Interesting antiquarian proceedings at Ystradfellte 27.06.1882
Restoring the memorial stone over the remains of a son of Caesar
It appears, from information which has reached me that the correspondence which appeared recently in these columns in reference to Cromlechs has been the means of awakening renewed interest in the ancient monumental remains scattered throughout South Wales. The secretary of the Archaeological Society called the attention of Mr. Crawshay Bailey to a deeply-interesting fallen monument on one of his Breconshire farms named Plas-y-Gors, near Ystradfellte.
Mr. Crawshay Bailey decided at once to have it restored, and he sent instructions to Mr. Hollier, his agent who resides at Penarth, to that effect. In compliance with Mr. Bailey’s wish, Mr. Hollier, accompanied by Mr. William Thomas, M.E., Brynawel Aberdare, and a Government official, proceeded with it party of workmen to Plas-y-Gors a few days ago, and succeeded in restoring the fallen monument. The stone measures 11ft, by 2ft, by 1ft. 3in. It contains a Latin inscription, which is said to be to the following effect:
“Here lieth Dersus, the son of Caesar”
The stone is placed on the side of the old Roman road, Sarn Helen, sometimes called “Sarn Lleon;” and, being situated on an eminence, can be seen from a considerable distance, The country people call the stone “Maen Madoc,” or “the Stone of Madoc.”
Mr. Robinson, architect. Church Street, Cardiff, has taken a full copy of the interesting inscription, and probably, as soon as he has satisfactorily deciphered it, lie will give it to the public. If the inscription is found, after close scrutiny, to be to the memory of “the son of Caesar,” it will open up a very interesting field of inquiry. Which of the Caesars’ sons was buried here?
We know that the Romans had a busy time of it among the ancient Silurian’s In Britannia Secunda, and that the renowned archers of Gwent gave the legionaries many an uncomfortable quarter of an hour. It would be interesting to find that our ancestors, in their struggle for liberty and independence, “potted” here a scion of the Caesars. One is tempted to point out that Sejanus, the favourite of Tiberius exiled in A.D. 29 Agrippina, the widow of Germanicus, and her sons – Nero and Drusus. The other son, Caius, afterwards called Caligula, made his escape. It is recorded that Agrippina, Nero, and Drusus died of starvation; but in what part of the Empire I have been unable to learn.
One cannot believe that anyone ever starved in Breconshire, if these children of Germanicus were no better than their brother Caligula, I do not suppose anyone cared much what became of them, for did not he make his horse a Roman consul? Did he not draw up his legions on the coast of France, in sight of the white cliffs of old Albion, ostensibly for the purpose of invading it, and then, sounding the charge, followed by the legions, bounded forwards to the sea, when the trumpets suddenly sounded halt! And all the legionaries were ordered to fill their helmets with shells, which they curried back to Home us the “spoils of the ocean?” I question whether the Drusus above-mentioned was exiled to Britannia Secunda, for the regular invasion of Britain did not take place until A.D. 43, under Claudius, the invading force being under the command of A. Plautius Silvanus. Nevertheless we are not to suppose that during the century which had elapsed after the first invasion of Britain under Julius Caesar the two countries had not had much intercourse with each other. Why Caractacus, the splendid commander of the Cymry, could, judging by the report of the historian Tacitus, speak excellent Latin. When standing in chains before the Imperial throne in A.D. 51, he spoke of Prydain and his home in it, with its golden torched chieftains, and warriors the bravest of the brave.
Antiquarian proceedings at Ystradfellte letter to the Editor 15.07.1882 (the Weekly Mail)
SIR, our issue of the 27th ult. contained an article headed “Interesting Antiquarian Proceedings at Ystradfellte,” to which my attention has only now been drawn, and in which my friend “Morien” quite surpasses himself. As he has been good enough to mention my name in connection with the ancient monument which was the cause of these proceedings, and has moreover fallen into several inaccuracies of description and history, he will perhaps pardon me if I seek to put him right.
First, I must beg to assure him that the attention which has been directed to this monument is precedent by some considerable time to the discussion upon cromlechs to which he alluded, and, indeed, forms only one of a series of attentions leading to the judicious restoration of our ancient monuments which the Cambrian Archaeological Association, acting through me, as their secretary, have from time to time sought to bring about. With reference to this monument, “The Maen Madoc,” I beg now to tender my thanks to Mr. J. T. D. Llewelyn and Mr. Morgan Williams, of Aberpergwm, from both of whom I have had valuable assistance, but to Mr. Crawshay Bailey is due in an especial degree the cordial thanks of all archaeologists for the enlightened spirit which appreciated the importance of the preservation of such a monument upon his estate, and the liberality which effected it in so admirable a manner.
The inscription cut upon the stone is as follows:
“Dervaci Filivs Ivsti ic Iacit”
It has been read by many observers as well as myself, and if “Morien” will turn to page 65 in Professor Westwood’s “Lapidarium Watlise,” which he will find in the Cardiff Free Library, and to page 395 in Professor Rhys’ 44 “Celtic Philology,” he will learn all that can now be said respecting this inscription. To the observations of these my learned friends I have nothing to add. How 41 Morien has managed to evolve a “Son of Caesar” out of “Filius Justi” is best known to his inner consciousness, but he may accept the assurance that there is no warrant for it.
The letters are of the Romano-Cymric type, late and very debased-several of them are upside down or wrong way on, and by no means easy of decipherment except by skilled observers. In the above rendering I have given thorn in their proper sequence and position, but no exercise of typographic art could portray their whimsical disorder. “Morien” will doubtless observe that the sculptor of this “monument of the Caesars” did not know how to spell either ‘hic or jacet,’ and if he will be good enough to say in what book it is recorded “that Agrippina, Nero, and Drusus died of starvation,” that will be a literary curiosity worthy of our museum. The statement of Roman history is so astoundingly at variance from all received authorises that I almost wonder at “Morien’s” boldness in making it or the ‘Western Mail’ giving it currency without comment.
I am, &c., GEO. E. ROBINSON. Cardiff, July 3.
Sir, I was gratified to learn by “Morien’s” letter of the 27th ult. that steps have been taken to preserve the stone on the old Roman road, Sarn Helen or Sarn Lleon, at Ystradfellte. Ystradfellte contains other things of interest beside its Roman remains. Nature has been most profuse in her display of the grand and majestic, and, I may say, the sublime, in this locality”, which is of great interest to the geologist and the student, of natural science. The River FeIIte is a wonderful phenomenon of nature. During the summer months when the river is low, it runs through a narrow dell and falls into a small-whirlpool opposite the village, when it is lost in a subterraneous course for about half-a-mile. There it emerges, but again falls into a cave called Porth-yr-Agof. There is also near the village an old tumulus of scientific formation, it is said that a gold medal of the reign of Vespasian was discovered here some time ago. The inscription discernible on the Roman stone consists of two words only, vis., “Hic Iacit.” I think the system of roads that, are still visible all over the Principality shows how important the Province Britannia Secunda was in the Roman period. Nevertheless, I believe these roads in the first instance were formed by the Britons, and afterwards improved and extended, no doubt, by the Romans. I cannot imagine that a prince of such ability as Caractacus was without the means of communication with his subjects.
I am, &c., Roath, June 29. IORWERTH.
The Cambrian Association at Ystradfellte 17.08.1900
The members of the Cambrian Archaeological Association reassembled on Thursday morning at the Merthyr Market-Equate, among those present being Mr J. H. James (chairman of the local j committee), the Mayor of Mr and Mrs Edward Owen, Mr and Mrs W. Edwards, Dr. and Mrs W. Jones, Mr and Mr F. T. James Miss Maggie Davies; (the celebrated vocalist), Mr Charles Russell James, Mr C. Martin, Miss B. Martin, and Miss S .Martin (Dowlais), Colonel W. D. Morgan, Ven. Archdeacon Thomas, Mr J. Jones (Glannant), Rev. Daniel Lewis (rector of Merthyr), Miss Margery Junes (Galon Uchaf), Rev. Hartwell Jones, Mr Philip New, Dr. and Mrs Leigh (Treharris), Mr Frank Leigh, Mrs Allen, Mr Hubert Allen, Mr and Mrs Barnard, Rev. C. Chidlow, Rev. Canon Trevor Owen, Mr W. Morgan, J.P., Mr D. W. Morgan, Mr Mansel Franklen, Miss Mary Davies, Mr Gomor Jones, and Mr Glascodine.
The brakes moved off at 9 o’clock, and at 10 the party reached their first stopping-place at the cross roads. The party walked over a mountain sheep pasture to Bedd-y-Gwyddel, to view the cross in raised turf one foot high by two wide. Popularly the name is taken to indicate the “Irishman’s Grave” (grave of Gael). Continuing their journey the party made for Vedw Hir, near Llwydcoed, the well favoured residence of Mrs Richard Edwards, by whose daughters, the Misses Edwards, the visitors were met on the lawn. The object of the visit was the ancient cross-incised stone (now standing in a lower garden), and to this Mr J. H. James directed attention.
Another stage in the drive brought the archaeologists to Ystradfellte where Colonel Morgan discoursed on the history of the castle. The builder of it and the time and purpose for which it was built were all, said tile colonel, equally unknown. The parish of Ystradfellte was formerly part of the Great Forest of Brecknock, and it would be natural to suppose that, the history of the forest would give some clue to that of the castle. Here again they were disappointed, for little was known of it, although the history of the Great Forest was probably better known than that of any other lordship in Breconshire. That it was conquered by the Normans was evident, but many differences of opinion existed as to the time when this took place.
After quoting Theophilus Jones, the gallant colonel went on to say that with Pencelly in the hands of the English it would have been impossible for the Great Forest to preserve its independence, and consequently it must have been conquered at an early date. There was every reason to suppose that this was about 1093. Although the forest was conquered at that early date it by no means followed that the castle was erected at that time. The early Normans in Breconshire were no advocates of the forward policy. They confined their castles to the protection of the rich and fertile valleys, and left the mountains severely alone. He concluded that there was a small Norman settlement established there at an early date, and that the district was exposed to the incursions of the men ox Miscin and Avene.
The castle was used for the detention of offenders against, the forest laws until the time of Edward III. The keep, or Forest Castle, was situated on the extreme end of the spur of the hill separating the rivers Llia and Trengarth. This spur was so steep as to be inaccessible on three sides, and the fourth, or northern one, was defended by an oblong building. Colonel Morgan described other features of the castle, and also the outer entrenchment. In his opinion the latter was one of the Cavaliers’ entrenchments so common in the 14th century. It was left entirely to conjecture at what lime the rampart was added. Possibly it was erected by De Bohun at the time of the rebellion under Morgan ap Meredith in 1295.
A fierce struggle was carried on for some time along the whole boundary from Abergavenny to Hirwain, and Morgan eventually had to surrender, but the final blow to the rising was the arrival of the King and his array, which after suppressing the rebellion in North Wales marched to West Wales.
The King was at Cardigan on the 2nd and 3rd June, at Dryslwyn on the 6th, at Merthyr from the 12th to the 15th, and at Brecon on the 16th, whence he returned to north Wales. Where he resided daring his stay at Merthyr was not recorded. It was possible he passed some time at Ystradfellte on his journey to Brecon. After another rising in Glamorganshire it was probable the castle was again occupied and used as a base of operations before finally becoming a, hopeless mass of ruins.
The Ven. Archdeacon Thomas said he was sure they could not have listened to Po; more interesting or instructive paper, and he tendered to Colonel Morgan a hearty vote of thanks.
The drive was resumed in a north-westerly direction, to enable the visitors to see the Maen Madoc stone. The origin of the designation, “Maen Madoc,” was not considered to be apparent, but it was pointed out that there was a Castell Madoc about four miles north, near the Senny River and a Nant Madoc about two miles further north.
After luncheon at Ystradfellte the visitors drove over the mountain to the Vale of Neath. A call was made at Aberpergwm House, where the visitors were entertained by Mr and Mrs M. S. Williams. The party subsequently drove to Glyn-Neath Station and travelled home by train.
The annual meeting of the association was held on Thursday night at the Public Office, Merthyr, the Ven. Archdeacon Thomas presiding, the proceedings were private.