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  • AU 729.2 and the last years of Nechtan mac DerIlei
  • Alex Woolf

In a recent article in this journal Professor Thomas Clancy alluded in passing to an alternative translation of an entry in the Annals of Ulster concerning the latter part of the career of Nechtan mac Der-Ilei which I had suggested to him.1 Having been 'flushed out' in this fashion I feel obliged to make the alternative translation public and to discuss briefly some of its implications. The passage in question is as follows:

Bellum Monith Carno iuxta Stagnum Loogd¸e inter hostem Nectain 7 excercitum Oengusa 7 exactatores Nectain ceciderunt; hoc est: Biceot m. Moneit 7 filius eius, Finguine m. Drostain, Feroth m. Finnguine 7 quidam multi, 7 familia Oengussa triumphauit.2

This is translated by Mac Airt and Mac Niocaill, following earlier editors, as:

The battle of Monid Carno near Loch Laegde between the hosts of Nectan and the army of Aengus, and Nectan's exactors fell i.e. Biceot son of Monet, and his son, Finnguine son of Drostan, Feroth son of Finnguine, and many others; and the adherents of Aengus were triumphant.3

A. O. Anderson, in his gargantuan Early Sources of Scottish Histor y, represented the same passage thus:

The battle of Monith-Carno, near lake Loogdae, [took place] between the army of Nechtan and the army of Angus; and Nechtan's tax gatherers fell, namely Biceot, son of Moneit, and his son; Finguine, son of Drostan; Feroth, son of Finguine, and many others: and the family of Angus triumphed.4

The passage has been interpreted as marking the end of a second brief reign by King Nechtan following his re-emergence from the monastery [End Page 131] to which he had apparently been consigned in 724, or the prison where he had been sent by his successor, Drust, two years later.5 It has also been taken as clear evidence that the apparent alliance between Nechtan and 'Oengus' (the future Pictish king Onuist son of Urguist) that had led to Nechtan's restoration to the kingship had broken down.6

Our understanding of this entry depends very heavily on our understanding of two words, hostem and exact[at]ores.7 In all the published translations the first word has been rendered as 'army' and the second, though left untranslated by Mac Airt and Mac Niocaill, has been interpreted by most commentators as meaning something like tax-or trib-ute-gatherers. One cautious note was sounded by Marjorie Anderson who, after following the traditional interpretation in the main text of her Kings and Kingship, added a footnote which reads:

It is fair to point out the ambiguities in AU. Hostis could be "enemy" (though inimicus is the word we should expected) and exactores could be "expellers". These interpretations would produce a totally different story.8

Indeed; and it is the purpose of the present note to argue that these alternative interpretations are the more credible. The word hostis is practically unknown elsewhere in the Irish chronicles.9 The only other usage I have been able to identify occurs in the Annals of Tigernach, under the year corresponding to AU 685, which contain the following passage, a citation from Bede's Chronica Maiora:

Gisulphus dux gentis Long[o]bardorum Bene<u>en(n)ti Campaníam ighne, gladio et ca<pt>iuitate uastau[it], cumque non esset qui eius impetuí resisteret, apostolic<u>s papa Iohan[n]és, qui Sergio success<s>erat, mís[s]is ad e[u]m sacerdotibus ac dona<ri>is perpluri<mis>, uniuers<o>s redemi<t> captí<u>os atque ho[s]tes domum redire feci<t>. Cui success[s]it al(i)ius Iohannes, qui inter multa operum illustrium fecit oratorium sancte Dei genitricis, opere pulcher<rim>ó intra e(x)cl<e>siam beatí <a>pos<to>lí Petri.10 [End Page 132]

Bede produced Chronica Maiora ca 725 so that this usage is almost exactly contemporary with the events described in AU 729.2. Here the meaning of hostes is clearly 'enemy' and this meaning occurs with regularity throughout Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica.11 The Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources cites...


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