britain was brought to her knees by battles on land? If' that case the Saxon, exhausted by naval engagements, springs to mind. Shall I speak of the Scots driven back to their own marshes?

By the 420s Britain was outside the empire and easy prey to barbarian invasions and raids - defence systems crumbled and the administrative system weakened. Local usurpers of power called tyranni emerged internally.

De Excidio Britanniae [On the Destruction of Britain]

19 And so, as the Romans returned home, the loathsome hordes of Scots and Picts eagerly emerged from the coracles that carried them across the gulf of the sea, like dark swarms of worms that emerge from the narrow crevices of their holes when the sun is high and the weather grows warm. In custom they differed slightly one from another, yet in their single desire for shedding blood they were of one accord, preferring to cover their villainous faces with hair, rather than their private pans and surrounding areas with clothes. Once they learned of the Romans' departure and their refusal to return, more confident than ever, they seized from its inhabitants the whole northern part of the country as far as the wall. To resist them an army was posted on the top of the fortification, an army reluctant to fight, incapable of flight, feckless through the timorousness of their hearts, an army that day and night languished in senseless idleness.

21 Therefore the shameless Irish robbers returned home, though I intending to return shortly, while the Picts in the furthest part of the island then for the first time and for some time thereafter remained inactive, though they occasionally engaged in forays and plundering raids

The Romans were dispatching attacks in the late 4th and early 5th centuries:

Chronicle of 452, (AD 382)

Maximus promptly overcame the Picts and Scots who were engaged in making attack.

Claude, On the Consulship of Stilicho (delivered early 400) II

Next spoke Britannia, dressed in the skin of some Caledonian beast, her cheeks tattooed, her sea-blue mantle sweeping over her footsteps like the surge of Ocean: 'I too, when on the point of death at the hand of neighbouring tribes, found in Stilicho protection, when the Scots roused all Ireland and the sea foamed beneath hostile oars. His care ensured I need not fear the missiles of the Scots, nor tremble at the Picts, nor watch on all my shores for Saxons to arrive with every shifting wind.

Claudian, Gothic War 416-418

There also came the legion set to guard the furthest Britons, the legion that curbs the savage Scot and scans the lifeless patterns tattooed on dying Picts.

The Irish would have had to slip into coastal areas whilst avoiding the following scout vessels which were designed to protect the shores:

Epitoma Rei Militaris [Abridgement of Military Affairs] IV, 37

As for size, the smallest galleys have a single bank of oars . . . Associated with the larger galleys are scouting skiffs, which have around twenty oars on each side, and which the Britons can Picati tardaubed. These are intended to locate and at times intercept the passage of enemy ships and to discover by observation their arrival or plans. However, to prevent these scout vessels being easily visible through the brightness of their appearance, their sails and rigging are dyed seagreen, and even the pitch with which ships are ordinarily daubed is made that colour. The sailors and marines wear seagreen clothing so that as they go about their scouting they may escape detection the more easily not only by night but also by day.


· Dates for the Saxon invasion vary and sources are very obscure – Gildas (c.500 and writing c.540-550) in De Excidio gives few dates whilst the Historia Brittonum, which survives in several different forms and is attributed to the name Nennuis from at least the 12th century is much more complicated. The key elements of Historia may have started as an addition to another work c.796-801 - perhaps in Bangor, Wales with more additions made to this work from c.830.

· A Saxon invasion was noted in the Gallic Chronicle of c.452, for example, as happening in 441/2 an a major single event is suggested although Gildas (De Excidio) through his reference to Agitius (probably Aetius whose third Consulship can be dated to 446) seems to refer to this event as a Pict and Scot invasion. This occurrence took place only 11 years before this document was written so there must be some reflection of reality in it although it was created in Provence and goes against the evidence Cleary, (1989).

· The Venerable Bede gives the year 449 as the adventus Saxonum - the coming of the Saxons

· The archaeological evidence – particularly the lack of burnt or violently destroyed Roman towns and villages suggest that the Saxons may have entered Britain by the Wash and East Anglia over a longer period of time – perhaps as armies or mercenaries at the invitation of Romano-Britain communities who feared raids by the Picts.

· Probably the most historically accurate part of Historia might help. This is its reference to Vortigern, born at the end of the fourth century, probably of an aristocratic British family who with the withdrawl of the Romans seems to have built himself up a temporary empire in eastern England perhaps including Wales and Cornwall. Various scholars suggest that he seems to have introduced Saxon troops to the eastern parts of England to prevent Pictish raids. The Saxons seem to have revolted however, and took control of much of southeast England before being driven back by Ambrosius Aurelianus, who is accepted as an historical figure living approximately a generation after Vortigern.

· Large numbers of Britons migrated to Armorica (later Brittany) sometime during the 5th century – probably c.450-c.470. Gildas mentions it happening between Vortigern introducing Saxons to Britain and the Ambrosius battle. A much larger migration seems to have taken place to Armorica in the second half of the 6th century from Cornwall and Devon.


Orosius - Spaniard writing in the early 5th century. His Historia Adversus Paganos History condemning the pagans is regarded as a good source for the activities of Constantine III on the continent but has little to say about the internal affairs of Britain or Ireland.

Zosimus - an excerptor writer précising the works of earlier authors in the eastern empire at the late 5th/early 6th century. Although not first hand more detail is evident. The first part of the fifth century seems to rely on the work of Olympiodorus of Thebes - a noted historian some fragment of whose original works remain. Zosimus is main source for the fighting and revolt of 409 and the Rescript of Honorius in 410.

The best continental source for events in GB after 411 are from the narrative of the visits of St Germanus of Auxerre occurring in the Vita Life of the Saint written by Constantius of Lyon in central or southern Gaul c.480-490 and based largely on secondary material because St Germanus probably died in c.437. This is more hagiographical than biographical because it tries to promote the spiritual and moral improvement in the reader. No place names are given beyond St Albans or dates are given. The first visit of Germanus did occur - Prosper of Acquitaine provides independent mention. The two works of St Patrick make only passing mention of the church in Britain. Gildas - probably a cleric from northern Britain writing a polemic in south Wales around c.540 regarding the manifold sins and imperfections of kings and ecclesiastics of his age and threatening them with divine retribution if they did not mend their ways from the 'imious easterners' Saxons. He really uses a series of points from the past to point up the moral of the present.


A number of names on objects of 4th century origin can be noted with probability as being Christian - on bowls and silver spoons like the Chorbridge on Tyne bowl with the name Desiderius with the chi-rho monogram and the word ‘vivas’ - may you live. Chedworth villa, Gloucester, has the name Censorinus whilst Aeternus appears in Colchester and ‘Papittedo and Pascentia’ on 'christening spoons' in the treasure from Mildenhall. The Silchester ring, alternatively bears the inscription - 'Seniciane vivas in deo' – ‘Senicianus, mayst thou live in God’. It is fascinating to note that Senicianus had not been the first owner because it had the name of venus -pagan goddess of love inscribed on it earlier. Curiously, a 'curse tablet' was found at a shrine to the God Nodens at Lydney, which was dedicated by one Silvianus, who denounced a person called Senicianus and prayed to Nodens to help him find the ring. - A nice story of religious change and continuity here.

The most famous Christian teacher produced by Roman Britain was Patrick. He may have been born before Roman rule was severed (from 410). He was the son of a man named Calpurnius, who was not only the deacon of the church but a decurion - a member of the provincial upper classes. Calpurnius' father, Potitus, was a priest. These names are conventially Roman, of the traditional kind - Calpurnius, a gentilicium that was widespread all over the empire, while Potitus is a standard Roman cognomen, as is Patricius - although much less common and particularly favoured by Christians.

Patrick shows himself constantly conscious of his lack of education and inability to express himself fluently and of his provincialism (rusticitas) compared to his 'skilled master-rhetorians'. 

Patrick's Roman Boyhood

Patrick's Father was described by Patrick as a Decurio - a word used frequently in the later Roman empire for a member of a local municipal or territorial council called the senatus or ordo. Each civitas centre of population of varying size with lands around it) had a senate with magistrates called curiales. Below the civitas level was that of vicus or pagus. Calpornius was then presumably a civilian decurio whose main function in the 4th century seems to have been the raising of taxes of a civilian civitas which included the vicus of Bannavem Taburniae near which he had a substantial estate. Maintenance of status as both a decurio and diaconus and retention of a uillula may imply that, as some contemporaries had done, Calpornius had entered holy orders as a means of tax-avoidance and the preventation of confiscation himself. Equally this could mean he was possibly a territorial magnate and may have retired to an estate from his duties - this would make him a very young retiree though, because Patrick's Confession, written many years later suggests that he would have liked to return to see his family who presumably were still alive.

Patrick refers to his fatherland as that of Brittanniae ' the Britons' and the neighbouring regions as Galliae 'the Gauls' suggesting that this was a period when both were divided into provinces within the Roman empire. Because the Roman civilian administration which his father was involved in was still presumably functioning we are considering a date of pre- 410 for his early childhood and as he contrasts the practise of Coroticus with that of the Christian Gauls dealing with the pagan ranks his mission in Ireland must have been prior to the Frank conversion - generally seen as 496 and certainly before 511. References to solidus and dimidium scriptulae coinage suggest early rather than later in this time frame.


Despite his religious background allowing for the exaggeration of a convert) Patrick's incredulitas, delicta and ignorantia before he knew God and his subsequent language relating to God's goodness seems to suggest that his home life was not greatly pious - although as a teenager perhaps such a situation may have existed despite the efforts of his father. Certainly Patrick's self depreciation goes beyond the conventionial unworthy descriptions in vaguely contemporary texts - he is rusticus, profuga, indoctus scilicet (Confession, 12) describing his ignobilitas and seeing himself as minimus minister (Confession 56). He writes of this educational deficiency as a wasted opportunity which came only once in his youth and was largely ignored. He writes 'How I seek in my old age what I did not achieve in my youth; because my sins prevented me making secure what I had previously read superficially'. In addition 'I cannot discourse to well-educated people with conciseness of speech, as my spirit and soul desire and as my sentiments point the way.'

Patrick did know the Latin Bible well however, and comforts himself that 'rustic ways have been created by the Most High'' and that even the most educated should be amazed at the practical works which God made through Patrick his servant.

The family are likely to have spoken British in the home as Latin is seemingly described as a 'linga aliena' although some have interpreted this as referring to Irish). Perhaps he was taught Latin up until his removal with partial and unfinished success.


Roman Education

It was probably only from the time of the Punic Wars onwards that formal education became customary. Three stages of education could be pursued in Rome and other places in Italy whilst a fourth, was normally taught in Greek lands): elementary, literary and rhetorical. The elementary teacher was known as littcrator. The customary age of elementary education not compulsory, but almost universal for sons and daughters of Roman citizens) was from seven to twelve, although Quintilian thought seven too late for an able boy to start. 

Quite early in the Roman occupation, a formal education became regarded as a necessity. Tacitus tells how in the winter of AD 79 the Governor Julius Agricola 'trained the sons of the chiefs in the liberal arts and expressed a preference for British native ability over the trained skills of the Gauls. The result was that in place of a distaste for the Latin language came a passion to command it.'

Elementary Schools

· Private tutors who, early in the 4th century, were paid : 9 denarii a month for each pupil - a poor wage. A tutor would have needed 15 pupils a month to earn as much as a farm labourer and 30 to bring his income up to that of a carpenter to make ends meet, so they had to cram as many pupils as possible into each day

· Wealthier families employed a slave called the pacdagogus to accompany their children to and from school; our word 'pedagogue' comes from this, but only by a shift of meaning. 

· The schoolroom was usually a very simple one, with a chair for the master and benches for the children. 

· The subjects at this level were mainly reading, writing and simple arithmetic, but the reading and writing were of Greek as well as of Latin. 

· Wax writing tablets were either provided by the schools or brought in satchels. The counting board abacus) was used for arithmetic, much as in Japan today. An alphabet served to teach the shapes and sounds of letters; early ones of twentyone letters survive. There were twentythree letters of the classical Latin alphabet; I and UV) were used as consonants as well as vowels, the consonantal U taking the place of our W. and J developed later from consonantal I. Just as in Greek schools, syllables were taught before words. 

· Only occasionally do we hear of something like visual aids; there were, for example, cartoons that told the story of the Trojan War, and paintings of places in Italy. 

· Mostly writers in antiquity speak of drudgery and learning by rote; but Quintilian, an idealist as well as a practical teacher of rhetoric, was keen that schooling should be made entertaining, with question and answer and a suitable measure of praise where deserved.

· Horace criticised the arithmetic for being too closely linked with commerce and fractions, a system derived from Greek education, was painfully taught as part of the duodecimal monetary system.

· Discipline tended to be strict in the earlier stages, and frequent punishment of boys for bad work as well as for bad behaviour was regular, though disapproved of by Quintilian. The usual method was to hit them on the hand with a rod ' ferala). Work started very early in the morning, often before dawn. The pay brought by the boys whom Horace mentions was 8 asses a month a Lcgionary in his time received 1O asses a day).

· The level of literacy varied enormously. By the fourth century AD, according to Vegetius, army recruits were often too ignorant to keep the books. It is difficult to assess the level in classical times: Pompeii, where many graffiti are in bad Latin, was influenced by Oscan and Greek, while literary texts either aim at good Latin or parody vulgar speech. In general the impression is of very different levels of attainment.

· Like Victorian schools, the Roman elementary education which Patrick would have been given provided its pupils with suitable maxims to remember by heart. Thus handwriting might be taught with the versified sayings of Publilius Syrus, such as: A miser causes his own misery. A good man's anger is no light affair. Man's lifespan is a loan and not a gift.

· Education for girls was customary at the lowest level. A certain number went on beyond, and in particular girls of senatorial families were often given a very good education.

Middle School

The next stage was taught by the grammaticus in the Middle School, who taught mainly literature he did also teach grammar, but this, despite the name, was not his prime task). The father of the poet Statius was a grammaticus, who at his school in Naples in the mid first century AD attracted pupils from far and wide. He was particularly noted for his excellent renderings of Homer into Latin. A century earlier the poet Horace was given a good education by a grammaticus in Rome. His father refused to send him to the local school at Venusia in southern Italy, where hefty sons of centurions went, and sent him to Lucius Orbilius Pupillus in Rome, who presumably charged more. Orbilius used as a translation of the Odyssey the old one by Andronicus, and Horace remembered him for the whacks he gave during the Odyssey lessons.

· Under the Republic Homer, the poetry of Virgil and the works of Horace were recommended for reading at this stage. 

· The normal method consisted of explanation by the master, reading by the pupils, then either question and answer or a summary by the master. Adults as well as children read aloud. 

· Some schools may have had only one copy of each book for each form, while others would have a supply of the more regularly used books for each pupil. Papyri from Egypt dating from the fourth century AD, with their Greek 'cribs' of Virgil and other poets, suggest the latter procedure.

· Although Greek geometry was studied especially Euclid of c.3oo BC) most Romans studied just so much geometry as would help them with the practical running of an estate.

· Agricultural manuals, like that of Columella c.AD 60) were also used.

Upper Schools

The third stage, which might be said to correspond to the Upper School, was rhetorical training - a skill borrowed from the Greeks which was deemed necessary to be successful in public life. This is what Patrick lacked.

· The age at which it was started varied considerably. Cato 234149 BC) had put forward as an ideal 'the good man skilled in speaking'. In Rome, just as with the Greeks, success in public life depended in large measure on being able to speak well in public. 

· A series of exercises on themescalled the declamalio was used to develop this skill.

· The five points on which the orator had to concentrate were I) the finding of suitable material, 2) arrangement, 3) diction, 4) remembering what was appropriate, 5) delivery - especially tone and gesture. 

· Each type of speech, eg the congratulatory address or the funeral oration, had its set features which were carefully taught.

· A knowledge of history, politics and law was most desirable and by this means the rhetorical schools prepared young men for political and legal oratory.


The famous two Patricks idea was brought forward by T.F. O'Reilly on the basis of Annal entries and this was countered in the 1960s by Alfred Smyth. It now has little validity. Muirchu, a later biographer, adds that in addition to his Roman name Patrick was called Sochet and Tirechan, another biographer, also adds Magonus - making Patricius Magonus Sucatus as described by some early 20th century writers like Professor Bury. Equally later medieval writings gave him at least two brothers, Ruchti and Deacon as well as up to five or six sisters: Tigris, Lupait, Richella, Cinnenum, Liamain and Darerca

Patrick's mother was mentioned in one of the Lives collected by Colman as being called Conchessa, whom he says was of Frankish race. Marianus Scottus made a connection with her being the sister of St Martin of Tours. This is not mentioned anywhere by Patrick and the continental association has led to all sorts of ideas about the role of the continent in Patrick's life.


Patrick refers to himself as Patricius in his writings - he might have been baptised this -which is a Roman name although both of his early biographers imply that he was given the name Succetus (the latinised name of a Celtic war god) which seems unlikely and inappropriate for a Christian.


Patrick probably lived in a late Roman villa with at least some of the trappings of this type of dwelling - mosaics, oil lamps and heated floors. The Roman villa by the 430s was in decline and various writers suggest that the house of Calpornius would have been in a similar situation - faded grandeur like the Great Houses of Ireland. To be safe we should suggest a moderate to large sized residence.


Life on even a moderate sized late Roman estate would have been very comfortable for the family. Patrick mentions thousands of estate workers being taken to Ireland, which, although both an exaggeration and reference to other raided estates, suggests that numerous tenants and possibly slaves) were working on this property.


Romano-British men dressed in a long overtunic or robe worn without a girdle and covered partially by a light cloak for general day-to-day use. In town a full boot was fashionable, while at home and at the public baths sandals were worn. Knee breeches with a warm cloak pinned at the shoulder. and thick-soled shoes would have been worn in the countryside or during travels. Dozens of shoes from the Roman period have survived. especially from London and the tannery at Lullingstone Villa, in Kent. Most Roman footwear left parts of the foot bare - socks or stockings were seldom worn. It has been suggested to me that although he probably would have worn sandals during his mission.


According to the world's reckoning I was a gentleman, the son of a Decurion. I have sold my patrimony withour shame or regret, for the benefit of others Letter).

Patrick's Boyhood up to the age of 16 seems to have been spent in his family home described as bannaventa taberniae or Bannaventa Taberniae. This seems to have been a farmstead or villa close to an urban area and presumably near the sea coast. In the last century Haverfield and others thought that this might have been Bannaventa as described in Intinerarium Antonini as an area around Watling Street - a few miles north of Daventry. This seems to clash with Muirchu's later references of Nemtrie now Ventre however and geographically this village in Northamptonshire is near no navigable river and 50 miles from the North Sea rather than the Irish Sea. Muirchu does admit that even in his day 7th century) there was considerable confusion as to the origin.


The name Nemtrie as described by Muirchu was also echoed in the Irish of Fiacc's Hymn Genair Patraic and the Vita Tripartita as Nemthur. This has been interpreted as Nemthor in Ail-Cluaide making it Dumbarton although by the time these were written we are probably looking at more locally relevant educated guesses. This notion of the location of Patrick's village in the kingdom of Strathclyde or of Rheged is repeated in later lives of St Patrick. The problem with this is that Patrick's father owned a villula - seen by many as signifying the full meaning of villa in Vulgar Latin, which employed a number of servants implied as numerous by Patrick). Large villas, which were in decline as a housing structure by the 5th century seem never to have been built as far north as either of these places. 19th century biographers Haddan, Todd, Whitley Stokes, Fr Morris and Bernard) tend to go with this one. This tradition was strengthened early on by Father Colgan's writings in the 17th century who favoured Nemthor in the plain of Taburne - the plain of tents - so called because the Roman army camped here Colgan Tr. Thaum attributed to 'St. Patrick junior' and no later than 10th century in origin). This 'Nentrian province, in which giants are said formerly to have dwelt' is also mentioned in text of the 10th century attributable to St Probus and a text written during the same period by Bernignus. In work attributed to Eleran the Wise in the late 900s this is elaborated upon as being in Strathclyde.


If the original reading was Ventre so something like it the site may have been Caerwent in South Wales although this area by the 5th century was mixed Irish and British Stock and would not necessarily regarded the Irish as an alien race amongst whom he was in exile. 


It was suggested by Grosjean in the 1960s that Bannavem Taburniae should been read as Glannaventa - the Roman name for Ravenglas where the Roman Navy was known to have had a fleet and that Patrick's father was a military rather than civil decurico which was a rank in the Roman auxilia. No Roman villas survive in this region however and this rank of soldier, although permanently stationed did not seem to also have landholdings - provision of allotments of frontierland went to gentiles barbarians) or veterans rather than serving troops. Irish raiding parties were also unlikely to choose such an area to plunder.

Southern Britain?

Generally agreed to be the most likely choice - probably the southwestern Roman zone around Dorset, Somerset or Devon. 

Continental Europe?

Older 19th century sources like the 1828 Life of St Patrick, Apostle of Ireland by P. Lynch Secretary to the Gaelic Society, prefer to see the inconsistancies shown above as exposing a false Anglo-Irish tradition dreamt up by the Normans and their monastic orders and that the native tradition of the Aremorc Gauls is correct - he came from Holy Tours. Patrick does refer to Britain as where his relations are from however (Confession 23 & 45). Muirchu also states this expressly - he was of 'British race and born in Britain'. Recent writings of Marcus Losack in 2013 again argue for a link to Brittany in France.


Did it pre-date Patrick? – How do we know? – What was its extent?


According to traditional legend Christianity came to Ireland with Joseph of Arimathea in the first century BC. He also supposedly brought the cup used in the last supper and buried it in a Christian settlement he founded at Glastonbury.

There certainly seem to have been Christians in Ireland before both Palladius and Patrick - Jerome in the early 5th century records that 'the Irish peoples, and all the barbarian nations round to the very ocean have come to know Moses and the prophets' whilst around the same time Augustine wrote that God's word had even been preached in 'the islands set in the middle of the sea' and that they were 'full of Christians'. Equally, because Prosper records that 'Palladius had been sent to the Irish believers as their first bishop' there must have been a sufficient in situ or potential need for this mission to be carried out. The trading associations with the Roman Empire and raiding parties bringing back Christian slaves would have influenced this the latter point made by Thompson as a reason for sending Christian support from the continent - particularly in the southern and eastern coastal areas. As it was outside the Roman empire no ready-made internal territorial divisions were in place for the 5th century church to develop into. Little seems to be known as to their development structure during this time although subsequent writings, which will be examined in later sections give the names of later churches and ecclesiastical figures. Patrick is associated with almost every main character in the 5th century church and it is claimed that he visited most of the early sites - whether they pre-dated him or not is unknown and his visitations are questionable in many cases.

Bishops Secundinus Dunshaughlin: Domnach Sechnaill , Auxilius Killashee or Killassy: Cell Usailli and Iserninus Aghade: Ath Fithboth & Kilcullan: Cell Chuilind do seem to have been accepted as being active in the fifth century and all set up these sites at hilltop places of pagan worship - Dunshaughlin near Tara, Killashee at Naas and Kilcullen at Dun Ailinne. de Paor suggests that this was deliberate policy Armagh - Emhain Macha and Baslick - Cruachu . All three were supposedly sent to help Patrick according to later writings and so could not have predated him.

Palladius –The First Bishop in Ireland

The name Palladius was common in the fifth century - there was another bishop Palladius of Hellespontus who attended the council of Ephesus in 431 when his namesake was sent to Ireland. Some authors suggest that a Palladius of no registered diocese was recorded as an associate of Ravennius, bishop of Arles in 351 but acknowledge that this would seem like a long shot if it were the same man. Palladius may have been on an appointment which was less of a mission than an extension of papal policy towards barabarian states beyond the empire frontiers which was pushing to organise and structure the ideology of the Irish church. 

Traditionally Palladius has been interpreted as having died shortly after he arrived in Ireland (by Muirchu, for example) after which his disciples August and Benedict returned to Ebmoria or Embrun. Others suggest he was immediately expelled (some writers say the Scoti killed him) although there seems no good reason not to suppose that he may have quietly continued his work in the southern part of Ireland, although this was not acknowledged because either such efforts were never recorded, the information lost, or it was appended to the St Patrick story. Very possibly he was tending a much more pacified and part-Christianised flock and his mission was less remarkable than that of Patricks. Certainly later writers are either unaware of such a mission or ignored it because they were backing Patrick and his work which was evidently more northern in extent - so why draw attention to rival southern missions? The later Irish writers may have only heard of Palladius through the work of Prosper however and he comes late to their work. Leinster seems the most favoured place for his mission. 

It seems strange that the unlearned Patrick be sent on such an important mission, although with his previous experience living in Ireland and presumably speaking the language this may have possible. It may be that a diocese in Ireland could have been viewed as part of the British ecclesiastical structure at this time and that Patrick's stance was discomforting to his senoires because he was proposing to lead his church into evangelistic endeavour among Gaelic heathen. O'Rahilly suggests that the text of part of Muirchu's writings had originally concerned Palladius rather than Patrick and that this has brought confusion as to a continental mission.

Some writers like Riguet (1913) suggest that Patrick may have been starting his mission and on his way to Ireland when the news of the demise of Palladius reached him from Augustine and Benedict, Palladius's companions. The meeting place is not identified but suggested by Muirchu as Ebmoria. Instead of continuing his journey Patrick became a bishop. Others who are keen to link the Irish mission with Rome have suggested that Patrick went with Sergetius to be ordained bishop by Pope Celestine. Had this happened and had Patrick been in contact with the Pelagian debate surely this would have been reflected in his work, however.

Palladius left no cult, may never have been made a saint and none of his churches survive (none are even named after him). Palladius had no feast day and may have ministered to Britons in Ireland including slaves) rather than the native Irish - whatever he did he left no trace. Patrick on the other hand left tracts which give an impression of his character and his heroic mission, a cult site in Downpatrick from the 5th century which seemingly promoted his memory and a feast day on the 17th March.



The Pelagain controversy suggests that substantial numbers of Christians lived into the post-roman period - in the east from Lincoln southwards and in the west, particularly around the Severn estuary and Somerset. One personal attack on Pelagius 'a monk of the British race' by Jerome in c.410 referred to him as 'thoroughly solid, weighed down by Irish porridge' - Scottorum pultibus. This is a reference to the diet of the Britains' neighbours in a fashion to blacken Pelaguis as a barbarian. Jerome also called him an Alpine hound, tortoise and monstrous Goliath with a bulging forehead and thick neck amongst other things.

Controversy continued within the British Christian church as it developed in later 4th century - the Bishop of Rouen, Victricius (some have suggested a Briton like his predecessor Mellonus), for example, is recorded as having been sent to Briton at the request of the Britons as a disciple of St Martin's reforms in order to stamp out paganism and introduce monasticism. This had faced much opposition in rural Gaul. Britain enjoyed comparative peace in the early 5th century but from the period of at least 460 onwards experienced extreme danger and assault due to the Saxon or Anglo-Saxon invasion. 

Just before Patrickcame to Ireland the following issues were being addressed:

429 Marius Marcator, a disciple of St Augustine, petitioned the Emperor for the Pelagians to be removed from Constantinople. Pope Celtine had removed them from Italy 5 years previous. This was done. Pelagius denied the doctrine known as original sin and was accused of denying the race of God. His teachings, raised at the Council of Carthage in 411 was to spread from north Africa over 20 years.

430 St Augustine died having continued his fight with Pelagius to the end of this life.

431 Prosper of Aquitaine later official to Pope Leo I, petitioned Pope Celestine to restrain certain Gallic clergy from teaching the errors of Pelagius and denying Augustinian doctrine).

431 Pope Celestine wrote to 6 bishops in Gaul whose names are given acting in this capacity.

431 Pelagius disappeared and his teaching continued by Celestius whom Pope Celestine exhorted through Maximian, a newly appointed church representative in Constantinople.

431 The Council of Ephesus the 3rd General or Ecumenical Council) condemned Celestianism and deposed clerics who embraced it.

431 Celestius disappears. 

431 Pope Celestine sent Palladius to Ireland as 'the first bishop to the Irish believing in Christ'.

432 Pope Celestine died on the 27th Jan.


· Some writers in the earlier part of the 20th century suggested that this was because many might have been Pelagians and therefore seen as heretics. Patrick's writings make no reference to this wider debate however and it has been assumed by many that he was unaware of it.

· Perhaps his vocational remit was smaller than it eventually became known - the northern part of Ireland rather than all-Ireland and he did not therefore encounter other missionaries. This would explain the proliferation of northern sites associated with the saint and strengthen the link with northern locations for his place of origin.

· The southern part of Ireland, being closest to the continent, was most likely to have had this type of pre-Patrick missionary activity and perhaps he simply did not come into contact with it or if he did assumed that this was common knowledge and needed no explanation. He does however make sweeping statements as to his being the Bishop of Ireland which suggests that he was either working alone or in silent competition against other missionaries. The former is the most attractive prospect.

· Patrick must have had a staff of priests and lesser clergy, some of whom were likely to have been Britons. Although these were his spiritual brothers and sisters and numerous none are mentioned.


Therefore the church weeps and laments for those of its sons and daughters whom the sword has not yet slain but who have been carried away and transported to distant lands where open , shameless, grave sin abounds. There free citizens have been sold, and Christians have been reduced to servitude which is all the worse since they are enslaved to the vilest, apostate Picts. The Confession.

Slavery was an accepted and 'normal' feature of ancient society. Before the conquest of Britain the Britons had supplied slaves to the empire. Some Roman slaves were ‘provinciae servus’ or slaves to the state - conducting ceremonies in emperor-worship and tasks as civil servants. Most were ordinary household slaves and those who have made it to the archaeological record were of a superior position. Otherwise tombstones reflect their place in society - there is for example a tombstone erected at the fort of Haltonchesters on Hadrian's Wall erected to a slave called Hardalio by the collegium conservorum - 'the guild of slaves'. Hardalio, meaning, 'busybody' was a typical slave name. Most slaves may have been brought into Britain with their masters and other born within households.

Slaves were kidnapped by those beyond the frontiers - a 2nd century jurist, for example is recorded as having dealt with a case of a woman 'condemned for crime to hard labour' who had been 'captured by foreign brigands and was sold by them in the course of trade; and by repurchase she reverted to her original condition'. The price had to be refunded by the Imperial Treasury to the centurian Cocceius Firmus' who left several inscriptions on the Antonine Wall in Scotland.

Slaves from the frontier regions, which were gathered as one tribe raided another were presumably bought through expeditions and contact with the Roman world. Officers and men serving on the frontline would have had opportunities to make such purchases although a more organised slave market was almost certainly run in London where a man called Rufus was recorded as instructing his correspondent Epillicus a typically Celtic name) 'to take care to turn that girl into cash'.

In Roman times a fair proportion of slaves were given their freedom after attaining the minimum age for manumission of 30 - after which life expectancy was limited and economic usefulness lessened. Free-men could still be called to perform services for their former masters however. in Celtic regions it seems that families often sold their children into slavery, often for a fixed period thereby lessening the mouths to feed and hopefully gaining freemen status for their offspring when they reached the age of 30. Some slave girls were given exotic names, like Calpurnia Trifosa whose cognomen is a latinised spelling of the Greek meaning dainty or delicious.

The 'pirates' referred to by Patrick have been assumed as Irish but this is never stated - although Irish raiding parties certainly seem to have been active at this time. There is no reliable evidence which describes this activity extending to the continent. 

The Irish probably preyed upon women and children as their captives and may have killed many adult males who would put up more resistance in transit. Patrick in his Letter described the young Christian girls whom Corotius's men had dealt out amongst themselves, whilst the other converts presumably men) had been killed. The thousands of prisoners described by Patrick as having been taken prisoner with him are an obvious exaggeration although the Irish must have overpowered the occupants of his estate. The inhabitants would have been terrified, confused, and shocked at the horror and brutality of the event. The raiders, according to the likes of Gildas might have had bushy beards covering their faces and fought with little or nothing on making the whole scene all the more barbaric to the Romano-Britains. The prisoners would have been bound in some fashion and herded back to a row of boats of unknown construction along the beachfront which was either encountered straight after the even or some hours or days later if part of a large raiding party which might have had several prongs of attack and made camp. The prisoners then were tightly packed into boats and tossed around upon the open sea.

· In his Confessio Patrick relates that he was 'brought down to earth every day, by hunger and nakedness' as a slave.

· If either the Hymn of Fiacc or the Sixth Life are to believed a sister may have been captured also - traditionally called Lupita.

· During his work in Ireland Patrick was taken prisoner on at least two further occasions and wrote of constantly living in fear of death or enslavement. He hints at an interest in looking after British and other slaves in Ireland. The export of slaves from Ireland to Britain particularly Scotland was of particular concern. Patrick in his letter:


Patrick's family seem not to have not been able to provide a line of communication to ransom the prisoners. Had be been a slave shepherd on Slemish he would have been able to see the Scottish mainland on whose mass his parents lived which would have been frustrating. 


The Celtic languages formed a group that was part of the Indo-European family of languages - by some authors divided into Continental Celtic, now extinct languages spoken from about 500 BC to 500 AD from he Black Sea to Iberia and Insular Celtic, which is further divided into Brythonic or British Celtic and Goidelic or Irish Celtic. Goidelic or Irish Celtic including Scottish and Manx is often referred to by philologists as Q-Celtic and Brythonic or British Celtic as P-Celtic because of the sound change that took place from p to q in the Brythonic languages. The Welsh name for head, for example, is pen whilst the Irish for this is ceann. It is thought that these two linguistic groups began to separate some 2000 years ago.

Patrick's first language would have been the P-Celtic which evolved into modern Welsh and Latin was his second which was taught either at school or by a personal tutor under the Roman system of education. By 15 he would have reached the Ludus or first level and was at the second or grammaticus stage. He was interrupted in this and never reached the third level where skilful writing, oratory and law was taught. Patrick would therefore depending upon his place of origin) have been able to have a partial understanding of the language spoken, although a boy of his status would have been expected to have conversed in Latin within his household. 


Patrick writes, 'I was constantly pasturing domestic animals daily' and this was done 'in forests and on the mountain' in all seasons 'though snow through frost, through rain'. What he herded boils down to interpretation of 'cotidie itaque pecora pascebam'. Opinions vary - Hamlin suggests he specifically herded sheep, Howlett 1994) interprets this more broadly as domestic animals whilst early writers like Healy 1905) took from this swine and sheep.

During his captivity Patrick as a teenager of 15 'beardless boy') turned to the family religion with renewed interest and writes that he prayed a hundred times a day and as many at night. Six years later he recalls having been sent two messages in his dreams through an angel called Victoricus which made him run away from his master and travelled around 200 miles which amounts to 185 miles as a Roman equivalent to a place where there was a ship.


Patrick was 15 at the time of his capture and spent his adolescentia 15-21) in Ireland after which he escaped. 

7th century biographers agree that he served his servitude in modern county Antrim - probably in the northern part in the service of a local king Miliuc Colgan spells Milcho). This is Mons Miss Sliabh Mis) with adjacent Mount Scirte Skerry) where Patrick performed his first oratories according to Tirechan. Patrick refers only to his dream that he was being called back to Ireland by people probably friends in servitude) living in silva Vocluti - usually translated as 'wood of Foclut - by the 'western sea'. Some have suggested that silva Vocluti is a copyist's error for the silva Uluti who were the main dynastic power in northeastern Ireland at this time. Western sea may have been the position of this place relative to his location when dreaming in Britain. It could also have represented Lough Neagh which is clearly viewed from the top of Slemish - without the freedom to explore the area this greatest inland water body in the British Isles could easily have passed for a sea.

Many have pointed out that the wood of Foclut was on the shore of Killala Bay in Mayo and modern inference has sugested that the Atlantic is the western sea described. Warner disagrees and goes with the traditional and near contemporary view. Perhaps in this stance the Western Sea was what a Roman Britain would have called the Irish Sea - irrespective of where he was. The distance travelled from Mayo adds up to around 200 Roman miles although a trip from Slemish to the Wicklow/Wexford area would add up to as much.


No written sources refer specifically to a Irish trading relations and the extant Roman records refer mostly to British imports from the 1st Century AD of Tin, silver, agricultural products like grain and beer as quoted below), some inferior pearls and, by the early 3rd century AD, hunting dogs:

Oppian (early 3rd C. AD), Cynegetica I, 468-80

There is a strong breed of hunting dog, small in size but no less worthy of great praise. These the wild tribes of Britons with their tattooed backs rear and call by the name of Agassian. Their size is like that of worthless and greedy domestic table dogs: squat, emaciated, shaggy, dull of eye, but endowed with feet armed with powerful claws and a mouth sharp with closeset venomous tearing teeth. It is by virtue of its nose, however, that the Agassian is most exalted, and for tracking it is the best there is; for it is very adept at discovering the tracks of things that walk upon the ground, and skilled too at marking the airborne scent.

Nemesianus (3rd C. AD)

Britain sends us swift hounds, adapted to hunting in our world.

Claudian On the Consulship of Stilitico delivered early 400), III, 301

British dogs that can break the necks of great bulls

Dioscorides (1st C AD) De Medico Materia On Medicine), II, 88

And there is the drink called cured, prepared from barley, which people often use as a drink instead of wine, but it causes headaches and bad humours and is harmful to the nerves. Such drinks are also prepared from wheat as in Spain and Britain in the west.

Irish trade with Britain was most likely to have been informal and sporadic or through intermediaries and may have included some of the above, dogs and other animals and probably various items which this last unconquered part of celtic Europe may have specialised in - Irish medicines were famous, for example Pharmacy Online 365.

Irish trade with Europe is equally ill-defined. Leathers, skins, perhaps horn and dogs in return for wine and precious metals seems to be most likely. The dog theory has been promoted by Bury, Olden and many subsequent 'dog-fanciers' Hanson).

The sailors Patrick refers to have been suggested as carrying dogs - possibly Irish hunting dogs which were deemed valuable in the ancient world just as those of Britain were. Patrick was not received on board immediately - partly because he would not swear faith and loyalty to the crew through the Irish tradition of sugere mamellas (sucking their nipples). Instead he swore allegiance through Jesus Christ which seemed strange to the sailors, who we can infer were not Christians and, from their reaction seem to have had limited contact with the Christian world. Patrick may have been accepted as a passenger because of his knowledge of herding animals. The main problem relating to this is the issue that if the dogs had been available why did the sailors did not eat them rather than starve if they had been desperate for food? 

Some, have suggested that the sailors were a raiding party, which accounts for the swearing together of loyalty. This would account for Patrick's statement about his second captivity 'after many years'. He stayed with the group after a vision during his first night with them. 


We know that the ship was at sea for three days and that the party travelled through a 'desert country' for a further 28 days. The desert has been seen by some as representing part of Gaul which was ravaged by a great barbarian invasion in 406. Patrick's journey was long after that and it has been difficult to conjecture that a group could travel for so long in Gaul and not find any trace of life or hospitality. It would seem to be more likely that the heavily wooded Welsh or Scottish valleys were the desert he describes. Carney argues that if the group were a raiding party the 'desert' might account for a fortnights travel through the hinterland to raid and a fortnight back. This seems to put the 'raiders' at more risk that might have been through necessary but if it is true then perhaps it expands the area within which the young Patrick might have been abducted.

Home via Roman Britain or Gaul?


Two camps really - those who think that the time element in the following part of the Confession was significant and those who do not - 'And again after a few years, I was in Britain with my kindred, who received me as a son'. This fulfilled the words of his dream cito iturus ad patriam tuam he refers to his travelling to Britain. 

By the 7th century, perhaps to boost the role of Rome the likes of Tirechan may have been advised by the authorities like Bishop Ultan that ' he was for thirty years in one of those islands called Aralanensis'. Although in terms of time this seems an exaggeration. Aralanensis is now called Lerins in southern Gaul and was a famous seat of learning in the 5th century known as the 'nursery of Bishops'. It was then that Patrick supposedly went to Britain and after a while sought his mission. Approval is conjectured to have come from a British synod, through Auxerre, which seems to have had close ties with the British church or directly from Rome. The last two seem the most fanciful and are probably add-ons to the cumulative story, although because the information does not exist to disprove it cannot be ruled out. 

More modern thinking seems to point to a return to Britain earlier - directly after Ireland and probably not including Gaul at all. Following his return to Britain at the age of 22 and during whatever later education he received and his early life in the church there is a period of great obscurity when Patrick might have gone to Gaul - if he ever did at all.

The whole expedition took 28 days which has been interpreted by some as meaning that the Irish sailors were really pirates and this time was taken up by 14 days travel into the hinterland as a raid and 14 days return. This explanation accounts for the swearing of loyalty needed to begin with and Patrick's refusal to sugere mamellas which seemingly was in ancient Irish an act of swearing allegiance faith and loyalty to the person whose nipples were sucked. The raiding ship return also explains certain phrases which have been interpreted thus: 'And so, after many years of captivity I again became captive to the raiders'. In Confession 22 he describes this in terms of common danger and common need rather than captivity.

Heavy weather is suggested by Muirchu although not mentioned in the Confession.


Where did Patrick receive his training as a cleric?

Patrick received his training after he left slavery in Ireland although he does not seem to have attained a higher education during this time. As mentioned previously he seems to have acquired a good basic knowledge of the Latin Bible over the period when he returned to his parents but this education does not give many clues and rather suggests that he did not revive his education in Gaul or travel the continent. Instead it seems likely that he spent time as a monk or cleric deacon or presbyter - possibly under the guidance of his father or wider family before becoming a bishop and returning to Ireland. The general medieval notion of Patrick on a continental mission from Rome or Gaul has generally been abandoned. In addition, little is known about the organisation of 5th century British churches, their structure and responsibility

Evidence for Gaul 

Mohrmann suggests that Patrick must have gone to Gaul for his education because of the elements in his text which cannot be traced back to British Latin - little survives of the latter however so this seems very problematic.

The Armagh hagiographers, Muirchu and Tirechan relate that he went to Gaul - the former saying he spent his time with Germanus of Auxerre and the latter casting him further afield to Italy and the islands of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Tirechan does not specifically say where Patrick was given his religious education but says he returned to Ireland with Gauls. Neither relate what Patrick has been interpreted as saying about returning to his parents in Britain.

Older 19th century sources like the 1828 Life of St Patrick, Apostle of Ireland by P. Lynch see Patrick as receiving Holy Orders in Rome and being specifically being sent on his mission after the death of Palladius said to have been on the 15th December. 

Patrick did suggest that he 'was once very anxious' to pay a visit to the Christians and monks of Gaul although it is unclear if this actually occurred or if it suggested he ever had been. Two other passages do however reflect knowledge of Gaul if not a visitation - one in his Epistle (14) referring to the Franks ransoming prisoners - which he might have heard about second hand a point which would suggest his home was in southern England perhaps) and the other in the Confession 43) where the word fratres has been seen as a technical reference in ecclesiastical circles to fellow monks whom Patrick may have worked with in Gaul. Thompson and Dumville suggest that Patrick's admiration and wish to visit like-minded Christians in Gaul neither tells for or against such a visit.

Others suggest that Patrick's words were not influenced by monasticism and although he mentions monks and nuns, as well as using words like famulus, eremus, desertum and vocatio which have an apostolic rather than monastic sense. Equally he quotes few psalms, which might have been expected of a monastic writer - five are quoted literally and 10 alluded to. Again, if he did spend time in Gaul he left with neither an advanced religious training or a rigid monastic vocabulary. 

If in Gaul where is it likely to have been?

Patrick has been placed in Auxerre under Germanus by Muirchu6, older 19th century writers and the likes of Grosjean in the 1950s. Fr Morris 1898) in the 19th century suggested he went to St Martin althought this is difficult to justify, whilst others like Riguet (1913) say Lerins for definite because the first dictu of Patrick relates to ' the fear of God has been my guide in my journey across Gaul and Italy, and as far as the islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea'. O'Rahilly suggests that Muirchu's references to Patrick on the continent are an addition to the text which had been recopied several times before Muirchu worked on it and that this information may have come from a written document found in Gaul by an Irish Monk - probably Auxerre. 

Did he get to the Mediterranean or even Rome?

19th century sources claim that he went to Gaul and later Rome for his mission. Patrick's visit to Rome is related in the annals of Ulster in the year 441

Was he a bishop before he came to Ireland?

Yes. This seems to be widely agreed upon - it is the place of his ecclesiastical vocation/education, the time he spent away and the route by which he returned which are in question really. His friend whom he entrusted the sin of his youth and who later publically betrayed him) seems to have encouraged Patrick to become a cleric. It has been suggested that he became a bishop and eventually abandoned his ecclesiastical jurisdiction 'to endure disgrace because of my departure') following a vision of Victoricus carrying letters, one of which, 'The Voice of the Irish', begged him to come back to Ireland. It is obvious from his Declaration that there was considerable opposition to this 'labourious episcopate' by his 'seniors' and that Patrick in his ‘humiliation’ and having been 'stripped of honour' almost gave in to his rejection by his peers. Patrick's family offered him 'many gifts, with tears and lamentation' (Confessio).

How Successful was Patrick's Mission?

I expect daily to be killed, betrayed, or brought back into slavery, or something of the kind. But, because of the promise of heaven I fear none of these things. (Confessio)

And I journeyed among you, and everywhere, for your sake, often in danger, even to the outermost parts beyond which there id nothing, places where no onehad ever arrived to baptise or ordain clergy or confirm the people. (Confessio)

I live among barbarian foreigners, a stranger and exile for the love of God - as He is my witness (Letter).

There seems to have been plenty of time between 410 and 440 and perhaps a little later) for the British church to send a mission to Ireland in the person of Patrick and keep him supplied. This would have been most unlikely due to political and economic conditions to have happened in the second half of the 5th century.

Patrick claimed to have baptised many thousands of people. He was politically astute - on one occasion, when he was captured and robbed he was freed within a fortnight 'through the intervention of God and of firm friends whom we had the foresight to acquire' (Confessio). He gave presents to chiefs to further his ministry - a cultural necessity little understood by his peers which seems to have led to allegations of missionary or personal overindulgence - and their sons travelled with him. In the Letter he reflects '...I cannot number the sons of the Scotti and the daughters of chiefs who were monks and virgins of Christ.'


Why would Patrick have faced criticisms?


In the past various writers have suggested that this has been down to a prohibition issued by Germanus or through resentment aroused by Palladius being chosen to go to Ireland first. None of these seem to have any substance and it seems that Patrick's own words and what we can interpret and infer from them is the best way to view this.

It seems certain that Patrick's Confession was in part written to rebuke criticisms made of him and the tenor of justification runs throughout it. It was never meant to be autobiographical however although the narrative can be seen as throwing up the following points in the first eight chapters:

A group or deputation seems to have come to Patrick venerunt ...illo die) on one particular occasion at a public place or gathering (coram cuntis publice dehonestaret) probably after he was made a bishop and possibly at a synod gathering. Previous to that a close friend had fought for him in Britain his absence. This or another friend seems to have betrayed his confidence following his departure for Ireland and Patrick may have heard accusations about his character through intermediaries whilst here. Chapter 37 and chapter 46 relate to a time when Patrick was being canvassed for the Irish mission and his being dissuaded by friends who offered gifts and shed tears doubting in no seemingly malicious fashion over Patrick's lack of education for such a task. Elsewhere his accusers showed open enmity towards him and his Irish mission described as a 'tiresome episcopate'. The main criticism seems to be that 'They found a pretext against me after thirty years, against a word which I confessed before I was a Deacon'. It is quite likely that this means that Patrick had confessed something before to being made a Deacon prior to receiving holy orders and that this secret had come out - perhaps at the death of the more elderly friend or cleric. Howlett suggests that this sin was committed when he was 14, confessed at least 7 years later and was made accountable by his 51st year at earliest.

Elsewhere Patrick's references to finances in the Confession suggests that he spent it freely for the sake of the church on local kings and brehons, presumably in order to keep them on good terms. He also goes out of his way to point out that he refused gifts to avoid calumny (Confession 49). Perhaps it was the financial drain and accusations of his feathering his own nest, which brought criticism and this has been seen to suggest that the source of his finance and ultimately his mission came from Britain, where the bishops were uneasy about his mission and its success. As far as this is concerned he refers to himself as the Bishop of Ireland in the singular and although has the opportunity to refer to other bishops whom he might have consecrated but never does. Additionally, although he baptises, confirms, celebrates the eucharist, ordains clergy and mentions vaguely a large number of women who were to embrace a celibate life, it seems that he did not have any episcopal colleague of his rank to follow him. As a result he declares that he expects and welcomes martyrdom under this pressure and the fact that his mission within his lifetime was only partially successful. 

Patrick’s writings have been recently reassessed as not the work of an inarticulate and uneducated man burdened by his intellectual inferiority. His wording has been interpreted as suggesting that rather than being unlearned 'indoctus' he is saying that he is boasting that has not been taught by men - he has had direct divine practical involvement with God as a chosen servant and is not feeling at all inferior. Patrick writes 'Stammering tongues will swiftly learn to speak peace'. He deliberately changes the word order of St Paul's address to his converts 'You are the letter of Christ' to 'I am the letter of Christ' and applies to himself the words of Moses, Isaiah, St Paul and St. Luke, whilst regarding himself as prophet, apostle, lawgiver and evangelist and using these references to attack his critics. Binchy and others suggest that this self confidence and aggressive self assertion of a man knowing his own worth although this is disputed by others was picked up by early hagiographers more than those in the modern period who see the writing as self-depreciation.


· In Christianity the serpent was Satan : 'the great dragon . . . that old serpent, called the devil and Satan' (Rev.12,9). The good serpent is seen in iconography rising from the chalice of St. John and, according to Tertullian sometimes referred to Christ, whilst the evil serpent is Satan, the dragon of the Apocalypse. 

· In the Celtic tradition serpents were associated with the healing waters and wells. The horned serpent represents Cernunnos, god of fertility and virility whilst the snake is an emblem of Bridget as a Mother Goddess and represents fertility.


· Patrick traditionally used a shamrock to teach about the Father Son and Holy Spirit. Trinity symbols are used in many different cultures and symbolise unity in diversity. In the Celtic Irish tradition there were three Bridget’s, in Egypt they represented Osiris, Isis and Horus, whilst in the Roman world Jupiter, Neptune, Pluto: the sky, Ocean and underworld.

· The colours of the Trinity were originally represented by yellow, red and green and in qualities by Charity, Faith and Hope.

· Patrick is associated with a number of colours – the Cross of St Patrick has a red saltaire and a white background, whilst ‘St Patrick’s blue’ is used on badges and coats of arms, including the Dublin City Charter of 1582-3 and the arms of the Order of the Knights of St Patrick. In more recent times through his association with the shamrock Patrick has been shown in green.

Early Ecclesiastical figures in the Irish Church-

Brendan 'the Navigator' c. 577 Ardfert & Clonfert Doiceses - suposedly born in Tralee and founded Clonfert. 

Comgall Abbot of Bangor - said to have been largest monastery in Ireland with 3,000 in the community where Columbanus was trained - visited Iona and worked with Columbanus in spreading gospel.

Kevin c.618, Glendalough diocese.

Jarlath Tuam diocese c.550, St Mary's, Tuam stands on site.

Asicus/Tassach c.470 Bishop, Raholp near Saul - supposed friend of Patrick who attended him as he lay on his deathbed.

Colman of Dromore, 6th Century.

Carthagh/Macodi c.637 Lismore.

Declan [of Ardmore] 5th Century Bishop, Ardmore - prince of Decies tribe who were possibly Christians pre-Patrick.

Moninne/Darerca/Bline of Killeavy 518 monastery for women near Newry.

Laserian c.639 Abbot, Leighlin doicese received training in Iona and is honoured in Arran.

MaCartan c.505 Bishop, Clogher doicese

Kieran of Seirkeiran Bishop and monk c.545 from West Cork - ordained on continent and ran monastery near Birr, Offaly.

Munchin Abbot, Limerick city patron, 7th Century.

Edan/Aedan/M'-Aed-oc Mogue Bishop of Ferns 632.

Brigid/Brid c.525 possibly contemporary of Patrick - regarded as second patron saint - founded religious community at Kildare - very popular in time immediately after Patrick from Scotland to Northumbria - had some mixed pagan elements of mother-goddess in early Christian period.

Killian c.689, Bishop and martyr of Kilmore from Cavan who was missionary to Franconia and rebuilt the church in Baden and Bavaria - many pre-reformation churches honoured him. Murdered 689 at Wurzburg.

Canice 6th century Bishop, Ossory Diocese - son of a Co Derry bard - friend of Columba mentioned by Adomnan.

Moibhi 545 teacher of Columba and founded monastery at Glasnevin.

Gall 630, from Leinster to Bangor and then missionary in France and Switzerland with Columbanus in 589 - did not found St Gall although this was names after him.

Otteran,  5th Century Abbot from Meath who sailed with Columba from Lough Foyle and died soon after reaching Iona.

Columbanus 615 Abbot - from Leinster to Bangor as monk with St Comgall. c.590 he set out with 12 others for Gaul [France]. He travelled through rance, Germany and Switzerland and settled in Bobbio where he founded a monastery famous for its library.

Finnian of Clonard Abbot, Meath encouraged growth of monasticism.

Fachtna 6th Century, Bishop, Ross Doicese.

Oengus Mac Nisse/ Macanisius of Dalriada c.514, first Bishop of Connor.

Cairan of Colnmacnoise 545 from Connaught sent out many missionaries to the continent - Fergil Virgilius, Archbishop of Salzburg. Books written here included the Book of the Dun Cow and the Annals of Tigernach.

Finnian of Movilla in the Ards 579 - educated Nendrum on Mahee Island, Strangford, and possibly wrote the Cathach the battle book - now in the Royal Irish Academy.


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