In 1954 the hill-fort on Carman Muir was discovered by ariel photography. The database of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland descibes it as:
"Citadel Fort of Dark Age type C measuring 150 yards in diameter, with stone ramparts, ditches and sunken approach roads." "This fort stands at a height of 230m OP overlooking the Firth of Clyde. The defences comprise two distinct elements, an inner enclosure or citadel, and an outer enclosure or citadel, and an outer enclosure with annexe on the E. Within the outer enclosure there are the remains of up to twelve stone-walled houses and there are a further three in the annexe."
Archaeoligists Leslie and Elizabeth Alcock have noted the size of the Carman fort and pointed out that it is considerably larger than the Dalriadan forts at Dunollie and Dunadd. This has led them to conclude that Carman was most probably a royal citadel and that it may have proceeded Dumbarton Rock as the seat of kings. If they are right, then it may be this little hill, which now looks down on Renton, was once the capital of Strathclyde.
Interestingly, in his 2010 publication The Fadad Map, historian Alistair Moffat adds that such hill-forts:
"...are more likely to have been temples. Rather than defending against what might attack from the outside, their ramparts marked off a sacred enclosure where priests and kings (perhaps the roles were often combined) performed rituals"
This suggestion that the Carman site was used for sacred purposes is supported by the fact that in mediaeval documentation the stream which runs down from the northern slope of the hill, entering the River Leven just to the south of the present Vale of Leven Academy, was referred to as the "Halyburn" -- (Holy Stream). At the head of the glen there is a spring which has long been traditionally reagarded as a holy well.
In the second century AD Ptolemy identified the people of the Clyde Valley as the Damnonii. Indeed, the Wikipedia entry for the Kingdom of Strathclyde maintains that --- "The capital of the Damnonii is believed to have been at Carmen, near Dumbarton." After the departure of the Romans (c410AD) the people of Strathclyge were known as Britons.
Around 450 AD Saint Patrick, writing as a bishop from Ireland, sent a letter to Coroticus, who is believed to have been a king ruling from Alt Clut (Dumbarton Rock). The saint was berating Coroticus for selling Irish Christian captives into slavery, but by implication (Patrick is ex communicating them) Coroticus and his people were, or had been Christians, Simon Taylor of the Dept. of Celtic Studies at the University of Glasgow, speaking of the saint's letter writes
Of the claim that Coroticus ruled from Dumbarton Rock, Taylor comments that "... this is the assumption generally made by scholars."
If this is correct --- that the Britons who inhabitedthe area around Alt Clut were Christian gy the mid 5th century --- then we have confirmation that Christianity was originally introduced to the Vale of Leven --- Dumbarton district by Romano-British sources, not by the subsequent Celtic saints such as kessog who evangelised some generations later. This should have come as no surprise because Christianity was the official religion of the Roman Empire long before the departure of the legions from the Brtish Isles, and it is well-recorded that some Britons converted to Christianity. Regarding St Patrick himself, Dr. Chris Lowe, of Headland Archaeology Ltd, in his Angels Fools and Tyrants (Historic Scotland: 1999), tells us... " Patrick, originally called Sochet of Succetus, was a Briton. Whatever his exact dates, there is a general concesus that he lived and worked wholly within the fifth century, dying as an old man perhaps in the 490s. His father Calpurnius was or had been both diaconus (a Christian deacon) and decurio (a Roman civil administrator). His grandfather,Potitus, had beena presbyter (priest). Some of these offices and grades are known from early inscribed stones of this period, both from southern Scotland and elsewhere."
It can be seen, therefore, that if Patrick died as an old man around 490AD, and his father and grandfather before him had been Christian office-bearers, the Britons seem likely to have had an organised church by the beginning of the fifth century.
The ancient citadel of Carman appears to have been in use immediately after the departure of the Romans. It was either a very important fortress of the kings of the Strathclyde Britons, or (if historian Alistair Moffat is correct) an equally important temple. It coulsd easily have been both. If, as has been indicated, the Britons of the Dumbarton area were by 450 AD Christian, then Carmen would most certainly have been a Christian site. Even if it had originally been pagan it would have been Christianised by the time of Coroticus. The significance of this is that the Carman citadel may have been the first Christian "church" in the Vale of Leven. (Even the chapel of St Patrick at Dumbarton Rock is only traditionally dated to the sixth century).
These conclusions, as can be sen, are based on the up-to-date opinions conventional archaeolgists and historians. As a footnote perhaps it may be permitted to enter more speculative territory by suggesting that Carmen may well have had a significant Arthurian connection. The actual historical person on whom the legendary King Arthur is based is generally agreed by historians to have been a war-leader of the Britons in the late fifth century. The earlieswt mention of Arthur in literatur appears to have been in the poem Y Gododdin by Aneirn. It is said that this work was first committed to writing at Dumbarton Rock. The late Prof. Ian Grimble wrote...
"After the Roman legions had left, the British kingdoms of southern Scotland fought to maintain themselves against the Picts and the Scots to their north, and against the expansionist English of Northumbria to their south. In their Welsh language the earliest surviving Scottish poem was composed, telling of the defeat of the Gododdin heroes by the English; and this poem contains far the earliest reference to the British resistance leader, Arthur. When the old British kingdoms of Gododdin, Strathclyde and Rheged had vanished, the traditions of the Men of the North were preserved in Wales --- the only part of the once predominantly British Isles in which their language remains to this day. The story of Arthur travelled south until he was given a new setting as far south as Tintagel in Welsh-speaking Cornwall."
(The name "Carman" is thought to have derived from the Welsh "caer" meaning fort)
Nennius, writing in the seventh century, tells us that Arthur led conflicts between the Antonine Wall and Hadrian's Wall - which is to say in Southern Scotland. Then Geoffrey of Monmouth, in the eleventh century, tells us that Arthur fought a number of battles in Scotland, one being on around Loch Lomond. Given that Arthur was a Briton, and that he was engaged in warfare close to the capital of the Strathclyde Britons - Dumbarton Rock - it is surely not unreasonable to suggest that nhe might well have had an associatin with both the Rock and the citadel of Carman.
There are, indeed, "ifs" and "buts" in all of this. The Carman site has never been excavated, and a thorough, professional excavation is required to provide authoritative answers regarding what was clearly a very significant focus of power to the Britons of Strathclyde.
By W Scobie