The Adventus Saxonum

The manuscript BL Cotton Tiberius A. iii states:

“Then succeeded Alfred, their brother, to the government. And then had elapsed of his age three and twenty winters, and three hundred and ninety-six winters from the time when his kindred first gained the land of Wessex from the Welsh.”[1]

396 years prior to the start of Alfred’s reign, in the year 871, suggests an Adventus Saxonum in the year 475. This, of course, was not the first arrival of Germanic peoples to Britain. However, there was an influx of Saxon invaders around this time as indicated by the chronicle entry for the year 477:

“This year Ælla, and his three sons, Cymen, and Wlencing, and Cissa, came to the land of Britain with three ships, at a place which is named Cymenesora, …”[2]

It would thus seem that the West Saxons and the South Saxons arrived at around the same time. They also appear to have landed in areas that are in close proximity, namely Cerdicesora (Southampton area) and Cymenesora (Selsey area) and then went on to expand their kingdoms westwards and eastwards respectively. Alternatively, it may be that there was no seperate South Saxon invasion and that the 477 entry refers to the West Saxon invasion. A discrepancy of two years in the Chronicles is nothing unusual. An explanation of this idea will be given in a later article entitled “The emergence of Wessex”.

I suggest that when Bede wrote:

“From that day, sometimes the natives, and sometimes their enemies, prevailed, till the year of the siege of Badon hill, when they made no small slaughter of those invaders, about forty-four years after their arrival in Britain.”[3]

his source for this information, the DEB, was referring to this later Adventus, not the one traditionally dated to the year 449. Bede’s version of the DEB is likely to have been closer to Gildas’s original text than any of our later surviving copies. Gildas was a little more precise than Bede with regards to the time interval between the Adventus and Badon when he stated:

“And this commences, a fact I know, as the forty-fourth year, with one month now elapsed; it is also the year of my birth.”[4]

The first year being 475 implies the forty-fourth year is 518, the traditional date for Badon. The battle occurred one month into that year. He states that year is when he was born. The AC tells us that Gildas died in the year 572, giving a plausible life-span of 54 years.

Gildas may have started formulating his ideas concerning the DEB around the age of 20, that is c. 538. Camlan occurred in 539 and could well have been as a result of an internecine feud amongst the Britons, since triad 84 tells us it was one of the Futile Battles of the Island of Britain[5]. Indeed, it may have been one of the triggers that set Gildas on the path to writing the DEB 10 years later, around the year 548.

[1] Adapted from Ingram, J., 1823, 20.
[2] Adapted from Giles, J.A., 1914, 8.
[3] Adapted from Giles, J.A., 1859, 26.
[4] Adapted from Williams, H., 1899, 63.
[5] Bromwich, R., 2006, 217.

Locating Arthur

The Demetian pedigree according to Bartrum.

The Demetian pedigree according to Bartrum.

After fixing Arthur in time to the late 5th/ early 6th century we need to locate him geographically. That so much folklore attached to him suggests it is certain he was regarded as an exceptional leader and if he was the ruler of one of the British kingdoms he is likely to appear in one of the surviving king lists. This narrows the search down to just two individuals: Artur mac Aedan of Dalriada and Arthur map Pedr of Dyfed. However, neither men supposedly lived in the right time frame. According to the AT the former individual died in battle in 596 and, therefore, could not have been also fighting at Badon. Bartrum, the genealogist of the Welsh medieval period, dated the latter ruler to around 560. It would seem this individual too may need to be eliminated from our search. Unless, of course, this dating can be shown to be incorrect, see Why Bartrum’s dating … .

Dating the Arthurian age

The entries for Badon and Camlan are in the right-hand column.

The entries for Badon and Camlan are in the right-hand column.

If we are to place Arthur in a historical context the first task needs be to identify the period in which he lived. This is given in the AC by the dates of his two most significant battles: the victory at Badon in the year 518 and the defeat at Camlan in 539.

Is it possible to verify this time period? The chronicle of his enemy, the ASC, makes no mention of these battles. This is not surprising as far as Badon is concerned since the Saxons would have preferred their defeats to be forgotten but it is surprising that Camlan is not mentioned, unless this was an internecine battle between the Britons.

Nennius, in his HB provides a clue. Prior to listing 12 of Arthur’s battles, culminating with Badon, he mentions Octa taking up the kingship of Kent following the death of his father Hengist. However, Bede in his HE when giving Ethelbert’s genealogy indicates Octa was a son of Oisc and a grandson of Hengist. This contradiction with the HB may be explained by an earlier reference in that document which says that Hengist sends for his son Octa and Octa’s brother Ebissa. I believe the latter person may have been Oisc who was in reality, as Bede states, Octa’s father.

The ASC tells us Oisc ascended the throne in the year 488 and the GRA states he reigned for 24 years. We may, therefore, conclude Octa succeeded him in the year 512. It follows that Arthur’s 12 battles occurred between the years 512 and 518. The Saxons’ catastrophic defeat in the latter year may explain Octa’s absence from the ASC.