The Brittonic Age 410 A.D. -- 593 A.D.
A "best estimate" reconstruction Last Modified: 1st January 2018.
This page differs from "The Ruin and Conquest of Britain 400 A.D. - 600 A.D. As told by the Primary Sources" in its aim. Rather than being a reconstruction that uses primary sources to the maximum while avoiding contradictions where possible, this is a more serious attempt at reconstructing the history of Britain in the Brittonic Age. This term (borrowed from C. Snyder) can be used to denote the time from the definite end of Roman Britain in 410 to the establishment of Germanic dominance by c.596. I still use mainly primary sources to tell the history in this page, but they are far fewer in number. That is because I have used only those sources which are reliable for the events they relate.
The scarcity of reliable sources for this period and the lack of constraint this consequently places on historical reconstructions is discussed in The Facts: How much do we really know. This page grapples with this lack of knowledge to come up with a "best estimate" reconstruction, where I have tried to be as unbiassed as possible. The end result is a far less colourful history, but one not greatly different in outline from that in the "Ruin and Conquest". It is less colourful both because many colourful sources are unreliable and because I have deliberately shortened quotes from the sources that remain so as to get across the essential facts only.
I have also made a new map for this page, for the time c.530. It is also a more serious reconstruction, in that it is based largely on the archaeological sites: Germanic cemeteries, and British settlements, which help outline a plausible political situation. Again, this differs from the map for 530 in the Maps Illustrating the Ruin and Conquest of Britain, but not by as much as one might have thought.
From Britain envoys set out with their complaints ... to beg help from the Romans. ... The Romans ... informed our country that they could not go on being bothered with such troublesome expeditions ... for the sake of wandering thieves who had no taste for war. Rather, the Britons should stand alone, get used to arms, fight bravely, and defend with all their powers their land, property, wives, children, and, more importantly, their life and liberty. ... they should not hold out to them for the chaining hands that held no arms, but hands equipped with shields, swords and lances, ready for the kill. This was the Romans' advice. Zosimus
When Alaric (the leader of the Visigoths) neither gained peace on the terms he proposed nor received any hostages, he again attacked Rome ... and finally captured it. ... Honorius sent letters to the cities of Britain, urging them to fend for themselves.
They (the barbarians from over the Rhine) reduced the inhabitants of Britain and some parts of Gaul to such straits that they revolted from the Roman Empire, no longer submitted to Roman law, but reverted to their native customs. The Britons, therefore, armed themselves and ran many risks to ensure their own safety and free their cities from the attacking barbarians. The whole of Armorica, and other Gallic provinces, in imitation of the Britons, freed themselves in the same way, by expelling the Roman magistrates and establishing the government they wanted. The revolt of the provinces of Britain and Gaul occurred during Constantine's tyranny because the barbarians took advantage of his careless government. ... Procopius
The Romans never succeeded in recovering Britain, but it remained from that time on under tyrants.
As the Romans went back home, there emerged from the coracles that had carried them across the sea-valleys the foul hordes of Scots and Picts. ... They were more confident than usual now that they had learnt of the departure of the Romans and the denial of any prospect of their return. So they seized the whole north of the island from its inhabitants, right up to (i.e. as far south as) the wall (presumably Hadrian's). A force was stationed on the high towers to oppose them, but it was too lazy to fight, and too unwieldy to flee. Meanwhile there was no respite from the barbed spears flung by their naked opponents, which tore our wretched countrymen from the walls and dashed them to the ground.
Our citizens abandoned the towns and the high wall. Once again they had to flee; once again they were scattered, more irretrievably than usual; once again there were enemy assaults and massacres more cruel. ... as a result constant devastations of this kind the whole region came to lack the staff of food.
So the miserable remnants sent off a letter again, this time to the Roman commander Agitius. ... But they got no help in return.
Meanwhile, as the British feebly wandered, a dreadful and notorious famine gripped them, forcing many of them to give in without delay to their plunderers, merely to get a scrap of food to revive them. Not so others: they kept fighting back, basing themselves on the mountains, caves, heaths and thorny thickets. Their enemies had been plundering the land for many years; Now for the first time they inflicted a massacre on them, trusting not in man but in God. The enemy retreated from the people. So the impudent Irish pirates returned home (though they were shortly to return) and for the first time the Picts in the far end of the island kept quiet from now on, though they occasionally carried out devastating raids of plunder. Constantius
About this time  a deputation from Britain came to tell the bishops of Gaul that the heresy of Pelagius had taken hold of the people over a great part of the country and help ought to be brought to the Catholic faith as soon as possible. A large number of bishops gathered in synod to consider the matter and all turned in help to the two who in everybody's judgement were the leading lights of religion, namely Germanus and Lupus. ...
Meanwhile the Saxons [perhaps read "Scots"] and Picts had joined forces to make war upon the Britons. The latter had been compelled to withdraw their forces within their camp and, judging their forces to be totally unequal to the contest, asked the help of holy prelates. The latter sent back a promise to come, and hastened to follow it. Their coming brought such a sense of security that you might have thought that a great army had arrived.
Meanwhile the enemy had learnt of the practices and appearance of the camp. They promised themselves an easy victory over practically disarmed troops and pressed on in haste. But their approach was discovered by scouts, and ... the army ... began to take up their weapons and prepare for battle and Germanus announced that he would be their general. He chose some light-armed troops and made a tour of the outworks. In the direction from which the enemy were expected he saw a valley enclosed by steep mountains. Here he stationed an army on a new model, under his own command.
By now the savage host of the enemy was close at hand and Germanus rapidly circulated an order that all should repeat in unison the call he would give as a battle-cry. Then, while the enemy were still secure in their belief that their approach was unexpected, the bishops three times chanted the Alleluia. All, as one man, repeated it and the shout they raised rang through the air and echoed many times in the confined space between the mountains. The enemy were panic-stricken, thinking that the surrounding rocks and the very sky itself were falling on them. Such was their terror that no effort of their feet seemed enough to save them. They fled in every direction, throwing away their weapons and thankful if they could at least save their skins. Many threw themselves into a river which they had just crossed with ease, and were drowned in it. Thus the British army looked on at its revenge without striking a blow, idle spectators of the victory they achieved. The booty strewn everywhere was collected; the pious soldiery obtained the spoils of a victory from heaven. The bishops were elated at the rout of the enemy without bloodshed and a victory gained by faith and not by force.
Thus this most wealthy island, with the defeat of both its spiritual and its human foes, was rended secure in every sense. And now, to the grief of the whole country, those who had one the victories over both Pelagians and Saxons made preparations for their return.
So in this period of truce the desolate people found their cruel scars healing over. But a new and more virulent famine was quietly sprouting. In the respite from devastation, the island was so flooded with abundance of goods that no previous age had known the like of it. Alongside there grew luxury. ... Kings were anointed not in God's name, but as being crueller than the rest; before long they would be killed, with no inquiry into the truth, by those who anointed them, and others still crueller chosen to replace them.
God, meanwhile, wished to purge his family, and cleanse it from such an infection of evil by the mere news of trouble. ... A not unfamiliar rumour penetrated the pricked ears of the whole people - the imminent approach of the old enemy, bent on total destruction and (as was their wont) on settlement from one end of the country to the other. But they took no profit from the news.
`The stubborn servant', says Solomon, `is not corrected with words'. For a deadly plague swooped brutally on the stupid people, and in a short period laid low so many people, with no sword, that the living could not bury the dead. But not even this taught them their lesson.
Then a plague followed [the death of Rugas, leader of the Huns, in c.435, near Constantinople] which destroyed most of the men who were under him.
And they convened a council to decide the best and soundest way to counter the brutal and repeated invasions and plunderings by the peoples I have mentioned. Then all the members of the council, together with the proud tyrant, were struck blind; the guard - or rather the method of destruction - they devised for our land was that the ferocious Saxons (name not to be spoken!), hated by man and God, should be let into the island likes wolves into the fold, to beat back the peoples of the North. Bede
They [the Britons] consulted as to what they should do and where they should seek help to prevent or repel the fierce and very frequent attacks of the Northern nations; all, including their king Vortigern, agreed that they should call the Saxons to their aid across the seas.
Then a pack of cubs burst forth from the lair of the barbarian lioness, coming in three keels, as they call warships in their language. ... On the orders of the ill-fated tyrant, they first fixed their dreadful claws on the east side of the island, ostensibly to fight for our country, in fact to fight against it. Bede
... the race of the Angles or Saxons, invited by Vortigern, came to Britain in three warships ...
The mother lioness learnt that her first contingent had prospered, and she sent a second and larger troop of satellite dogs. It arrived by ship and joined up with the false units.
The barbarians who had been admitted to the island asked to be given supplies, falsely representing themselves as soldiers ready to undergo extreme danger for their excellent hosts. The supplies were granted and for a long time "shut the dog's mouth". Gallic Chronicle for c.441 or c.445
The British provinces, which up to this time have suffered various catastrophes and misfortunes, yielded to the power of the Saxons. Bede
Those who came over were of the three most powerful nations of Germany: the Saxons, the Angles, and the Jutes. From the Jutes are descended the men of Kent, and the men of the Isle of Wight, and also those opposite the Isle of Wight, that part of the kingdom of Wessex that men still (in 730) call the nation of the Jutes. From the Old Saxons came the people of Essex and Sussex and Wessex. From Anglia, the land between the kingdoms of the Jutes and the Saxons, came the East Angles, the Middle Angles, the Mercians, and all of those north of the Humber. Anglia is said to have remained deserted from that day to this.
Their first leaders are said to have been two brothers, Hengist and Horsa. Horsa was afterwards killed in battle by the Britons, and in the eastern part of Kent there is still a monument bearing his name.
Then they again complained that their monthly allowance was insufficient, purposely giving a false colour to individual incidents, and swore that they would break their agreement and plunder the whole island unless more lavish payments were heaped on them. There was no delay.
In just punishment for the crimes that had gone before, a fire heaped up and nurtured by the hands of the impious easterners spread from sea to sea. It devastated town and country round about, and, once it was alight, it did not die down until it had burned almost the whole surface of the island and was licking the western ocean with its fierce red tongue. All the major towns were laid low by the repeated battering of enemy rams; laid low too the inhabitants.
So the miserable remnants sent off a letter again, this time to the Roman commander Agitius, in the following terms: `To Agitius, thrice consul: the groans of the British.' Further on came this complaint: `The barbarians push us back to the sea, the sea pushes us back to the barbarians; between these two we are either drowned or slaughtered.' But they got no help in return.
So a number of the wretched survivors were caught in the mountains and butchered wholesale. Others, their spirit broken by hunger, went to surrender to the enemy; they were fated to be slaves forever, if indeed they were not killed straight away, the highest boon. Others made for lands beyond the sea. Others held out, though not without fear, in their own land, trusting their lives with constant foreboding to the high hills, steep, menacing and fortified, to the densest forest and to the cliffs of the sea coast. Sacrorum Conciliorum (Mansi, 1759)
Mansuestus, bishop of the Britons [presumably in Gaul], attended a Church council in Tours in 461.
After a time, when the cruel plunderers had gone home, God gave strength to the survivors. Wretched people fled to them from all directions, as eagerly as bees to a beehive when a storm threatens, and begged whole-heartedly ... that they should not be altogether destroyed. Their leader was Ambrosius Aurelianus, a gentleman who, perhaps alone of the Romans, had survived the shock of this notable storm. Certainly his parents, who had assumed the purple, were slain in it. His descendants in our day have become greatly inferior to their grandfather's excellence. Under him our people regained their strength, and challenged the victors to battle. The Lord assented, and the battle went their way.
Now Eurich, king of the Visigoths, perceived the frequent change of Roman Emperors and strove to hold Gaul by his own right. The Emperor Anthemius heard of it and asked the Britons for aid. Their king Riotimus came with twelve thousand men into the state of the Bituriges (Bourges, in central Gaul) by way of the Ocean, and was received as he disembarked from his ships. footnote. Sidonius - To his friend Riothamus (c.468)
The bearer of this letter, who is humble and obscure ... complains that his slaves have been enticed from him by underhand persuasion of certain Britons. I cannot say whether his complaint is just: but if you bring the opponents face to face and impartially unravel their contentions, I fancy that this poor fellow is likely to make good his plaint; that is, if amid a crowd of noisy, armed, and disorderly men who are emboldened at once by their courage, their numbers and their comradeship, there is any possibility for a solitary unarmed man, a humble rustic, a stranger of small means, to gain a fair and equitable hearing. Sidonius - To his friend Vincentius (c.469)
I am distressed by the fall of Arvandus the Imperial prefect of Gaul. ... He was arrested and brought in bonds to Rome. ... Amongst other pleas ... the provincials ... were bringing against him an intercepted letter which Arvandus' secretary (who had been arrested) admitted to have written at his master's dictation. It appeared to be a message addressed to the king of the Visigoths, dissuading him from peace with the "Greek Emperor" Anthemius, insisting that the Britons stationed beyond the Loire should be attacked, and declaring that Gaul ought according to the law of nations to be divided up with the Burgundians, and a great deal more mad stuff in the same vein, fit to rouse a war-like king to fury and a peaceful one to shame. The opinion of the lawyers was that this letter was red-hot treason. Jordanes - History of the Goths
Eurich, king of the Visigoths, came against them with an innumerable army, and after a long fight he routed Riothamus, king of the Britons, before the Romans could join him. So when he had lost a great part of his army, he fled with all the men he could gather together, and came to the Burgundians, a neighbouring tribe then allied to the Romans. Gregory of Tours
The Britons were driven from Bourges by the Goths, and many were slain at the village of Deols. Count Paul with the Romans (presumably those Riothamus was expecting) and the Franks made war on the Goths and took booty.
From then (c.459) on, victory went now to our countrymen, now to the enemy ...right up until the year of the siege of Badon Hill, pretty well the last (certainly not the least) defeat of the villains, which has begun the forty-fourth year (as I have learnt), with one month being already passed, and which is also that of my birth.
The first ... of the English kings that had the sovereignty of all the southern provinces that are divided from the northern by the river Humber ... was Aelle, king of the South Saxons.
Adam of Bremen for 531
The Saxon people ... leaving the Angles of Britain, urged on by the need and desire to find new homes, sailed to Hatheloe on the German coast, when king Theodoric (511-34) of the Franks was at war with the Thuringian leader Hermenfred.... Theodoric sent envoys to these Saxons, whose leader was called Hadugat ... and promised them homes for settlement in return for victory. Procopius (this could instead relate to the 540s or even early 550s)
The island of Britain is inhabited by three very populous nations, each having one king over it. And the names of these nations are the Angles, the Frisians [Saxons and Jutes?] and the Britons, the last being named from the island itself. And so great appears to be the populations of these nations that every year they emigrate thence in large companies and go to the land of the Franks. And the Franks allow them to settle in the part of their land which appears to be more deserted, and by this means they say that they are winning over the island. Thus it actually happened that not long ago the king of the Franks [?Theuedebert, 534x548?], in sending some of his intimates on an embassy to the Emperor Justinian in Byzantium, sent with them some of the Angles, thus seeking to establish his claim that this island was ruled by him. Life of Saint Dalmas of Rodez
And he (Justinian) never ceased pouring out great gifts of money to all the barbarians ... as far as the inhabitants of the island of Britain.
In the region beyond [north of] the Loire ... some sort of legion (so to speak) of Britons was stationed (534x541).
The final victory of our country ... has been granted to our times by the will of God. ... But the cities of our land are not populated now as they once were; right to the present they are deserted, in ruins and unkempt. Foreign wars may have stopped, but not civil ones. For the remembrance of so desperate a blow to the island (c. 453) and of such unlooked for recovery (c. 459) stuck in the mind of those who witnessed both wonders. That was why kings, public and private persons, priests and churchmen, kept to their own stations. But they died; and an age succeeded them that is ignorant of that storm and has experienced only the calm of the present. All the controls of truth and justice have been shaken and overthrown, leaving no trace, not even a memory among the orders I have mentioned: with the exception of a few, a very few. ...
God ... lit for us the brilliant lamps of holy martyrs. Their graves and the places where they suffered would now have the greatest effect in instilling the blaze of divine charity in the minds of beholders, were it not that our citizens, thanks to their sins, have been deprived of many of them by the unhappy partition with the barbarians.
Britain has her governors, she has her watchmen ... if not more than she needs, at least not fewer. But they are bowed under the pressure of their great burdens, and have no time to take breath. ...
Britain has kings, but they are tyrants; she has judges, but they are wicked.
(1) ... the despot Constantinus, whelp of the filthy lioness of Dumnonia. ...
(2) What are you doing, Aurelius Caninus (perhaps of Glywysing), lion-whelp ... ? Do you not hate peace in our country as though it were some noxious snake? In your unjust thirst for civil war and constant plunder, are you not shutting the gates of heavenly peace and consolation to your soul? ...
(3) ... Your head is already whitening, as you sit upon a throne that is full of guiles and stained from top to bottom with diverse murders and adulteries, bad son of a good king: Vortiporius, despot of the Demetians (Dyfed). ...
(4) Why have you been rolling in the filth of your past wickedness ever since your youth, you bear, rider of many and driver of the chariot of the Bear's Stronghold (probably Din Eirth in what became eastern Gwynedd), despiser of God and oppressor of his lot, Cuneglasus .... Why do you wage such a war against men and God? --- against men, that is our countrymen, with arms special to yourself, against God with infinite sins. ...
(5) What of you, dragon of the island (Mon?), you who have removed many of these tyrants from their country and even their life? You are last on my list, but first in evil, mightier than almost all in both power and malice, more profuse in giving, more extravagant in sin, strong in arms but stronger still in what destroys a soul, Maglocunus (Mailcun of Gwynedd). ... The King of all kings has made you higher than almost all the generals of Britain, in your kingdom as in your physique: why do you not show yourself to him better than the others in character, instead of worse? Did you not, in the first years of your youth, use sword and spear and flame in the cruel dispatch of the king your uncle and nearly his bravest soldiers ...? ...
What will our ill-starred commanders do now, then? The few (? the Governors ?) who have found the narrow path (true Christianity) and left the broad behind are prevented by God from pouring forth prayers on your behalf, as you [the tyrants] persevere in evil and so grievously provoke him. On the other hand, if you had gone back to God genuinely ... they could not have brought punishment on you (as presumably they have in the past).
ASC preface, interpreted by Dumville 
Beginning of Cerdic's reign over the West Saxons.
In the year 547, Ida began to reign; he was the founder of the royal family of the Northumbrians, and he reigned twelve years. ASC for 547
Ida began his reign, from whom first arose the royal kindred of Northumbria. Ida reigned twelve years. He built Bamburgh Castle, which was surrounded by a hedge and afterwards a wall. Nennius
Ida, son of Eobba, held the countries in the north of Britain, that is, north of the Humber sea, and reigned twelve years, and joined Deira to Bernicia. At that time Outigern fought bravely against the English nation. Then Talhaern `father of the muse' was famed in poetry; and Aneirin and Taliesin and Bluchbard and Cian, who is called `wheat of song', together at the same time were renowned in British poetry.
AC for 549
A great mortality in Britain in which Maelgwn King of Gwynedd died.
About this time was born Arthur, son of Petr, son of Cincar, son of Vortipor of Dyfed. footnote
ASC preface, interpreted by Dumville 
Beginning of Cynric's reign over the West Saxons.
Ethelbert later King of Kent was born? This Ethelbert was the son of Irminric, whose father was Octa whose father was Orric, surnamed Oisc, from whom the kings of Kent are wont to be called Oiscingas. Nennius
Adda, son of Ida, reigned eight years in Bernicia to 568. ASC for 560
Ella, on the death of Ida, took the kingdom of of the Northumbrians (actually the Deirans), ... who ... reigned about thirty years.
Aethelric, son of Ida, reigned four years in Bernicia to 572.
AC for 571
The `Synod of Victory' was held between the Britons. Gildas' Penetentials of the Synod of the Grove of Victory
... They who afford guidance to the barbarians shall do penance for thirteen years, provided there be no slaughter of Christians or effusion of blood or dire captivity. If, however, such things do take place the offenders shall perform penance, laying down their arms for the rest of life. But if one planned to conduct the barbarians to the Christians, and did so according to his will, he shall do penance for the remainder of his life. ASC for 571 (perhaps invented later to justify West Saxon territorial claims)
Cuthwulf fought with the Britons at Bedcanford (Bedford), and took four towns, Lenbury, Aylesbury, Benson and Ensham. And this same year he died.
Theodoric, son of Ida, reigned seven years in Bernicia to 579. ... Theodoric fought vigorously against Urien (of Reged) and his sons. AC for 572
Gildas, wisest of the Britons, died.
AC for 575
The battle of Arfderydd (North of Carlisle, in Gewnddolau's territory) between the sons of Elifer (of York) and Gwenddolau son of Ceidio, in which battle Gwenddolau fell.
Frithwald reigned six years in Bernicia to 585.
[Aethelbert of Kent, not yet King, marries Bertha of Francia:]
Gregory of Tours
King Charibert (561-7) married a woman called Ingoberg. He had by her a daughter who eventually married a man from Kent and went to live there.
In the fourteenth year of King Childebert's reign (589) there died Queen Ingoberg. ... She left a daughter who had married the son of a King of Kent.
ASC preface, interpreted by Dumville 
Beginning of Ceawlin's reign over the West Saxons.
AC for 582
Gwrgi and Peredur, sons of Elifer (of York), died.
ASC sub anno 568
Ceawlin and his brother Cutha, fought with Aethelbert, and pushed him into Kent, and killed two ealdormen, Oslaf and Cnebba, at Wibbandum (probably Wimbledon, Surrey).
ASC sub anno 577
Cuthwine and Ceawlin fought with the Britons, and slew three kings, Commail, Condida and Farinmail, on the spot that is called Deorham, and took from them three cities, Gloucester, Cirencester and Bath. ASC sub anno 688
... Cuthwin was the son of Ceawlin ...
ASC sub anno 584
Ceawlin and his brother Cutha fought with the Britons on the spot that is called Fethanleag (probably Hereford, which used to be called Fenley). There Cutha was slain. And Ceawlin took many towns, as well as immense booty and wealth. And he returned to his own people in anger. Bede
The second... of the English kings that had the sovereignty of all the southern provinces that are divided from the northern by the river Humber ... was Ceawlin, king of the West Saxons.
Hussa reigned seven years in Bernicia to 593. Four kings fought against him, Urien (of Reged), and Rhydderch Hen (of Strathclyde), and Gwallawg (probably of Elmet) and Morcant. ... During that time, sometimes the enemy, sometimes the Cymry (i.e. Britons) were victorious, and Urien blockaded them for three days and nights in the island of Medcaud (Lindisfarne). But during this campaign, Urien was assassinated on the instigation of Morcant, from jealousy, because his military skill and generalship surpassed that of all other kings.
ASC preface, interpreted by Dumville 
Beginning of Ceol's reign over the West Saxons.
ASC sub anno 591
There was great slaughter of Britons at Wanborough; Ceawlin was driven from his kingdom, and Ceolric reigned six years.
At this time, Ethelfrid, a most worthy king, and ambitious of glory, governed the kingdom of the Northumbrians (actually just of Bernicia at this stage), and ravaged the Britons more than all the great men of the English ... For he conquered more territories from the Britons, either making them tributary, or driving the inhabitants clean out, and planting English in their places, than any other king or tribune.
 Here I am repeating the appeal to Aetius, this time quoted in full but misplaced (according to Gildas' narrative). This year (453) is the last in which Aetius could have been addressed as "thrice consul". It would not be surprising if the Britons had appealed to Aetius more than once during the period when he represented Roman power in Gaul (426-454). My suggestion here is that the letter Gildas quoted was from an appeal in c.453, but he placed at a point in his narrative corresponding to an earlier, also unsuccessful, appeal, in c.427.
Return to 453
 It could be argued that stating "by way of the Ocean" would be unnecessary if Riothamus had come from Britain; it would be the only possible way in that case. Therefore, one could argue, Jordanes is telling us that Riothamus came from Brittany to central Gaul by way of the Atlantic and the Loire, rather than overland as one might have expected. This could have been the safest or quickest way to travel, or it may have been in order to campaign first against the Saxons who infested the Loire at this time. Moreover, there is a Prince of Domnonee (part of Brittany) called Riatham or Riotham who is recorded in the Breton genealogies, and whose floruit might have been around this time. However, the reading that Riothamus was a king who sailed from Britain to the Loire (at some time in the 460s) is at least equally plausible.
Return to 469
 Gildas' writing here is notoriously obscure. Elsewhere (see 539) he implies that those who witnessed the Saxon revolt (SR) and Ambrosius' victory (AV) had died, and that an ignorant (and immoral) age succeeded them that had "experienced only the calm of the present" following the battle of Badon (BB). He also implies that the morals of his countrymen began to deteriorate more than 10 years before the time of Gildas' writing (GW). I think the most natural reading of this is that a generation born after BB, or not long (say at most 3 years) before BB, held most positions of power (and so were probably at least 30 years old, say) by 10 years before GW. This reading implies that BB was probably at least 37 (30+10-3) years before GW. Moreover, the last of the witnesses of the SR must have died (aged at least 70, say) more than 10 years before GW. Assuming someone only has to be 6 years old to be a witness to an event like the SR, this means that SR was probably at least 74 (70-6+10) years before GW. Given that the most natural reading of Gildas' text is that AV was not many years (say at most 7 years) after SR, this suggests that AV was probably at least 67 (74-7) years before GW.
Now Gildas seems to be saying that BB was in the 44th year after AV. (The translation I give above relies heavily on ones by Keith J. Fitzpatrick-Matthews and Kevin Bowman here. The other commonly stated interpretation, that GW was in the 44th year after BB, is not tenable unless the available latin texts are all corrupt, and the evidence of Bede's reading of Gildas in c.730 does not support this.) Thus AV would be at least 80 (43+37) years before GW. This is consistent with the above figure of at least 67 years, but rather greater than it, so taking the period to be about 80 years seems the best option. Gildas gives one further piece of information about the time between AV and GW, in that he contrasts the qualities of Ambrosius' descendants at the time of his writing with their "grandfather's excellence". If AV was 80 or so years before GW (as the "after AV" interpretation says), then one might expect Gildas to be castigating Ambrosius' great- grandchildren, rather than his grandchildren. However, the adjective Gildas uses (avita) could well be translated more broadly as "ancestor's" which would allow for an extra generation. Moreover, the fact that Ambrosius' parents died by violence not long before AV suggests that Ambrosius was a relatively young commander at that time, so his grandchildren could well have been still in powerful positions 80 years later.
To summarize, Ambrosius' parents die prematurely in the SR. My best guess from Gildas' text is that AV is about 6 years after the SR. Then, almost certainly under a different commander, the Britons win the BB, some 43 years after AV. Finally, we have GW about 37 years after BB.
For the absolute placing of the four events, my best estimate comes from the placement of the SR. From my suggestion above regarding the appeal to Aetius, it must have been 446 at the earliest and 453 at the latest. But it cannot have been much earlier that the latter date (453) if it was "a long time" after the major Saxon advent in c.443. Thus I have adopted 453 for the SR. This gives GW in c.539 (which fits with the death of Mailcun in the Annales Cambriae around 449), while putting Gildas' birth and the year of BB in c.503 (which fits well with the dating of Gildas' death by the Annales Cambriae in c.572).
Return to 503
 This is possibly "the Arthur", or, more likely, named after "the Arthur" who presumably lived not long before, perhaps at the time of Badon, c.503. That "the Arthur" did exist is suggested by up to five other (somewhat later) instances of the use of the name in the period 550-650. The name thereafter fell into disuse for many centuries. All of these Arthurs are found at the interface of British and Irish cultures. One possible explanation is that "the Arthur" was a leader of Irish mercenaries fighting for the Britons against the Saxons. See Ken Dark, Reading Medieval Studies XXVI, 77-95 (2000). In this context, the hill fort Dinas Powys (perhaps meaning "fort of the pagans") in Glevissig is intriguing, as its unique archaeological remains are perhaps best interpreted as elite Irish warriors (who may well have been pagan in the late 5th century) working for a Brittonic state .
Return to 550
Map of Gildasian Britain
Discussion of the Map. Like the maps illustrating the ruin and conquest of Britain, this map descends into speculation in showing precise political boundaries in Britain at the time of Gildas. However, in many of these I have been guided by the work of the respected archaeologist and historian Ken Dark [1,2]. I have also been guided by the distribution of archaeological sites (as shown on the second map below). The result has a few surprises. First, the amount of the Island still under the control of British civitates, centred upon Roman towns, is quite large. In Roman Britain there were probably 17 civitates, forming the "local government" of Britain, as well as a number of tribal or military areas. Of the 17 capitals, 10 were still in British hands until the 2nd half of the 6th century, and 5 were probably still the centres of government of British states. Second, the "Saxon" cultural zone is much larger (at the expense of both the Angles and Jutes) than recorded history (e.g. the Anglo-Saxon chronicle) would suggest. Third, the traditional (according to the Anglo-Saxon chronicle) "West Saxon" heartland north and east of the Isle of White would appear to have been a Jutish area. But then this agrees with what Bede tells us (see 445 above).
The names given to the Brittonic states are those of the corresponding Roman civitates when these are attested by post-Roman inscription, or by Gildas. When Roman names are not so attested, a Brittonic name is used. Some of these (Reged, Gwent, Glevissig) are well-attested in the early Middle Ages, while others (Calchvynydd, Barroc, Ebrauc) are only attested in later documents [3,4]. Reged may be the name by which the civitas of the Carvetii was known. Gwent means the territory of Venta (that is, Venta Silurum, now Caerwent), and seems to have covered the eastern half of the civitas of the Silures. The western half of this came to be known as Glevissig , or Glywysing, later Morgannwg, and later still Glamorgan. Calchvynydd, Baroc and Ebrauc may be the successor states to the civitates of the Catuvellauni, Atrebates, and Brigantes respectively. The only Germanic states whose existence prior to the mid 6th century rests upon good evidence are Deira, Sussex, and Kent. These belong to three different Germanic cultural zones, as suggested by the archaeological evidence below. The first is characterized by mainly cremation cemeteries, with some inhumation cemeteries. The second is characterized by a combination of inhumation cemeteries and mixed cemeteries. The third is characterized by an overwhelming preponderance of inhumation cemeteries. On the evidence of Bede (see 445), these can be identified with zones of Anglian, Saxon, and Jutish settlement respectively.
The archaeological evidence (see below) also suggest three major Brittonic cultural zones. The first is the zone in which the evidence of urban and villa occupation is plentiful. Here "plentiful" means relative to the other areas at the time; the evidence is sparse compared to that in the Roman period, and presumably the level of occupation was similarly reduced. Nevertheless it is plausible  that civilian government -- from St. Albans (Verulamium of the Catuvellauni), Silchester (Calleva of the Atrebates), Cirencester (Corinium of the Dobunni), Caerwent (Venta of the Silures), and Wroxeter (Viroconium of the Cornovii) -- continued into Gildas' time. Moreover, these areas may have maintained some sort of united government, as in the time of Vortigern (See 440 above), and appointed governors for the rest (or at least the west) of Britain, as Gildas may imply (see 530 above). The second zone is that south of Hadrian's wall. This area is characterized by some evidence of urban survival, and considerable evidence for occupation of Roman forts along Hadrian's wall. On this basis, I have called this an area of military government, but we really have little idea how this area was organized. The third and final zone is the west (and far north) where there is little evidence of the survival of urban, villa or Roman military culture, but plentiful evidence for re-occupation of Iron age forts on hills, promontories and the like. Many of these sites show evidence of a wealthy elite, with imported wine and glassware from the Mediterranean. This, Dark  suggests, was a zone of government by kings. I have also included the area north of the Trent in this zone, although there is precious little Brittonic evidence of any kind here.
If this interpretation of the archaeological evidence is correct then we should look for Gildas' five named tyrants among the kingdoms of the west. The kingdoms of two (Constantinus and Vortiporius) are explicitly identified: Dumnonia and Demetia. Maglocunus is well known in Mediaeval Welsh literature as a king of Gwynedd. At the time of Gildas the tribal name Ordovices was probably still in use; the name survived as the Cantref Orddwy in southern Gwynedd. Another tribal region which was eventually taken over by Gwynedd was that of the Deceangli, whose name survived as Cantref Tegeingl in Eastern Gwynedd. This is probably where Cuneglasus ruled, as Gildas' describes him as driver of the chariot of the Bear's Stronghold. This translates into welsh as Din Eirth, which is the name of a hill fort in what may well have been Deceangli territory. This leaves Aurelius Caninus. The kingdom of Durotrigia is probably ruled out, as Higham  has convincingly argued that this is where Gildas himself lived, and he is unlikely to have got away with this sort of description of his worldly lord. Gildas' order of naming of the kings suggests somewhere in southern or central Wales. According to Dark [1,2], Powys, the kingdom which in Mediaeval times covered central Wales, was the successor to the civitas of the Cornovii, and was thus part of the civilian zone in Gildas' time. Brycheiniog (north of Glevissig) may well still have been part of the kingdom of Demetia at this time, as they both share an abundance of Ogham (Irish) inscriptions. The only kingdom left is that of Glevissig. Thus we can locate Gildas tyrants in the five westernmost kingdoms, as suggested by Dark .
The above map was scanned from the 2000 book by Dark , which shows 5th and 6th century Germanic cemeteries in Britain. Of these I have erased those cemeteries which came into use only in the later 6th century, according to the maps of Morris . Then I have added Roman towns, villas, and forts for which there is archaeological or literary material indicating probable occupation after 490. The data for these sites are taken from the detailed descriptions in the 1998 book by Snyder , occasionally supplemented by Dark . An example of such archaeological evidence is the presence of coins of Emperor Anastasius (491-518), or datable Mediterranean pottery. An example of reliable literary evidence for occupation is that for Luguvalium (Carlisle), which still had a functioning Roman aqueduct and fountain in the late 7th century . These Germanic and Brittonic sites thus should give a picture of Gildas' partitioned Britain (c. 530). As the map shows, Brittonic and Germanic sites do fall into reasonably distinct zones. There are a handful of small Germanic cemeteries in what I have judged to be Brittonic zones, and one Roman town, Lincoln (Lindum colonia), with evidence for continued occupation in what appears to be an Anglian zone.
References for maps and text  Ken Dark, Civitas to Kingdom: British Political Continuity, 300-800. (Leic. U. P., Leicester, 1993)
 Ken Dark, Britain and the End of the Roman Empire. (Tempus, Gloucestershire, 2000).
 John Morris, The Age of Arthur (Scribner's, New York, 1973).
 John T. Koch and John Carey (eds.) The Celtic Heroic Age 2nd Ed. (Celtic Studies Publications, Massachusetts, 1994).
 Nicholas Higham, Britain, Rome, and the Anglo-Saxons (Seaby, London, 1992).
 Christopher Snyder, An Age of Tyrants: Britain and the Britons A.D. 400-600. (Penn. State U.P., Pennsylvania, 1998).
 Vita Sancti Cuthberti (Lindisfarne, c.700), quoted in .
 D. Dumville, "The West Saxon Genealogical Regnal List and the Chronology of Early Wessex", Peritia 4 (1985), pp.21-66
Return to The Ruin and Conquest of Britain main page