Explore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

19 September 2014
Accessibility help
BBC - History - Scottish History

BBC Homepage

Scottish History
Dark Ages
Early Church
Wars of Independence
Renaissance/ Reformation
Scotland in Europe
The Union
Victorian Scotland
Modern Scotland
History Trails
Media Museum
Web Guide

Contact Us

by topic by time by people

The Kingdom of the Britons
timeline button
tourist guide button
Discover the Kingdom of the Britons - an ancient Welsh speaking people who settled along the River Clyde and ruled for the best part of the first millennium. They founded the city of Glasgow and supplied us with our earliest examples of Scottish literature - written in Welsh.

Sailing up the Clyde towards Glasgow there is a vast and imposing sentinel guarding the river at Dumbarton. As a fortress it has a long and proud history, and, in fact, has a longer recorded history than any other in Britain.

The KingdomThe rock was the centre of the Kingdom of the Britons, that stretched along the River Clyde, north into Stirlingshire and south into Ayrshire. Known as Dun Breatann - ‘Fortress of the Britons’ or 'Alt Clut' (Rock of the Clyde). It was the centre of a flourishing Britonnic culture that spoke Old Welsh, or Cumbric, which is now almost entirely forgotten.

Dumbarton Rock Factsheet

  • Dumbarton Rock enters history in the mid 5th century with a letter of complaint from St Patrick to Coroticus, King of the Britons, telling him to stop kidnapping Christians and selling them into slavery.

  • The Britons’ warband would have feasted in Dunbarton’s royal hall. They would have taken their drink on the king’s mead benches, and listened to tales of Arthur and Merlin. It was at Dumbarton that Scotland’s earliest poetry, ‘The Gododdin’, by the Welsh bard Aneirin, was first written down. It tells the tale of a disastrous raid by the warband of the Britons of Edinburgh on the Angles, revelling in their deeds and mourning the loss of so many fine warriors.
    (possible use of Dinogad’s coat or In praise of Urien, poem)

  • Early Britonnic kings, such as Rhydderch Hael (c580-612 AD), helped to secure Christianity in Scotland by supporting St Kentigern (aka. St Mungo), the founder of Glasgow.

  • By the mid 7th century only Dumbarton, of all the Britonnic Kingdoms of Scotland, had survived the Angles’ onslaught. This has left us with the image of the Britons as doomed, heroic losers of the Dark Ages - an image depicted by their own poetry and their seemingly hopeless strategic position, trapped between the powerful Picts to the north and the Angles to the south. However, this is a mistaken image. The Britons were perfectly capable of defeating even the mightiest of their opponents.

  • For most of the 9th century Dumbarton seems to have avoided the worst of the Viking attacks which ravaged Scotland, that is until 866 AD, when Olaf the White, the Norse King of Dublin, brought a raiding army to plunder Scotland. Olaf was married to Aud the Deep-minded, whose family controlled the Hebrides, and it seems likely that many Hebridean Vikings joined Olaf’s army. For three years Olaf’s army reeked havoc, plundering and extorting money from Picts and Britons alike.

  • In 869 AD the Britons must have breathed a sigh of relief when Olaf returned to Ireland to curb Irish attacks on Viking Dublin. Never the less, Olaf swiftly returned to achieve one of his greatest feats.
    Dumbarton Castle

  • Olaf and his brother Ivarr laid siege to the formidable rock fortress of Dumbarton. For four months the starving Britons held out, until the true death blow - the fortress’s well dried up. At that point the Vikings broke in, plundering the kingdom of its treasures and taking a ‘great host’ of Britons to Ireland as slaves on a fleet of 200 ships. The taking of Dumbarton was a terrific achievement: Olaf was famed in Icelandic Sagas as the ‘greatest warrior-king in the Western Sea’. As was normal in the dark Ages, Olaf’s luck didn’t hold. Within a year he was dead, probably killed at the hands of Constantine I, King of Pictland.

  • For the Britons worse was to follow. Their king, Artgal, had escaped Dumbarton’s destruction, perhaps fleeing to the seeming safety of Pictland; but there he too met his end, slain, it was said, ‘on the counsel of Constantine’.

  • It was the end of the road for the Kingdom of Dumbarton but not for the Britons as a people. A new kingdom, further up the river, 'Strathclyde', would soon emerge.
‘In this year the kings of the Scandinavians besieged Strathclyde, in Britain. They were for four months besieging it; and at last, after reducing the people who were inside by hunger and thirst (after a well in their midst had dried up miraculously), they broke in upon them afterwards. And firstly, all the riches that were in it were taken; and also a great host was taken out of it into captivity.’
Duald Mac-Firbis’s account of the storming of the Briton’s fortress of Dumbarton in 870 AD

more Click for Govan Old Parish Church Factsheet
  copyright scran
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Web sites.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy