THE BATTLES OF
as listed by
The Welsh historian, Nennius,
records twelve great victories in battle during Arthur's time as Dux
Bellorum. Much of his material is mythical, however, and the magical
number 12 does not sit well for historical evidence. Some
historians have argued that this is too great a number for one man's
lifetime, and their locations may well have been too widespread for a
single leader to have fought in each. Counteracting this view, some
believe Arthur to have headed up a warband of cavalrymen travelling around
the country and championing the British cause: hence his widespread
popularity. True or not, it seems likely that, as with stories attached to
the real Arthur, several of these battles may have been properly
associated with alternative Arthurs or just with other great Dark Age
heroes. A tendency towards Northern locations may strengthen this theory.
Unfortunately identifying the location of the battles is a highly
first battle was at the mouth of the river called Glein":
This has been tentatively identified as one of the two Rivers Glen in
Britain today, one in Lincolnshire and one in Northumberland.
Unfortunately, Glen stems from the Celtic for "pure",
so there were probably many rivers thus named in 6th century Britain.
A battle at the former would have presumably been against the first
Bernician settlers and at the latter against the northward moving East
Anglians. Either could be attributed to King
Arthuis of the Pennines.
second, the third, the fourth and the fifth were on another river,
called the Dubglas, which is in the region of Linnuis":
The River Dubglas is modern Douglas,
meaning "black water". If the Saxons translated this
directly, it might be any one of the many Rivers Blackwater around the
country today. So, we must first turn to identifying Linnuis.
The 2nd century geographer, Ptolemy, recorded the associated name of Lindum
at the Roman Fort of Drumquhassle in the Lennox area of Scotland. The
River Douglas still runs into the nearby Loch Lomond, on the borders
of Strathclyde. Could King Arthuis
of the Pennines have fought the Scots or the Strathclyde
Britons here? The better known Roman Lindum, however, is now
the city of Lincoln. The surrounding area would be Linnuis: it
is still called Lindsey today. Unfortunately, there is no longer a
River Blackwater or the like here, but one of the waterways flowing
off the muddy peat moors could easily have been originally described
as such. Geoffrey of Monmouth
indicates this as the correct identification. His chronicle relates
how immediately Arthur came to the throne, he swore to rid Britain of
the Saxon menace and so set out to attack the Anglian stronghold at
York. Hearing of this, the Deiran leader, Colgrin, gathered together
an alliance of Saxons, Scots and Picts and marched south to meet him.
They clashed on the River Douglas. Geoffrey also describes an ensuing
Battle of Lincoln, probably one of the successive battles on the same
river, thus identifying it as the Witham. Several of these ensuing
battles may have been invented, however, to increase the number to the
mysterious 12. Some theorists have argued that Linnuis simply
means "Lake Region" and therefore other rivers, such as the
Douglas near Wigan in Lancashire have been suggested. Southerly
alternatives, more suited to the traditional Arthur, include an
imaginative identification with the Battle of Natanleag, now
Netley in Hampshire; and, more convincingly, the area around Ilchester
in Somerset, the Roman Lindinis, which may have become
corrupted to Linnuis. The River Divelish and Devil's Brook,
both deriving from Dubglas, flow nearby. Perhaps one of them
demarked the border of Dumnonia.
sixth battle was on the river called Bassas":
Only one convincing possible identification appears to have
been forthcoming for this battle: Cambuslang in the southern suburbs
of Glasgow. This place already has Arthurian associations as the
burial place of the great King's Northern British enemy, Caw. Perhaps
he was killed in the battle. Other proposals include the Lothian coast
near Bass Rock; Baschurch in Shropshire, Old Basing and an obscure
identification with the Battle of Cerdicesford, now Charford,
both in Hampshire.
seventh battle was in the Caledonian Forest, that is, the Battle of
Celidon Coit": As well as
unconvincing arguments for the Chilterns and the Sussex Weald, some
follow Geoffrey of Monmouth in supporting a wood just north of Lincoln
for the location of this battle. However, Geoffrey appears to have
been confused. He informs us that the battle took place after the
Saxon, Scottish and Pictish alliance fled north from the Battle of
Lincoln. He does not seem to have realized just how far they managed
to travel before Arthur finally caught up with them; for the seventh
battle site can pretty certainly be identified as the Caledonian
Forest in modern Scotland: Coed Celyddon. It may originally
have stretched from the Solway to the Highlands, but Welsh tradition
indicates the area of the Scottish border. The Moffat region of Dumfriesshire, Penrith in Cumbria
and Glasgow have all been suggested.
This could, again, have been King
Arthuis of the Pennines fighting against invading Scots; or
possibly this is a memory of the later Battle of Arfderydd,
now Arthuret in Cumbria. In 573, the British armies of Kings Gwenddoleu
of Caer-Wenddoleu and Peredyr
of Ebrauc clashed here in a territorial quarrel over the fort
at Caer-Laverock. The fight is particularly associated with Arthurian
legend because the original Merlin
or Myrddin fled, after the battle, into the Celidon Forest.
eighth battle was in Guinnion fort, and in it Arthur carried the image
of the holy Mary, the everlasting Virgin, on his shield, and the
heathen were put to flight on that day, and there was great slaughter
upon them, through the power of Jesus Christ and the power of the holy
Virgin Mary, his mother.": This
quote suffers from the same problems as that for the Battle of Badon
in the Annales Cambriae:
the Welsh words for shield and shoulder being confused. Geoffrey of
Monmouth explains that Arthur bore armorial bearings of both cross and
virgin: the arms later adopted by Glastonbury Abbey. Guinnion is
another site that is difficult to identify. The name is very similar
to the Roman fort of Vinovium at Binchester, Durham. Land's
End, Caer Guidn in the British tongue, has also been proposed.
An interesting theory suggests a translation of the Saxon Battle of Wihtgarasburh,
the Isle of Wight: Gwyn in Welsh. However, either of the walled towns
called Venta by the Romans seem more likely. One became the
modern Caer-Went in Gwent, the other Win-Chester in Hampshire. The
latter was the location for a pre-Camlann battle between Arthur and
his usurping nephew, Morded, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth. Modern
historians suggest the Saxon invader, Cerdic, as a more likely enemy.
An intermediate stage in the evolution of Winchester's name was the
Romano-British Caer Guinntguic or Caer Guinn. -guic
would be a corrupt form of -iog, a standard Celtic place-name ending.
-ion was used similarly and, though there is no record of it, an
acceptable alternative for the name would be Caer Guinnion, as with
Caer Leir recorded as Caer Lerion and Caer Celef recorded as Caer
Celemion. Caerwent is unlikely. The e never did change to an i.
ninth battle was in the City of the Legion":
The Urbe Legionis or "City of the Legions"
causes problems because there were two cities so called: Caerleon and
Chester, at either end of the Welsh border. It is also possible that
York bore such a title. The idea that many other Roman forts, like
Carlisle or Exeter, once had similar names seems unlikely though; as
does identification with the Battle of Dyrham. Chester was Caer
Legion, while Caerleon was Caer Legion guar Uisc (that is
"Caerleon-upon-Usk"), though the latter often lost its
suffix. Chester appears to be the likeliest candidate. It was actually
recorded in the Annales Cambriae as Urbs Legionis and
was the site of a well-attested Battle of Chester in Dark Age times.
In 613, King Ęthelfrith of Bernicia invaded the Welsh Kingdoms in
order to stop King Iago of Gwynedd
restoring the former's old enemy, Edwin, to the Deiran throne. The
armies of Gwynedd, Powys, Pengwern & Dumnonia rose to repel him,
but were bitterly defeated at the Battle of Chester: Kings Iago of
Gwynedd & Selyf Sarffgadau of
Powys being killed. This brave British stand against the
Northern Saxons was probably transported back a hundred years to the
time of Arthur.
tenth battle was on the bank of the river called Tribruit":
Tribruit is more properly Tryfrwyd.
The battle is mentioned in an eleventh century Welsh poem from the
Black Book of Carmarthen, Pa Gur. Cai
Hir (the Tall), Arthur's foster-brother of traditional legend,
apparently fought there against a foe named Garwlwyd. Presumably
therefore, Arthur, as Cai's patron in the poem, was the British
commander at the battle. Some people identify it's location as the
River Frew at Stirling; others, the River Ribble in Lancashire; the
Severn at Gloucester or the Eden at Carlisle.
eleventh battle was on the hill called Agned": Geoffrey
of Monmouth identifies Monte Agned as Edinburgh and there
appears to be little evidence to contradict him. The rock of Edinburgh
Castle was certainly occupied at this time. It was a strategic point
of some importance at the centre of the Kingdom of Gododdin. Perhaps
the battle was connected with King Lot
of Gododdin being one of the eleven kings who rebelled against
Arthur at the beginning of his reign. Edinburgh alias Din-Eityn
specifically relates to the settlement on top of the rock of course.
Geoffrey calls this the Castle of Maidens or the Dolorous Castle.
There was apparently a 7th century Siege of Din-Eityn. Could this have
been the real Battle of Mount Agned pushed back to Arthur's reign?
More obscure proposed identifications include Brent Knoll, Somerset;
Ribchester, Lancashire and Cirencester,
Gloucestershire. A 10th century version of Nennius' History gives this
battle the alternative name of Breguoin. This may have been
another of Arthur's victories. The name could be a corruption of Bravonium,
a Roman name for Leintwardine in Herefordshire. This is conveniently
situated for a possible battle involving King Athrwys
of Ergyng, though the place was, more usually, called Branogenium.
Alternatively, the name could stem from Bremenium, now High
Rochester in Northumberland. Unfortunately, this is probably also the
site of King Urien Rheged's Battle
of the Cells of Brewyn, as mentioned in Welsh poetry. Arthur,
therefore, erroneously claims another battle.
twelfth battle was on Badon Hill and in it nine hundred and sixty men
fell in one day, from a single charge of Arthur's, and no-one lay them
low save he alone.": It
was at the Battle of Mount Badon that tradition says the Saxon advance
into Britain was finally halted. It was Arthur's greatest victory and,
not surprisingly, there are many claimants for its location. Forts are
preferred since Gildas, in
his De Excidio Britanniae",
more properly called the battle a "siege" and nearby Rivers
Avon strengthen claims. Possibilities include Bowden Hill, Lothian;
Dumbarton Rock, Strathclyde; Mynydd Baedan, Glamorgan; or Brent Knoll, Somerset. Modern theory, however,
suggests one of the many Badburys around the country: in Dorset, Wiltshire, Berkshire,
Lincolnshire. Liddington Castle, near Badbury and Baydon in Wiltshire, seems most
popular at present. Welsh tradition backed up by Geoffrey of Monmouth
is, however, almost certainly correct in identifying the battle site
with Bath, Caer Baddon, or, at least somewhere in its vicinity. Little
Solsbury Hill or Bathampton Down has been suggested.
Arthur's last battle, where he was
fatally wounded, is not mentioned by Nennius. It is known to us from the Annales
Strife of Camlann in which Arthur and Medraut perished".
Over the years, it has been
variously identified as being at Queen or West Camel on the River Cam,
Somerset; at Slaughter Bridge on the River Camel in Cornwall; at Camelon,
Stirlingshire or Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire. Recent suggestions indicate
Goring Gap on the Thames at the Berkshire/Oxfordshire border or Cadnam in
the New Forest. Generally, however, modern historians recognise the
battle-site as the Roman fort of Camboglanna, on Hadrian's Wall.
The place is now called Castlesteads in Cumbria, though the place is often
confused with nearby Birdoswald, now thought to have been Banna.
However, this northern site appears unlikely for the traditional
Arthur and there seems no good reason to look anywhere other than one of
the three Welsh Camlans of today: the two Camlan Valleys in Southern
Meirionydd and the River Gamlan in Southern Dunoding.