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The Twelve Battles of King Arthur, Part 1, The Sites.
Compilation of my posts on Arthur's twelve battles, working to identify some possible coherent campaigns.
Finding the sites of Arthur’s twelve battles listed in Nennius’ Historia Brittonum is absurdly well-trodden ground. Many smarter men than I have been here before, and have tried to map out where they may have been. I will give it an attempt anyway, and maybe bring some new things to the table. Here is Nennius’ writing on Arthur’s battles in it’s entirety.
At that time, the Saxons grew strong by virtue of their large number and increased in power in Britain. Hengist having died, however, his son Octha crossed from the northern part of Britain to the kingdom of Kent and from him are descended the kings of Kent. Then Arthur along with the kings of Britain fought against them in those days, but Arthur himself was the military commander ["dux bellorum"].  His first battle was at the mouth of the river which is called Glein. [2,3,4,5] 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; 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.  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.
One can see the potential for some issues here. Nennius implies that ALL of the battles were against the Saxons, and so most people who try to tackle the question end up assuming that as well. A few scholars have figured that it’s likely that Nennius drew this portion from an earlier battle poem, or battle song, that gave the original list of battles, and Nennius wrote them down as his list (or copied from an earlier chronicle that drew from the original poem).
John Koch is one of the main proponents of this theory, and goes so far as to say this
It is now generally accepted that this chapter, the oldest historical tract about 'King' Arthur, is a translation of a Welsh battle-listing poem, like the following several items. We can even reconstruct the rhyme-scheme of the lost original: ... Bassas | ... Dubglas | .. . Cat Coït Celïdon | ... Castell Guinnion | ... Caïr Legion | ... Trïbriït abon [abon = 'river'] | ... Bregomion | ... [ mïnïd] Badon |; see further Thomas Jones, The Early Evolution of the Legend of Arthur,' Nottingham Mediaeval Studies vii ( 1963) 3-21. The metre appears to have been long monorhyming stanzas, for which the Welsh term is awdl. Incidentally, the fact that Badon rhymes indicates that this important battle ( which we know from other sources was historical, a major turning point in the Anglo-Saxon conquest of Britain) was ascribed to Arthur in the poem and not merely tacked on for good measure by the 9th-century writer. This is an important point for historians.
Since we can only reconstruct this poem it is possible that the battles commemorated here are not only against the Saxons as Nennius may have assumed at the time of his writing, but possibly against the Angles, the Picts, some of the Northern British tribes, such as the Votadini (Gododdin) [as a side note here there is reasoning for singling out the Votadini specifically, that I will discuss in the follow-up that maps some of these battles out] This makes some of the potential sites make more sense, and can help us paint a more full picture, as some battle sites are quite unreasonable for Saxon or Angle incursions into what was then solidly British territory.
I do want to draw some attention to one line, in Nennius’ account quickly here, and many have made much ado over this line, so I may be coming to the same conclusion as others what it means, but maybe not.
Then Arthur along with the kings of Britain fought against them in those days, but Arthur himself was the military commander ["dux bellorum"].
Many have taken this to mean that Arthur was not a king himself. This is possible. While it is a work of fiction Bernard Cornwell takes this stance in his fantastic “Warlord Chronicles”, as well has many other folks who have taken an interest in Arthur.
Once upon a time, in a land that was called Britain, these things happened ... well, maybe. The Warlord Trilogy is my attempt to tell the story of Arthur, 'Rex Quondam Rexque Futurus', the Once and Future King, although I doubt he ever was a king. I suspect he was a great warlord of the sixth century. Nennius, who was one of the earliest historians to mention Arthur, calls him the 'dux bellorum' - leader of battles or warlord.
— Bernard Cornwell
I don’t necessarily believe that this is the case however,
Some translators translate this first line of Nennius’ section on Arthur as
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.
I think that this translation is probably adding a little too much to the original Latin, but I think an interesting distinction is made here that “there were many more noble than himself”. Could it be that he was a king that came from a relatively small or obscure kingdom? I doubt the myriad petty kings of the Brythonic Heroic Age would allow just any old soldier to lead them, and I would say it is likely that this title of Dux Bellorum echoes, and was possibly used similarly to, Dux Britanniarum or Dux Gewissorum, which I would argue were used by Kings such as Coel, and Vortigern after the Roman exit from Britain. By the time Nennius was writing the significance of a title like Dux likely had lost most of its original connotation, and it may carry the same weight/prestige as the title Wledig, seen as the epithet for many famous Brythonic Kings.
Arthur seems to have been referred to as an Wledig (Prince, Lord, Landowner, sometimes translated even as Imperator) himself in Taliesin’s quite difficult to translate and interpret poem Kadeir Teyrnon. W.F. Skene translates this line here
From the loricated Legion,
Arose the Guledig,
Around the old renowned boundary.
Haycock translates the last line attesting that it is “am terwyn anewic” instead of Skene’s “Am terwyn hen enwic” and gives the last two lines as instead
There shall arise a ruler,
for the fierce wealthy ones
This poem is of some relevance to a later article on finding Arthur himself, and I think I have an interesting opinion on this, and it supports a particular Arthurian candidate quite well, I may address this in the article mapping out the potential campaigns, but I don’t think we need to go further here.
It’s not that an Wledig is the same as a Dux Bellorum, but it seems that Arthur may have carried many titles during his time as king or warlord (which it seems in this time any warlord with land was a king).
Now with much ink spilled and little said, we move on to the battles themselves.
The Battle at the River Glein
His first battle was at the mouth of the river which is called Glein.
The first of Arthur's battles in Nennius' 𝐻𝑖𝑠𝑡𝑜𝑟𝑖𝑎 𝐵𝑟𝑖𝑡𝑡𝑜𝑛𝑢𝑚 is listed as "His first battle was at the mouth of the river which is called Glein", with the last listed as "The twelfth battle was on Mount Badon--" This could aid us in finding the "Arthur of Badon". Sadly, as with much in the realm of Arthuriana we don't have a lot to go off of with snippets like this, but we can take steps to try to figure out where this battle may have happened, which may in turn lead us to a rough area of operations for an "Arthur of Badon"
One step we can take is to consider what Glein means, derived from the Proto-Celtic glanos, meaning pure, clean, or clear. Keeping this in mind we can then begin our search. There are no rivers named Glein today, however there are two named Glen, not etymologically connected directly, but nonetheless a possibility. The first is in Lincolnshire, and the second, Northumberland.
The Lincolnshire Glen joins the River Welland. While we are not certain of the origin of the name Welland it has often been suggested that it is from a celtic word meaning good or holy. It could be possible that they at one time shared a mouth and a name in Glein. An interesting proposition to be sure, and the area being in the north of Lindsey, an early place of Angle settlement seems prime for an early battle, except for the fact that there are no large local power bases for one to prime an attack from.
The Northumbria Glen joins another river the Till, near Yeavering Bell, a large Iron Age Hill Fort. The fort shows signs of occupation from the Sub-Roman period and was likely a major factor in defending from the invading Angles. After the Angles took power it maintained it's status as an important site with Edwin likely having a Hall nearby in Yeavering. This site seems promising, but it is curious that the battle is remembered as being fought at the mouth of the river, a far piece from the fort itself.
This leads us to some other possibilities, such as the 'Glein' adjacent River Glyme. Meaning "Bright stream", making it an interesting possibility. The Arthurian connection doesn't end there however, as the river runs near Ambrosden. Ambrosden's name is of questionable origin with some linking it to Ambrosius Aurelianus himself. This may have been a sight of one of Ambrosius' battles, or it could simply just be derived from "Ambre's hill" (though this is less likely)
Another possibility is the Gleiniant, which unlike any listed so far maintains Glein in it's name. It is however deep within Powys and unlikely for such an early battle against the Germanic invaders.
W.F. Skene suggested Glen Water near Kilmarnock. A small stream, but with a local legend attached that there was a battle there in 542ad, though this is quite late for one of Arthur's supposed earliest battles.
A final suggestion is the River Lune, in Westmorland. It's name is derived from Glein, maintaining the meaning of "Pure". It also has a Roman Fort near Lancaster that was used to help repel the Irish during Roman rule. While not as convenient for us as both Rivers Glen in terms of location it is still interesting in that it holds the distinction of having a defensible fortification and a direct mouth to the sea.
There is another possibility, and that is it is none of these. The name was undoubtedly common name for rivers prior to Germanic settlement. But my money is on either of the Glens, or the River Lune.
The Battles above the River Dubglas
𝘏𝘪𝘴 𝘴𝘦𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘥, 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘳𝘥, 𝘧𝘰𝘶𝘳𝘵𝘩, 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘧𝘪𝘧𝘵𝘩 𝘣𝘢𝘵𝘵𝘭𝘦𝘴 𝘸𝘦𝘳𝘦 𝘢𝘣𝘰𝘷𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳 𝘳𝘪𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘸𝘩𝘪𝘤𝘩 𝘪𝘴 𝘤𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘦𝘥 𝘋𝘶𝘣𝘨𝘭𝘢𝘴 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘪𝘴 𝘪𝘯 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘳𝘦𝘨𝘪𝘰𝘯 𝘰𝘧 𝘓𝘪𝘯𝘯𝘶𝘪𝘴
This one at first glance seems pretty cut and dry. Many of you will already know that Linnuis is generally considered synonymous with the Kingdom of Lindsay. The Kingdom of Lindsay itself is a quite early area of Anglo-Saxon settlement, which seemed to be quite large scale, however many enclaves of Brythonic speaking people remained in different areas, with many place names still being Brythonically derived.
This leads us to the next clue, the River Dubglas, yet there is no River Dubglas today in Lindsay, with the major river in the region being the Witham. The Witham may have at one point been called the Dubglas, or Dulas or Douglas, but there are problems with this.
If you interpret Witham with the possible English origin of Witta's Ham that does give a possibility for a name change. Unfortunately for us it seems that the name Witham predates the English, the Romans, and even possibly the Britons!
This doesn't disqualify Lindsay all together though, as we have seen in our look at Glein there are two possibilities for Arthur's first battle that are not far from this area, one being the Northumbrian Glen, and the second being the Lincolnshire Glen. In this context the Lincolnshire Glen makes less sense, as it would show the that the winners of the battle would have retreated North back into their own territory only to win a series of four more battles. Not very likely in this context.
Another suggestion is the Douglas Water, giving us a river/stream with the correct name, and nearby a mountain, Ben Arthur, which like many places in this area could be related to the Dal Riatan prince Artuir mac Aedan, son of Áedán mac Gabrán
There is also a River Dulas that runs through Ergyng, this is interesting as this is one of the areas Arthur and his warriors hunted the boar Twrch Trwyth, a story that sometimes has been said to commemorate some of Arthur's potential campaigns.
There is also a River Douglas in Lancashire, which is interested as well because of one of the possibilities for for Arthur's first battle in the Lune! There is cause to believe Linnuis may be a corruption of what the Romans called this area.
A final suggestion is the River Lune, in Westmorland. It's name is derived from Glein, maintaining the meaning of "Pure". It also has a Roman Fort near Lancaster that was used to help repel the Irish during Roman rule. We do not know directly what they called it, but there is a fort (that hasn't been found other than in written records) known at Calunium, possbily coming from Lunium meaning "People of the Lune" and eventually corrupting to Linnuis
There is also a potential site in Wessex, a stream with a village named Dewlish, meanings "Dark Stream" very similar in meaning to Dubglas, which is not far from Cadbury Castle, a site often associated with Arthurian legend.
These are not all of the possible sites, but the ones I find most compelling. As can be seen with the Lindsay, and Lancashire entries, a picture is beginning to form of some potential coherent battle campaigns!
The sixth battle was above the river which is called Bassas.
Arthur's sixth battle listed in Nennius as taking place "𝘢𝘣𝘰𝘷𝘦 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘳𝘪𝘷𝘦𝘳 𝘸𝘩𝘪𝘤𝘩 𝘪𝘴 𝘤𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘦𝘥 𝘉𝘢𝘴𝘴𝘢𝘴" and there is no more difficult battle to place in Nennius' list than this one, but we are not dead in the water yet.
Most of the potential sites we can find have names with a Saxon or Angle origin, which is highly unlikely, unless the Saxons had occupied that area for a significant time already, so this limits the amount of Saxon derived possibilities. There are three Basfords in Cheshire, Nottinghamshire, and Staffordshire, deriving from the Anglish Basa's Ford, there is also Bassingbourne in Cambridgeshire, however these are generally unlikely.
Phillips and Keatman suggest Baschurch in Shropshire, which derives from the "Churches of Bassa" which is mentioned by Taliesin. There is a river nearby, but we do not know the Brythonic name for it.
W.F. Skene put forward Dunipace, near a Roman fort, Camelon, under the assumption that the original name was Duni-bass although this is unlikely as there is no suitable river nearby.
There is another intriguing possibility here, and it involves a Roman fort on Hadrian's wall called Alavana, possibly also known as Medibogdo. This fort is beautifully placed in a crook of the River Kent.
A tombstone of a centurion Publius Aelius Bassus was found there, could he have been renowned enough for the locals to have named the river after him during the late-Roman or Sub-Roman period?
I do not think we have a clear winner here, but I do find that one of the sites again seems to lead us to the north, and more specifically Cumbria.
The Battle of the Caledonian Forest
𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝑠𝑒𝑣𝑒𝑛𝑡ℎ 𝑏𝑎𝑡𝑡𝑙𝑒 𝑤𝑎𝑠 𝑖𝑛 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑓𝑜𝑟𝑒𝑠𝑡 𝑜𝑓 𝐶𝑒𝑙𝑖𝑑𝑜𝑛, 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑡 𝑖𝑠 𝐶𝑎𝑡 𝐶𝑜𝑖𝑡 𝐶𝑒𝑙𝑖𝑑𝑜𝑛
"Seven score heroes, maddened by battle,
To the forest of Celyddon they fled."
- Myrddin Wyllt
From the name alone the first thing that springs up about this battle is that it seems that we have a rather solid geographic location for the first time in the series. The forest of Celidon, or Caledonian Forest in Scotland. Interestingly enough this forest is where Myrddin fled after the Battle of Arfderydd in 573 around 80 or 90 years after Arthur's battle there took place. It also likely features in Taliesin's poem "The Battle of the Trees" The connection to Arfderydd possibly narrows down the massive area that was once called the "Caledonian Forest" Which brings us closer to Hadrian's wall, not far out of range for some of our other northern battles. As we have seen with this series, things are seldom that simple.
The curious thing about Nennius' wording here is that he refers to it in both Latin and Welsh, seemingly emphasizing Cat Coit Celidon as possibly something very specific, that may now be lost to us through the ages.
A less obvious option can be found in the story Culhwch and Olwen. This is set manly in Gwent and we find that Culhwch is the grandson of Celyddon Wledig, possibly a memory of, or named for a special forest in Gwent?
Geoffrey of Monmouth writes of a certain King Archgallo (Arthal ap Morydd) wandering the Forest of Calaterium around 300bc. This is likely a story of Arthwys ap Mar from a lost Northern document, displaced in time by Geoffrey by around 700 years! You can read more on this specifically here.
Some have proposed Powys as being a potential location noting that the men of Powys are often poetically referred to as "Men of Argoed". Coed or Coit being noted as a contraction of Argoed the Brythonic word for Forest.
This would lead one to the Clun, a forest near Caer Faddon a potential site for Badon itself. A potentially intriguing place considering That we are approaching the battle of Badon rapidly in this series.
Personally I find the Kielder forest the most likely place. Fitting for both the Celidon of Nennius and Arfderydd, and Geoffrey's Forest of Calaterium, that Archgallo wandered in. This also further leads us once again to a northern site.
The eighth battle was at the fortress of Guinnion, in which Arthur carried the image of Holy Mary ever virgin on his shoulders; 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.
Nennius gives us the most detailed entry for this battle spending almost a third of the passage on this battle.
Annales Cambriae lists a similar entry for Badon stating "Year 72 (c. AD 516) The Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ on his shoulders for three days and three nights and the Britons were victors."
It is important to note that Shoulder and Shield are easily confused in Old Welsh scuit being shield and scuid being shoulder, which I think one can make the logical assumption and swap Shoulders for Shield in both passages. This confluence is of note, and the chronicler likely used the situation Nennius notes to flesh out his entry for Badon, often considered the most important battle of Arthur's. This is not to cast doubt on whether Badon happened or not though, as it is the only battle corroborated by a contemporary writer, Gildas, in his work De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae.
On to the sites. Skene posits Stow of Wedale. Stow comes from the Old English Holy Place or Meeting Place and Wedale possibly meaning Shrine Valley. This is of note as there is a tradition that Arthur brought a splinter of the True Cross to Wedale. The church there is also dedicated to St. Mary. There is a Roman fort nearby and it has been posited that this is the "Guinnion" that Nennius mentions. Skene mostly bases this assumption on the overtly Christian aspect of this entry, but I find it quite tenuous.
Some have proposed the Roman fort Durocornovium at Wanborough, Wiltshire, noting that while Wanborough seems to be of saxon origin it may have been derived from welsh gwyn meaning "White" Of note here is that an often proposed side of Badon, Liddington Castle is not that far.
The most intriguing for me though is the Roman fort at Binchester, Vinovia, or Vinovium. In Celtic it would be rendered Uinnouion, and eventually Gwinnouion. This fort seems to have been maintained and even reinforced as late as the later 5th Century, the time of Arthur.
At 7 hectares it is the largest Roman fort in the North-East, and had a quite large Civilian settlement, complete with burials. I am also drawn to this site, as once again we find a northern battle site well within the range of the others.
The City of the Legion
𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝑛𝑖𝑛𝑡ℎ 𝑏𝑎𝑡𝑡𝑙𝑒 𝑤𝑎𝑠 𝑤𝑎𝑔𝑒𝑑 𝑖𝑛 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝐶𝑖𝑡𝑦 𝑜𝑓 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝐿𝑒𝑔𝑖𝑜𝑛.
This one is probably the most straightforward of all of our entries. We know of three legionary cities in Britain, Chester, York, and Caerleon.
First we will start with Caerleon which seems to be the least likely candidate here. Caerleon fell in importance by the end of the third century, and was manned by a skeleton garrison by the fourth. Caerleon seems unlikely as well because it is quite far from the Brythonic/Saxon frontier, and seems unlikely for a campaign anywhere other than the possible far southern frontier.
Chester stands out as the home of the Legio XX Valeria Victrix, and was active until the Carausian Revolt of 286. Chester was refortified in the fourth century showing occupation after this and the Legio XX was likely still active until Constantine III removed most British forces. The XX Valeria Victrix is often cited as the last legion to leave Britain, and if that is the case Nennius referring to the singular urbe Legionis may reference that describing it as "city of THE Legion".
I will interject a town that is not directly a legionary town here though, Carlisle. Carlisle may have been the capital of the mysterious province of Valentia, and with this change in status may have been considered a legionary town in support of Hadrian's wall. Carlisle fits well into a Northern campaign, though it seems to be somewhat distant from the frontier at the time.
This leaves us with York, referred to by Gildas as the Legionum urbis cives "The city of the Legions" Plural. York was the capital of Britannia Inferior, the seat of the Dux Britanniarum, and home to the VI legion. York steadily declined in importance in the Brythonic Heroic Age, it’s population dwindled greatly, and was eventually taken by the Angles from the sons of Ellifer ap Arthwys, Peredur and Gwgi in the 6th century. York works for a battle along the Northern or Eastern frontier and plots quite well as a defensive battle within the other possible sites in the potential northern campaign.
Once again we have a handful of plausible sites here, but I think York probably fits the bill the best. Chester plots well with other sites like the Lune, and Clun forest as well, but York fits with the other Northumbrian and Lindsey specific sites.
𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝑡𝑒𝑛𝑡ℎ 𝑏𝑎𝑡𝑡𝑙𝑒 𝑤𝑎𝑠 𝑤𝑎𝑔𝑒𝑑 𝑜𝑛 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑏𝑎𝑛𝑘𝑠 𝑜𝑓 𝑎 𝑟𝑖𝑣𝑒𝑟 𝑤ℎ𝑖𝑐ℎ 𝑖𝑠 𝑐𝑎𝑙𝑙𝑒𝑑 𝑇𝑟𝑖𝑏𝑟𝑢𝑖𝑡.
Here we finally have a battle that is attested elsewhere other than Nennius, this battle also ties in closely with the next battle of our list at Agnet. The battle of Tribruit shows up in the poem Pa gur yv y porthaur? as the battle of Tryfrwyd, in which they encounter Garwlwyd
Garwlwyd is often thought to be the same Gwrgi Garwlwyd that features in the Triads, and is sometimes depicted as a werewolf or Cinbin (Cynocephalic). In the poem this encounter happens after Arthur and his men fight a larger group of Cinbin at Eidyn which we will discuss in the entry for the eleventh battle. Bedwyr appears here as Arthur's champion and defeats Garwlwyd
They fell by the hundred
before Bedwyr of the Perfect-Sinew.
On the shores of Tryfrwyd
fighting with Garwlwyd
furious was his nature
with sword and shield
So where can we place Tribruit? The Fords of Frew are often noted as a potential site, and was a safe crossing on the Forth, notably used by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745. The Frew may have once been called Bruit, and there is a confluence three streams here, giving us Tri-Bruit
Further west is the Firth of Forth, Put forward under the possibility that the Brythonic name was Werid, seen in the spelling from Pa Gur as Trywruid, possibly combining Traeth meaning Shore, and Werid into Traewruid. Rather convoluted but nonetheless as possibility.
The Ribble estuary is also a potential site, often called the "roaring river". There is also a conflunce of three rivers here as well giving us once again a Tri related possibility. This is close to other North-western sites and is well positioned for campaigns against the Irish
I think there may be another possibility relating a little closer to our previous battle. The Humber Estuary, which at the time was quite marshy. Here we also find the confluence of three rivers, and near one of the locations for the ninth battle, York, possibly a counterattack
There are other less convincing Southern and Eastern sites, but this one is generally frustrating for most people who seek out the battles. This battle I believe ties in heavily with the next battle at the Mountain Agnet which we will discuss in our next entry!
𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝑒𝑙𝑒𝑣𝑒𝑛𝑡ℎ 𝑏𝑎𝑡𝑡𝑙𝑒 𝑤𝑎𝑠 𝑓𝑜𝑢𝑔ℎ𝑡 𝑜𝑛 𝑡ℎ𝑒 𝑚𝑜𝑢𝑛𝑡𝑎𝑖𝑛 𝑤ℎ𝑖𝑐ℎ 𝑖𝑠 𝑐𝑎𝑙𝑙𝑒𝑑 𝐴𝑔𝑛𝑒𝑡.
Mount Agnet or Agned is a unique enough name that trying to find it might be fairly easy. It is, and it isn’t. This is complicated by a later copy of Nennius which records this battle as Breguoin and another that combines the two into Agned Catbregomion.
There is only one convincing candidate here, and I will only briefly entertain a few others, based on the alternative manuscript that lists this as Breguoin.
The Roman fort Bravonium has been put forward as a candidate due to similarity to Breguoin, as well as being close to some of the sites seen in previous entries, such as the Clun Forest, and the River Lune.
The Roman fort at Ribchester is also a place that was suggested by proponents of the Sarmatian theory, which was the base of Lucius Artorius Castus and was known as Bremetennacum.
The most convincing though is Edinburgh, or the fortress of Din Eidyn. John of Fordun writes that Agned was an old name for Edinburgh, and Edinburgh has also been called the "Castle of the Maidens" since the 11th century at least. It also ties in with our previous entry at Tribruit, which if it was a far northern battle, could have been part of a small conflict, as seen in Pa Gur, where the order has been reversed, with Arthur and his men fighting Cinbin or Dog Heads at Edinburgh, then Gwrgi at Tribruit
So instead we see here in Nennius Tribruit happening first, then Agned or Edinburgh happening second. I think these are echoes of the same original conflicts, with the warriors of Edinburgh being facetiously morphed into Dog Headed men as an insult. This could be a memory of Arthur fighting the Votadini or Gododdin as I mentioned earlier in this article. There is more to this theory, mostly revolving around a possible Northern Arthurian candidate, and quite a few pieces fall into place here, but that is for another article.
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.
Like Tribruit and Agned this battle is also corroborated elsewhere. Gildas notes in De Excidio "This lasted right up to the year of the siege of Badon Hill, the last great defeat of the wretches. That was the year of my birth; as I know, one month of the forty-fourth year since then has already passed." Here we have problems unfortunately. First of all, where is Arthur? Second, when was Gildas writing? Both of these questions are tough, and pose significant issue. I will attempt to tackle them anyway here to help clear up some of the fog.
Where is Arthur?
So where is Arthur here? Why doesn't Gildas mention him? Well, a number of explanations could be the case.
1. Gildas rarely mentions actual names in his writing, other than a handful of figures.
It could be that Gildas didn’t find it important to mention the victor of the battle, as Gildas hardly seems concerned with recording proper names. He uses nicknames for many figures throughout the text, with very few people being mentioned directly by name, such as Ambrosius.
2. Arthur simply didn't exist, and was a later addition to Badon, or Ambrosius, likely then rather aged, was the victor and thus the original Arthur.
This is perhaps a likely possibility. If we take the generally accepted dating of both Badon and Gildas we would have an aged Ambrosius, in his 40s at the youngest, or his 60s at the oldest, leading the Britons to victory. This is not an unlikely possibility, and Ambrosius would have been the hardened veteran general you would want as a “Dux Bellorum” leading kings. It is curious however that Gildas doesn’t seem to imply that Ambrosius was the leader at Badon, some have tried to argue that the Badon mention in Gildas is a continuation of the Ambrosius passage and that Gildas is attributing it to him, but the text doesn’t really support that at the end of the day, and it seems quite a stretch.
3. Badon was within memory at the time and the victor was famous enough that Gildas didn't mention it.
A very likely possibility especially combined with possibility one.
4. Gildas was an enemy of Arthur.
According to Caradoc's "Life of Gildas" Gildas' brother Hueil rose up in rebellion against Arthur, and was subsequently killed. There are also traditions of Arthur killing Gildas and Hueil's father Caw. If this is correct it makes it much easier to sweep away Gildas' lack of Arthur. Badon must be included because it is such a great defeat of the Saxons, but he wouldn't want to glorify an enemy of his family.
5. Gildas somehow didn't know who the victor of Badon was.
The most unlikely possibility. Highly unlikely that Gildas would not have this information, especially if the battle happened during his fathers time.
6. Arthur was real, but he was a later figure such as Athrwys ap Meurig or Artuír mac Aedan, and retroactively given credit
This is an intriguing possibility, as many have tried to link these two figures especially and have given them each their own version of Badon, with Athrwys ap Meurig often being purported to have been present at the second battle of Badon, likely at Caer Faddon in 665. Others have placed the battle within Artuír mac Áedán’s sphere of influence having it take place in the 580s and being fought near Dunardry in Scotland. If these later Arthurs had influence on the legends (they likely did) could it be that they were retroactively conflated with the earlier battle of Badon?
From internal evidence it would seem that Gildas is writing no earlier than around 535, although others have tried to shift this as early as the 450s which is quite off the mark as far as the people he mentions and when they are likely to have ruled.
Gildas gives us a much pored over passage, here
26. ex eo tempore nunc ciues, nunc hostes, uincebant, ut in ista gente experietur dominus solito more praesentem israelem, utrum diligat eum an non: usque ad annum obsessionis badonici montis, nouissimaeque ferme de furciferis non minimae stragis, quique quadragesimus quartus (ut noui) orditur annus mense iam uno emenso, qui et meae natiuitatis est.
The latin here has been notoriously hard to interpret, with many debating the meaning of “quique quadragesimus quartus (ut noui) orditur annus mense iam uno emenso, qui et meae natiuitatis est.” in particular. A common interpretation is that he meant forty-four years since the Adventus Saxonum or coming of the Saxons, which is how the Venerable Bede himself interpreted it. This gives Badon a date of 493. Others have taken it as meaning that Gildas was writing forty-four years after the battle, and his birth, giving us a quite moveable date. If Gildas was writing in say 536 as Andrew Breeze suggests, noting that Gildas mentions the extreme weather of that year, but not of the famine in the next, that gives us a date of 492 still within the 490s.
Rulers such as Maelgwyn Gwynedd or as Gildas calls him Maglocunus, and Cuneglasus, or Cynlas Goch, who likely ruled from the 530s on are mentioned by Gildas as still ruling. So it has to been sometime after this. Seeing that Gildas mentions Ambrosius' adult grandchildren, we can deduce that Gildas was writing roughly 40-60 years after Ambrosius' floruit, further reinforcing Gildas writing after the 530s. This gives us a tentative date of Badon of 490-500 or so, further reinforcing the 490s. If Arthur was the victor of the battle this places him right where we would expect.
We also have Badon noted in the Annales Cambriae as taking place in the year 516. This wouldn’t align with the above date for Gildas, if we are using the interpretation that he was writing forty-four years from his birth and Badon, or even forty-four years from the Adventus Saxonum. There is reason to believe this is an error and the date may be off, as copyists may have made errors in calculations. The Annals seem to have been originally dated along the Easter Cycle, 19 years. A 19 year difference gives us a date of 497, handily within an acceptable margin for the reckoning for Gildas' dating of Badon.
This is probably the most studied and convoluted of Arthur's 12 battles in Nennius. Nennius references "the Hot Lake, where the baths of Badon are, in the country of the Hwicce" This is generally assumed as Bath itself. But Gildas doesn't speak of a battle at the town, he speaks of a Siege of Mount Badon. Bath is surrounded by hills though, and many have assumed that one of these many hills was the site of the battle.
Little Solsbury Hill has been considered the correct site by many who have looked into it, including John Morris. There is a large hillfort there, easily accouting for a 'siege' as mentioned by Gildas.
Badbury Rings in Dorset, also the site of a hillfort is sometimes mentioned, as it would be a later English form of the Brythonic Din Badon. Badbury in Wiltshire also could fit, and is now known as Liddington Castle. Liddington is an amazing site, with prime vantage over the surrounding territory, and would have been easily defended, as well as easy to control surrounding territory with it as a base of operations. Liddington does seem to be a prime location.
Caer Faddon seems to be the Badon of The Dream of Rhonabwy, but this may be a conflation with the second Battle of Badon in roughly 665, which Athrwys ap Meurig, who quite a few have tried to pin down as ‘The Arthur’ (lived too late, but may have still been a major influence on many of the legends) may have participated in.
The Wrekin in Shropshire is another site of a large hill fort, near the old Roman Viriconium, and was occupied for some 200 years after the Romans left. It also had a major Roman Bath as well, possibly leading Gildas to refer to it as the "Hill of Baths", or Mount Badon
A northern site, which would be possible for most of the Northern Arthur candidates is Bowden Hill, in Linlithgow. Although Bowden is a name of English origin, it may be a corruption of an earlier Brythonic Badon like name.
And in a stunning revelation, as usual, none of these seem conclusive. Once again I think we have to look at the sites as a whole to try and gain an understanding of what the most likely site would have been, but I think the Wrekin and Liddington are interesting choices.
I think we have enough sites here to try and work out some maps for potential campaigns. I will be continuing this with a thread on Twitter with maps, addressing the potential campaigns, and even possibly connecting some of the campaigns with a potential candidate for an Arthur that could have fought such a campaign. After that a thread on the potential Breton sites, and finally we’ll tackle Arthur’s last battle, interestingly left out of Nennius, Camlann. I will combine these into an article here after they appear on twitter for any of you who may not use twitter.
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