Maps Illustrating the Ruin and Conquest of Britain

General Comments

The purpose of these maps is twofold. First, it is to show the location of places mentioned in the primary sources (or my footnotes). Second, it is to show my reconstruction of the states of Britain at certain times (400, 530, 585) in the period of interest (400-600 A.D.) as well as at a couple of later times (660, 942). These times have been chosen for reasons explained beside each map.

Regarding the second purpose, one thing can be said with certainty about these reconstructions: they are wrong. Drawing sharp lines on a map requires more hard information than exists for these periods of time, especially for the early maps. For the later maps (660, 942), the evidence is far better and the broad outlines are certainly correct. But historians still disagree substantially on the location of some borders. Like my reconstruction using the primary sources, all that can be said is that they are no less plausible than many other reconstructions. The maps are also likely to be wrong in assuming a smaller number of states than actually existed. This is likely because in the one area where reliable records are available, Wales, the size of states was quite small. No doubt this was partly due to poor communications in mountainous terrain. Nevertheless it is likely that states outside Wales, and especially in the equally mountainous North, were smaller than those shown on the maps. It is natural that evidence for the existence of small Briton states in areas later taken over by the English would disappear. English states were quite probably smaller and more numerous as well.

The "ethnicity" of the ruling groups in these states is also sure to be more complicated than as shown in the maps. For instance, I have non-critically taken Bede's division of the English into Angles, Saxons and Jutes at face value, where others would question whether these distinctions had any meaning to the Germanic settlers in the fifth and sixth centuries. Even at the time of the last map (942), Bernicia (which I have coloured as an Angle state following Bede) was referred to as "North Saxonia" by a continental traveller.

Another anachronism in these maps is the names of states. Except for the latin names of tribes (attached to the civitates of Roman Britain), I have not necessarily labelled states using the names by which they would have been known at the time. Some names are later forms, e.g. "Gwynedd" was the much later (even than 942) form of Venedotia, first attested on a gravestone c.500. Other names are fictions of mine, e.g. "Verulam" in 530, which I have derived from its chief city, Verulamium. Others were not invented by me, but are nevertheless of doubtful authenticity, deriving from late traditions (e.g. "Theyernllwg"). Names in these last two categories, which are not well attested for any time period, I have written in italics.

A final note: in what follows, "Britannia" refers to the area shown on the maps. That is, the Island south of the Forth-Clyde line. This is the area occupied by Rome and its federate allies for most of the first four centuries A.D.

Map of Roman Britain in 400 A.D. showing later settlement by Irish, Angles, Saxons, and JutesThis map shows the reasonably well established boundaries of the civitates (city-states) of Britannia at the end of the Roman era, as well as the more speculative boundaries of military districts and highland tribes. These political boundaries may have remained relatively unchanged right up until the revolt of the English soldier-settlers (which I have placed in the 470s). Also shown are the states in which these Angles, Saxons and Jutes were settled in the 5th century as federate soldiers.

Places of Significance, 400-473 A.D.

1.    Dunedin (Edinburgh), centre of Manaw Gododdin, whence Cunedda came, c.401.
2.    River Dee, boundary of Cunedda's descendants' territory
3.    River Teifi, boundary of Cunedda's descendants' territory
4.    Hadrian's wall, breached by Picts and Scots in the 410s.
5.    Verulamium (St. Alban's), where St. Germanus was resting when brought news of an attack by Saxons and Picts, c.429.
6.    Clwyd range near Mold, traditional site of St. Germanus' victory over the Saxons and Picts.
7.    Viroconium, a town which, like Verulamium, certainly survived the Roman withdrawal.
8.    Isle of Thanet, the first land ceded to Hengist and Horsa, c.450.
9.    Two possible sites for Wallop, the scene of a battle between Ambrosius and Vitalinus c.453, one in Hampshire and the other in Shropshire
10.    Ambrosius' fort (Amesbury), Wiltshire, not far from Wallop in Hampshire.
11.    Al Clud (Dumbarton), stronghold of Coroticus, berated by St. Patrick for taking fellow-Christians as slaves from Ireland.
12.    Crayford, on the confluence of the Cray and the Derwent, where Vortimer was defeated by Hengist and Horsa, c.456.
13.    London, where Vortimer fled following this defeat.
14.    Aylesford, where Vortimer and Hengist fought again, and Categirn and Horsa fell, c.457.
15.    Richborough, probable location of the third battle between Vortimer and Hengist, where Vortimer was victorious, c.461.
16.    Lincoln, where Vortimer was buried, c.470.
17.    Dinas Emrys (the stronghold of Ambrosius), near Snowden, supposedly built by Vortigern when he fled following the Saxon revolt, c.472.

Map of Britain in 530, during the partition after the battle of BadonAfter the English revolt, Britannia was certainly in a state of flux, as Gildas attests. The situation restabilized after the Britons' victory at Badon, which I have placed in 518. The map for 530 shows the partition of Britain between Britons and English. This was about the time at which Procopius described Britain as being inhabited by three peoples: Angles, Frisians, and Britons, each with one king. It was also just before the Gewissae took the Isle of Wight from the Jutes, in 530 according to the Anglo-Saxon chronicle. Although the Britons had already lost most of lowland Britannia to the English, Britannia as a whole was still overwhelmingly controlled by Britons. Also shown in this map are the possible identities of the kingdoms of the five kings of Gildas, (with Gwynedd split between Maglocunus and Cuneglasus). It can be seen that these kingdoms are the four largest highland Briton kingdoms of Southern Britannia, and as such these kings may have been the chief potentates with which Gildas (probably located in Durotrigia) would have been concerned, in around 545.


Places of Significance, 473-571 A.D.

1.    Gloucester, possibly the original power-base of Vortigern's family.
2.    Cymensora, landing place of Aelle and his son Cymen, c.477.
3.    Anderida (Pevensy), the Roman shore fort captured by Aelle, c.491.
4.    Mouth of the River Glein, site of Arthur's first battle.
5.    Lincoln, centre of Lindsey, site of Arthur's second to fifth battles.
6.     Portus Adurni (Portchester), the Roman shore fort captured by Jutes, c.501.
7.     Caledonian forest, site of Arthur's seventh battle.
8.     Natan's Leag (Netley marsh), site of Cerdic's victory, c.508.
9.     Cerdic's ford, perhaps the limit to Cerdic's territory, c.508.
10.    Carleon, site of Arthur's 10th battle.
11.    Isle of Mon (Anglesey), recovered by Cadwallon longhand from the Irish.
12.    Badon hill, site of Arthur's final victory over the Saxons.
13.    River Humber, supposed northern limit of the authority of Aelle over the English.
14.    South Cadbury, possibly Arthur's headquarters ("Camelot").
15.    Ercyng (Archenfield), site of the tomb of Arthur's son Anir.
16.    Isle of Whight, taken by the West Saxon Creoda from the Jutes, c.530.
17.    Dun Arth, the "bear's stronghold" of Cuneglasus, c.545.
18.    Bamburgh Castle, Ida's stronghold, c.547.
19.    Sarum, where Cynric fought the British, c.552.
20.    Beranbury, where Ceawlin fought the British, c.556.
21.    Arvon in Gwynedd, where Elidyr of Rheged was slain, and which was burnt in revenge by the men of the North.
22.    River Wear, site of a battle between Rhun of Gwynedd and the men of the North.
23.    Wibbandaum (Wimbledon), battle between Ceawlin of the West Saxons and Aethelbert of Kent.
24.    The Chilterns, probably the "chalk hills" of Calchvynydd.
25.    River Thames (south) and River Trent (north), between which Calchvynydd lay.
26.    Dunstable, in Calchvynydd.
27.    Northamptom, in Calchvynydd.

Map of Britain in 585, at the height of power of Ceawlin of WessexThe political situation in Britannia remained relatively stable for about 50 years after Badon, then changed radically in the following 20. By 585 all of the major lowland Briton states, the descendants of the Roman civitates, had fallen into English hands. The highland Britons were not yet seriously threatened, and still controlled about half of Britannia. All of the major Mediaeval English kingdoms had already appeared at this stage, except for Northumbria which had not been formed from the union of Bernicia and Deira. At this time, Wessex under Ceawlin was at a peak of its power, not reached again until the 9th century.


Places of Significance, 571-598 A.D.

1.    Bedford, where Cuthwulf fought the Britons, c.571.
2.    Lenbury, captured by Cuthwulf.
3.    Aylesbury, captured by Cuthwulf.
4.    Benson, captured by Cuthwulf.
5.    Ensham, captured by Cuthwulf.
6.     Arfderydd (Arthuret), battle between Eborac and Car Luel (see 530 map).
7.     Deorham, where Cuthwine and Ceawlin fought the Briton, c.577.
8.     Gloucester, captured by Cuthwine and Ceawlin.
9.     Cirencester, captured by Cuthwine and Ceawlin.
10.    Bath, captured by Cuthwine and Ceawlin.
11.    Lake district, part of Urien's kingdom of Rheged.
12.    Fethanleag (Hereford), where Ceawlin and Cuthwine fought the Britons and Cuthwine was slain, c.584.
13.    Canterbury, capital of Kent.
14.    London, capital of Essex.
15.    Winchester, capital of Wessex.
16.    York, capital of Deira.
17.    Medcaud (Lindisfarne), where Urien blockaded the Bernicians, and was assassinated, c.590.
18.    Wanborough, where Ceawlin was driven from his kingdom.
19.    Catterick, where the host of the Gododdin and its allies were slaughtered by the Northumbrians, c.598.
20.    Eiddyn (Edinburgh), capital of the Gododdin.

Map of Britain in 660, when the Anglo-Saxon conquest of England was all but completeDuring the 7th century, the English continued to advance at the expense of the Britons. By this time (660), the Britons' political control had been pushed back to the three Western peninsulas of Britannia: Dumnonia (now Devon and Cornwall ), Wales, and Strathclyde-Galloway (now South-West Scotland). The status of Rheged is uncertain, but it was probably under effective Northumbrian control. Shortly after this time the West Saxons began settlement around Exeter, in the heart of Dumnonia. Nevertheless, Cornwall was not finally absorbed by Wessex until the 10th century. Wales was not conquered by the English (under Norman rule) until the late 13th century (and was even independent again, briefly, in the 15th century). Strathclyde-Galloway was peacefully incorporated into the Scottish kingdom in the 11th century. Thus, 660 marks the effective end of the rapid advance of the English at the expense of the Britons. This time was also the beginning of the supremacy of Mercia among the English kingdoms. In later centuries, it annexed most of the smaller kingdoms, and substantial parts of Northumbria and Wessex as well.


Map of Britain at the time of Erik Bloodaxe, of York, Hywel the Good of Wales, and Donald of StrathclydeThe final map, for 942, is long after the period covered by my narrative of the Ruin and Conquest of Britain. I have included it primarily because it shows an interesting time in the history of Britain. Following the Viking invasions in the 9th century, the kingdom of Wessex was left as the only English kingdom with the power to resist. In the first three decades of the 10th century, Wessex conquered all of the Danish, Norse, and Angle kingdoms. But this unification of England was premature; on the death of king Aethelstan (939), York broke away under its Norse kings, and doggedly resisted reconquest during the 940s. The final transformation of the kingdom of Wessex into the kingdom of England (including Cornwall, but none of Wales) was delayed until the 950s (after the death of ErikBloodaxe, the last king of York). The 940s are also interesting for a resurgence in the power of the Britons, in Strathclyde and Wales. Strathclyde under king Donald at this time had extended southwards almost to the city of Leeds (according to one account which seems to imply a date of c.940). Shortly afterwards it was peacefully annexed to the kingdom of Scotland, which was not pushed back to its present border (north of Hadrian's wall) until after the Norman conquest. Wales, except for minor states in the south-east which were vassals of Wessex, was united under a single king: Hywel the good. He acknowledged the king of Wessex as his overlord, but was an independent monarch who produced a code of law for all Wales. On his death (950), his kingdom was divided into three. But the idea of a single kingdom of Wales had taken root, and became a reality (if only temporarily) a number of times over the subsequent centuries, right down until Owain Glyndwr in the 15th century.


Regions incorporated within the kingdom of Wessex, but maintaining a separate identity, are surrounded by a thick band of Wessex colour (dark blue). Vassal kingdoms to Wessex are surrounded by a thin band.  

Return to the Ruin and Conquest of Britain main page.