Clan Carruthers

CLAN CARRUTHERS: Origins of the Border Reiver Riding Families; a hypothesis.

iu-9.jpegAs we know, the story of the Reivers dates from the 1300’s and continued through into the late 17th century. Their story covers the border between the two sovereign countries of England and Scotland, which ran from the far west to the far eastern Marches. In those days, the Solway–Tweed line was legally established in 1237 by the Treaty of York between England and Scotland and remains the border today. It did however display all of the characteristics of a lawless frontier, where cattle rustling, feuding, murder, arson, kidnapping and pillaging were common place.

However, although the origins of some of the families may remain a mystery,  this interesting piece was taken from the December 2004 edition of ‘The Border ReiverVol 11 Number 4, the ‘Voice of Clan Hall, and although not necessarily accurate for all Borderers, it was such an interesting piece I thought I would share it here.

The Origins of the Reiver Families; a considered hypothesis?

Sarmatians in Roman Service 175 – 410AD with draconarius banner

Horsemanship and combat was such an integral part of the Border Reiver’s world that it lent its name— chivalry— to its ideological core.

The peoples of the Border Reiver’s time, who had the deepest and most intimate relations with horses, were neither Celts nor Romans. They were, instead, descendants of the first horse riders.

Around 700 BC, several thousand years after the Old People came, groups of horse-riding warriors were seen in the Tweed valley. They came from continental Europe and they spoke a language called P- Celtic. Tall, fair-headed and vigorous, they brought a military technology based on the horse and chariot which must have given them an immediate and terrifying dominance over the river-folk they found in Southern Scotland.

Not until 79 AD, when Gnaeus Julius Agricola, the governor of Britannia, marched his legions over the Cheviot Hills into the Borders, was the peace and tranquillity shattered by the arrival of the Roman army. As of the political geography is understood, the Votadini tribe inhabited a swathe of country in the eastern Borders, from the Lothian plain down into Northumberland, while the hills to the west were occupied by the Selgovae. From the Roman [Trimontium] garrisons near Newstead, which are almost absent from the country east of Lauderdale, it is generally surmised that the Votadini were a peaceful tribe, whereas the lands of the warlike Selgovae had to be held at some strength.

Under the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180AD), the Roman Army campaigned for eight years in the central and north- ern parts of the Carpathian Basin, north and east of the Roman lines along the Danube River against the Quadi, a German tribe, and Sarmatians [’lizard people’ – clothed fully in scale armour], Iranian speaking barbarians who came from east of the Carpathians, from the south Russian steppe and from the Lower Danube Plains near the Black Sea. After hard but victorious battles, the Sarmatian tribe Lazyges’ king Zanticus agreed to hand over 8,000 horsemen as hostages, with 5,500 Sarmatian cavalry consisting of prisoners of war.

Screen Shot 2020-10-17 at 13.55.31.pngThey were posted to Britain in 175 AD. Marcus Aurelius sent these warriors to Britannia, the first steppe nomads with maybe 15,000 tough steppe war- horses, stallions and mares with colts at their side, to establish a breeding pool at their destination to de- ploy them along the empire’s frontier hot spot, Hadrian’s Wall and beyond. The Sarmatians were pressed into the Ro- man army as auxiliary cavalry, and riding under their own banner of the flying dragon [draconarius] (see cover picture), consisting of a red silken windsock sewn into the shape of a serpentine dragon which hissed when filled with air as its bearer charged into battle. The Sarmatians, with their women-warriors (Greeks called them Amazons), were nomadic fighting horsemen riding fine quality thoroughbred horses, capable of covering enormous distances either in pursuit or fight, riding horses that are swift and tractable. Sarmatians were swordsmen. They used long slashing swords [28—51 inches long] delivering blows at close quarters from the saddle, literally cutting people down. They also used bows and arrows and a two-handed spear/lance [9—14 feet long]. The armour garment of Sarmatian cavalry was the scale cuirass covered with iron and brass scales, and later made from split horse hooves.

Sarmatian Homeland

Samartian Horsemen

Not only did these men add to the sum of native horse and cavalry knowledge, but also their terrifying standard gave us a peculiarly British name for a cavalry trooper, a dragoon. The Draconarius standard and colours have a curious resonance in the Red Dragon of Wales.

Sarmatians were stationed in permanent camps outside the Roman forts at Ribchester in Lancashire, Chester, at Hadrian’s Wall and forward in the frontier garrisons (i.e. Trimontium). The cavalry’s job was to patrol the “no man’s land” in front of the wall north into southern Scot- land. They were working in the lands of these independent Britons and doubt- less mixing with them socially as well as fighting alongside them, scouting for signs of barbarian Pictish raiding parties and intercepting them before they be- sieged the wall.

The Celts were already a society that used the horse widely for warfare. The Romans trained them and in southern Scotland showed how policing and warfare could be carried out successfully on horseback. The Sarmatians created military stud farms to breed replacement horses as needed. Their cavalry horses were generally much smaller than those we see today. The largest were about fourteen hands and the smallest eleven. Riders’ legs would dangle lower than the bellies of some these animals.

After the withdrawal of the Roman army in 410 AD, the Sarmatians stayed and continued to live in their accustomed sites (Chester, Ribchester, etc.), raising new generations of cavalrymen, and passed their skills, knowledge and customs into the British mainstream.

They were still called Sarmatians after 250 years. The semi-historic Arthur lived about 500 AD. He was very probably a descendant of those Sarmatian horsemen, a battle leader of the Romanized Celts and Britons against the Anglo-Saxons, who invaded Britain after the Roman army had withdrawn. Arthur and his military leaders trained the natives as armoured horseman after Iranian patterns used against the attacks of Angles and Saxons fighting on foot, until their victory at Badon hill. The Border Scots have long been noted horse breeders. Such horses were ideal all- purpose mounts both for peace-time raiders and war-time light cavalry.

Thus were the beginnings of very long traditions which were embraced by the Border Reiver riding families and persist in the pre- sent day annual Riding of the Marches— Common Riding festivals.

Eurasian Steppes

According to, the Samartians were a large confederation that existed in classical antiquity and flourished from approximately the 5th century BC to the 4th century AD. Their origins are to be found in the central parts of the Eurasian Steppe. Around the 4th century BC, they started migrating westwards. Around they first century AD with their territory referred to as Sarmatia by Greco-Roman ethnographers. It extended from the River Vistula to the delta of the River Danube and eastward to the River Volga, bordering the shores of both the Black sea and the Caspian Sea and reaching the Caucasus to the south.


Arthur the Dragon King – The Barbaric Roots of British’s Greatest Legend, by Howard Reid, ISBN 0-7472-7557-2

Arthur and the Lost Kingdom, by Alistair Moffat, ISBN 0-297-64324-X

The Sarmatians 600BC—AD450, Brzezinski & Mielczarek, ISBN 1-84176-485-X
The Steel Bonnets, by George MacDonald Fraser, ISBN 0-00-272746-3

Web Sites: arthur.html

MV5BMTk4MTk1NjI0OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDQxOTUyMQ@@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_.jpgWhat is interesting is that the 2004 movie King Arthur, directed by Antoine Fuqua and staring Clive Owen, Stephen Dillane and Keira Knightley, depicts this very hypothesis and it claimed to represent a demystified take on the tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It is suggested it is based on a more realistic portrayal of “Arthur” than has ever been presented on screen.

The film focused on the history and politics of the period during which ‘Arthur’ may have ruled — when the Roman empire collapsed and skirmishes over power broke out in outlying countries — as opposed to the mystical and legendary elements of the tale, on which past Arthur films have focused. It is fair to state that in actual fact, there is no real evidence that he ever existed.

Interestingly, Carruthers may or may not have been part of this process through a maternal line, as current yDNA research is suggesting that we may be seeing some accuracy rather than bizarre claims, of our own patronymic origins. It seems that our paternal line arrived in Dumfriesshire from Sweden around 900 AD, but with no apparent links to Gutland that we can find.

Historically Swedes, unlike their cousins the Danes and Norwegians are known to have never actually invaded nor settled in Britain, we are not certain where he actually came from.

What we can say for definite was that he was there and that he bred with the indigenous people of the region to keep the line alive. All this occurred, 300 years or so before our name was first recorded by William of Carruthers in the reign of Alexander II, but well after the hypothetical origins of the Reivers as suggested above, unless the maternal line is taken into consideration.

Clan Carruthers Society WP footnote 2021


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