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

BATTLING WITH THE BATTLES … AGAIN! (Part One)

As I mentioned in earlier parts of this blog, the same ‘all or nothing’ argument goes for the battles listed in the H.B. as far as Dumville, Higham and Green are concerned (although Green concedes some may have happened but have been fought by someone else). For Higham the H.B. uses Arthur purely as a ‘Joshua figure’ to St Patrick’s ‘Moses’ type, and the 12 battles are simply a Biblical providential number. (The number is certainly not based on Joshua, who fought 31 of them!). I think the H.B. may very well be using Arthur in this way, (although Gidlow points out how unlike his supposed Biblical counterpart Arthur is made) but that doesn’t mean he or the battles were made up (entirely?) for the purpose. Arthur, like Patrick (who is mythologized in the H.B.), could have been chosen because he fitted the bill … or was adjusted to fit the bill. Had someone else fitted this bill, it might be them we would be writing about. But what was it about him that made him the choice?

Higham argues that the format of the battles was merely taken from a known battle poem of Gwynedd: Canu Cadwallon ap Cadfan. Cadwallon has 16 battles to Arthur’s 12 (2007, pp.145-147). Nick Higham says:

QUOTE TO COME LATER

Christopher Gidlow counters:

QUOTE TO COME LATER

The Anglo-Saxon poem Widsith is sometimes brought in as an example here. In this 9th century poem about him, the fictitious 7th century poet (scop) is given travels all over the known world (over 50 places!) or knows of them. Arthur isn’t; he’s given nine locations, twelve battles, and all in Britain … as far as we know. (You can read the Widsith poem here: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/~enm/widsith.htm ). So he’s hardly a comparison at all.

If we look at the point of this section in the H.B. and why Arthur was used, it raises questions that, to me, Dumville et al do not address: whoever was placed at this point in the H.B. would have to be known as a ‘Saxon’ fighter, and possibly the victor at Badon. Unless we’ve lost the stories that included this information, the Arthur of the Welsh pre-Galfridian tradition did neither (unless we can count Llongborth). Nor is he anywhere in this tradition depicted as the leader of battle for kings of the Britons or the victor at Badon. If he was never seen as doing any of these things in Welsh tradition, what would be the point in using him or listing some mythical battles that his Welsh audience would have known were not against ‘Saxons’?

Let’s look at the battles in more detail and what was/is known about them. First the Harleian version of the H.B.:

“Then Arthur along with the kings of Britain fought against them in those days, but Arthur himself was the leader in battle [dux bellorum]. His first battle was at the mouth of the river which is called Glein. His second, third, fourth, and fifth battles were above another river which is called Dubglas and is in the region of Linnuis. The sixth battle was above the river which is called Bassas. The seventh battle was in the forest of Celidon, that is Cat Coit Celidon. The eighth battle was at the fortress of Guinnion, in which Arthur carried the image of holy Mary ever virgin on his shoulders [or shield]; and the pagans were put to flight on that day. And through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and through the power of the blessed Virgin Mary his mother there was great slaughter among them. The ninth battle was waged in the City of the Legion. The tenth battle was waged on the banks of a river which is called Tribruit. The eleventh battle was fought on the mountain which is called Agnet [Agned]. The twelfth battle was on Mount Badon in which there fell in one day 960 men from one charge by Arthur; and no one struck them down except Arthur himself, and in all the wars he emerged as victor. And while they were being defeated in all the battles, they were seeking assistance from Germany and their numbers were being augmented many times over without interruption. And they brought over kings from Germany that they might reign over them in Britain, right down to the time in which Ida reigned, who was son of Eobba. He was the first king in Bernicia, i.e., in Berneich.”

The later Vatican recension of the H.B.:

“Then it was, that the magnanimous Arthur, with all the kings and military force of Britain, fought against the Saxons. And though there were many more noble than himself, yet he was twelve times chosen their commander, and was as often conqueror. The first battle in which he was engaged, was at the mouth of the river Gleni. The second, third, fourth, and fifth, were on another river, by the Britons called Duglas, in the region Linuis. The sixth, on the river Bassas. The seventh in the wood Celidon, which the Britons call Cat Coit Celidon. The eighth was near Gurnion castle, where Arthur bore the image of the Holy Virgin, mother of God, upon his shoulders [shield?], and through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the holy Mary, put the Saxons to flight, and pursued them the whole day with great slaughter. The ninth was at the City of Legion, which is called Cair Lion. The tenth was on the banks of the river Trat Treuroit. The eleventh was on the mountain Breguoin, which we call Cat Bregion. The twelfth was a most severe contest, when Arthur penetrated to the hill of Badon. In this engagement, nine hundred and forty fell by his hand alone, no one but the Lord affording him assistance. In all these engagements the Britons were successful. For no strength can avail against the will of the Almighty.”

Let’s take them one at a time, and rather than thinking about where these battles might have been, I want to consider where the H.B.’s North Walian readers might have thought these battles to be:

  1. At the mouth of (or a confluence of) the River Glein/Gleni. (Nothing known. Could be in Northumbria, Lincolnshire or Sussex … or other locations. Enemy unknown, but if the Welsh audience took this to mean Northumbria, then the enemy would be Northumbrian (Bernician) Angles - Angles would still be called ‘Saxons’).
  2. Four battles above the River Dubglas/Duglas in the region of Linnuis (Linnuis is generally taken to be Lindsey=Lincolnshire, but not all agree. However, this is where the H.B’s readers would most likely think them to have been. Enemy may have been taken to be Northumbrian (Deiran) Angles or East Angles).
  3. Above the River Bassas. (Several locations given. Said to be taken from Eglwysseu Bassa (Churches of Bassa) in the Canu Heledd poems. Apart from the difference between Bassa and Bassas, there is no River Bassas mentioned in these poems, only the Tren, Trydonwy, Twrch, Marchnwy, Geirw, Alwen and Hafren (Severn). In both poetic cases Bassa and Bassas are odd, none British names. The battles in Canu Heledd were against Northumbrian Angles. The H.B.’s audience may have taken this to have been against Northumbrian or Mercian Angles)
  4. At Coit Celidon (Wood of Celidon). (Thought to mean a woodland in the Scottish borders, but not by all. Green identifies this with the mythical battle of Coit Godue, although why it wouldn’t be called Coit Godue is anyone’s guess if this was the case. Enemy unknown, but if the H.B’s audience equated Celidon with the north they would have taken the enemy to be Northumbrian (Bernician) Angles).
  5. At Castello Guinnion/Gurnion. (Many identify this with the Roman fort of Vinuium (Binchester), although it is argued that this doesn’t work etymologically speaking by Jackson,(Once Again Arthur’s Battles, Modern Philology, 1945), but Rivet thinks it shouldn’t be reject out of hand (The Place-Names of Roman Britain, 1992). There is a Cerrig Gwynion in Wales, which is an old Iron Age hillfort between Llandudno and Bangor … not to mention the not far away hillfort of Bwrdd Arthur. Would the North Walian reader take it to be this location or Binchester? Enemy unknown, but may have been taken to be Northumbrian (Deiran) Angles if in the north or against Irish raider if in Wales).
  6. Urbe Ligionis (City of Legions). (Generally thought to be either Chester or Caerleon. Said to be a borrowing of the Battle of Chester of c. 613; a battle the Britons lost to the Northumbrians. This battle is mentioned in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s work as Legecester (the Anglo-Saxon version of Fort of the Legion) and in the Welsh version, the Brut y Brenhinedd, the battle is called Perllan Fangor (Bangor Orchard). Bede calls Chester civitas legionum and Gildas calls somewhere urbs legionum (possibly Caerleon?). If Chester was known as Urbe Ligionis, this naming wasn’t used in any of these other works so Nennius didn’t get it directly from Gildas or Bede. In the Vatican recension of the H.B. it is glossed as meaning Cair Lion in Welsh. This is interesting because perhaps that should come from Castra Ligionis? There is some argument as to the difference between urbe (or urbs as used by Gildas) and cair/caer, and whether this could actually mean somewhere else, such as York, which was a civil colonia as well as a fortress and an administrative ‘city’. But most favour Chester or Caerleon even though the two mentions in the H.B. should mean Cair ligion/lion=Fortress of the Legion and Urbe Ligionis=City of the Legion (see P.J.C Filed’s article at http://www.heroicage.org/issues/1/hagcl.htm ). If the readers thought this was Chester it would have been taken to be Mercian or Northumbrian Angles; if they thought it Caerleon they may have thought Mercians).
  7. On the banks of the Tribruit/Treuroit. (Various locations given. Argued to be a mythical battle because of its mention in the poem Pa Gur yv y Porthaur? and the story of Culhwch ac Olwen. Not ‘Saxon’?).
  8. At the mountain of Breguoin/Agned. (Argued to be a battle Urien Rheged  fought, called “cellawr Brewyn” or ‘cells of Brewyn’. Some identify the location with the Roman fort of Bremetennacum (Ribchester, Lancashire), but, once again, the etymology doesn’t work. (Rivet & Smith 1979, p.277). A better candidate might be Bremenium (High Rochester, Northumbria). Urien’s enemy in this battle is unknown although the “Angles” (‘Saxons’) are mentioned later in the poem, but other British and Gael enemies are also inferred. The battle merely appears in a list of seven in a Taliesin poem, but isn’t singled out. (See: http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/t36.html ). It would most likely to have been taken to be Northumbrian Angles).
  9. At Mount Badon: (Generally located in the south around Bath/Badbury, but also Lincolnshire (Green) and other locations. Known battle against ‘Saxons’, as mentioned by Gildas in the 6th century. Dated between 483 and 516. The H.B.’s readers would most likely take the enemy to have been Wessex (West Saxons), unless they knew (or thought) otherwise).

NB: These English kingdoms (Mercian, Northumbria, etc.) wouldn’t have existed in the late 5th century, but the H.B.’s audience in general wouldn’t have known this and would think of the known kingdoms of the time. It is interesting to note that, to the H.B.’s readers at least, many of these battles may have been seen to be against Mercian or Northumbrian Angles. These were who the North Walians had had run-ins with, especially the latter in earlier times, whilst the south had problems with Saxon Wessex. Was this the reason why Arthur and/or these battles were chosen? If so, then Badon (if it was in the south) may not have been as important to them as his other battles. (Of course, I’m referring to who the H.B.’s readers might take the battles to have been against, not who they actually might have been against). It would mean the H.B. did three things: 1) showed Arthur defeated the Northumbrian’s (and Mercian’s) ancestors, 2) showed Cadwallon (died 634) of Gwynedd later defeated the Northumbrians, 3) refuted the Northumbrian monk Beds’s view of the Britons. Was this the point of Arthur? A call to unity as of old against the same old foe, whilst the Mercian were busy with the Danes?

(Alex Woolf, wonders if the genealogists have inserted Bede’s Cadwallon into the pedigree of the Kings of Gwynedd? He forwards that Bede’s Cadwallon might be Catguallaun liu, son of Guitcun, grandson of Sawyl Penuchel who were rulers in the north. Woolf, 2004).

The second part of this section will continue looking at the battles.

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

Mak

 

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All Quiet On The Eastern Front? – Part Seven

*Be sure to read the interesting comments at the end of this blog.

These blogs are going through a rethink and rework as of 09.12.11. New material or changes will be in bold type.

A rough placing of the 'Anglo-Saxon' regions

LINDSEY/LINDESWARA

To the east of the area last discussed lay Lindsey; another British territory that the ‘enemy’ kept the name of, like Kent. If Linnuis is Lindsey, as many (but not all) suppose, and Arthur did fight here at the Dubglas – possibly the Witham or the Humber – then what was the reason? The ‘Anglians’ certainly seem to have been contained and kept at a very safe distance from Lincoln. Had fighting caused this or was there some agreement?

Thomas Green has written extensively about this area and from what he says, it’s really only the area around Lincoln – the old provincial capital – that was Lindsey per se at this time, although other think it included the area in general (See comments). What the rest of the region was then known as we may never know, although it later became ‘Anglian’ Lindeswara. Here are some quotes from his paper ‘The British Kingdom of Lindsey’, Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies, 56 (2008), 1–43]

“ [...] the early cemetery evidence reflects a British authority at Lincoln which continued to control the city and a significant area around it throughout the fifth century and into the early-sixth century, and which was furthermore able to control the settlement of Germanic immigrants on the edges of this territory. No other explanation of the distribution of the cemetery evidence carries conviction.”

(How ironic that I’m drawing on the work of such ‘anti-Arthurians’ – for want of a better word – as Higham and Green!).

“ [...] the archaeological evidence is not only perfectly explicable in terms of the British ‘country of *Lindēs’ found in the non-archaeological sources, but it adds considerable further weight to the arguments for the existence and significance of this polity made above. Indeed, this situation would seem to accord well with the picture of Anglo-Saxon immigrants being controlled by successful British military action in regione Linnuis c. 500 that we find in the Historia Brittonum. Furthermore, if we consider the distribution of inhumation cemeteries too, then the Anglo-Saxon archaeological evidence would also seem to support the notion that the balance of power in the ‘country of *Lindēs’ shifted from British to Germanic hands during the course of the sixth century.”

Ironic too that Green uses the Arthurian battle list in the Historia Brittonum.

Green gives Baumber (called Badeburg in the Doomsday Book) in Lincolnshire as a possible siting of Badon, although I believe Kenneth Jackson forwarded this also in 1945 and Keith (aka Bad Archaeology blogger) came to a similar conclusion in his latest paper (‘The ‘Arthurian battle list’ of the Historia Brittonum’, 2010). If they’re right, this changes so many things, especially for this discussion. If Gildas was writing in the north a Lincolnshire Badon might be important to him; if not, it could be, as some scholars suggest, that Badon was only important to Gildas because it was the final British victory and (possible) year of his birth.

If, as argued, Lindsey had contained the settlers/invaders – or they were just at peace with them – why would there be a major battle here? Of course, the answer could be be it was the battle that contained them, but then we might have to think what this had to do with those of the south, if anything? I suppose if Ælle was their Bretwalda (but Dumville’s evidence would suggest otherwise) he might feel he had to help them. There’s also the chance that the southern wars were separate, just as northern wars could be also, if Badon was in the south. There’s also the possibility that it was Anglo-Britons repelling new ‘Anglian’ incomers.

With regard to Arthur, this gets us into that ‘wasn’t he supposed to be fighting the ‘Saxons’ debate. ‘Saxon’ (Saeson) was a general term used for all the Germanic peoples. Whilst he could indeed have ranged far and wide, if Keith’s and Christopher Gidlow’s suggested battle sites are possible (almost all north of a line east-west of The Wash), then Arthur may have only fought at one battle in the south: Badon … if it was there! I don’t have a problem with this, but I’m sure there are many that do, and many Arthurian scholars and enthusiasts have endeavoured to place some battles in the south. If he was mainly fighting north of this line, then someone else was beating back the southerners! But this is a whole other discussion, so I’ll leave it there.

To get back to the point; would ‘Anglians’ of Lindsey go fight in the south? That may depend partly on what possible ‘hold’ Ælle had over them, if any, or what hold the Britons had over them. If Badon was in this region then it was rather out of the way; some 15 miles east of Lincoln and about 20 miles from the sea, just off the Roman road that goes from Skegness to Lincoln. To be the Badonic Hill, however, it would have to be to the east in the Lincolnshire Wolds. This is an fairly flat region … in general.  (See comments).

If it was here, perhaps the threat was from the ocean as well as from the ‘locals’? Between this and the Dubglas (if it was the Witham) you’d have two pushes, from the south and east, both heading for Lincoln.

DEIFYR/DEIRA

The once British tribal nation of the Parisii became the British ‘kingdom’ of Deifyr before becoming the Anglian kingdom of Deira, before becoming part of Northumbria.

Thomas Green:

“Turning to Deira, we find a similar situation once more [as Lindsey]. Here the probable original centre of the kingdom was located in the vicinity of Sancton – the largest and earliest Anglian cemetery in Deira, which seems to have its origins in the fifth century and from which the remains of 454 cremated individuals have been excavated – and Goodmanham, a few miles to the north, the latter being the site of what – according to Bede, writing a century after the conversion of King Edwin – was the principal heathen shrine of Deira. Higham and Loveluck have suggested that the position of Sancton on the Roman road north from the Humber, when combined with the cemetery’s characteristically Southumbrian burial rite, is suggestive of the foundation of Deira by immigrants who arrived via the Humber, probably from northern Lindsey.”

Here we have what might have been a very early settlement not appearing to go very far in the intervening 40 or so years. It could be because of the excellent containment of the Brigantians or Britannia Secunda? It could be because they were working for the Brits. If Thompson’s theory about the Saxon revolt happening in the north is correct (and it could appears that way) then it could be here that they were settled and not, as many assume, the Isle of Thanet in Kent.

The chances of them being at a southern Badon might be very slim. If it was in Lindsey it might be another matter. It’s also possible they were involved at the Dubglas if it was there. Arthur fighting Deirans could have given rise to Gwawrddur’s comparison to him in Y Gododdin.

There is also the consideration of just where these ‘Anglo-Saxons’ were being settled? By that, I mean the quality of land. For example, in this region, studies for this period have shown that they seem to have been located on the poorer quality soil, with the Britons still in the best areas. Strangely enough, in western Yorkshire, walh (British) sites are found on inferior lands at some distance from the early ‘Anglian’ settlements. (British Survival in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria. Faull, 1977). So did they have the upper hand after all?

BERNICIA

No one seems exactly sure where this one started and finished geographically, but some place it from the Tees to the Tweed, although it may have expanded that far from a smaller region.

There appear to be very few ‘Anglian’ settlements at this time. Whilst it could be involved in a battle with a Badon if it was in Lincolnshire, involvement with a southern one might be highly improbable.

In the next and final blog I want to see if any conclusions can be drawn from this research.

I look forward to any comments.

Thanks for reading,

Mak

 

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Arthurian Battle Poems

ARTHURIAN BATTLE POEMS

THERE IS AN UPDATED BLOG ON THIS SUBJECT. TO READ IT, CLICK HERE.

Below are two attempts at what the battle poem of Arthur may have looked like, if it was this the entry in the Historia Brittonum was based on.

The first has no real 6th century precedence, although there are similar awdlau by Taliesin. I have not used the correct syllable count or meter. (It is, indeed, much harder to do in English than Primitive or Old Welsh.)

The second is a stanzaic attempt, although most stanzas have only 8 or 12 lines and mine has 20.  There are those with 24 and 28 lines in Y Gododdin, but these tend to have 5 syllables per line.  This one was much more difficult to do because I did try to use alternating lines of 7 and 8 syllables. I discovered afterward that I should have started with the 8 syllable line, but have left it as it is.

Doing these, especially the stanza, certainly makes you appreciate the bard’s craft.  Finding four rhymes one after the other whilst sticking to the story must have been quite an undertaking. This is not counting the stresses they had to put on certain syllables and the use of internal rhyming.  I wasn’t going to even attempt the latter! Mind you, the did have a very long apprenticeship to get it right.

(I will be posting a blog soon specifically about the possible transmission of the oral material).

BATTLES OF ARTHUR


Leader of battle for the kings of fair Prydein,

There fell the hostile crew at aber Glein.

In Linnuis four time the victor at the Dubglas,

Blood stained the waters at the river of Bassas.

Slayer of the dogs in the wood that is Celidon,

The Mother on his shoulder at the fort of Guinnion,

Feared the name Arthur in every dark region,

He fed the black crows on the walls of Caer Lion.

Blood stained the fetlocks on the shore’s of the Tribruit,

They reaped with blue steel on the hill that is Agned.

Three days the siege on the green hill of Badon,

He charged and fell forty-eight score of Saeson.

STANZA OF THE BATTLES OF ARTHUR


Leader of battle he has been,

War lord for kings of Prydein.

Slayer of black dogs at Aber Glein,

The red cloaked reaper was seen.

In Linnuis the vanguard did mass,

Four times victors they did pass,

Blood stained waters of the Dubglas,

Fed wolves cubs above the Bassas.

No one spared in Coit Celidon.

Broken bodies at Guinnion.

Glutted black crows thereupon

The ramparts of Caer Lion.

On cold bleak shores they did acquit

As blue blades flashed at Tribruit

At Bregion’s fort beneath Agned

The hostile crew of there did rid.

Long the siege upon Mount Badon,

The giant charged and prayed on

Forty-eight score skulls of Saeson

On his shield the Holy Maiden.

THERE IS AN UPDATED BLOG ON THIS SUBJECT. TO READ IT, CLICK HERE.

 

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