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In The Name Of ‘Arthur’

Concept for ebook cover

Concept for ebook cover

Firstly, apologies for any subscriber who received that last rouge post. I was trying out a new piece of software and it published the image without me realising I wasn’t going to be asked if I was sure I wanted it published!

Secondly, apologies for the massive gaps between these blogs, but this has been due to work, ill health and working on the eBook whilst recovering from an operation. That has been the one positive side to all this and it is a lot further on.

However, as you can see from the image, the title of the book has changed. Not only the title, but the whole theme of it. Rather than just dealing with whether there was a historical Arthur of the 5th and 6th centuries I decided to expand it to include, not only the various candidates for the derivation of the name and the myths, but all the known ‘Arthurs’ from 8th century BC Greece to a Duke of Brittany in the Late-12th century. In fact, the eBook, or, rather, eTome, now goes from 800BC to AD1200. It not only covers all the known ‘Arthurs’ but the history of Britannia at the time they are said to have existed, whether that be in physical or story form. This has, of course, expanded it somewhat and also created a great deal more work for myself, but it has been worth it as the whole point of this exercise was as a detailed research document to help with a screen- or radio play. It has worked, and I am also (finally) currently developing the latter.

Below is part of the Introduction:

When it comes to Arthurian scholarship there are two main schools of thought with regards to the Arthur who allegedly fought as the Siege of Mount Badon in the Late-5th or Early 6th centuries (an Arthur that will become known in this work as ‘Arthur’ III): the first school argues that he was a mythological figure (an Arthur who will become known to us as ‘Arthur’ X) from the early Welsh tradition who was historicised (an ‘Arthur’ X who was made into an ‘Arthur’ III) . The second school says that he was a historical figure who was later mythologised (an ‘Arthur’ III who became an ‘Arthur’ X). Both arguments have sub-groups within them. The historicised mythical school gives the original, if not of the myth then the name, as a Greek and Roman demi-god (Arktouros/Arcturus – who I will call ‘Arthur’ I); or a Roman general (Lucius Artorius Castus – ‘Arthur’ II), or some unknown British deity or folk hero. The mythologised historical Arthur school are divided between when an ‘Arthur’ III lived? where he lived? this not being his name but an epithet for another name, such as Ambrosius Aurelianus; Arthur was his name but he was known by an epithet, such as Riothamus; or him actually being a later Arthur, such as Artúr mac Áedán (‘Arthur’ IV) of what is now Argyle in the Western Isles of Scotland or Arthur map Pedr (‘Arthur’ VII) from what is now Dyfed in southwest Wales; and they are also broken up into the various arguments given as to how this Arthur was mythologised. We can add to this lot a third school, who see Arthur as mainly a literary figure. This is the strange world you have just entered in to!

Those who follow the Arthurian question either fall in to one school or the other. You will be very hard pressed to find someone who thinks he could have been both – that is a completely separate ‘Arthur’ III and an ‘Arthur’ X, related only in name - but this is what this present work will also explore: could there have been a mythical character and historical figure, who fought at Badon, whose commonality was only their name? However, it is about far more than that. It is about the history of the isles of Britannia during the periods covered but especially from the 4th century to the 12th century AD. (In brief form of course!). To understand an ‘Arthur’ III, if he existed, we must understand the Britain in which he is said to have lived and the Britain in which his fame developed and would fashion him into a medieval king in shining armour.

So, besides covering the usual questions around if there was a historical figure of the Late-5th to Early-6th centuries, this work covers all the aspects of the Arthurian mythologies from 800BC up to AD1200 as well, including one of the candidates for not only his name, but, in at least one scholars eyes [1], the inspiration for some of earliest Welsh stories: Zeus’ bastard offspring-come-star and constellation, Arktouros/Arcturus. The constellation is now known as Boötes, ‘The Ploughman‘, but the star Arcturus (the Latin version of the name) is still called such, forming his knee and being the fourth brightest in the Northern Hemisphere. Not only may this have been the origin of the name (one of several others possibilities) but in medieval times one of the constellations associated with him, The Plough (Ursa Major), had the name Arthur’s Wain (Arthur’s Wagon). So this is why we start our story in  ancient Greece. But this is only one small aspect of the mythological Arthur and we will look at the early Welsh tradition that showed an Arthur not only different from his later Anglo-Norman guise but from the one in the Welsh, 9th century ‘Historia Brittonum’ (‘History of the Britons’). Not a Saxon fighter but a killer of giants, witches and magical boars.

We will, of course, explore all of Arcturus’ Earthly counterparts. That is in the plural because, as you now know, there were several historical figures named Arthur, or variants thereof, such as the Gaelic equivalents of Artúr/Artur/Artuir, some of whom with this name have been argued to be the ‘original’. It is an odd fact that it was Gaelic speaking or cultural influenced areas of Britain that used the name (as well as Ireland) when no royal British or later Welshmen would give their sons this name. Even the British descended Bretons would christen their sons Arthur. Why not the Britons?

We will also look to the earth and examine the archaeology of the periods covered; a science from which we have gained a great deal of our information about the so called ‘Dark Ages’; better known to archaeologist as Sub- or Post-Roman and Early Medieval Britain. Archaeology’s view of Early Medieval Britannia seems to be a little different to that portrayed by the (very limited) texts we have. Which are right? Is our interpretation wrong?

Every text examined is in the chronological order in which it is thought to have appeared and not in the order of the events and the peoples’ lives it describes. This is important because we need to be aware of how long after the events a work was written, how this affected what was reported and how these authors influenced future works? I will, now and again come out of this chronology where it’s necessary, especially in the case of forwarding modern scholarly and archaeological discoveries and opinions.

The ebook is designed so those with more knowledge of either ancient British history or Arthuriana can jump to any relevant sections by clicking on them in the Contents. Those about or related to an Arthur are in purple, whilst those about Britannia or its archaeology are in black. I have also given the most relevant Arthurian related sections an asterix  (*) listing next to them, with *** being the most relevant or of interest, in my opinion. So, to break the four parts down:

… and I will break the four parts down in another post.

Thanks for reading and any comments,

Mak

[1]: Professor Graham Anderson, ‘King Arthur of Antiquity’ (2004)

 

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King Arthur – Man, Myth … or Both? – Part Twelve

CONCLUSIONS?

English: Scanned from frontispiece of Ab Ithel...

Annales Cambriae

Everyone’s conclusions to this are going to be different, depending on many different factors: how long you’ve been studying the Arthurian subject, how much you’ve read, your culture, your beliefs, your personality.  My conclusions, in a sense, don’t matter, it’s how these blogs have affected your views on the subject.

The original question I posed was:

Can it be deduced with any certainty or probability that the Arthur depicted in the Historia Brittonum and the Annales Cambriae, said to have fought at the first battle of Mount Badon, was based on a historical character of the Late-5th/Early-6th centuries or an earlier mythical or folkloric figure? or that he could have been both?”

Can there be any certainty that he was a historic figure that fought at Badon? As long as there’s disagreement on the validity of the H.B and the A.C., no. (Perhaps some individuals can be certain, but it’s hard to see there ever being a consensus, unless there’s some miraculous find to prove he existed). Could he have been purely mythical or folkloric? Yes, but I cannot see how there can be any certainty of it. Could he have been both? Yes, but there can be no certainty about that either. Yet many people are certain of one or the other.

Page from the Book of Aneurin , MS c. 1275. Fr...

Y Gododdin

Probability is another matter. If the probability question where to do with the weight of evidence and the odds of existence to none-existence, then the odds would (probably) be against his existence. But this depends on the interpretation of the evidence in the first place. For example, if you think the Welsh material probably came from a mythical figure you will have a different outcome to if you think the material probably came from Arthur of Badon, or his name replaced a mythical figure. The same goes for the information in Y Gododdin, the Historia Britonnum and the Annales Cambriae. If you think these sources valid you have a totally different outcome to if you don’t. If you think they’re valid, historical documents, then he existed. Even if it’s only the H.B. that can be taken as valid (if not accurate) then he existed. But if you don’t … So, we probably can’t use probability!

For me, there is no firm conclusion to be had, but I hope I’ve, at least, added something to this debate. It cannot be proven that there was a historical, 5th century Arthur, that’s impossible to do, but I hope these blogs have shown that, if there was one, there’s no reason his name couldn’t have come about by the same means argued for the 6th and 7th century Arthur/Artúrs by Higham et al; or that, if his name (and some stories) did derive from folkloric or mythical sources, or there was also a mythical (or historical) character(s) of similar or the same name, why later confusion, even by the 9th century or before, would arise. In essence, Higham’s and Green’s argument for the naming of the other Arthurs can be applied to an early Arthur. Why? Because it appears (to me) that this Arthur of Welsh folklore or myth bears little or no resemblance to the Arthur in the H.B.. One’s a Saxon fighter, the other isn’t. One fights giants and the Otherworld, the other one doesn’t appear to. One supposedly was a leader of battles for kings of Britain, the other one wasn’t. One fought at Badon, the one of the early tradition didn’t. However, this doesn’t mean he couldn’t have been a Saxon fighting Briton who got turned into this fantastical character, just as Vortigern, Ambrosius Aurelianus and Urien were used in stories that had nothing to do with their actual lives. These stories alone prove that this happened and this is too often ignored.

From how I interpret the evidence, we cannot rule out a historical figure who fought at Badon being the ‘original’ and the later legends and topographical and onomastic sites merely being a distortion in response to folk culture and internal and external political events. That’s probably the simplest answer, but the simplest answer isn’t always the right one. Nor can we rule out that there was no ‘Arthur of Badon’ … but it is also possible that there were two totally independent mythical and historical characters that were merged and confused, or even a mythical figure whose name was changed to Arthur, be that earlier than the 6th century or after. The problem arises as to why a purely British folkloric or mythical figure would be given a Latin name (rather than a Latinized name), be that Arturius or Arturus. It would have to be yet another unique case. But that also doen’t mean it couldn’t have happened. (‘Arthur’s Wain‘ – The Plough – could be an indication that Arcturus became Arturus).

What it means, to me at least, is that it cannot be stated categorically that Arthur of the 5th century was historical, but neither can it be stated categorically he was purely mythical or folkloric. But it’s possible that the name was all of these things. However, if Arthur cannot be categorically stated to have been real from the evidence we have, then other Early Medieval figures who are considered historical without question should be treated in the same way.

(I’ve italicized ‘possible’ twice above as that is, in the end, all we can use).

Hywel Dda

Whichever historical Arthur you go for, whether that be one who was at Badon, Artur ap Pedr or Artúr mac Áedán, you have to come up with theories that explain the anomalies between them and the sources. You either have to come up with reasons why Arthur of Badon doesn’t appear in genealogies or near contemporary sources or why one of these other Arthur’s were said to be at Badon; and how, if their respective royal houses knew they were THE Arthur, they didn’t make political mileage from it. Neither Demetia/Dyfed or Dalriada appear to have done so … although the MacArthur/Campbells tried to do so later (See THIS blog). Adomnán makes nothing of Artúr, only his father Áedán. Hywel Dda of Dyfed could, perhaps, have slipped it into to his Laws somewhere that they were the descendants of the great Arthur, but he didn’t. If any of them did try and do so, it’s been suppressed or lost.

So, has my 65% leaning towards a historical Arthur changed? Yes. It may have gone to up 67% now. Why? Because of re-looking at the H.B. battle list and the use of Arthur here. Unless there was something in the Welsh tradition about a Saxon fighting Arthur it doesn’t make sense, to me at least, that he would be used if he was the same as the Welsh folkloric figure we know of today. Of course, stories of a mythical Arthur who fought Saxons might have been around and they’ve been lost, but we can only look at the evidence as it is.

What I may consider now more than before I started these blogs is the possibility of an independent mythical figure alongside the historic one(s). A figure that was, at some point in history, given the name Arturius/Arthur/Arturus, but who may have started life under another guise.

Having said all the above, I want to finish by quoting Christopher Gidlow from his book ‘Revealing King Arthur’ (2010):

“It is worrying just how convoluted, how complex, the arguments against Arthur are. Faced with the mass of evidence, opponents are forced to imagine an unknown British god called Arthur (with a convenient taboo against naming him), or landscape features named after other Arthurs of earlier history or mythology whose importance to the inhabitants is nowhere attested. These chimerical Arthurs have left legends which have, for inscrutable reasons, been attached to a military figure of the fifth or sixth century who, if he existed, cannot possibly have borne the name Arthur. Whatever name he had must, despite his importance, have become irretrievably lost. The author of the Historia Brittonum has for his own purpose for the Britons, uniquely put this composite figure in a narrative which otherwise only features major figures already placed in this time period. All other references to Arthur as a historical figure derive from this single source. The counter-argument, that Arthur was a real person who fought the Saxons at the Battle of Mount Badon, who later attracted legendary tall tales, has the advantage of simplicity and requires fewer unknown steps and sources.” (p.193)

Thanks for reading, and, as always, I look forward to your thoughts, comments and corrections.

Mak

IF YOU CAME HERE VIA THE BLOG ‘IN SEARCH OF THE ORIGINAL KING ARTHUR‘, CLICK HERE TO RETURN TO IT.

Arthurian Probability Test

King Arthur, Merlin, Sir Lancelot, Sir Gawain, and Guinevere decide to go to their favorite restaurant to share some mead and grilled meats. They sit down at a round table for five, and as soon as they do, Lancelot notes, “We sat down around the table in age order! What are the odds of that?”

Merlin smiles broadly. “This is easily solved without any magic.” He then shared the answer. What did he say the odds were?

I’ll give the answer soon!

 

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All Quiet On The Eastern Front? – Post Script

Yes, another post script, this time to the eight part blog ‘All Quiet On The Eastern Front?’ (click HERE to read that blog first). This isn’t really a blog at all but a link to someone else’s post about a related subject. Jonathan Jarret posted his thoughts on what he’s read so far of the book ‘Framing The Early Middle Ages‘ by Chris Wickam. I won’t even attempt to paraphrase the blog, but instead point you to it by clicking HERE.

Just ordered the book myself from Amazon. (Click on book images to go there).

Thanks,

Mak

PPS: Since posting this I’ve read the book, which I found extremely interesting, if not heavy going!

 

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All Quiet On The Eastern Front? – Part Five

This blog is going through a rethink and rework as of 12.11.11. New material or changes will be in bold type.

A rough placing of the 'Anglo-Saxon' regions

You’ll be glad to know that this is a relatively short blog!

‘WEST JUTES’ OF HAMPSHIRE & THE ISLE OF WIGHT

(At the time thought to be roughly the British civitates of western Atrebates and eastern Durotiges).

If Gildas wrote in the southwest, it may have been this lot who were his virtual neighbours … if they were the enemy and not used by the British as feodorati (federates) against ‘Saxon’ expansion from the east. I have read that they appeared in the area quite early in Hampshire, ca 460, but I’m having trouble getting this verified. It makes a big difference to the southern Badon question if they appeared after the battle and during the supposed ‘peace’.  If there’s someone who can clarify this for me I’d be most grateful.

Whilst they may not have been part of the infamous Adventus Saxonum revolt in the mid-5th century, if they were feodorati, they may still have revolted later. Who knows how often alliances changed. (This is not to forgot that some doubt the whole notion of Germanic feodorati).

They might not have had an option of whose side they were on at Badon if Ælle was their Bretwalda. But, just as there are two side to every story (usually more actually) there are two sides to a river, and if the River Hamble in Hampshire was the boundary it’s not inconceivable that some were on the Brits’ side and the others on the ‘Saxons’ or a Saxon-British alliance.

To address what they were doing here in the first place, and why they never seem to have formed a later kingdom, Stuart Laycock brings up some interesting points in his latest book, ‘Warlords’, (2010) about these Jutes.

“The strongest archaeological indication that something significant was happening in Sussex at this time comes from the strange settlement pattern of the Jutes. [...] Though a small independent Jutish kingdom was formed in the Isle of Wight there is no evidence that the Jutes of South Hampshire ever constituted a separate independent Jutish kingdom. Two main possibilities, therefore, present themselves. Either an Anglo-Saxon warlord in Sussex, perhaps Cissa, or perhaps (if the Chronicle has got the dates really wrong) Ælle himself, was moving Jutes from Sussex dominated Kent to the other end of his realm to guard the western borders, or alternatively, perhaps the British authorities in southern Hampshire, in the civitas of the Belgae, were looking for additional Germanic support against the new confident and expansionist Sussex.” (p123)

He goes on to give archæological evidence as to why he believes they might have been used by the British – all to do with spear heads -  but I’m not qualified to comment. It would be most interesting if he were right as it could mean the British of the area doing deals with the Frankish influenced eastern Kent.

Barbara Yorke, in her contribution to the symposium ‘Regna and Gentes. The Relationship between Late Antique and Early Medieval Peoples‘ , has, like others, wondered just how much the Jutes of Kent, Wight and Hampshire were under the control of the Franks on the continent. A king of the Franks did boast that he ruled some of the Britons, and he just might have!

If they were the enemy, then one of the various rivers, and the dykes to the north, could have been what hemmed them in and created the divide.

With regards to the Isle of Wight, Ruth Waller has this to say …

“The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s date for the seizing of the island by Cerdic and Cynric is proven unreliable by the pagan Saxon cemeteries with clear Jutish origins dating to the Late 5th and Early 6th century cemetery on Bowcombe and Chessell Downs which indicate settlement well before the documentary dates (Arnold,1982). Further evidence from metal detected finds suggest another six possible cemeteries of similar dates could survive, but synthesis of this evidence is required before conclusions can be made.” (Archaeological Resource Assessment of the Isle of Wight: Early Medieval period, August 2006)

If these Jutes were the ‘bad guys’, then they could have retreated to the island.

The above quote is evidence that there was Jutes on the island in the Late 5th and Early 6th centuries.  If they were there in the Late 5th, then they could very well have been in Hampshire at the same time.  It’s not inconceivable that it’s these peoples who the ASC refers to and attached the events to Cerdic and Cynric, who actually came later.

What would happen to these ‘Jutes’ after the defeat at Badon if they were on the losing side? If Badon was in this region they’d suffer the consequences one would think. They may have been the closest to it. This could be the reason they never did become a separate kingdom.

SOUTH SAXONS

This is the region in which, according to the ASC (which is, of course, untrustworthy for this period), Ælle appears; although no one can be certain of exactly where he appeared from! He’s not even called a king … of anywhere! If he came from somewhere else, then he may not have been a ‘South Saxon’ to begin with, but created such a region. There are arguments that he came from the Continent, just as the Saxons were being defeated in Gaul, but there’s no way of knowing and for this discussion it doesn’t matter.

“The Ecclesiastical History [of Bede] lists the first seven great overlords beginning with Ælle of the South Saxons, whose activities in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle are placed between 477 and 491. It seems doubtful whether Ælle really ruled at quite such an early date, especially as the second in the list was Ceawlin of Wessex whose floruit seems to have been the 580s and early 590s.” (Yorke, p16)

… and to quote a Keith Matthews (aka Bad Archaeology blogger) posted on Arthurnet

“What intrigues me is the fact that the death of [Ælle’s] putative son Cissa is placed by the Anglo-Norman historians c 590. We don’t know the authority for this, but Wendy Davies has argued that some of the non-Chronicle material found in these late writers does go back to (possibly Mercian) lost pre-Conquest sources. This would put Ælle in the third quarter of the sixth century, immediately prior to the second Bretwalda, Ceawlin (David Dumville has shown conclusively that the dates for Ceawlin in the Chronicle are pure guesswork and don’t match the data in the earlier king list).”

If Yorke, Davies and Dumville are right, then this rules Ælle out as a Bretwalda at the time of Badon, which makes it that much harder to argue for a large, unified ‘Anglo-Saxon’ military presence there, although it could always have been some other character leading them. Without knowing either Ælle’s or Badon’s actual dates we can’t conclude. However, it could be argued that any large gap between the first and second Bretwaldas was because of the defeat at Badon, and subsequent British dominance, as well as other factors, meaning a Bretwalda couldn’t rise to power during this period. I have to admit, it does seem more logical to me that the Bretwaldas appeared after 550, when the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ expansion and kingdoms appear.

If Ælle was at Badon, then, judging by the relatively small numbers of ‘Saxon’ graves of this region, he was going to have to rely on allies. (That’s if these are representative of the ‘Saxons’ there). Yet to be a Bretwalda he’d need loyal supporters in large numbers on his side. Many of these could have been Britons, but he possibly had ‘Jutes’ and ‘West Saxons’ to draw from.

The burning question would be why, if Bede is right and Ælle was Bretwalda of everything south of the Humber, the eastern ‘Anglian’ peoples would be under his ‘rule’ or follow him? There may be several answers to that, but one (very tenuous) answer that comes to my mind as to why they might have joined him, would be that he said to them something to the affect of, “Look, the Brit’s power base is in Cirencester and most of there warriors were at the southern end of Britannia Prima at the moment. You send some men in from the north and east and push them back, whilst attacking other areas to deflect attention and we’ll come from the south and east and we’ll slaughter them in the middle. We take them and the city and we solve all our problems.”  However, this sounds a bit of a stretch to me, and I wrote it, but stranger things have happened! Another possibility is the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ still functioned under the guise of the old Roman provinces of the east, and if you held power over one of these (or were placed in power) you held power over all those within them?

How many men these ‘Anglian’ areas to the north would be willing send to Badon (if any) is another matter.  (As I’ll explore later, the Brits may not have posed a threat to many of them). The alternatives are alliances to the southern ‘Saxons’ through marriage, which there’s no evidence of, or Ælle threatened or conquered them, which there’s no evidence of … but there’s not much evidence of anything for this period! Another reason could be Ælle was himself from the east.  After all, the next ‘Ælle’ to appear (in the 9th century) was a Northumbrian. Was he named after another famous northeasterner?

If he was the leader at Badon and it was fought in the south, then this would have had massive implication for the ‘South Saxon’ region and the Brits would have been close enough, and, maybe, dominant enough to stop them expanding, creating the long peace. Another possibility is, if the South Saxons were the result of an élite takeover of the British, those British simply swapped sides again for the next X amount of years.

An aside

As an aside, looking at maps like those above (which, I realise, can be misleading) I’m always amazed at how far this Germanic settlement/culture had travelled even by ca 500. Gildas may have said the enemy went home to the east of the island after the initial revolt, but they obviously didn’t stay there very long. (Unless Thompson is right and they returned to their bases in the northeast of what is now England and not Kent or Essex). Gildas also says it wasn’t until they did go back that the fighting against them started and you can understand his conclusions about the Briton’s lack of martial prowess if they couldn’t stop them getting that far. If the Britons did posses remnants of Roman military units as well as militias, they obviously either weren’t in these areas, the ‘enemy’ were of superior quality or some of these British ‘units’ joined them.

Another alternative, which has been forwarded by many others, is that Britannia Prima and many of the civitates of the west also used Germanic mercenaries, such as those possible ones at Dorchester-on-Thames or along the River Avon, as frontier troops, against aggressive neighbours of whatever ethnic origin or location, including British. It could, indeed, be why they were there, and not because they took it by force. If it was more a cultural spread reason then that gives a very different explanation, of course. Alliances through marriage could bring the culture with them, besides those Brits who just liked the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ fashions. However, Gildas certainly doesn’t make it sound like it was a cultural spread.

It also makes me wonder, as many scholars have, if the territories the ‘Saxons’ had were indeed the two old Romano-British eastern provinces of Maxima Caesariensis and Flavia Caesariensis, and Britannia Prima and Britannia Secunda (and Valentia) didn’t care much who was ‘ruling’ them. It was only when they became a direct threat that they really did something about it. But for them to rule ‘provinces’ of this size would take central administration and, as argues by Barbara Yorke and others, they didn’t seem to have this organisation at this stage.  Of course, Ken Dark argues that the British were still in control and Nick Higham that the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ were actually in control after Badon.

This gets us in to the whole Vortigern/Ambrosius thing, and what it was they ruled and fought for, which I want to stay clear of for this discussion, so I’ll leave it there.

In the next blog I’ll look at the ‘Middle Saxons’, the ‘South Middle-Saxons’ (Surrey), ‘East (‘Jutish’) and West (‘Saxon’) Kent’, ‘East Saxons’, ‘East Angles’, ‘Middle & South Angles’ and the ‘North Angles’.

I look forward to any comments.

Thanks for reading,

Mak

 

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All Quiet On The Eastern Front? – Part Three

This blog is going through a rethink and rework as of 12.11.11. New material or changes will be in bold type.

BATTLE OF THE CHILTERN BULGE?

What exactly was going on in those supposed British enclaves in the east … if that’s what they were? Were they also at peace? How would the ‘Saxons’ react in those areas that surround these enclaves after a defeat or defeats? It may depend on the treaty agreed. But what would stop them later on, after 20 years or so? These enclaves either had some serious military power or some kind of ‘friendship’ with the ‘Saxons’ There are theories that the Britons did indeed take back ‘Saxon’ territory.  John Morris puts it forward but so does Professor Howard Wiseman (who may be a physicist but his Early Medieval studies have been quoted by Snyder, Higham and Halsall).

For Howard it may be to do with the later ‘Saxon’ expansion and victories at Bedcanford (identified as Bedford) and other sites in 571, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (ACS). These are generally thought to have been British enclaves taken by a newly formed West Saxons kingdom. However, this theory puts forward that after Badon (or even before) the British regained territory and this territory went beyond Bedford. Howard has given me permission to use two maps he created.

MAP ONE

Britain c. 530AD

MAP TWO

Britain c. 530AD (Based on map by Howard Wiseman)

(Maps used with kind permission of Professor Howard Wiseman.The page containing it can be found at http://www.ict.griffith.edu.au/wiseman/DECB/DECBbestest.html )

Howard explains MAP ONE thusly (with reference numbers removed):

“[...] this map descends into speculation in showing precise political boundaries in Britain at the time of Gildas. However, in many of these I have been guided by the work of the respected archaeologist and historian Ken Dark. I have also been guided by the distribution of archaeological sites [...] The names given to the Brittonic states are those of the corresponding Roman civitates when these are attested by post-Roman inscription, or by Gildas. When Roman names are not so attested, a Brittonic name is used. Some of these (Reged, Gwent, Glevissig) are well-attested in the early Middle Ages, while others (Calchvynydd, Barroc, Ebrauc) are only attested in later documents [...]”

On MAP TWO (with reference numbers removed):

“The above map was scanned from the 2000 book by Dark, which shows 5th and 6th century Germanic cemeteries in Britain. Of these I have erased those cemeteries which came into use only in the later 6th century, according to the maps of Morris. Then I have added Roman towns, villas, and forts for which there is archaeological or literary material indicating probable occupation after 490. The data for these sites are taken from the detailed descriptions in the 1998 book by Snyder, occasionally supplemented by Dark. An example of such archaeological evidence is the presence of coins of Emperor Anastasius (491-518), or datable Mediterranean pottery. An example of reliable literary evidence for occupation is that for Luguvalium (Carlisle), which still had a functioning Roman aqueduct and fountain in the late 7th century. These Germanic and Brittonic sites thus should give a picture of Gildas’ partitioned Britain (c. 530). As the map shows, Brittonic and Germanic sites do fall into reasonably distinct zones. There are a handful of small Germanic cemeteries in what I have judged to be Brittonic zones, and one Roman town, Lincoln (Lindum colonia), with evidence for continued occupation in what appears to be an Anglian zone.”

To read more, visit his web page, linked above. The one thing to note about these maps is, unlike Morris and Dark, they don’t take into account the gaps in settlements and cemeteries, so may give a false picture of ‘Anglo-Saxon’ rule or the true spread of their cultures. But, as Howard says in a personal correspondence, “I was aiming for the smoothest boundaries that would leave (more or less) all the Germanic evidence on one side and all the Romano-British evidence on the other”. They also don’t show areas that wouldn’t be up for settlement by either side, such as dense forrest, heath land or heavy clay areas. Possibly even areas that wouldn’t be settled on because of some superstition or another.  (I’ll deal with this later).  Another thing to note is where Howard has ‘Hill Forts Common‘ he means hillforts occupied at this time and not all Iron Age hillforts pe se. Most hillforts in what is now the borderlands (the Marches) of England and Wales were re-occupied in the Late  4th to Early 5th centuries, but it’s hard to find evidence for this occupation going beyond this.

Back to these late 6th century battles. Howard, quoting from the ASC, says:

“ASC for 571 (perhaps invented later to justify West Saxon territorial claims) Cuthwulf fought with the Britons at Bedcanford (Bedford), and took four towns, Lenbury, Aylesbury, Benson and Ensham. And this same year he died.” – (Howard’s brackets, not mine).

We know where Bedford (Biedcanforda) is … or we assume we know. Lenbury (Liggeanburh) is thought to be Limbury in the suburbs of Luton, although there is a Lenborough southwest of Bedford and northwest of Aylesbury. Aylesbury (Æglesburh) is southwest of Bedford (I used to work there). Benson (Bensingtun) is actually called Bensington and is just south of Dorchester-on-Thames in Oxfordshire and Ensham (Egonesham) is generally thought to be Eynsham, just northwest of Oxford. The first question is, if Cuthwulf, who supposedly led these battles, was West Saxon, what was he doing starting his battles in the east and moving west? The answer could be the ASC got the order wrong and Bedford was the last battle. However, it could be that he was from the east and pushed west, taking over West Saxon territory. We’ll never know, but it does make sense of the progression.

So, as opposed to a British enclave based on the Chilterns (later to become Saxon Cilternsætna) and one in the Bedford area, they postulate a ‘bulge’ or ‘corridor’ that was either never under ‘Saxon’ occupation in the first place or was was won back and extended from the Thames Valley, up the Chiltern Hills to and beyond Bedford before or after Badon. This would, of course, cut off some main lines of communication, including part of Watling Street, Icknield Way, the Fosse Way and some river basins from the ‘enemy’. This ‘bulge’ would almost reach St. Albans. Actually, these maps encompass St. Albans, which can’t be right if the shrines referred to (or one of them) was there … and one would think St. Albans’ shrine was. Once again I’m indebted to Howard for pointing me to the following …

“It has been commonly stated that Gildas here, when he talks of martyrs and the unhappy partition, implies that Verulamium and Carleon held shrines which were deprived to the Britons because of English occupation. A more careful reading of this passage shows that he implies no such thing. When he says “I refer to St Alban …, Aaron and Julius … and the others …”, he is clearly referring to martyrs (the history of which he was discussing before being briefly side-tracked into the state of Britain at his time). If he had been referring to their “graves or places where they suffered”, he would have said “I refer to Verulamium …, Carleon, … and other places”. Thus the passage simply implies that there was a partition with the English, and that they evidently held large parts of the country, but it contains no specific geographical information on which parts.”

See http://www.ict.griffith.edu.au/wiseman/DECB/DECBps.html#Martyrs

Howard added: “Regarding Verulamium and St Albans shrine, I haven’t had any luck convincing Chris Gidlow of this [...]”

Could they be right? The archæology (as far as I’m aware) doesn’t show ‘Saxon’ occupation (or culture) to the west of St Albans. If anyone has information to the contrary I’d be very interested to hear about it.

A look at the OS map of Roman Britain shows there are two Roman roads going east/west they could have pushed back on after Badon, if they did: that which goes from Bath (or Cirencester) via Silchester to London and the other northerly route that goes from Cirencester via Bicester to St. Albans. (Another goes north-south from Bicester via Dorchester-on-Thames to Silchester). Between these east/west routes lies the Thames Valley and the Chiltern Hills including the ancient trackway of the Icknield Way.

To have taken the region around Bedford as well may have meant heading north on the Bicester-Towcester road. This push could have joined isolated British enclaves. It makes absolute sense that the Britons would capitalize on a victory if they could, but I’m just not knowledgeable enough to comment on the details and the archæology that Morris, Dark or Howard put forward as possible evidence. It does make sense to these later battles defeating the Britons and the taking of the Chilterns, which was obviously in British hands, where no enclaves but a whole British swathe of territory. But, it also make equal sense that they were enclaves that the ‘Saxons’ strangled. If they were never ‘Saxon’ at this point then it puts a different complexion on the whole debate with the Britons always having the upper hand, as argued by Dark.

Another Theory

However, I will give another possible theory of the fight back that could explain this ‘corridor’ and the ‘peace’. Once Ambrosius started the resistance, a British rebellion began to happen, just like those in the Middle East at the moment. Anti ‘Anglo-Saxon’ (politcal, religious and cultural elements) could have been inspired to break out from their enclaves, or even within ‘Saxon’ regions. This could have happened in regions we’re not even aware of. If Ambrosius could have achieved some sought of unity, or, at the least, coordination, then these, along with pushes from the west and north, would have stretched and shaken the enemies.

Pushes from the west wouldn’t, of course, have been on a ‘front’ but through lines of communication: roads, tracks, river basins. This may not have pushed all elements ‘back’ but turned them into isolated enclaves whilst rejoining British (cultural) areas, making it harder for the enemy to created confederacies and limiting their travel. This, in turn, may have created refuges heading east. The Britons could also have placed their own rulers over some of the enemy territory taken, which may add to the idea of an extended peace. So the politcal map may not have looked like Howard’s above, but like the one on below. I’ve kept St Albans and London as an enclave but, as discussed above, it may not have been:

MAK’S MAP

Britain Post Badon (Mak) - Based on map by Howard Williams

This is just a very rough guess. There may have been more British enclaves in the east and southeast.  (In fact, Professor Ken Dark gives even more British areas than I do in the Midlands, based on the amount of inhumation and mixed inhumation/cremation areas: that’s the squares and star symbols). I’ve added known woodland (although there may have been more) in green and marsh/fen land in blue. I also overlaid a map of the clay soil areas of Britain (not shown here) and, with heavy clays in the Midlands, you could see why there may not have been much settlement there by either side. (Source: http://www.soilyourself.org/2011/02/soils-of-england-soils-of-great-britain.html )

I’d like to do a lengthy quote from the paper, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval (Rural) by Keith Wade ( http://www.eaareports.org.uk/Assessment%20post-Roman%20rural.pdf ). Date unknown.

“The large apparently unpopulated areas [of the east], especially in west Essex and Hertfordshire, have traditionally been explained as forest, but this may be too simplistic. There is an ongoing debate on the extent of post Roman woodland regeneration, but environmental evidence suggests that, at least in some areas, there was no large-scale woodland regeneration. The ongoing ‘extent of woodland’ debate is linked to the ‘surviving Romano-British population’ debate. The lack of Early Anglo-Saxon sites in west Essex, the Hunts part of Cambridgeshire, and Hertfordshire, has been explained as indicating a surviving Romano-British political entity with a small (initially) Germanic settlement ‘living in controlled circumstances on “Roman” settlements’ (Drury and Rodwell 1980), with surviving Romano-British populations that are invisible archaeologically. Others have explained the gaps as more to do with the difficulties of finding Early Anglo-Saxon sites [...] [Williams’] conclusions, however, were still that ‘there are signs that some land also went out of cultivation even on the lighter soils’ and ‘there was clearly a considerable contraction of land under cultivation in the post Roman period, with woodland growing up over abandoned farmland on the interfluve soils’ but that even ‘on the interfluves’ there is ‘some evidence of Saxon occupation, although whether such settlements were involved in the arable exploitation of these difficult soils is perhaps more doubtful’ (Williamson 1986, 127).”

I’d love to hear from anyone knowledgeable on the interpretation of both this evidence and the archæology for all these areas.  

(Since writing this I have read more on the work of Chris Wickham, Guy Halsall, Ken Dark and re-read Francis Pryor, I realise even more the complexity and varying interpretations of the data. However, what is clear, is how politically fragmented and lacking in elites most of the east appears and how even ‘Anglo-Saxon’ sites, such as Mucking in Essex, are being reassessed).

I’m also not sure if this ‘bulge’ theory would harmonise with what Gildas tell us. One would also have to wonder what would convince the Cornovii (or Dobunni) to attack beyond their borders … if they did. The answer might be simpler for the Dobunni as they may have been trying to take some of their lost land back. The Cornovii, however may have wanted revenge for attacks on Chester and Bassa (if these Arthurian battles are, indeed, where some think them to be and if they ever happened). More land would also be a good reason. I think that these reasons would be above an altruistic one of ‘saving Britannia’, although saving themselves and their portion of their province might have had something to do with it. (Interestingly, Dark wonders if these two civitates are ones that were under Roman type administration rather than monarchy at this time).

There would bound to be different factions wanting different things, including some who might think, “The ‘Saxons’ are their problem. Let them sought it out!” Those ‘Saxon’ regions in the Midlands that found themselves isolated  (in this hypothesis) may have swapped sides to survive. (Plenty of evidence of that in history). The Britons could have shown, through their power and their action and, maybe, even through bluff by announcing how united they were though they may not have been in reality, that they were a force to be reckoned with.

None of this takes into account Nick Higham’s theory that the ‘Anglo-Saxons’ were the ones who had the upper hand after Badon and his assessment that this battle happened (and Gildas wrote) much earlier.

(See comments below)

HELLO SAILOR!

We also have no idea what sea power either side(s) had. If the Brits could, somehow, have taken control of at least some stretches of the southern and eastern coast, they may have been able to disrupt not only supplies, but immigration and export, for a while at least. There’s probably not such a strong argument for this, but it’s worth considering.

In the next blog we’ll look at just who the ‘enemies’ might have been, starting with the ‘West Saxons’/’Geuissae’ and the ‘West Angles’.

I look forward to any comments.

Thanks for reading,

Mak

 

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