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The Poem
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Y Gododdin

The Historical & Geographical Background

Sometime about 595 - 600 AD a crack warrior band of three hundred men set out from Gododdin to attack the invading English. They met at the battle of Catraeth (Catterick) and, though the Gododdin men were reputed to have slain seven times their number of the enemy, they were overwhelmed by superior numbers and perished without a survivor.

Y Gododdin has been preserved in only one medieval copy, the 13th century manuscript known as the Book of Aneirin, now kept in Cardiff Central Library. As already mentioned, Aneirin was a poet who flourished at the end of the 6th century, so if we accept this poem has his authentic work, either in part or in its entirety, a gap of some six and a half centuries separates the date of its composition from that of the earliest surviving copy.

The poem survived from the earliest period, one can assume, by oral tradition and partly written copies which have not survived. The poem itself is in the form of an elegy, or series of elegies, for individual members or sometimes groups of members of the tribe of Gododdin who fell at the Battle of Catraeth (c. 600). The Gododdin were a Brittonic (or Brythonic) people who inhabited the south-eastern area of Scotland during the Roman and post-Roman period and were ruled from their tribal centre at Din Eidyn (Edinburgh). The geographical background of the poem which perpetrates the memory of their fallen warriors is therefore, not Wales, but the extensive northern territories which continued to be Welsh-speaking well into the 7th century, and later in some areas.

Y Gododdin has been described , no doubt correctly in strict geographical terms, as the 'oldest Scottish poem', but its language, in the form in which it has been preserved, is either Old or Early Medieval Welsh.

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