Walking Historic and Ancient sites: the Areas around Three Cliffs Bay and Cefn Bryn – Thomas Alexander Husøy

In our final post this side of 2019, Thomas Husøy writes about some of the ancient sites that he has encountered on his walking adventures. We hope this inspires and encourages you to explore some of these amazing local places of interest…weather permitting!


The Gower peninsula is full of historical sites, and in this blog post, I will be discussing some of these sites, namely: Arthur’s Stone (Maen Ceti), the neolithic sites at Parc Le Bereos and some historical sites around Three Cliffs Bay.

Arthur’s Stone or Mean Ceti.

Arthur’s Stone, or in Welsh Maen Ceti, is a large Neolithic burial site on the North-Western edge of the Cefn Bryn Ridge. Cefn Bryn is a ridge on Gower, with the second-highest point of the Gower (186 m) and offers spectacular views over the Gower coast and towards Carmarthenshire, the Brecon Beacons, Glamorgan and Devon.

The main burial mound at Arthur’s Stone is a prominent landmark and has been a visitor attraction for the past half a millennia. The site consists of a large boulder, sitting on top of several smaller rock-pillars holding the large boulder up. The current boulder on top of the burial chambers used to be larger, however, parts of the rock have broken off, this part of the boulder is now laying around the site.


Arthur’s Stone.

Owing to its prominent position in the landscape, several legends and folktales surround Arthur’s Stone:

  1. When King Arthur travelled through Carmarthenshire, he discovered a small stone in his shoes and threw it away. The stone flew across the estuary and landed on Cefn Bryn, owing to the powerful touch of the king the stone grew in size as it flew across the estuary, and became the boulder we see today held up by smaller stones.
  2. Another piece of local folklore suggests that the rock travels down to the sea, in some cases this is a stream, for a drink. According to some, this is a daily event, albeit another variety suggest that this event takes place at New Year’s Eve.
  3. Folklore suggests that young ladies could use Arthur’s Stone to determine whether or not their partners would be loyal and worthy of keeping. This by taking advantage of the magic properties of Arthur’s Stone by doing a ritual; bring cakes made out of barley meal and honey, dipped in milk and place them on the stone. After placing the cakes on the rock the young lady must crawl around the stone three times if after the third time was completed the partner of the young man would appear if he did not he was not faithful and worth keeping around.


Parc Le Bereos.

On the South-Eastern side of Cefn Bryn, Camp Le Bereos is located, with a scout campsite on the grounds. Close to this there is a large partial restored Neolithic tomb, named Parc Cwm Long Cairn and is only a short walk from Parkmill and is dated to roughly 5850 BCE. It is considered to be of the Severn-Costwold type of burial chambers, the type takes its name from many of these structures being found in the areas around the Severn and Costwold, however, burials of the same type have been found in the Brecons and on the Gower. This type of burial chambers is recognized from their wedge shape. The structure of the cairn is rather large, and therefore it has been nicknamed Giant’s Grave.


Parc Le Cwm Carin.

The tomb was first discovered in 1859, and first excavated following this, sine this the burial site has been excavated several times. In the tomb, there was discovered remains of forty people in the tomb. These remains seem to be from both males and females, children and adult. The remains of the side suggested that the burial site was in use for somewhere between 300-800 years. Inside the structure, there is a passageway, often called a gallery, with burial chambers on each side.

Close to the Parc Cwm Long Cairn, you find the Catholm Cave, located approximately fifteen meters above the valley bottom where the Cairn is found.


Cathole Cave


This a large limestone cave, with two main entrances. In 2010 Rock Art dated to the Upper Paleolithic period was discovered in this cave, dated to be the oldest in the British Isles and potentially in North-Western Europe, next to the Rock Art there has been found Late Glacial Tools and animal bones from the Upper Paleolithic period. From the Bronze Age, there were found two human skeletons, an axe and pottery. Unfortunately, owing to vandalism the cave is now partly barred off.


Three Cliffs Bay.


Pennard Castle.


Two sites around Three Cliffs Bay will be briefly discussed here, the first one will be Pennard Castle. This castle is found on the eastern edge of Pennard Castle, on the Pennard Golf course. The overlooks the bay and has dramatic sheer drops towards the Northern and Western side of the Castle. The castle was originally built as a timber ringwork as a part of the Norman invasion of Wales and was used to secure the Lordship of Gower. The current castle ruins we can see today dates from the 13th century when it was rebuilt in stone by using limestone and sandstone. Pennard Castle is a small, but beautiful castle well worth a visit.

Finally, I will finish by mentioning Penmaen Burrows, located to the west of Three Cliffs Bay where another Neolithic burial site is located. Just like Arthur’s Stone, the Panmaen Burrows burial chamber is mostly buried and much harder to find as it buried again after excavations in the 19th century on account of blowing sand. The structure is built of a combination of conglomerate, sandstone and limestone.



Penmaen Burrows.


All of these sites are relatively easy to get through, albeit Penmaen Burrows is slightly tricky to find, and all of these are located on good public footpaths on the Gower and can be included in a hike or similar.

All photographs by Thomas Alexander Husøy.


Archaeology and Climate Change throughout Wales

This week, Amber Andrews reflects upon the impact of climate change on Welsh archaeological discoveries. More than this, she shares with us her experiences working with local heritage sites and how these can offer essential resources for academic study and future opportunities.  Amber completed her undergraduate studies here at Swansea in 2019. and is currently studying for her MA in Ancient History and Classical Culture.

Placements and Their Importance: Archaeology and Climate Change throughout Wales.

By Amber Andrews

Amber at Castell Bach, September 2019.


After much consideration of archaeological developments across Wales, it was a no-brainer for me to pursue research on Roman Wales in the final year of my undergraduate degree.  The idea for my dissertation, Roman Wales: The Impacts of Climate Change on Aerial Photography and Influence on New Archaeological Discoveries, came about due to the extreme weather Wales experienced during the summer of 2018. As climate change dried out the ground, hundreds of new archaeological sites ranging from prehistoric hill forts to medieval churches and buildings were exposed and then studied through the medium of aerial photography. These new discoveries shed exciting new light on our understanding of all eras throughout Wales’ history, as well as highlighting significant implications for its future. Writing a dissertation in this field, however, requires a vast amount of knowledge of the archaeological scene pre- 2018. This would have caused severe issues for the progress of the dissertation if I had not taken part in a voluntary placement during the summer of 2018.

Voluntary placements offered me a chance to attend archaeological sites and at one exciting site in Carmarthen I got to hold a newly unearthed 1st century Roman bowl (below); it was exquisitely intact. On the bottom of the bowl a flower had been carved into the clay before firing. Parallels of this mark had also been found across Europe indicating that Roman Wales had been more in tune with wider trading networks than has previously been assumed.

Bowl excavated in Roman Wales – 1st century AD

Archaeological site visits also allowed me to meet and discuss ideas about Roman Wales with a number of academics and volunteers who also came to have a look at the new discoveries. During one of these trips I met Dr Toby Driver – an archaeologist and aerial investigator. We discussed aerial photography at length as he had been busy over the earlier parts of the summer, taking flight paths over the lesser explored areas of Wales, searching for newly exposed archaeological sites made visible by the extreme, dry weather. Dr Driver’s expertise was invaluable as I researched my dissertation and he granted me access to reports and images that were not accessible to the public. I was also able to run ideas past him regarding archaeological practices and interpretations of the evidence.

When I submitted my dissertation I began to think about future career opportunities. I contacted Toby to see if I could join him on his work and this led to me gaining more experience on another voluntary placement during the summer of 2019 with the Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales. Simultaneously fortunate, yet also not, the weather during the summer of 2019 did not go to the same extreme as in 2018, but there were other opportunities for developing our understanding of the archaeology throughout Wales such as working with The CHERISH Project. This five-year project, run by the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales and the Centre for Archaeology and Innovation in Ireland, aims to close gaps in our archaeological knowledge along the coasts of Wales and Ireland as many potential sites are at risk of being affected by climate change. During my work for them I successfully developed a range of skills such as the ability to use computer software to process LiDAR information taken by flight paths beaming lasers onto the ground. I focussed on six coastal islands around Wales by creating both Digital Surface Models and Digital Terrain Models, as well as creating 3D images of the islands, that highlighted the archaeology present in a clear and aesthetic way. These images are in the process of being placed into the Royal Commission’s archives, as well as being posted on the Coflein website for the wider public to use, to bring attention to the wonderful archaeology present around the Welsh coastline that could be at risk from climate change.

Placements such as these cannot be underestimated. Their benefits are palpable and give you experience in a working environment that can be extremely rewarding whilst gaining new skills. More than this they are opportunities to gain work experience with a range of experts, expand your contacts for future opportunities, and broaden your outlook on academic and real world circumstances.

OLCAP Workshop

Mapping Landscapes and Monuments

Saturday 9th November, Singleton Park

On a sometimes wet and sometimes gorgeous autumnal Saturday, OLCAP ran its first Master’s workshop aimed at level six (third year) and MA students. For our first event we went back to basics to practice mapping monuments. The main aim was to get students thinking about the types of skills that they might need to fulfil their career aspirations as well as to get them thinking critically about space, maps and the landscape.

Using Singleton Park as our base, and armed with wellies and rain coats, we spent the day measuring and recording parts of the Gorsedd stone circle that was built in 1925 and expanded for the 1964 Eisteddford. The “master” who kindly donated his expertise for the day was Alex Makovics, a GIS specialist, surveyor and archaeologist. Alex has worked all over the world surveying a range of environments from the deserts of Egypt and Sudan to the jungle of Laos and now with the GIS office for Keep Wales Tidy.

Measuring and recording one of the circle stones.

Our students, from History, Egyptology and Ancient History worked in two groups to measure, record and draw the key contours and features of the central “altar”  and one of the taller stones in the circle. We got to grips with drawing skills, using tape measures, string, plumb bobs, wooden stakes, and grid paper. Precision, patience, problem solving and teamwork were key!

Our students were also able to practice setting up and levelling an auto level to measure heights – easier said than done. Our main challenges were keeping dry, making sure that the grass did not interfere with measurements we needed to take on the ground, and trying not to get too distracted by the many dogs that wanted to join in! Over the space of four hours we were able to mark out grids on the ground, measure and fully record our “excavation” units.

Alex Makovics guiding the students as they get to grips with the auto level.

We rounded the workshop off with a short talk from Alex who shared with us some of his favourite maps. Highlights included data collated to visually represent the spread of cholera in 19th century London (the led to stemming the disease), the dramatic depletion of army recruits involved in the Napoleonic War (see the map below!), the density of hedge rows across Wales, and an intriguing example of map misuse that juxtaposed voting patterns with wild boar populations in modern day Poland. What a great way to get us thinking about how precise measurements of the minutiae can feed into the bigger picture!

Alex sharing some striking maps from a range of historical periods with us. This one charts the decline in army numbers during the Napoleonic Wars.
The Napoleonic army on the march! The beige line charts their march to Moscow and the black one their return. The width corresponds to their declining numbers.

A huge thank you to Alex for joining us, to Alex Langlands (History, Swansea) for supporting the event by sharing equipment needed to undertake our surveys, and to our wonderful students for taking part!

Team Selfie!

We look forward to our next workshop next term that will focus on digital epigraphy. If you would like more information about it or to sign up please do not hesitate to get in touch with us via email: (ersin.hussein@swansea.ac.uk or christian.knobluach@swansea.ac.uk)

In the meantime, for more information about the affiliated projects mentioned in the post see the links below:

School pupil visit to our Department in March 2017

On the 16th March, we had our annual Classics Schools’ day. Pupils from four local schools attended the day and took part in workshops and talks by our academic staff as well as an object handling session at the Egypt centre. Pupils from Castle School in Pembrokeshire reflect on their experience:

Swansea University

We arrived at Swansea at about 10:30 at the large, phenomenal university. We were a bit late due to traffic and parking problems but that didn’t matter much! On the way to the entrance I couldn’t help but notice the big buildings and the green garden areas. Beautiful. The inside was equally as nice and after getting lost we found our way to the first talk. Sadly we had missed a bit because we were late.

When we got there (a bit late because it takes an hour to get there and there were some traffic and parking problems) we saw lots of people, so it must be a big university.

Classics in Wales

The first talk was taken by Dr. Evelien Bracke. It was about the Romans and some Roman artefacts in Wales. It was very interesting. She talked about some Roman Artwork and buildings in Swansea that were inspired by Roman architecture. The students mentioned many museums in Swansea that held proof that the Romans did play a big role in British society. In fact we had just recently visited Caerleon where there is a theatre and some cool Roman baths. It’s amazing there.



The motto of University College Swansea and the Welsh spirit

The tradition for UK universities to have a motto goes back to the sixteenth century at least, when Oxford started using Dominus illuminatio mea, the Latin opening words of Psalm 27 (‘the Lord is my light’) as official motto. Cambridge followed suit and created the Latin phrase Hinc lucem et pocula clara (‘from here, light and sacred draughts’). In the eighteenth century, St Andrews looked towards Homer’s Iliad 6.208 for inspiration for its ancient Greek motto Aein aristeuein, ‘ever to excel’. Glasgow adopted as its motto a line from the Latin Gospel of John, Via veritas vita (‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life’), while Aberdeen applied Initium sapientiae timor domini (‘the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord’), found in Psalm 111.

Pedagogy and politics

A quick glance at the five oldest universities in the UK reveals that mottos, rather than being just about pedagogy, were designed to present a clear message to the outside world regarding the values of individual institutions, particularly relating to religion and politics. Oxford, Glasgow, and Aberdeen explicitly connected learning with Christian belief, while St Andrews applied a Classical agonistic attitude to learning. Access to and control of the study of Classics and the Church of England were, however, largely monopolised by the upper class; these mottos therefore also reveal a political agenda. Cambridge, indeed, rebelled by inventing its motto, yet by retaining the use of Latin simultaneously acknowledged its place in the conventional tradition.

Whatever the origins of the mottos, what is clear is that Latin was considered the lingua franca – St Andrew’s choice to use Greek was the exception rather than the norm, yet also looked back at Classical antiquity. Indeed, both in the UK as abroad, Latin is still the predominant language used for university mottos. No explanation is given for this, but it clearly reflects the status of Latin as the language of learning in the Middle Ages when universities were first being founded, and the tradition has since flourished. In general, the Bible and Classical Latin literature are the most widespread sources; invented mottos with a focus on learning are also common.

Latin… or Welsh?

When University College Swansea was founded in 1920, the Welsh motto Gweddw crefft heb ei dawn, traditionally translated as ‘technical skill is bereft without culture’, was adopted. An article in the South Wales Daily Post of the 15th June 1921 by John Rees (secretary of the Education Board of South Wales Manufacturers), currently housed in the Richard Burton Archives, however, states that ‘it has been suggested, and it must be admitted with considerable force, that if Wales is to take her place in the comity of intellectual nations and their universities, the motto should be expressed in Latin, the common language of understanding of all scholars throughout the world’.

While Latin mottos may have been the norm in England, however, this comment ignored the fact that Swansea was following the norm set by other Welsh universities. Indeed, when the first Welsh university, St David’s College in Lampeter, was founded in 1822, Welsh was chosen as language of its motto: Gair Duw goreu dysg (‘the word of god is the best teacher’). Aberystwyth followed with Nid byd, byd heb wybodaeth (‘a world without wisdom is no world at all’) in 1872, Cardiff with Gwirionedd undod a chytgord (‘truth, unity, and harmony’) in 1883, and Bangor with Gorau dawn deall (‘the best gift is knowledge’) in 1884.

John Rees, in his article about the Swansea motto, goes on to argue that ‘the University College is a Welsh one, and if its motto in Welsh better inspires the highest Welsh spirit, surely let it be so’. This Welsh spirit is indeed clearly emphasized through the consistent use of Welsh rather than Latin by all Welsh higher education institutions. Swansea would have stood out if it had elected a Latin motto, and might have compromised its position among the Welsh universities. The Swansea motto indeed derives from the Myvyrian Archaiology of Wales, a collection of Medieval Welsh literature published in 1801-1807, placing Swansea firmly in the ‘native’ Welsh literary tradition, deliberately rejecting the Classical tradition of Greece and Rome. (Interestingly, the motto of the Vivians who owned Singleton Abbey before it was sold to the University was Latin – vive revicturus, ‘live so you may live again’ – and you can still see salve (‘hello!) when you enter the Abbey building, see my blog post on the subject. Wales was indeed constantly re-defining itself through engagement with ancient Greek and Roman cultural heritage, whether rejecting or emulating it.)

While, on the surface, the Welsh mottos referred to learning and religion similarly to those of other UK institutions, their varying emphasis reveals different values: while St David’s College Lampeter focused on the connection between religion and learning similar to Oxford, the focus of the other universities was on the necessity of learning for personal and global development. There are no biblical or Classical references, which represents a rather strong departure from the conservative norm established by English and indeed Scottish universities. Swansea’s motto thus served as a political and national identifier, acknowledging its place among the other Welsh universities in their native Welsh heritage, and indeed consolidating the unity of Welsh institutions as opposed to the rest of Great Britain.

United universities of Wales

This is similar to other minority groups within larger countries. In Spain, for example, all university mottos are in Latin apart from that of the Universidad del País Vasco, which is in Basque. In South Africa, Latin also still dominates mottos: the only one in Afrikaans belongs to the North-West University. In New Zealand, the only motto which is Maori instead of Latin is the motto of Waikato, which translates as ‘for the people’. It is thus clear that university mottos are marketing messages, delivering a political and often religious or moral code identifying a university in relation to the established tradition. The language of the motto is part and parcel of this message: the use of Latin or, increasingly, English as global lingua franca establishes a university within a traditional, sometimes Christian/Classical, and often conservative framework. The use of a minority language sets a university apart as ‘for the people’. As the examples above demonstrate, however, Wales is the only nation where this approach was – and is – taken in such a unified manner.

Swansea’s motto

Swansea, however, did stand out from the other universities through its motto, not through the language, but through its message. The Swansea University website translates Gweddw crefft heb ei dawn as ‘technical skill/craft is bereft without culture’. The English translation of this motto was immediately contested, not only by the abovementioned John Rees, but also by a then student of the university, Llynfi Davies, who, in an article in the South Wales Daily Post of the 14th June 1921, argued that the translation ought to be ‘destitute is craft without her natural gift’.

In the official university translation, indeed, ‘culture’ seems an unlikely translation for dawn, which is traditionally translated as ‘gift’ (as in Bangor’s motto) or ‘talent’. According to Rees, dawn is ‘not translatable in words into any language, its own included, but it is into music, painting, the arts generally, and into the inspiration of all work, metallurgical, economic, or any other; and it is thus inspiration that tells on the highest levels’.

Swansea’s motto might thus be interpreted as ‘bereft is skill without inspiration’ (gweddw meaning ‘bereft’, which maintains the Welsh word order). Unlike the other Welsh universities, learning was not made a matter controlled by god (Lampeter), the world (Aberystwyth), or the university as charitably dispensing learning (Bangor), nor based on concepts of camaraderie (Cardiff). Swansea’s motto thus places responsibility for learning firmly in the learner’s hands and argues – whether that was the original intention or not – that intellectual capacity must be complemented by inspiration in order to be successful in learning. In this way, it is both firmly placed in the Welsh ideological tradition, yet unique in its focus on the learner’s muse.

Dr Evelien Bracke – Senior Lecturer in Classics

E Tenebris Lux: Thoughts on the reopening of the Glynn Vivian Gallery

This is a guest blog post by Dr Evelien Bracke, who is currently working on the reception of Classics in Wales.


A month ago, I went along to the reopening of the Glynn Vivian gallery, Swansea’s main art gallery, which had been closed for a £6 million refurbishment since October 2011. It was a lovely event and I felt like a child in a sweet shop exploring the collection.


The gallery was the brain child of Richard Glynn Vivian (1835-1910), who bequeathed his art collection to the city of Swansea, together with £10,000 to create a gallery to house it. The collection is really eclectic: there are such diverse pieces in the permanent collection – from Swansea pottery and Welsh paintings (particularly nice to see a number of female Welsh painters represented), to European and oriental art – that you really get drawn in walking from room to room. Apart from the permanent collection, there is also a temporary exhibit with Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawings which is worthwhile visiting.


An influential family

I was excited to find out that Richard Glynn Vivian, the gallery’s founder, was in fact part of the Vivian family who lived at Singleton Abbey before it became part of the university, about which I have blogged before. The Classical education of the Vivians greets you at Singleton Abbey with a ‘salve’ (‘hello’ in Latin) when you enter the building, and likewise, Classical influences can be found in the Glynn Vivian collection.

While his older brothers studied science and looked after the family copper smelting business, Richard studied arts at Cambridge and travelled extensively all around the world. By means of his share of the family fortune, he started amassing an extensive art collection during his travels. It must have come as a terrible blow when he started going blind in 1902. He wrote and published a collection of poems (which I’m yet to get my hands on) called E tenebris lux, ‘out of darkness, light’, with the sub-heading ‘scattered leaves gathered together during hours of blindness’.

Richard Glynn Vivian
Richard Glynn Vivian

The Latin title, which refers to Genesis 1.4, expresses the strengthening of his Christian faith – already running deep in the Vivian family, as the Latin quotes on the walls of the council chamber of the Abbey reveal – because of his blindness, and it was to the cause of shining a beacon of light in the darkness of humanity that he dedicated the rest of his life.

Apart from opening the Glynn Vivian gallery which gave access to international art to people from all economic backgrounds in South Wales, he also became a patron of miners – which will have had a profound impact on local communities – through the Glynn Vivian Miners’ Mission and established a home for the blind on Gower. Upon his death, his will further divided his fortune between charities.


Dialogue of past and present

Walking through the gallery, Glynn Vivian’s personal taste and philanthropy really speak to visitors through his collection. While Wales plays the leading role in his collection, Classical influences can also be spotted, at times very obviously, other times in a whisper. The statue of the sleeping Pan by French artist S.J. Brun (1832), given a prominent space on its own between two rooms and cleverly juxtaposed with views of the long glass windows and the Swansea street, is a beautiful example.

Sleeping Pan        Sleeping Pan with Swansea view

Less obvious, tucked away among other pieces, is the Dillwyn pottery with Greek-style red-figure vase paintings, inspired by 18th and 19th century archaeological excavations in Etruria. This pottery stands in similar contrast with the contemporary styles of other vases which surround them.

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While the building itself has a Baroque style, its interior – and particularly the neoclassical busts – stand in stark contrast with the (awesomely disturbing) postmodern Matrix-like installation on the ground floor.

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The present curators have obviously created clear boundaries between past and present through their choice of pieces that are very different in style. While they sometimes jar visually, all pieces live harmoniously within the building itself which embraces both its Baroque past and utilitarian extension. I particularly like how part of the building has been opened up onto the street, like a Greek theatre looking out onto the polis while the plays were being staged within.

I can’t wait to go and explore all the pieces further – you might find me sitting in front of the Turner painting for quite a while… In the meantime, though, I’m happy to report that the reopened Glynn Vivian gallery, outward looking and inviting visitors to consider the dialogue – or is it a clash? – between eclectic pasts and present, continues Glynn Vivian’s humanist quest to give everyone access to art and create e tenebris lux!

Departmental nomination for Swansea University Research and Innovation Awards

Congratulations to Dr Evelien Bracke, Senior Lecturer in our Department, who has been nominated for this year’s Research and Innovation awards organised by Swansea University, in the category of Public Engagement.

Evelien has been nominated for her work on ‘Literacy through Classics: between pupil and policy’. For information about her Literacy through Classics project, see www.literacythroughclassics.weebly.com and www.cymruwalesclassicshub.weebly.com.

The list of nominations can be found here.


Our Department has had previous success at these institutional awards. In 2015, Dr Nigel Pollard was the winning nominee in the category of Law and Public Policy: http://www.swansea.ac.uk/riah/news/archive/2014-2015/celebratingresearchimpactswanseauniversityimpactawards2015.php and Evelien also got nominated for Public Engagement.

Classics at Swansea University between copper business and tinplate worker: Ceri Richards’ Rape of Europa

Blog post by Dr Evelien Bracke, Senior Lecturer in Classics, on CLC315 (Classics in Popular Culture).

For my new third-year module, Classics in Popular Culture (CLC315), I decided to take students on a walk through the Singleton Campus, to get them thinking about the ways in which Classics have been appropriated to convey messages about status and ideology in their immediate context.

The walk was a short and straightforward one, along the mall from Singleton Abbey to Fulton House. I have previously blogged about the use of Classics (particularly Latin) in Singleton Abbey. This building, now part of the university, was once the home of the Vivian family who made their fortune from the copper-smelting business.

The contrast with Fulton House, which forms the end of the mall on the other side, could not be starker: juxtaposing the Abbey’s neoclassical abundance, Fulton House earned its Grade II listed status on the basis of its post-war modernist style, designed by architect Percy Thomas. (The students gave Fulton an average of 0/10 for looks.) The building was named after John Fulton, VC of the University of Wales, who had studied Classics at Balliol.

Singleton Abbey
Singleton Abbey
Fulton House
Fulton House

Because of its austere modernism, I had never gone looking for Classical influences in Fulton House – until we had an Open Day in the refectory last summer, and, while I was talking to a prospective student, my gaze suddenly fell upon the large painting of the rape of Europa on the wall. I had never paid attention to it before, even though it has been hiding in plain view since I arrived at Swansea.

Ceri Richards' Rape of Europa
Ceri Richards’ Rape of Europa

The artist is Ceri Richards, born in Dunvant (part of Swansea) in 1903. I can’t but love the way in which his use of Classics contrasts with the wealthy Vivians in the Abbey. Raised in a working class family as the son of a tinplate worker, he was nevertheless brought up surrounded by culture: his mother came from a family of craftsmen, and his father wrote poetry and directed the local choir.

It was in 1921, when Richards went to study at the Swansea College of Art, that he became immersed in Classics while drawing classical casts. A week’s study at Gregynog Hall in mid Wales, the centre for excellence in the arts established by the Davies sisters, must have further sparked his interest (I will write about the Davies sisters in a future blog post).

The theme that intrigued him the most, to the point of obsession, in the years 1945-‘49, was the rape of the Sabine women, a well-known story from Roman foundation myth (‘rape’ here signifies ‘abduction’ by the way).

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As Livy (Ab Urbe Condita 1.9) narrates, Romulus (Remus’s brother and founder of Rome), unable to find wives for his male followers, tricked the neighbouring Sabines into attending a festival, at which the women were abducted while the men were busy fighting. It is a well-known artistic topos, which has been depicted countless times in art throughout the centuries. To find it in Richards’ repertoire is thus, to a certain extent, not that unusual.

Richards’ wife, Frances, however, says his immediate inspiration came from the force that through the green fuse drives the flower, a poem by fellow Swansea artist Dylan Thomas whom Richards admired greatly. The first two verses give a flavour of the content:


The force that through the green fuse drives the flower

Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees

Is my destroyer.

And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose

My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.


The force that drives the water through the rocks

Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams

Turns mine to wax.

And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins

How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.


Dylan Thomas’s harrowing poem laments the destructive action of time on nature and mankind. Similarly, as J.R. Webster argues, Richards’ depiction of the Sabine women represented a ‘violent consummation of his wartime preoccupations with birth and death’. The connections between the story of the Sabines and Dylan Thomas might at first seem tenuous: while Thomas’s poem concerns violence enacted by time onto all mankind, Richards focused rather on violence done to women by men. It is unnecessary, however, to look for any logical connection: both pieces reflect on violence through an emotional response and mood rather than logic. Richards thus amalgamated Welsh and Classical influences into one strong image.

In 1964, Richards was invited to create a painting on a similar theme, the rape of Europa, for the Hotel Europa. Thus he embarked on a series of paintings on that theme, one of which now adorns the Fulton Refectory.

richards-ceri-1903-1971-united-theme-europa-1659341-500-500-1659341 d209a9cc-8095-4d90-8e3c-1e67147268bf_g

While the Sabine story derives from Roman myth, the story of Europa was ancient Greek in origin: the god Zeus has fallen in love with Europa and had transformed himself into a bull in order to get close to her. Ovid narrates (Metamorphoses 2.833ff.):


And gradually she lost her fear, and he

Offered his breast for her virgin caresses,

His horns for her to wind with chains of flowers

Until the princess dared to mount his back

Her pet bull’s back, unwitting whom she rode.

Then—slowly, slowly down the broad, dry beach—

First in the shallow waves the great god set

His spurious hooves, then sauntered further out

’til in the open sea he bore his prize

Fear filled her heart as, gazing back, she saw

The fast receding sands. Her right hand grasped

A horn, the other lent upon his back

Her fluttering tunic floated in the breeze.


Ultimately, Zeus made Europa queen of Crete, and her name became used for the continent of Europe.

While many post-Classical depictions retain the Ovidian image of Europa holding on to the horn of the bull, Richards’ has her swung back, similarly to the Sabines, held by her waist by the bull/Zeus.

An interesting innovation is that, in each of the paintings, Zeus is in fact taking off a bull-shaped mask, suggesting he had somehow disguised himself rather than transformed, which renders him more human, somehow less capable of divine transformation. One of my students first likened him to a centaur, and it is not unreasonable to discern a centaur-like aspect in his representation. Indeed, the connection between male and horse/bull – present in both rape of the Sabines and rape of Europa – may represent the animalistic aggression by war and time, contrasted starkly with the innocent women, whose accentuated female forms accord with nature. Already in antiquity, both centaurs and (of course) Zeus were depicted as lascivious beyond the norm, violating innocent mortals. Zeus’s representation as part animal, part anthropomorphic, emphasizes the worrying impact of mankind’s animalistic nature on his surroundings.

Ceri Richards’ painting can be interpreted at two levels. First there is Richards’ own use of violent Classical myth in order to cope with and express his feelings about WWII, during which he taught at the Cardiff School of Art. The concept of mankind’s animalistic aggression clearly resonated with him, perhaps – if read through Dylan Thomas’ poem – as random acts against which there is no defense.

A second level of interpretation, however, concerns the context in which the panel was placed (it has apparently been in Fulton House from the moment the building was put to use). The obvious reason is that this was a celebrated Welsh, local artist, whose work deserved displaying. Interestingly, however, the painting also adds an element of Classical heritage to a building which is otherwise devoid of it, thereby connecting Fulton House with the Abbey.

Ideologically, however, the Rape of Europa contains a contradiction: those who decided to display it in Fulton House – perhaps in honour of Fulton’s own study of Classics – did so to lend an air of eminence and status to the building. Richards’ own application of Classics, by contrast, derived from his working-class background, depicting the horrors of war rather than status. In this capacity, the painting by the tinplate worker’s son forms a stark contrast with the Latin mottos adorning the coal-funded Abbey, and invites the viewer to question the links between education, class, and ideology.

At this point in time, moreover, this image takes on a whole new meaning which no one would have anticipated: in Brexit times, the placement of the rape of Europa in a Welsh context suddenly asks poignant and urgent questions regarding identity and ideology. Who might we cast as Zeus now, who as Europa? We were only able to touch upon layers of Classical reception on our walk, so we’ll look forward to discussing these in our next lectures.

Blog articles by department staff

Jo Berry has written a blog article about the ancient Roman city of Pompeii that was buried due to the eruption of Mount Versuvius in AD 79. It is titled Eight things you (probably) didn’t know about Pompeii (2015) and features on the BBC History website, which can be found here.

Evelien Bracke has also written several blog articles that are listed below:

  • The story of Liddell and Scott, who published the Greek-English Lexicon in 1843. The revenge of the killer dictionary: the story of Liddell, Scott, and a disgruntled octopus can be found on the Gorffennol website of the University here.
  • The development of Classics in Wales and South West Wales in particular. Uniting Ram and Dragon: Classics in Wales is located here and Developing Classics in Wales can be accessed here.
  • Numerous blog posts on a variety of topics the Secretary’s blog section of the South West Wales Classical Association website. The site is located here.

Classics in Wales

In February this year, Evelien Bracke organised the first Teaching Classics in Wales conference. You can find a storify of the day here: https://storify.com/nimuevelien/cymru-wales-classics-hub-first-annual-conference.

She has also written two blog posts for the Classical Association on Classics in Wales:




The report she wrote for the Welsh Government on Latin in Wales can be found here.