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Monday, 22 December 2014

The Core Battles of Arthur Dux Bellorum in Flavia Caesariensis

 
The Core Battles of Arthur Dux Bellorum in Flavia Caesariensis
by Dane Pestano

In this essay I will continue the work of Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews and explore the battles of Arthur against the Saxons as detailed in the Historia Brittonum, written in around 829AD and suggest that the author of the original battle list was placing most of the battles in the late Roman province of Flavia Caesariensis. This encompassed an area north of the river Thames to south of the river Humber. The placement of late Roman provinces is debated so differing opinions exist as to the validity of the maps shown, but this does not effect the placement of the battles predominantly in the midlands. The main references for this work will be Jackson's seminal piece Once Again Arthur's Battles (1945) and more fully Keith J Fitzpatrick-Matthews' more up to date summary of the scholarly input over the last 100 years or so – The Arthurian Battle Listof the Historia Brittonum (unpublished) in which he suggests a similar grouping of seven of Arthur's battles.

I will use maps to show the placement of Saxon settlements, rebellions and movement of the battles along the Roman road systems, something that has been lacking in most studies of the battles but was attempted by Matthews who created a basic map of Arthur's battles in the context of Flavia Caesariensi and the north. 
An attempt to place Arthur's battles into a context of fifth and sixth century Britain should be attempted although we must understand that whoever compiled the list in the eighth to ninth centuries would have described the battles in the orthography of the time.

The Saxons had arrived in Britain as federates in around 465 according to Gildas and had broken out of their settlements in the east to pillage the towns along the Roman road systems in the early 470's. We know from Gildas that St Albans (Verulamium) was one of these towns in Flavia Caesariensis and the other Chester at opposite ends of the of the territory (It was thought this may have been Caerleon, Newport, South Wales, in Secunda, but see later below) . Gildas in effect was telling us where the extent of the troubles was. Ambrosius had begun the fightback in the mid 470's and must have managed to pacify south eastern Flavia Caesariensis in his campaigns as none of Arthur's battles are in this part, ie north east of the Thames to the Ouse in East Anglia. Britannia Prima, the whole region south of the Thames may have escaped any major troubles, perhaps only Kent being problematical although this area may in fact have been more Frankish, rather than Saxon in our period as the archaeology indicates. The following map shows the early perceived Saxon cemeteries in Britain reflecting where they lived and you can see from this that they were mainly billeted in Flavia Caesariensis and I have added the probable rebellion routes.


The campaigns of Ambrosius may have taken ten or twenty years of the 44 years that Gildas says passed between the time of Ambrosius to the year of the Battle of Badon. During this time Britons and Saxons fought many battles, sometimes the Britons winning, sometimes the Saxons, until the decisive British victory at Badon. Arthur's battles then must have taken place between the 490's to around 516-518, when the battle of Badon is said to have taken place.

To summarise then, Gildas tells us where the major troubles took place, defining the extent between St Albans and Chester. The majority of Arthur’s battles, as we shall shortly see, also took place between these places and further to this the battles look tactically sound when compared to the Anglo Saxon settlements of the time and their expansion during the rebellion as they followed the Roman roads.

Here is Mathews' reconstruction of the text of the HB which I will follow. His change of Agned to Breguoin and addition of traith being of no consequence to the battle campaigns:

in illo tempore saxones inualescebant in multitudine et crescebant in britannia. mortuo autem hengisto, octha filius eius transiuit de sinistrali parte britanniae ad regnum cantuariorum et de ipso orti sunt reges cantuariorum. tunc arthur pugnabat contra illos in illis diebus cum regibus brittonum, sed ipse erat dux bellorum. primum bellum fuit in ostium fluminis quod dicitur glein. secundum et tertium et quartum et quintum super aliud flumen quod dicitur dubglas et est in regione linnuis. sextum bellum super flumen quod uocatur bassas. septimum fuit bellum in silua celidonis, id est cat coit celidon. octauum fuit bellum in castello guinnion, in quo arthur portauit imaginem sanctae mariae semper uirginis super humeros suos et pagani uersi sunt in fugam in illo die et caedes magna fuit super illos per uirtutem domini nostri iesu christi et per uirtutem sanctae mariae genetricis eius. nonum bellum gestum est in urbe legionis. decimum gessit bellum in litore fluminis quod uocatur *traith tribruit. undecimum bellum in monte qui dicitur breguoin, *id est cat bregion. duodecimum fuit bellum in monte badonis, in quo corruerunt in uno die dccccxl uiri de uno impetu arthur; et nemo prostrauit eos nisi ipse solus, et in omnibus bellis uictor extitit.

At that time the Saxons grew strong from their increased numbers in Britain. On the death of Hengist, his son Octa travelled from the north of Britain to Kent and from him are the kings of Kent descended. Then Arthur, with the kings of the Britons, fought against them in those days and he was the leader of battles.
* His first battle was at the mouth of the river called Glein.
* The second, third, fourth and fifth battles were on/beside another river called Dubglas and is in the region Linnuis.
* The sixth battle was on/beside the river which is called Bassas.
The seventh battle was in the wood called Celidon, that is Cat Coit Celidon.
The eighth battle was at the fort called Guinnion and in it Arthur carried the image of the holy Mary, the everlasting Virgin, on his shield, and the heathen were put to flight on that day, and there was great slaughter upon them, through the power of Jesus Christ and the power of the holy Virgin Mary, his mother.
* The ninth battle was fought in the city of the Legion
The tenth battle was fought on the shore of the river called traith Tribruit
The eleventh battle was at the mount/ain called Breguoin, that is cat Bregion.
* The twelfth battle was on Mount Badon in which there fell in one charge by Arthur 940 men and no one laid them low save he alone and he was victorious in all his battles.

* From the above we can see that the first six of the battles could certainly be placed in Flavia Caesariensis according to current consensus. Lets examine them briefly.

His first battle was at the mouth of the river called Glein.

Glein is derivative of Brittonic *glano-, 'pure, clear‘, with a suffix -io- or - (Jackson 1945, 46). Names deriving from Old Welsh *glinn, 'valley‘, or its Old Irish cognate *glenn, 'valley‘ cannot be derivatives and so places such as the Great Glen near Leicester can be dismissed. The consensus is that the Northumberland or Lincolnshire river Glen's are indicated. Obviously a choice of the Lincolnshire Glen would appear correct when the placement of the other battles are considered.

The second, third, fourth and fifth battles were on/beside another river called Dubglas and in the region Linnuis.

Dubglas is derived from Brittonic *duboglasso-, 'blue-black‘ (Jackson 1945, 46) and the region Linnuis has been safely identified as Lindsey by Thomas Green and others. Lindsey would have mainly incorporated the area east of Lincoln city and some territory around Lincoln a few miles to the west and southwest. The river Dubglas has not been identified but a possibility may be the river Devon, a southern tributary of the Trent or the river Witham. The idea of Arthur attacking them first at the Glen, pushing remnants of the Saxons northwards and then in Lindsey once the remnants had joined with these would seem to explain the number of battles that took place here.

The sixth battle was on/beside the river which is called Bassas.

The river Bassas has not been identified securely enough but Matthews suggests Baschurch in Shropshire as a good possibility :

Most writers have found this site to be unlocatable. However, Crawford suggested Baschurch, Shropshire, as the site intended; the place is probably named in Canu Heledd as Eglwysseu Bassa, the site of Cynddylan‘s stafell or hall. It is unclear whether an Old English place name Baschurch was translated into Old Welsh by the poet of Canu Heledd or whether the Old English form is a translation from an Old Welsh original: either way, it is possible to accept either Jackson‘s or Isaac‘s different etymologies......Whilst the name has proved problematical for other writers, the identification with the Eglwysau Bassa of Canu Heledd is attractive; the cultural milieu of the author of the Historia Brittonum was the same as that in which the Canu Heledd were composed or (if a seventh-century origin for the cycle be preferred) modernised and the name would probably have been familiar to the author.”

There is a Bassingham eight miles south of Lincoln but as four of the battles are already said to be in Lindsey Bassingham may not be relevant. Baschurch though is not ideal if Bassas was part of the same campaign as the previous five battles as Arthur would have to traverse most of Flavia Caesariensis to get there and would certainly encounter Saxon foes along the way. Perhaps the order of battle list has been changed for poetic license. We could though envisage a separate western Campaign. This would explain some of the anomalies such as the following battle

The seventh battle was in the wood called Celidon, that is Cat Coit Celidon.

This has always been taken to mean the Caledon wood in the southern Scotland uplands and it's difficult to move away from this consensus. Ptolemy had placed it even further north among the highland Picts. The great wood in the midlands appears to have been called just that 'woods' which could indicate it's British name was of the same degree. So we must either envisage a separate northern campaign or accept that it must have been the wood of the midlands. In a ninth century view we would have to side with the northern Caledonian Forest. We should not forget though that Calleva Atrebatum (Silchester) in the south means inhabitants of the woods, so dismissing the rest of Britain in favour of the northern Caledonia may well be fallacious. In support of a great Midlands forest possibly extending all the way to Shropshire, Frank Reno suggests the `men of Argoed' are the men of the Celidon wood, a forest now called Clun but it could just as well be the forest of Galtres north of York which might make some sense if the Caledonian battle was original to the list, and possibly the same as Geoffrey of Monmouth's forest Calaterium (Ashley 2010).

This battle is also compared to mythical Welsh tales and a battle of the woods and so in effect may have been accrued by Arthur. As we shall see, all the problematical battles outside of Flavia Caesariensis have been culled from Welsh myth. Matthews comments :

Given the fact that Coed Celyddon is so well known and well located around the headwaters of the Rivers Clyde and Tweed in Welsh literature, it is difficult to see why some commentators have struggled to find locations outside the southern uplands of Scotland; certainly most agree on this identification. Coed Celyddon is particularly associated with Myrddin, the Merlin of legend, and appears in poems such as Yr Afallennau, Ymddiddan, Geoffrey of Monmouth‘s Vita Merlini and Ystorya Trystan. As such, there can be little doubt of its location..”

The eighth battle was at the fort called Guinnion

The location of Guinnion has eluded all researchers to this point with no satisfactory candidate being found to satisfy etymological arguments. In this regard Venonae / Vennonae/Vennonis has been overlooked. Standing at an important strategic Roman crossroads twelve miles south of Ratae (Leicester) it would make sense for the Saxons to hold this fort or small town at the crossroads of Watling street and the Fosse Way. In the context of Arthur's battles so far (other than Caledonian) it would also make sense as Arthur would be heading along the Fosse Way south, passing through Ratae and the forest and then onto Vennonis. Vennonis itself appears to mean the settlement in the woods, having the same root as Venedotia, a name which became Guinet and then Gwynedd. In a similar way Vennonis could become Guinnion negating any need for the name to derive from Brittonic *uindion-, 'white'. Christopher Gwinn on the Facebook king Arthur group has suggsted the etymology might work in this way: 

"Assuming that the name is rendered correctly in the sources, Uenonis would give Old Welsh *Guenon, while Uēnonis (with a long -e-) would give OW *Guoinon or *Guuinon. Whether or not this could be corrupted into Guinnion is a matter of conjecture, but I would lean towards no; however, *Guuinon, with all its minims, would be the most susceptible to corruption into Guinnion (so, it's not impossible).."

Occupation of Vennonae is known all the way up to the beginning of the fifth century due to archaeological coin evidence of the emperor Honorius, suggesting there was continued fifth century occupation. This would add a seventh battle to the region of Flavia Caesariensis. 

 ..and in it Arthur carried the image of the holy Mary, the everlasting Virgin, on his shield, and the heathen were put to flight on that day, and there was great slaughter upon them, through the power of Jesus Christ and the power of the holy Virgin Mary, his mother..

The addition of the religious aspects of Arthur carrying an image of the virgin Mary in this battle dates these additional words to a period after the beginning of the seventh century as the cult of Mary was not evident in Britain or Ireland before this time. The addition of the word 'Pagani' here also suggests a later date as this word was used of the Vikings, so a late eighth to early ninth century date for this addition may be more applicable. In fact it may have been added therefore when the HB was written. 

The ninth battle was fought in the city of the Legion.

Matthews sums up the evidence :

The name is pure Latin and means 'city of the legion‘, from which it has been identified with the legionum urbis/ciuitatem legionum and carlegion of Gildas and Bede (de Excidio Britanniae 10; Historia Ecclesiastica II.2), the cair legion of Historia Brittonum §66a and the urbis legion/cair legion of the Annales Cambrię. The possibility that the text originally contained an Old Welsh version, *cair legion, should not be dismissed automatically, although it is found only in the Vatican recension....Once again, a relatively high level of confidence can be expressed in an identification with Chester.”

This place can be no other than Chester and in the context of the eighth to ninth century even more so. This ads then an eighth battle to the region of Flavia Caesariensis and we can now map them as described. From this map you can see the extent of Arthur's core battles. Matthews' asserts that the carlegion of Gildas is indeed Chester and not Caerleon.

Arthurs core battles in Caesariensis. Red areas are the Saxon cemeteries /Settlements

The tenth battle was fought on the shore of the river called traith Tribruit.

The name comes from Middle Welsh, tryfrwyd, meaning 'pierced through', and consists of *tri- 'through, very, excessive‘, compounded with Old Welsh *bruit, 'pierced, broken' (Jackson 1945,51). Unfortunately the location of this battle has eluded everyone but a northern location was favoured until Koch's input. Matthews comments:

John Koch (1997, 178) has identified the vanawyt of Y Gododdin line 35 with the manawid of Pa Gur, yv y Porthaur? who brought back the broken spear from Traith Tribruit, and suggests that his kingdom lay in the east, in what is now England. If this be accepted, there is no longer any reason to insist that traith tribruit lay in Y Gogledd. This leaves the identification of the battle site completely open, although it is clear that the name was well known in early Welsh saga..”

So interestingly Tribruit may lie in Eastern England and again this battle is associated with Welsh myth. Placing it in Flavia Caesariensis though has proven to be difficult. Perhaps the Trent is indicated but there is not enough evidence to locate this battle. It may be another battle that Arthur acquired when the poem or battle list was being formed.

The eleventh battle was at the mount/ain called Breguoin, that is cat Bregion.

The usual place of this battle is said to be Agned and Agned would be a good suggestion for the rhyming scheme. Agned is usally placed in the north but Matthews suggests a corruption from 'breguoin, id' to Agned which has some merit. Whether this holds up is not as yet known but either way the battle is said to be in the north at Bremenium. Matthews comments :

the name is clearly the same as that of the Roman auxiliary fort of Bremenium at High Rochester, Northumberland (Jackson 1959, 4). This was also the scene of a battle, known as kat gellawr brewyn, 'the battle of the cells of *Bremenio-‘, attributed to Urien of Rheged by the poet of Ardwyre Reget, ryssed rieu”

This battle then by consensus must be outside of Flavia Caesariensis and in the north and again may have been accrued by Arthur. It's clear then that the three battles that cannot be placed within Flavia Caesariensis all have associations with battles not originally attributed to Arthur in Welsh myth – Caledonia with Merlin, Tribruit with Manawid and Agned/Bregion with Urien. Bassas might also be added to this list with its previous association with Cynddylan  This leaves the final Battle which can also be placed within Flavia Caesariensis.

The twelfth battle was on Mount Badon in which there fell in one charge by Arthur 940 men and no one laid them low save he alone and he was victorious in all his battles.

Where Badon took place has eluded all comers but placing it into the context of Flavia Caesariensis would appear sensible and Green, favouring a Lincolnshire basis for the battles, places Badon at Baumber but I think this is untenable as four of the battles are already placed around Lincolnshire if not five. The Saxons of the upper Thames valley (later known as the Gewisse) rebelling and taking Cirencester would tactically be a sound acquisition, giving access as it does to Wales and the south west. There were many hill forts in this region. It was originally part of the territory of the Dobunni otherwise known as the Bodunni. One hillfort was in the area of Baunton near Cirencester, deriving from 'Baudintune' mentioned in the Doomsday book. 'tune' is the Anglo Saxon termination, later 'ton' for town. 'Baun' then derives from 'Baudin'. Some suggest this may derive from an Anglo Saxon person called Badd or even Bald for some obscure reasoning that eludes me but an original possibility from Britonnic 'Baud-din' , 'victorius hill' may be acceptable. This location may agree with the general medieval beliefs that the battle took place towards Bath, which is only a fairly short distance southwards. This then would be the ninth battle placed in the region of Flavia Caesariensis.

Conclusions.

Matthews is correct in placing the context of Arthur's battles in Flavia Caesariensis. When looked at with the placement of Anglo Saxon settlements and the Roman road system it all becomes evident that whosoever wrote the battle list was certainly locating the battles in the region that Gildas defined. Only half that region though, the rest appears to have already been secured by Ambrosius if we naturally follow the data the battle list is telling us. Gildas though wasn't thinking in terms of Roman Provinces, probably long forgotten by his time. 

When the Superbus Tyrannus was appointed in the 460's there was still a council in place to decide his appointment and Britain was Roman enough to send an army under Riothamus to help the Romans against Euric in around 469. Does this suggest that Britain still had some provincial system in place at that time? It is not essential to this thesis that they did as the rebellion region appears defined by Gildas and they just happen to fall into the old province of Flavia Caesariensis as defined in these maps.

So where was Arthur based? If the first battle at the Glen in southern Lincolnshire is correct then Arthur's base may have been in Camulodunum, Colchester. Some have suggested Wroxeter at the opposite end of Flavia Caesariensis , a possibility as well if the battles are not in the correct order. Wroxeter and Chester were in the tribal territory of the Cornovi. If the association of Arthur with Cornwall is a dim remembering of this association with the Cornovi of Shropshire we may have his area of origin. All of the battles then that can be located are in Flavia Caesariensis apart from the three or four that appear to be battles acquired by Arthur from Welsh myth and were added to the core of the battle list to give it a rhyming scheme. 

If we follow the order of the battle list with the core battles we can see that Arthur first attacked the Saxons on the Glein as he moved north up Ermine Street towards Lincoln. Saxons fleeing this advance would have approached Lindsey and joined with their compatriots there, necessitating another four battles around Lindsey to finally defeat the combined Saxon forces and push them back beyond Lincoln. As indicated above there may have been separate campaigns over a number of years. One easterly around Lincolnshire. Then the following one towards the midlands and westerly.

Arthur then headed down the Foss way passing through Ratae and the great midlands forest, a possible location for the battle of the Caledonian wood, and then onto the battle at Guinnion Fort at Vennonis. From here he took the north west Watling Street towards Wroxeter and probably picking up reinforcements then attacked the Saxons who guarded the approaches to Chester at Bassas and then onto Chester itself to dislodge the Saxons there. Wintering in the west and in third campaign Arthur heads South.  

With Chester defeated most of what was Flavia Caesariensis was now in British hands and so finally Arthur headed back down the Watling street and onto the Fosse way south to approach the final battle at the Badonic mount near Cirencester. According to Gildas this brought a lasting peace to southern and central Britain until the second half of the sixth century when the plague reduced the Britons to such a state that the Saxons were once more able to expand their influence. These campaigns must have taken place over a few years with other minor battles not mentioned.

In the context of late fifth and early sixth century Britain Arthur's eight or nine core battles look surprisingly authentic, tactically well placed and logically viable. Are we then looking at a genuine core battle list remembered from the sixth to seventh centuries and ultimately derived from battles in the fifth to early sixth century?  My work on Mac Erca has shown that battles were easily accrued and their number even doubled when legend and pseudo-history takes over. That Arthur may have therefore acquired battles from Welsh legend should not be surprising. If four of the battles were obtained from Welsh legend to help the rhyming and increase the list of battles then Bassas was brought in to rhyme with Dubglas/Linnuis, Celidon with Guinnion, Agned with Tribruit?. The rhyming scheme then should like this this...

1.......Glein
2-4....Dubglas
6.......Bassas
7.......Celidon
8.......Guinnion
10.....Tribruit
11.....Agned
9.......Legionis
12.....Badonis

Only Agned and Tribruit appear to be a difficult rhyme showing perhaps that they were both added to the battle list with the others to bring the number to twelve. If Agned were originally Bregion it would spoil the rhyming even more (although Bregion would rhyme well with Guinnion). It's not unusual for the first line of a Welsh poem not to rhyme. This may also indicate that Linnuis may have been an additional gloss as such on the battles of the river Dubglas. Legionis is now in its correct place before Badonis, suggesting again that both Agned and Tribruit were not original to the scheme. 

The original Latin rhyming Scheme

Having at least 4-7 of the battle names ending in 'is' could though lead us onto the original Latin rhyming scheme. These are Linnuis, Celedonis, Legionis and Badonis. We could suggest an earlier Glenis for Glein. Bassas stands out then as a sore thumb and certain addition. Guinnion could originally be Guinonis from Venonis. For 'Tribruit' we might be able to suggest Tribrutis and for 'Bregion' Bremenis but these are problematical so again were probably 'Nennian' additions. The battle of Silva Celidonis though does fit the rhyming scheme and so may have been an original early accrued battle or it was in the midlands. We are again then left with a core of nine original battles. In an earlier Latinised orthography the names and rhyming scheme could be thus : 

1..... fluminis quod dicitur glenis

2-5..... et est in regione linnuis. 
6...... fuit bellum in silua celidonis
7......fuit bellum in castello guinnonis,
8......est in urbe legionis
9......fuit bellum in monte badonis,





Brief references and reading

Dark K. R. A Sub-Roman Re-Defence of Hadrian's Wall? Britannia, Vol. 23 (1992), pp. 111-120

Dumville, David. Histories and Pseudo Histories of the Insular Middle Ages (Variorum Collected Studies), 1990

Fitzpatrick-Matthews, Keith . The ‘Arthurian battle list’ of the Historia Brittonum, 2014?

Green, T. Concepts of Arthur. Stroud: Tempus, 2013.
                Britons and the Anglo-Saxons Lincolnshire AD 400-600, The History of Lincolnshire  Committee 2012.

Halsall, Guy. Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages, OUP Oxford, 2013.

Jackson, K H. Once again Arthur‘s battles. Modern Philology 93, 44-57, 1945

Lane, Alan. Wroxeter and the end of Roman Britain, Antiquity Publications, 2103.

Ashley, Mike, A Brief History of King Arthur. Constable and Robinson 2010.

Mommsen, T Historia Brittonum cum additamentis Nennii. In: Mommsen, T ed.
Monumenta Germaniae Historia Auctorum Antiquissimum XIII Chronicorum Minorum III. Berlin:
Weidmann, 111-222 1898

Wiseman, H M The derivation of the date of the Badon entry in the Annales Cambriae
from Bede and Gildas
. Parergon 17, 1-10,
2000

  

Copyright Dane Pestano 2014.