Clan Carruthers

Clan Carruthers: Between the Walls – the Ancient people of ‘Carruthers’.


Antonine’s Wall was commenced around AD 142, 20 years after Hadrian built his.  It was constructed on command of the Emperor Antoninus Pius to try to control the guerrilla attacks by the Pictish nations. It was a massive feat of engineering covering over 39 miles. Running from the Firth of Forth in the East of Scotland to the Firth of Clyde in the West, it was the final border between Roman Britain in Caledonia, a term used to describe the lands north of Hadrian’s wall, and the Pictish tribes in the North.

However, it was only manned for around 20 years in total, before it was abandoned after the Romans withdrew from Caledonia in 142 AD to Hadrian’s Wall, 99 miles to the south. It was less of a structure than its southern neighbour, being made predominantly from earth/turf and wood, and had only 16 military forts and 10 other fortlets along its length.

Hadrian’s Wall, which was just under double the length at 73 miles, also ran between two rivers; the River Tyne in the East, and the Solway Firth in the west. This was a  far grander and more solid affair, being made of stone, and was, according to the Emperor Hadrian biographer  “built to separate the Romans from the barbarians”. It stood as a fortification until the Romans left Britain in 410 AD.

Although there was Roman occupation between the walls, dissent still existed between the tribes and the Romans. War had existed between the Celts and the Romans since they landed in Britain in 55 BC during the reign of the Emperor Julius Caesar. Progressively, they gained control of Wales and southern England, but although conquered they were not tamed and fierce resistance continued, especially from the tribes in the north.  During the time of Agricola, the Romans brought a massive defeat on the Caledonian tribes, according to killing 30,000 warriors. However the attacks by the Caledonian tribes continued, which led to the building of the walls

Over the ensuing decades, the Caledonians continued to be troublesome, mounting numerous attacks on the northern outpost of the empire, from both inside and outside the walls.


Between these two walls lay the lands of the Brythonic tribe the Selgovae. These were the indigenous population of the region around Caer Rydderch/Ruthers. This is the area that was to become known as Carruthers and it is from this region that our family and clan take its name. They are mentioned briefly in Ptolemy’s ‘Geography’, however there is no other historical record of them.

According to information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Edward Dawson, from Atlas of British History, G S P Freeman-Grenville (Rex Collins, London, 1979), from The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain, Peter Solway, from Geography, Ptolemy, and from Life of Agricola, Tacitus:

The Selgovae were an Iron Age Celtic people who occupied much of the territory between the Cheviot Hills and Dumfries in southern Scotland, probably with a southward’s extension into the modern county of Northumberland and into eastern Strathclyde

While it seems obvious that the modern name of Solway (or Salway) is based on the tribe’s name, there is a claim that ‘Solway’ is an Anglo-Saxon construction, ‘sol’ meaning mud and ‘waeth’ meaning a ford, with the ford in question crossing the mudflats at Eskmouth. Documentary evidence for the name only begins in the thirteenth century, long after both the Celtic and Anglo-Saxon periods, so it is impossible to say which origin may be the correct one.

The tribe’s name breaks down as *selg-ā-(je/o-), ‘hunt’, so that *selgo-wiro-(??) means ‘hunter’. Irish Gaelic has seilg (vt, vi) for ‘hunt’. The tribe saw themselves as ‘the hunters’. In Brythonic this was possibly rendered as Selgowion or Selgowon. In Welsh, the Brythonic ‘s’ became an ‘h’ in many cases, so that ‘hunt’ was later rendered as ‘helfa’. The Selgovae may have been one of the ‘four kingdoms of ancient Scotland’ which apparently became established in the second century. By the end of the fourth century, the bulk of the Selgovae’s northern and central territory seems to have been taken over by Alt Clut, and the remnants were part of the supposed High King Coel Hen’s ‘Kingdom of Northern Britain’. Interestingly, the legends as told by Carruthers of Dormont, suggests tales of Carruthers descendancy back to Old King Cole (Coel Hen). The Selgovae were reputedly linked closely with the powerful Celtic confederation of tribes called the Brigante. Overall, the Briganti’s territory was vast, and probably formed of a loose confederation rather than a single kingdom. The later Romano-British kingdom of Rheged was a west-coast evolution of this tribal territory, while Bernaccia, Deywr, and Ebrauc occupied much of the east coast, emerging initially as part of the ‘Kingdom of North Britain’ in the late fourth century AD.

It is known that the Celts (the term used to describe a general culture) populated mainland Britain, having their own languages, society and gods. The Brythonic Celts of Britannia, P-Celts/Brittonic, were a different branch of these collective Indo-European peoples to those who inhabited the island of Hibernia (Ireland) -Q Celts/Goidelic language.  The Oxford Reference offers this distinction between the Q and P Celts:

The division of Celtic languages into Q- and P- families depends on whether they retained the Indo-European qu- or substituted a p-. The substitution of p- for qu- probably took place in the first millennium BC in central Europe and spread to the west, but not as far as Ireland or the Celtic areas of the Iberian peninsula. Gaulish was largely a P-Celtic language, with traces of Q-Celtic. The p-/q- split is clearest in cognates retaining the same roots, e.g. W pen, head and Ir. ceann, head. The Modern P-Celtic languages are Welsh, Cornish, and Breton; these are also called Brythonic. The languages of ancient Britain and Scotland at the time of the Roman invasion were dominantly P-Celtic.

To summarise, appreciating that we are all a vast mix of DNA from many different sources and races, all we can review here is the ancestry of the area and extrapolate forward in time to the existence of Caer Rydderch/Ruther, progressing to the area around it and the peoples on it, taking its name. If this were the case as there is no evidence that our ancestors were statistically anything else to include Norman, Viking or Gael (Q-Celt), it is comforting to think that our family and our ancestors would have lived on the land of what is now Annandale, Dumfriesshire, in south-west Scotland for millennia.

Carruthers, a proud Scottish Border Clan of antiquity. Nice ring to it, and probably true.


Clan Carruthers Society WP footnote grey Final to use


2 thoughts on “Clan Carruthers: Between the Walls – the Ancient people of ‘Carruthers’.”

  1. Can the Carruthers be related to the Heron lineage that ocuupied Ford Castle in Northumberland?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.