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Arthur leading a cavalry charge at Mount Badon, in an 1898 illustration for Idylls of the King
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Battle of Mons Badonicus, also known as the Battle of Badon, was reportedly fought between Celtic Britons and Anglo-Saxons in Britain in the late 5th or early 6th century.[1] It was credited as a major victory for the Britons, halting the encroachment of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms for a generation.[2]

The earliest references to the battle, by the British monk Gildas, date to the 6th century. It is chiefly known today for the supposed involvement of King Arthur, whose claim to a historical existence rests almost entirely on a tradition that first appeared in the 9th-century Historia Brittonum (The History of the Britons), usually attributed to the Welsh monk Nennius.[3][a]Nennius is almost certainly not the true author of the Historia Brittonum.[4] There is considerable uncertainty about the location of the battle, but a set of Welsh annals appended to the Historia place it as having been fought in 516.[5]

Historical background


The historian Sir Frank Stenton has described the story of the Battle of Badonicus as either an epilogue to the history of Roman Britain or a prologue to the history of Saxon England.[6] The earliest mention of the battle appears in Gildas’s De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (“On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain”), written in the early to mid-6th century, “a work of exhortation and bitter reproach”.[6]

Following the withdrawal of the Romans from Britain in 410, the country was subject to various attacks by unnamed barbarians. The British rulers appealed to the commander of the Roman forces in Gaul, Aetius, for military assistance, but receiving none were forced to undertake their own defence. One particular barbarian, often identified as Vortigern,[b]Vortigern was a 5th-century British war lord whose existence has been disputed by some scholars; Vortigern may even have been a title rather than a personal name.[7] introduced a large force of Saxon mercenaries into Britain, and in time they proceeded to ravage the country “as far as the western sea”. Eventually a Roman still ruling somewhere in the country, Ambrosius Aurelianus, organised the British defence, culminating in a decisive victory at a now unidentified place called Mons Badonicus.[8]

Location


See caption
Liddington Castle is one of the suggested sites for the battle. The ramparts of the Iron Age hill fort can be seen at the highest point of the skyline.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Historians and archaeologists including Susan Hirst, Geoffrey Ashe and Michael Wood have argued for the site of Liddington Castle on the hill above Badbury (Old English: Baddan byrig) in Wiltshire. This site commands The Ridgeway, which connects the River Thames with the River Avon and River Severn beyond.[9][10][11]

The similarly named Badbury Rings in Dorset have also been suggested as the location of the battle.[12] The archaeologists Tim and Annette Burkitt have proposed the site of Bath, Somerset on the basis of the Welsh annals, as well as archaeological and toponymic evidence.[13][14][c]A toponym is the name of a place, often derived from its geographical features.

More recently the philologist Andrew Breeze has argued that Badon must be etymologically Brittonic rather than English (thus eliminating Bath from consideration as its name is entirely Germanic), and that the toponym as given by Gildas (Badonici Montis) is a misprint of Bradonici Montis, based on known Celtic place names in Wales and Cornwall. Breeze suggests Ringsbury Camp near Braydon in Wiltshire as the location of the battle.[15]

Notes[+]

Citations



Bibliography


Ashe, Geoffrey. From Caesar to Arthur. Collins, 1960.
Breeze, Andrew. British Battles 493–937: Mount Badon to Brunanburh. Anthem Press, 2020.
Burkitt, Tim, and Annette Burkitt. “The Frontier Zone and the Siege of Mount Badon: A Review of the Evidence for Their Location.” Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society, vol. 134, 1990, pp. 81–93.
Burkitt, Tim, and Annette Burkitt. “Badon as Bath.” Popular Archaeology, vol. 6, no. 6, 1985.
Carr, R. “Badbury or Badon.” Dorset Life, vol. 267, 2001, pp. 5–7.
Hirst, Susan, et al. “Liddington Castle and the Battle of Badon: Excavations and Research  1976.” Archaeological Journal, vol. 153, no. 1, 1996, pp. 1–59.
Hollister, C. Warren, et al. The Making of England to 1399. Wadsworth Publishing, 2000.
Stenton, Frank M. Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford University Press, 1971.
Thornton, David E. “Nennius [Ninnius, Nemniuus] (Fl. c. 770 – c. 810).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Online, Oxford University Press, 2004, https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/19892.
Wood, Michael. In Search of Myths and Heroes. BBC Books, 2005.