Arthur's Battles

   There may be no way of knowing which places Nennius might be referring to in his list of Arthur's battles. Different scholars and lay theorists pinpoint the battles at various times from 180-700CE. Thus, it is difficult to look in a particular place at a particular time for evidence that there was indeed a battle and that that particular battle was the one mentioned by Nennius. On the other hand, one must start with Nennius because there is no better source of evidence for Arthur, one minimal definition of an historical Arthur is "whoever won the Battle of Badon". Since the only data that Nennius offers is battle placenames, one must start with the hypothesis that the string of names is a code that can be applied to the known landscape and period. Once a possible fit has been found, one goes to the gazetteers who have tried to map the history of the placename, and compare the proposed battle list against the terrain and placename data.

   One thing that is worrisome about the hunt for the identification of Arthurian battle sites using the Historia Brittonum is that (apart from the issue of placenames), there is an automatic assumption that the battles represent a single campaign or sphere of activity and more importantly, that they are listed in the order in which they were fought. These problems characterize the identifications by W G Collingwood (Sussex), P K Johnstone (Northumbria/Strathclyde) and Linda Malcor (Northern England/Southern Scotland). O G S Crawford, K H Jackson and N Tolstoy (Scottish Lowlands and a southwestern campaign in Dumnonia) worked under the assumption that Arthur's battles could not be restricted to a single area and that not all the names are necessarily identifiable on the evidence we now possess. Without being able to guarantee the order of battles and the date of battle, we may never be certain as to the veracity of any particular list.

Nennius' Historia Brittonum from J.A. Giles' version

Then it was, that the magnanimous Arthur, with all the kings and military force of Britain, fought against the Saxons. And though there were many more noble than himself, yet he was twelve times chosen their commander, and was as often conqueror. The first battle in which he was engaged, was at the mouth of the river Gleni. The second, third, fourth, and fifth, were on another river, by the Britons called Duglas, in the region Linuis. The sixth, on the river Bassas. The seventh in the wood Celidon, which the Britons call Cat Coit Celidon. The eighth was near Gurnion castle, where Arthur bore the image of the Holy Virgin, mother of God, upon his shoulders, and through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the holy Mary, put the Saxons to flight, and pursued them the whole day with great slaughter. The ninth was at the City of Legion, which is called Cair Lion. The tenth was on the banks of the river Trat Treuroit. The eleventh was on the mountain Breguoin, which we call Cat Bregion. The twelfth was a most severe contest, when Arthur penetrated to the hill of Badon. In this engagement, nine hundred and forty fell by his hand alone, no one but the Lord affording him assistance. In all these engagements the Britons were successful. For no strength can avail against the will of the Almighty.

Kenneth Jackson

Jackson states that Tribuit means a strand or stretch of beach beside the sea at a place where three rivers come together. (Other scholars come up with a place where three rivers empty into an estuary.)

W. G. Collingwood's identification covers the Sussex option:
Glein = Glynde
Dubglas in Linnuis = Kent Water (a tributary of the Medway referred to as 'le Black' in 1288) in the area around _Limen_ (the River East Rother)
Bassas, emended *Lussas = ? "a possible south country site"
Cat Coit Celidon = The Weald ("by the Stane Street to attack Chichester")
Guinnion = Winchester
Urbs Legionis = Portchester
Tribruit = Chichester Harbour
Mons Agned = "any of the many hillforts from the Caburn to Old Winchester"
Badon = "It is a lame conclusion to confess that no further light has yet come upon [it]... Bath and the Badbury Rings have long since been given up..."

Dan Hunt's List discussed at the Vortigern Studies site identifies all of Arthur's battles thusly:

1. The mouth of the Glen in Northumberland
2. The Devil's Water at Linnels
3. A stream at Bassington
4. A forest at the headwaters of the Clyde and Tweed
5. Binchester
6. York
7. Broken Hook
8. High Rochester or Catterick
9. Buxton
10. Castlesteads

Dan Hunt's findings have recently gone into a book published October 2005 (Hayloft Publishing).
August Hunt's Shadows in the Mist: The Life and Death of King Arthur

Linda Malcor states about the battles on the Dubglas:

"until the Caledonii tried to cross the Pennines they were doing quite well. One Roman fort after another had folded before them along Dere Street. At York they killed someone important (Most scholars now think he was the Roman Governor of Britain), and the VI Victrix was in massive disarray. But after sacking a fort on their way over a pass, something happened that eventually turned the invasion into an all-out retreat that ended with the remnants of the invading Caledonii either being wiped out or, at the very least, pushed back north of the Antonine. Since Ribchester would have been the next fort to fall and since Ribchester shows absolutely no sign of falling during that invasion, I believe that it was the troops at Bremetennacum that stopped the invasion and turned the Caledonii. Look at the terrain around Ribchester. You have a place where three rivers meet the surf (Tribruit). You have a long stretch of the Douglas, which could have been the scene of several battles if the Caledonii retreated toward Manchester (which I believe was abandoned at the time), before heading north. You have a commander named Artorius who would have had to have been named dux (getting a nice little brooch that just happens to be the sign/symbol of the Virgin Mary by the time you get to the Middle Ages, but which was a symbol of Flora used in Roman military decorations at the time) in order to pursue the invaders beyond the region that was normally under his command. The retreat heads right through Cat Coit Celidon. And so forth. It's not a usual Roman campaign for conquest or anything approaching a normal defense of, say, Hadrian's Wall. It's a significant, successful military action against invaders that happens to save Britain and the people who lived there from what had all the makings of a major conquest. All though the names of the people involved (including the governor) are missing from the MSS that have survived, the action was still significant enough for several Roman historians to mention it."

RJ O'Toole gives us a very interesting proposal for the battle list:
   "The idea that the battle list of Nennius has a poem as its source has a great deal of merit. The fact that there are 9 battle sites, a triad of triads, fits well with this proposal. Twelve battles seems too Christian and Medieval to be satisfying. It may well be that there really were 12 battles at these 9 sites, and there is no symbolism to the number 12. The same cannot be said for the nine sites. Nine is often a significant number in Celtic folklore, and the number of battles may well have been contrived to fit the form, with battles added, or more likely, deleted, to achieve the desired number.
   "The first three sites have, as do all triadic elements, something in common -- they are all fought to the east [L. super, above] of a river: Since Arthur is portrayed as fighting the Saxons in the East, this triad could be called The Three Rivers Arthur Attacked Across:

1. Battle east of the Mouth of a river named Glein
2. 4 battles east of the river named Dubglas (with the gloss in regione Linnuis)
3. Battle east of a river called Bassas
   "It all seems quite neat and reasonable so far, the only assumption required is that the battles are probably not in order. It is not reasonable to suppose Arthur fought 6 battles in a row on rivers, then 6 not on rivers. I suspect orderly temporal progression is more important to us than to an ancient bard.
   "The second proposed triad contains:
1. Caledonian Forest
2. Castellum Guinnion
3. City of the Legions
   "Irish records preserve the notion that the Battle of Guindoin was within the Caledonion Forest, so 2 of these 3 may have been in south central Scotland. The City of the Legions whether considered as Caerleon or Chester does not fit the series. On the other hand, the recent proposal that York was intended has merit, and would place all three battles near the borders of Northumbria. This is hardly as neat as the first triad, but sustainable. On the other hand Castellum Guinnion and the City of the Legions must both be settlements, as opposed to mountains or rivers, and seems to fit the series better, particularly in view of the final triad.
   "The final triad contains:
1. Shores of the river called Tribruit
2. Mount Agned
3. Mount Badon

   "Tribruit and Agned have both been proposed to be near Edinburgh, and Agned and Badon are both mountains. Badon is often claimed to be misattributed, while Tribruit can be considered an intrusion from another source, or confirmed by another source, depending on your point of view. Since the gloss in regione linnuis can be supposed to be in the source used by Nennius (how would he know otherwise) as well as the glosses regarding the icon of Mary, and the gloss attributing his victory to her and her son's intervention, it can be supposed that Nennius had not the original poem, but a highly glossed (40% of the list consists of glosses), and perhaps corrupt version.
   "This assumption allows us to take liberties and presume a triad of triads listing Arthur's battles at rivers, towns and mountains. This scenario also includes the assumption that Tribruit and the Caledonion forest are intrusions. I find it highly suggestive that The Battle of the Trees, and the battle of Tribruit are both attested elsewhere, and are the only two not to fit the proposed series. Badon is also attested elsewhere, and is often claimed to be an intrusion as well.
   "This gives us:

Rivers -- Glein, Dubglas, Bassas
Settlements -- Unknown, Castellum Guinnion, Urbs Legionem
Mountains -- Unknown, Mt. Agned, Unknown"