The Annales Cambriae A-text

The text covers a period from numerical year 1 to numerical year 533, that is an interval of 532 years. This time-span is known as the paschal cycle which is made up of 28 Metonic cycles, each of 19 years length. A Metonic cycle consists of a period of 11 years, called the hendecad, followed by another of 8 years, called the ogdoad.[1]

The question arises what date should one ascribe to numerical year 1. The first annotated entry appears under numerical year 9:

” Pasca commvtatur super diem dominicum cum papa leone . episcopo rome .”[2]
“Easter altered on the Lord’s Day by Pope Leo, Bishop of Rome.”[3]

Prosper dated this event to 455. It is proposed that this was the last year of the first Metonic cycle. 447, the last year of the cycle’s hendecad, was designated as year 1. The Metonic cycle to which it belonged would have commenced in the year 437. It would thus seem that there originally was a hendecad starting at that date, now largely missing. The table below explains the proposal using the “a” prefix dating for numerical years employed in the  Annales Cambriae The A text (pdf document)[4].

Start date
End date Year
a-9 437 a1 447 hendecad a-9 = 437 was start date of the 1st Metonic cycle. a-9 to a0 are missing years.
a2 448 a9 455 ogdoad a9 = 455 was the end date of the 1st Metonic cycle. a9 is the first annotated year.
a10 456 a20 466 hendecad a10 = 456 was the start date of the 2nd Metonic cycle.
a21 467 a28 474 ogdoad a21 = 467 was the end date of the 2nd Metonic cycle.
a504 950 a514 960 hendecad a504 = 950 was the start date of the 28th Metonic cycle.
a515 961 a522 968 ogdoad a522 = 968 was the last date of the 28th Metonic cycle. Last annotated year is a517.
a523 969 a533 979 hendecad Unannotated years.
a534 980 a541 987 ogdoad Unannotated years.

Evidence for this might be the lack of annotations after a517, which may be due to the adding of a Metonic cycle at the end of the text to compensate for the partial loss of the first one. This would achieve the desired goal of listing a full paschal cycle. However, this was brought about by miscounting the number of years in the various decades. It is proposed that this earliest Metonic cycle would have included versions of two entries in AC B-text, namely:

“Anus aduentus anglorum . horsi et hengisti tempore wortigerni regis.”

“Anus dies tenebrosa sicut nox.”

It is also important to note that Badon occurred in the year given numerically as 72. It follows that this was the year 518.

[1] Dumville, D.N., 1975, 52 n.2.
[2] Gough-Cooper, H., 2012, (accessed 26.10.19)
[3] Halsall, P., 1998, (accessed 26.10.19)
[4] Gough-Cooper, H., 2015, (accessed 28.10.19)

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Arthur’s death

Under the year 501 the ASC A has the entry:

“Her cuom Port on Bretene 7 his .ii. suna Bieda 7 Mægla mid .ii. scipum on þære stowe þe is gecueden Portesmuþa 7 ofslogon anne giongne brettiscmonnan, swiþe ęþelne monnan.”
“Here Port and his 2 sons, Bieda and Mægla, came with 2 ships to Britain at the place which is called Portsmouth, and killed a certain young British man – a very noble man.”[1]

It is not usual for the ASC to mention the death of an enemy and if the individual was a nobleman we may be able to identify him. It will be argued that the dating for this event is incorrect. Moreover, the previous entry, for the year 495, and the following entry, for 508, are also suspect of being wrongly dated as they are very similar to the entries for the years 514 and 527 respectively except that some of the names have been altered. The reason why the authors would wish to make duplicate entries for the start of the 6th C is because Arthur’s victories occurred in that time frame and they needed to fill that period.

Æthelweard’s Chronicle has a comment under the year 500 which must have been originally part of the ASC 519 entry as it speaks of the six year gap between arrival and conquest:
“Sexto etiam anno aduentus eorum occidentalem circumierunt Brittanniæ partem, quae nunc Vuestsexe nuncupatur.”
“In the sixth year from their arrival they encircled that western area of Britain now known as Wessex.”[2]

Sims-Williams notes:
“That Æthelweard meant A.D. 500 is confirmed by his comment on Ecgberht’s accession in A.D. 800: ‘From the reign of Cerdic, who was King Ecgberht’s tenth ancestor, 300 years elapsed (reckoned from when he conquered the western area of Britain).’ “[3]

The question arises what is the correct dating for the 501 event. The clue to answering this question is the fact that the entries for the years 514 and 527 have been essentially repeated one Metonic cycle, that is 19 years, earlier. The 519 event could not be repeated wholesale under the year 500 as it would have meant giving two dates for the origin of Wessex with the coronation of Cerdic. The solution was to do a part transfer as indicated by the above quote from the Æthelweard’s Chronicle. The 501 entry has no parallel under the year 520. Instead, it was a transfer from two Metonic cycles, that is from the year 539. This is the date of Camlan and the very noble man is none other than Arthur.

The next question is who were the two individuals, Bieda and Mægla, who brought about Arthur’s demise. They appear in CO as Maelwys son of Baeddan, indicating their probably correct father to son relationship. The identification of Maelwys with Meleagant was made by Chambers.[4] As Meleagant was the name given by Chrétien de Troyes for Melwas we may conclude Mægla was Melwas, the abductor of Gwenhwyfar as indicated by a number of sources including the V. Gildae by Caradoc of Llancarfan.

Bieda appears as Baudemagus in the 13th C French poem Sone de Nansai and as Burmaltus in the pre-Galfridian Modena archivolt which is a representation of Camlan. Mægla appears on the archivolt as Mardoc, a name that eventually evolved into Mordred in the French Romances. Cerdic of Wessex, too, can be identified there as Carrado. The appearance of the name Port in the 501 entry, however, was probably an attempt to give the location an eponymous origin and is not likely to be historical.

August Hunt independently came to the same conclusion that Camlan occurred in the Portsmouth area, see WHY ARTHUR’S CAMLANN IS PROBABLY ‘THE CAMS’ ON PORTSMOUTH HARBOUR, although his thesis is quite different. The Modena archivolt seems to indicate Arthur was attacking a fortress which would have been Portchester Castle.

The HRB states that Arthur was taken to Avalon for healing. The V. Merlini indicates he was transported by water. This may have been a journey along the coast followed by largely travelling up the river Avon and down the river Brue to Glastonbury. However, Arthur was not buried there.

It needs to be noted that the 501 description of the murdered Briton as “young”, although present in mss. A and E, is absent from mss. B and C. It, therefore, may have been an insertion into the A text. If it was common knowledge that the victim was Arthur, this word could have been inserted to justify the early date being given for his death.The E recension may have recieved this insertion from the Canterbury manuscript it was copied from.

ASC versions and related texts

Instances of when the ASC mentions the death of enemy combatants include:
465. … and there killed 12 Welsh chieftains …
508. … killed a certain British king, whose name was Natanleod, and 5 thousand men with him …
577. … and they killed 3 kings, Coinmail and Condidan and Farinmail …
It would seem that the authors were happy to name opponents the Saxons had killed when there was a handful of names to provide. However, the individual who was slain in 501 went unnamed, despite his acknowledged nobility, which might indicate that to have mentioned who he was would have been taboo. The only individual we know who could just possibly have been a nonperson for the Saxons is Arthur as the fictitious ASC entries were purely designed to deny the existence of a period of British successes under his leadership.

The entries in the ASC from 514 to 544 are one Metonic cycle too early and the repetitions from 495 to 508 have been pre-dated by two cycles. So, for example, Cerdic’s arrival in 495 occurred in 533 and his coronation in 538, a date also suggested by Dumville for the event. This date can be arrived at by subtracting the total for the regnal years given in the 9th C West Saxon Genealogical Regnal List from Alfred’s accession in the year 871.[5]

In order to obscure the generation of military defeats that may be called the Arthurian age the ASC made the adventus saxonum one Metonic cycle later than the actual date of 428, as indicated by the Historia Brittonum.

[1] Swanton, M., 2000, 14.
[2] Campbell, A., 1962, 11.
[3] Sims-Williams, P., 2007, (ed.) Clemeos, P. et al., Anglo-Saxon England vol. 12, 38.
[4] Chambers, E. K.,1927, 213.
[5] Dumville, D. N., 1985


The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the British victories

That the ASC makes no mention of Baddon is not surprising as the policy was clearly not to mention their defeats. A further example of this are the battles mentioned in the AC and also referred to in the ByT, dated to the year 721:

And the battle of Heilin, with Rhodri Molwynog, took place in Cornwall; and the action of Garthmaelog, and the fight of Pencoed in South Wales. And in those three battles the Britons were victorious.[1]

Moreover, although the ASC is reasonably accurate, it is clear that in the Arthurian age the information has been manipulated. The entries for the years 495 and 508 look similar to those of 514 and 527 respectively, seperated by 19 years, the Metonic cycle. It would appear that, by the use of repetition, the chronicle blanked out a disastrous period for the Saxons.

[1] Williams, J., 1860, 5