Battle of Mons Badonicus: Wikis

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Battle of Mons Badonicus
Part of the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain
Date Some time in the decade before or after 500
Location Unknown, various locations possible
Result Major British victory; Saxon expansion halted for many decades
Belligerents
Britons Anglo-Saxons
Commanders
Unknown, by later traditions King Arthur Unknown
Strength
Unknown in detail, but apparently major concentration of available forces Unknown in detail, but apparently major concentration of available forces
Casualties and losses
Unknown Unknown, apparently heavy

The Battle of Mons Badonicus (English Mount Badon, Welsh Mynydd Baddon) was a battle between a force of Britons and an Anglo-Saxon army, probably sometime between 490 and 517 AD.[1] Though it is believed to have been a major political and military event, there is no certainty about its date or place. In the 9th century work Historia Brittonum the victory is attributed to King Arthur and various later texts follow this attribution, though the only nearly contemporary account of Badon, written by Gildas, does not mention Arthur in that connection.[2][3]

Contents

Location and date: uncertain

Where this battle was fought, as well as the British leader's name, are unknown. The polemical monk Gildas, a near contemporary, appears to say in his essay De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain) that the battle occurred in the year of the writer's birth,[4] but neither does he name either side's leader nor does he give any information about its location.

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Place

A number of sites for the battle have been proposed, most in present-day England and Wales. (For a list of candidates, see Sites and places associated with Arthurian legend.) These sites include:

  • Liddington Castle, above the village of Badbury (Old English: Badon byrig) near Swindon in the Marlborough Downs commanding the east/west transit along The Ridgeway track route thus preventing further expansion by the Saxons in the Thames Valley region and protecting the Avon and Severn valleys.[5][6]
  • Mynydd Baedan in South Wales, near Bridgend. Mynydd is the Welsh for the Latin mons (mountain), and baedan is cognate either with baedd, a boar, or with baeddu, to thump. (Welsh mutations, d to dd; dd = eth or ð.)
  • Badbury Hillfort / Badbury Rings, an Iron Age hill fort in Dorset.[7]
  • Solsbury Hill near Bath, suggested by Geoffrey of Monmouth.[8] Bath was known to the Saxons as Baþon, Baðon, and Baðanceaster (where ceaster derives from the Latin castra, "camp"). There are various hills not far from Bath, and any of them might have been the location of the battle. The word "bath" is Germanic, but "Badon" may be a Celtic name. (In Origins of the British, Stephen Oppenheimer disputes this claim and proposes that Germanic languages were already being spoken in England before the Roman invasion, so that Badon is from the Germanic root of bath.) Bath's Roman name was Aquae Sulis, but the area (and the neighbouring Solsbury Hill) was populated for millennia before the arrival of the Romans.
  • Buxton, a spa town and the site of a Roman bath.[9]
  • Bardon Hill.[10]
  • Bowden Hill in Linlithgow
  • Bathampton Down[11]

All of these depend on theories or speculations of scholars, built upon a poverty of evidence. The battle may have been on the frontier between the territories of the native British inhabitants and the Anglo-Saxon invaders, perhaps near the Wansdyke. Or there may have been an Anglo-Saxon attack deep into British territory in an attempt to reach the Severn estuary and separate the Welsh from the Britons of the southwest. "Obsessionis Badonici montis" in Gildas's chapter 26 might mean that the Anglo-Saxon army went too far into hostile territory and was surrounded and trapped on a hilltop in the Cotswolds. The Saxon strategic objective was ultimately achieved following the Battle of Deorham in AD 577.

The Annales Cambriae, found in the Harleian recension of the Historia Brittonum, preserve an entry for AD 665 that records "The second battle of Badon" (bellum Badonis). While pointing to an engagement between two kingdoms of the 7th century, it is debatable which kingdoms these may be and whether this battle is recorded in other historical records of Britain or England. It could be a duplicate of the first battle, which had been passed through another oral transmission route with information changed on the way.

Information about names

In Historia Brittonum

The 9th century Historia Brittonum records traditions that name the Romano-British / Celtic leader as Arthur.

In Taliesin

An old Welsh poem ascribed to Taliesin (who lived in the latter half of the 6th century) refers to "the battle of Badon with Arthur, chief giver of feasts… the battle which all men remember". In that sort of society, "chief giver of feasts" implies supreme leader. But many poems ascribed to Taliesin are known to postdate the Historia Brittonum.

More recent speculations

More recently, it has been surmised that the Romano-British leader could have been Ambrosius Aurelianus and the Saxon leader could have been Aelle of Sussex, King of the South Saxons.

Information about dates

Gildas

Gildas writes

ad annum obsessionis Badonici montis ... quique quadragesimus quartus ut novi[12] orditur annus mense iam uno emenso qui et meae nativitatis est

, which has been translated in more than one way.[13] An earlier reference by Gildas to the same event — de postrema patriae victoria quae temporibus nostris dei nutu donata est — establishes that the battle was fought "in our time".

  • It may mean "at/to the year of the siege of Mount Badon ... which happened 44 years and one month ago, and which is [the year] of my birth". King Maelgwn of Gwynedd was still living when Gildas wrote this, therefore Gildas wrote this on or before AD 547. This suggests AD 503 as a terminus ante quem for the battle.
  • Bede treated this passage in his paraphrase as saying that the battle was — he inserted "about"— 44 years after the Anglo-Saxons came to Britain, which Bede (not Gildas) said was in 449. Though Bede's circiter reveals that he does not wish to give the impression that Gildas' dating is accurate, adding 44 years to 449 gives the date 493 for the battle. Adding 44 years to 447 (when Thanet was conceded to Hengist) gives the date 491 for the battle. Some would argue that Bede's copy of Gildas was much closer to the original than any now extant; however the age of a manuscript (especially one no longer existing) is not a conclusive guide to its accuracy.

Taking his cue from Gildas' temporibus nostris G.H. Wheeler suggested[14] that the span of time between the battle and Gildas' writing was considerably less than 44 years and that Gildas cannot have been counting backwards.

Annales Cambriae

The later Annales Cambriae offers the date 516, which few modern scholars accept. Annales Cambriae entries after 525 appear to have been transcribed from contemporary tables for the calculation of Easter; entries before 525 are much less reliable. One of the modern scholars who does accept this date is the historian Geoffrey Ashe, who suggests that Mons Badonicus occurred in 516, but was just one of a string of British victories. According to Ashe, Gildas may have been referring to Aurelius' first victories as occurring near the time of his birth, which Ashe suggests was around 473, while Mons Badonicus may have occurred much later.[15]

Lives of the Saints

The Celtic Lives of the Saints indirectly support a date closer to 493 than 503. The Lives of Dewi Sant (David, the patron saint of Wales), Saint Cadoc and Saint Gildas report that Gildas visited the abbey of Ty Gwyn in 527 or 528 and objected to Dewi/David being placed in charge of it at such a young age.

These biographies of early church leaders, mostly written in the 11th century, may for propaganda purposes have invented, exaggerated, or borrowed miracles, and altered days of death, but some argue that their authors had no reason to distort mundane facts such as the dates and places of meetings. Further, these three Lives are independent of each other, their authors drawing from records (since lost) or traditions at the abbeys the saints lived in - St David's for David, Llancarfan for Cadoc, and Rhuys in Brittany for Gildas.

Rhygyfarch's Life of David says that David had ten years education under St Paulinus (St Pol de Leon) before becoming Abbot of Ty Gwyn. This suggests that David's birth could hardly have been later than 514. Rhygyfarch also says that Gildas preached to David's mother, Saint Non, while she was pregnant with him. If Gildas was old enough to be preaching in, at the latest, 514, it is implausible to place the date of Gildas's birth, and therefore of the Battle of Mount Badon, later than 498.

Effects of the battle

However uncertain the place, date, and participants of this battle may be, it clearly halted the Anglo-Saxon advance for some years.

  • The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is silent about this battle, but documents a gap of almost 70 years between two major Anglo-Saxon leaders (Bretwaldas) in the 5th and 6th centuries.
  • Procopius records a story, told to him by a member of a diplomatic delegation from the Franks, including a group of Angles, which mentioned that some Anglo-Saxons and British found their island so crowded that they migrated to northern Gaul to find lands to live on.
  • There are other tales from the mid-6th century about groups of Anglo-Saxons leaving Britain to settle across the English Channel.[citation needed]

All of these point to some kind of reversal in the fortunes of the invading Anglo-Saxons.

Archaeological evidence collected from the cemeteries of the pagan Anglo-Saxons suggests that some of their settlements were abandoned and the frontier between the invaders and the native inhabitants pushed back some time around 500. The Anglo-Saxons held the present counties of Kent, Sussex, Norfolk, Suffolk, and around the Humber; it is clear that the native British controlled everything west of a line drawn from the mouth of the Wiltshire Avon at Christchurch north to the river Trent, then along the Trent to where it joined the Humber, then north along the river Derwent and east to the North Sea, and also controlled a salient to the north and west of London, and south of Verulamium, that stretched west to join their main territory. The Britons defending this salient could securely move their troops along Watling Street to bring reinforcements to London or Verulamium, and thus keep the invaders divided into pockets south of the Weald, in eastern Kent, and in the lands around the Wash.

Second Battle of Badon

According to the Annales Cambriae, in AD 665 there was a second battle at Badon. It also lists for 665 the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity ("first Easter of the Saxons") and the death of one "Morgan". It is possible these three events are connected, if they are factual. Alternatively, this battle may be a duplicate of the first battle, heard of by a different route with details changed.

References

  1. ^ Ashe, Geoffrey, From Caesar to Arthur pp.295-8
  2. ^ R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy, The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History From 3500 B.C. to the Present, Fourth Edition (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993), 193.
  3. ^ C. Warren Hollister, "The Making of England to 1399", Eighth Edition (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001), 31.
  4. ^ ...qui et meae nativitatis est
  5. ^ Cat.Inist
  6. ^ Ashe, Geoffrey From Caesar to Arthur, pp.162-4
  7. ^ Badbury Rings
  8. ^ Mount Badon/Mons Badonicus
  9. ^ From Glein to Camlann: The Life and Death of King Arthur by August Hunt
  10. ^ http://www.leicesterchronicler.com/origins.htm The Origins of Leicester – An Arthurian Association?
  11. ^ Scott, Shane (1995). The hidden places of Somerset. Aldermaston: Travel Publishing Ltd. pp. 16. ISBN 1902007018. 
  12. ^ ut novi has been generally agreed to be corrupt, following Theodor Mommsen; it is variously interpreted as "as I know" or "as recent writers".
  13. ^ G. H. Wheeler, "Gildas de Excidio Britanniae, Chapter 26" in The English Historical Review 41 No. 164 (October 1926:497-503).
  14. ^ Wheeler 1926
  15. ^ Ashe, Geoffrey, The British Recovery 473-517, pp.295-8

Battle of Mons Badonicus
Part of the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain
Date circa 490 – 517
Location Unknown, various locations possible
Result Major British victory; Saxon expansion halted for many decades
Belligerents
Britons Anglo-Saxons
Commanders and leaders
Unknown, by later traditions King Arthur
Unknown, possibly Ælle
Strength
Unknown in detail, but apparently major concentration of available forces Unknown in detail, but apparently major concentration of available forces
Casualties and losses
Unknown Unknown, apparently heavy

The Battle of Mons Badonicus (English Mount Badon, Welsh Mynydd Baddon) was a battle between a force of Britons and an Anglo-Saxon army, probably sometime between 490 and 517 AD.[1] Though it is believed to have been a major political and military event, there is no certainty about its date or place. In the 9th century work Historia Brittonum the victory is attributed to King Arthur and various later texts follow this attribution, though the only nearly contemporary account of Badon, written by Gildas, does not mention Arthur in that connection.[2][3]

Contents

Location and date: uncertain

Where this battle was fought, as well as the British leader's name, are unknown. The polemical monk Gildas, a near contemporary, appears to say in his essay De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain) that the battle occurred in the year of the writer's birth,[4] but neither does he name either side's leader nor does he give any information about its location.

Place

A number of sites for the battle have been proposed, most in present-day England and Wales. (For a list of candidates, see Sites and places associated with Arthurian legend.) These sites include:

  • Liddington Castle, above the village of Badbury (Old English: Badon byrig) near Swindon in the Marlborough Downs commanding the east/west transit along The Ridgeway track route thus preventing further expansion by the Saxons in the Thames Valley region and protecting the Avon and Severn valleys.[5][6]
  • Mynydd Baedan in South Wales, near Bridgend. Mynydd is the Welsh for the Latin mons (mountain), and baedan is cognate either with baedd, a boar, or with baeddu, to thump. (Welsh mutations, d to dd; dd = eth or ð.)
  • Badbury Hillfort / Badbury Rings, an Iron Age hill fort in Dorset.[7]
  • Solsbury Hill near Bath, suggested by Geoffrey of Monmouth.[8] Bath was known to the Saxons as Baþon, Baðon, and Baðanceaster (where ceaster derives from the Latin castra, "camp"). There are various hills not far from Bath, and any of them might have been the location of the battle. The word "bath" is Germanic, but "Badon" may be a Celtic name. Bath's Roman name was Aquae Sulis, but the area (and the neighbouring Solsbury Hill) was populated for millennia before the arrival of the Romans.
  • Buxton, a spa town and the site of a Roman bath.[9]
  • Bardon Hill.[10]
  • Bowden Hill in Linlithgow
  • Bathampton Down[11]

All of these depend on theories or speculations of scholars, built upon a poverty of evidence. The battle may have been on the frontier between the territories of the native British inhabitants and the Anglo-Saxon invaders, perhaps near the Wansdyke. Or there may have been an Anglo-Saxon attack deep into British territory in an attempt to reach the Severn estuary and separate the Welsh from the Britons of the southwest. "Obsessionis Badonici montis" in Gildas's chapter 26 might mean that the Anglo-Saxon army went too far into hostile territory and was surrounded and trapped on a hilltop in the Cotswolds. The Saxon strategic objective was ultimately achieved following the Battle of Deorham in AD 577.

The Annales Cambriae, found in the Harleian recension of the Historia Brittonum, preserve an entry for AD 665 that records "The second battle of Badon" (bellum Badonis). While pointing to an engagement between two kingdoms of the 7th century, it is debatable which kingdoms these may be and whether this battle is recorded in other historical records of Britain or England. It could be a duplicate of the first battle, which had been passed through another oral transmission route with information changed on the way.

Information about names

In Historia Brittonum

The 9th century Historia Brittonum records traditions that name the Romano-British / Celtic leader as Arthur.

More recent speculations

More recently, it has been surmised[who?] that the Romano-British leader could have been Ambrosius Aurelianus and the Saxon leader could have been Aelle of Sussex, King of the South Saxons.

Information about dates

Gildas

Gildas writes
ad annum obsessionis Badonici montis ... quique quadragesimus quartus ut novi[12] orditur annus mense iam uno emenso qui et meae nativitatis est
which has been translated in more than one way.[13] An earlier reference by Gildas to the same event — de postrema patriae victoria quae temporibus nostris dei nutu donata est — establishes that the battle was fought "in our time".
  • It may mean "at/to the year of the siege of Mount Badon ... which happened 44 years and one month ago, and which is [the year] of my birth". King Maelgwn of Gwynedd was still living when Gildas wrote this, therefore Gildas wrote this on or before AD 547. This suggests AD 503 as a terminus ante quem for the battle.
  • Bede treated this passage in his paraphrase as saying that the battle was — he inserted "about"— 44 years after the Anglo-Saxons came to Britain, which Bede (not Gildas) said was in 449. Though Bede's circiter reveals that he does not wish to give the impression that Gildas' dating is accurate, adding 44 years to 449 gives the date 493 for the battle. Adding 44 years to 447 (when Thanet was conceded to Hengist) gives the date 491 for the battle. Some would argue that Bede's copy of Gildas was much closer to the original than any now extant; however the age of a manuscript (especially one no longer existing) is not a conclusive guide to its accuracy.

Taking his cue from Gildas' temporibus nostris G.H. Wheeler suggested[14] that the span of time between the battle and Gildas' writing was considerably less than 44 years and that Gildas cannot have been counting backwards.

Annales Cambriae

The later Annales Cambriae offers the date 516, which few modern scholars accept. Annales Cambriae entries after 525 appear to have been transcribed from contemporary tables for the calculation of Easter; entries before 525 are much less reliable. One of the modern scholars who does accept this date is the historian Geoffrey Ashe, who suggests that Mons Badonicus occurred in 516, but was just one of a string of British victories. According to Ashe, Gildas may have been referring to Aurelius' first victories as occurring near the time of his birth, which Ashe suggests was around 473, while Mons Badonicus may have occurred much later.[15]

Lives of the Saints

The Celtic Lives of the Saints indirectly support a date closer to 493 than 503. The Lives of Dewi Sant (David, the patron saint of Wales), Saint Cadoc and Saint Gildas report that Gildas visited the abbey of Ty Gwyn in 527 or 528 and objected to Dewi/David being placed in charge of it at such a young age.

These biographies of early church leaders, mostly written in the 11th century, may for propaganda purposes have invented, exaggerated, or borrowed miracles, and altered days of death, but some argue that their authors had no reason to distort mundane facts such as the dates and places of meetings. Further, these three Lives are independent of each other, their authors drawing from records (since lost) or traditions at the abbeys the saints lived in - St David's for David, Llancarfan for Cadoc, and Rhuys in Brittany for Gildas.

Rhygyfarch's Life of David says that David had ten years education under St Paulinus (St Pol de Leon) before becoming Abbot of Ty Gwyn. This suggests that David's birth could hardly have been later than 514. Rhygyfarch also says that Gildas preached to David's mother, Saint Non, while she was pregnant with him. If Gildas was old enough to be preaching in, at the latest, 514, it is implausible to place the date of Gildas's birth, and therefore of the Battle of Mount Badon, later than 498.

Effects of the battle

However uncertain the place, date, and participants of this battle may be, it clearly halted the Anglo-Saxon advance for some years.

  • The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is silent about this battle, but documents a gap of almost 70 years between two major Anglo-Saxon leaders (Bretwaldas) in the 5th and 6th centuries.
  • Procopius records a story, told to him by a member of a diplomatic delegation from the Franks, including a group of Angles, which mentioned that some Anglo-Saxons and British found their island so crowded that they migrated to northern Gaul to find lands to live on.[citation needed]
  • There are other tales from the mid-6th century about groups of Anglo-Saxons leaving Britain to settle across the English Channel.[citation needed]

All of these point to some kind of reversal in the fortunes of the invading Anglo-Saxons.

Archaeological evidence collected from the cemeteries of the pagan Anglo-Saxons suggests that some of their settlements were abandoned and the frontier between the invaders and the native inhabitants pushed back some time around 500. The Anglo-Saxons held the present counties of Kent, Sussex, Norfolk, Suffolk, and around the Humber; it is clear that the native British controlled everything west of a line drawn from the mouth of the Wiltshire Avon at Christchurch north to the river Trent, then along the Trent to where it joined the Humber, then north along the river Derwent and east to the North Sea, and also controlled a salient to the north and west of London, and south of Verulamium, that stretched west to join their main territory. The Britons defending this salient could securely move their troops along Watling Street to bring reinforcements to London or Verulamium, and thus keep the invaders divided into pockets south of the Weald, in eastern Kent, and in the lands around the Wash.

Second Battle of Badon

According to the Annales Cambriae, in AD 665 there was a second battle at Badon. It also lists for 665 the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity ("first Easter of the Saxons") and the death of one "Morgan". It is possible these three events are connected, if they are factual. Alternatively, this battle may be a duplicate of the first battle, heard of by a different route with details changed.

Popular culture

In the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the less-than-heroic deeds of the fictional Sir Robin are recounted, including the fact that he had "personally wet himself at the Battle of Badon Hill."

In the film King Arthur (2004) Lancelot says: "For two hundred years knights had fought and died for a land not their own, but on that day on Badon Hill all who fought put their lives in service of a greater cause: freedom."

It is featured as a playable historical battle in the game Rome: Total War: Barbarian Invasion.

References

  1. ^ Ashe, Geoffrey, From Caesar to Arthur pp.295-8
  2. ^ R. Ernest Dupuy and Trevor N. Dupuy, The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History From 3500 B.C. to the Present, Fourth Edition (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1993), 193.
  3. ^ C. Warren Hollister, "The Making of England to 1399", Eighth Edition (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001), 31.
  4. ^ ...qui et meae nativitatis est
  5. ^ Cat.Inist
  6. ^ Ashe, Geoffrey From Caesar to Arthur, pp.162-4
  7. ^ Badbury Rings
  8. ^ Mount Badon/Mons Badonicus
  9. ^ From Glein to Camlann: The Life and Death of King Arthur by August Hunt
  10. ^ http://www.leicesterchronicler.com/origins.htm The Origins of Leicester – An Arthurian Association?
  11. ^ Scott, Shane (1995). The hidden places of Somerset. Aldermaston: Travel Publishing Ltd. pp. 16. ISBN 1902007018. 
  12. ^ ut novi has been generally agreed to be corrupt, following Theodor Mommsen; it is variously interpreted as "as I know" or "as recent writers".
  13. ^ G. H. Wheeler, "Gildas de Excidio Britanniae, Chapter 26" in The English Historical Review 41 No. 164 (October 1926:497-503).
  14. ^ Wheeler 1926
  15. ^ Ashe, Geoffrey, The British Recovery 473-517, pp.295-8

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