Badon, Ambrosius, and Arthur

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This topic contains 8 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  TimHodkinson 5 years, 4 months ago.

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  • #15536

    Howard
    Participant

    Hell Jamie, everyone.This is my first post, so a quick intro. I just came across the podcast, fortuitously just as Jamie is covering the time in British history I am most interested in, the "dark ages". I've been researching, in an amateur fashion, this area for the last 20 years or so and have made a website http://www.ict.griffith.edu.au/wiseman/DECB/DECB.html and published a few papers http://www.ict.griffith.edu.au/wiseman/DECB/DECBpubs.html. Anyway, I'm very impressed by what I've listened to so far Jamie --- you've obviously done a lot of reading and I'm planning to go back and listen to everything pre-410. But ... I have a bone to pick about Arthur. You say a number of times that the battle of Mount Badon was won by Ambrosius, as if that is an established fact. It is not. Far from it. Gildas says Ambrosius won the first campaign against the Saxons. He does not imply that he led any other campaigns, and in particular says nothing linking Ambrosius with Badon. Moreover the best scholarship (in my view) interprets Gildas as saying that Badon was 44 years after Ambrosius' first campaign --- see http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/jshoaf/arthGildas.html, which makes it very unlikely that he was still leader then. For my take on the chronology of Gildas, see http://www.ict.griffith.edu.au/wiseman/DECB/DECBbestest.html#fn502. The only name associated with Badon in (pre-modern) British historiography is Arthur. The oldest source for this is however three centuries after the event, and contains some legendary material, so of course it is not to be taken at face value. But neither should it be ignored, by the standards you adopt for other sources. You talk a lot about Hengist and Horsa, but they also appear first in a source three centuries after their event (Bede). Moreover Bede says "The two first commanders are said to have been Hengist and Horsa" showing that he did not trust his source, which may have been oral. Also, Arthur is a real name --- it was borne by several others born in the 6th century. By contrast, Hengist and Horsa are unique, and mean "Stallion and Mare", a pair of names which screams "origin myth". I hope it's not too late for you to return to Badon in your podcast and give a fair treatment of Arthur.Howard.

  • #17948

    Jamie
    Keymaster

    Hi Howard, I'm glad you're enjoying the show.  I was actually waiting for a post like this, since just about everything in the Dark Ages is up for debate.  Hehe.Now since you just found the podcast I'm not sure if you have listened to the Sources of Confusion episode yet.  In that episode, I tried to do my best to convey to everyone that I trust Gildas just about as far as I can thow him.  Consequently, I really hope that I wasn't conveying that Badon Hill was fact.  I think just about everything from this era is up in the air.  The only thing I'm pretty certain of is that the Anglo Saxons did come over.But I would be more than happy to discuss the theory of Mons Badonicus.  Gildas is a tough nut to crack, I think you'd agree.  And it's made all the harder by numerous editions and translations.  You're right that Gildas doesn't say directly that Ambrosius won Badonicus.  However, he does talk about Ambrosius in the line directly before Badonicus.  Now some editions contain a line break, while others don't, and that seems to have lead to some amount of disagreement on whether or not the two are connected.  I'm of the thought that Gildas wouldn't have taken the time to write out the name of a general (when he typically avoided names unless he was hurling insults) and then write of a great victory and intend the two to be seen as completely separate incidents.  It was uncharacteristic and as such, I suspect that he intended the two statements to be viewed together.That being said, Gildas was a rather nutty fellow so I don't know how much we can trust his account.  But I'm of the opinion that he intended the two thoughts to be connected.As for Hengist and Horsa vs. Arthur.  You're right that Arthur is a real name.  However, I think I'm pretty fair on Arthur on this.  I'm not convinced that Hengist and Horsa existed, nor am I convinced that Arthur existed.  I think they are both on the same level when it comes to mythological beginnings.  But I do think that the myths drew upon real events in both cases.  Most of Arthur's battles take place at crossings etc.  That's an ideal spot for a small cavalry unit to engage a larger infantry unit.  Badon Hill has as good of a historical foundation as we could hope from this era.  And we have other references such as Riothamus.  All in all, it's possible that Arthur was Ambrosius, some other unifying general, or an amalgamation of generals during that time.  Your post seemed to imply that I believe in Hengist and Horsa but not Arthur.  I'm worried if that's the impression the podcast gave.  The truth of it, which I tried to make clear towards the end of the podcast, is that I don't believe there was a Hengist, Horsa, or Arthur.  If there was an Arthur, I just cannot believe that Gildas would mention Ambrosius and not Arthur.  He was nutty, but not THAT nutty.  Even if he thought he was a bad king (maybe Arthur was Pagan, leading to all that stuff about the water) well Gildas would have at least spoke about him as a beast of the apocalypse.  But nothing.  No mention.  I realize he was a zealot and not a historian and we cant read too much into his silences.  But that silence is pretty significant, and I think we can at least read a little into that one. But that being said, Arthur is something that people feel incredibly strong about.  I cant tell you how many books I've seen from normally level headed writers who open up with the assumption that Arthur existed and it's just a matter of finding him.  People are really invested in that particular national myth.  But if we are detached from the investment when we look at it, even the idea that his name was Arthur is highly questionable.  Anyway, I'm sorry if I gave you the impression that I think Badon Hill, Hengist, Horsa, Ambrosius, or nearly anything else from this era is fact.  I think it's all questionable.  ;)

  • #17949

    Howard
    Participant

    Hi Jamie,Thanks for the quick reply.  A few comments:1) Yes I listened to the "Sources" episode. I don't know any historians who don't trust Gildas about the existence of Ambrosius and Badon. I guess he could have been a pathological liar, but then why would any of his contemporaries (who would have known it was a lie) have preserved his letter? I think you are going way too far if you say the whole of Gildas is in doubt.2) Gildas DOES associate Ambrosius with a great victory (but that victory is NOT Badon). Gildas has one sentence on Ambrosius' victory, followed by one on Badon. He is summarizing a whole 44-year long struggle in two sentences -- of course the names are not going to be very far apart! Remember your own injunction: 50 years back then (or 44 years in this case) was as long as 50 years now. 3) I really disagree with your assertion that Gildas would have to be off-the-scale nutty to name Ambrosius but not Arthur if Arthur was the victor at Badon. To the contrary, it would have been more surprising if Gildas HAD named Arthur:a) As you know Gildas is *extremely* sparing with names. He names NOT ONE SINGLE BRITON in his entire post-Roman history, until the present generation which he is castigating. Ambrosius, you will note, is expressly called a Roman by Gildas. The Romans are the only praise-worthy people, in Gildas' book. So if Arthur was a Briton (or in fact any ethnicity apart from Roman) we would not expect Gildas to name him.b) As Gildas explicitly says, he chose to write "not of the dangers run by brave soldiers in the stress of war, but of the dangers run by the indolent." How much clearer could he have been?4) You can say that you don't believe in Arthur or Hengist, but then why talk all about the latter and not about the former? I'm no "Arthur freak". I'm not convinced that Arthur definitely existed. But I'm convinced he may well have existed (more likely than Hengest or Horsa). I'm just trying to redress the current academic tend to run 100 miles from anything to do with an historical Arthur. You've already told your listeners that everything is uncertain, so I can't see why you can't mention Arthur in this context.5) I don't know what you mean by "even the idea that his name was Arthur is highly questionable." Who is the "he" we are talking about if his name is not Arthur? The idea that Arthur is somebody else we already know by another name is misguided. The real question is "was the British leader at Badon named Arthur?" and the answer is "That is what the Britons believed three centuries later, and we don't have any other candidates. So he may well have been, but we will probably never know for sure."Howard.

  • #17950

    Jamie
    Keymaster

    I'm starting to get the impression you're reading too much into what I'm saying or are unintentionally putting words in my mouth. I've looked through my comments and I don't think I said that Badon and Ambrosius didn't occur.  And actually, I don't think anyone could prove it one way or the other.  I think I said that I don't consider them to be facts, which was a reaction to something you had said earlier where you seemed to be think I was treating anything from the dark ages as fact.  And in general, I don't see much from this period as fact.  It's messy, it's dark, and it's filled with doubt.  Do you believe that Ambrosius and Badon Hill are unimpeachable fact?  I don't think you can say that.  This is a period that's filled with uncertainty.44 years doesn't rule out Ambrosius as the commander of Badon Hill, btw.  It might have been the final battle of the old bear and a fitting end to his war.  But like I said in earlier episodes, you can't take what is written as fact.  Gildas wasn't a historian and all of these writers were dealing with literary matters in addition to their own biases.  Yet he seems to be given more weight by some than is given to Panegyrists, and we know how unreliable they were.As far as I see it, the presence of Ambrosius runs in the face of your theory of Arthur.  On your theory, Gildas took the time to mention the name and lineage of Ambrosius.  And Ambrosius had a victory but it didn't succeed in changing much.  So on the whole, he wasn't too impressive.  And then along comes another guy, though you'll note that Gildas doesn't suggest it was a different person, and he was so amazingly successful that the invaders bugger off.  And Gildas doesn't even bother giving this guy a name.  And this battle by the nameless general was in the line immediately following the discussion of Ambrosius and his lineage.  But we're not supposed to connect the two.  Doesn't this strain the mind a little?  Gildas certainly wasn't fond of his contemporary Brits, but I don't think you can draw a line from "Gildas hated some of the British Kings" to to "Gildas was so racist against his own people that he refused to even name the general of the greatest military victory of his time and just intentionally left the name blank and put the battle next to the Roman without any explanation for space saving reasons."As for parts 4 and 5.  I'm sorry, I can't agree with you on that.  Think about it this way, there are people who have all sorts of strange beliefs about things that happened only a few years ago.  And you're asking me to hang my hat on a story that emerged after 300 years had passed and which goes unnamed by the only resource who would have been alive close to the time these events supposedly happened. I don't have a dog in this fight.  I'm just telling a story here and I do find the Arthur myths interesting.  And in fact, I had been toying with talking about Arthur, but I'm starting to rethink that since I think it'll just start a firestorm since I am not willing to say that he definitely existed and so many people are rather invested in the Once and Future King.  But like I said, I don't think I'm being unfair... I'm also not willing to say that Hengist was the descendant of Woden.  It's a messy period of history and you're welcome to your theories, and I don't begrudge you for having them, but I'm afraid I lack your certainty.

  • #17951

    Jamie
    Keymaster

    I edited my response to remove the question about the years.  I was writing off the cuff and totally misread what you wrote.  That's what I get for wanting to quickly hammer out a reply after a long day.  Sorry about that. :)

  • #17952

    Howard
    Participant

    HI Jamie, I'm starting to get the impression you're reading too much into what I'm saying or are unintentionally putting words in my mouth.Sorry if I've done that. It is certainly not intentional. Confusion can arise between "I don't believe X" and "I believe X is false" but I've tried to be precise in what I've said about what you said. I've looked through my comments and I don't think I said that Badon and Ambrosius didn't occur.  No you didn't, but you said I don't think anyone could prove it one way or the other ... Do you believe that Ambrosius and Badon Hill are unimpeachable fact?. As I said, I don't know any historian who does not believe that Badon was a real event and Ambrosius a real person. That is good enough for me. There is such a thing as being too skeptical. it seems like you might feel more certain about things from this era than I am, given that you have quite a number of dates put in there.  Yes I am more certain about some things than you are (the existence of Badon and Ambrosius). But regarding the dates, I stress on that page that this is just my best estimate. I am certainly not claiming that these are the right dates. See http://www.ict.griffith.edu.au/wiseman/DECB/DECBmin.html to see just how uncertain I am! I'm curious how you came to 44 years as your range from the rise of Ambrosius to Badon Hill.  This figure comes straight from what Gildas says, as I quote on my website. (I'm using what seems to me the best available translations, as I reference.)Even if you're correct in your assessment, 44 years doesn't rule out Ambrosius as the commander of Badon Hill. No, it is not impossible, just very unlkely as I said. So, yes, I suppose Ambrosius is an alternative candidate to Arthur. But that's pure hypothesis, not following Gildas.As far as I see it, the presence of Ambrosius runs in the face of your theory of Arthur. That's not how I see it, for the two reasons I explained in the previous post. I do not find that it "strains the mind" at all that Gildas didn't mention Arthur. Gildas certainly wasn't fond of his contemporary Brits, but I don't think you can draw a line from "Gildas hated some of the British Kings" to to "Gildas was so racist against his own people that he refused to even name the general of the greatest military victory of his time and just intentionally left the name blank and put the battle next to the Roman without any explanation for space saving reasons." I am not drawing the line from what Gildas said about his contemporary kings. The entire message of his epistle is that the Britons are a sinful people, and the only battles won are by the grace of God or by the Romans. There are other battles the Britons won --- against the Picts and Scots, which sent them packing --- for which he names no leader. He simply doesn't name Britons in his history, and he specifically tells us he is not going to discuss brave warriors. There is nothing to explain about his "silence" on the victor at Badon. you're asking me to hang my hat on a story that emerged after 300 years had passed and which goes unnamed by the only resource who would have been alive close to the time these events supposedly happened. No I'm not asking you to "hang your hat" on any theory. As I think I've made clear, I'm not saying there was an historical Arthur. I'm just asking you i) not to claim that Gildas says Badon was won by Ambrosius  ii) to apply the same standards to Arthur as you do to Hengist and Horsa etc. You can say you don't believe in Arthur either, but at least say what it is you don't believe in (i.e. that the earliest legends credit Badon to Arthur).But like I said, I don't think I'm being unfair... I'm also not willing to say that Hengist was the descendant of Woden. Of course, but you told us what the ASC said about Hengist. Why not tell us what "Nennius" said about Arthur? It's a messy period of history and you're welcome to your theories, and I don't begrudge you for having them, but I'm afraid I lack your certainty.It is certainly a messy period of history, but I think you are misrepresenting what I've written. I'm not certain of anything either (except that Gildas did not credit Badon to Ambrosius!) I'm just trying to redress what seems to me to be an anti-Arthur bias. I don't blame you for this. As I said, the academic pendulum has swung very far in the anti-Arthur direction because of some overly-certain books in the 1970s. But I think that is just starting to change now.Howard.

  • #17953

    Jamie
    Keymaster

    It seems that there was some unintentional irony in my response to you, since I may have been reading too much into what you were saying.  Additionally, quickly writing a response after a long day was probably not the wisest of choices.  I apologize for my frazzled tone and for misreading your post.I think you make some rather interesting points, and I do agree that Gildas was generally lambasting his own people for their sins.  I think it's possible that he might have intentionally left out the achievements of one of own people out of this bias.  I'm not convinced on it, and still think there is a less than 50% chance that Badon was won by Arthur, but I agree it's a possibility.The thing that makes covering this period so difficult, but also so much fun, is that it is so murky.  It is an era that is filled with possibilities.  I wouldn't say I have an anti-Arthur bias.  I actually think there is a lot to the myths that suggest that real events might have been recorded in a round-a-bout fashion.  The prevalence of battles at crossings is one of them, since that's how a smaller cavalry unit would attack a larger infantry unit.  In fact, I think this entire disagreement has come down to the fact that I find it more plausible that the stories of Arthur were a blend of battles and victories that found their genesis with Ambrosius, and if I'm reading you right here you think it is more likely they found their start with Arthur.  Incidentally, I really do love this period because of stuff like this.  We're trying our best to tease out facts from minor syntax choices and linebreaks.  It's a fascinating period of history for that.  But no, I don't think I have an anti-arthur bias.  As I said earlier, I've been toying with doing an episode or two on him.  I still think it'll cause a firestorm of sorts, but it wouldn't be the first time I've done that and it's never stopped me before.  It'll probably happen a little later and be something of a special episode since it would be something along the lines of "How much of this legend is true and how much isn't?"  And it would be a massive undertaking.  If you'd like to weigh in, as it seems that you're something of a Arthur expert, I'd love the help.  Arthur is more than a little daunting because so many of the articles and books written on the subject tend to have a huge amount of bias one way or the other, which makes it very hard to take an objective look at the evidence.  So if helping me separate the wheat from the chaff so to speak, I would love the help.  And then you can help ensure I'm not being too anti-Arthur.  ;)

  • #17954

    Howard
    Participant

    Hi Jamie,Thanks for the response, and I'm happy you agree that it is a possibility that Badon was won at Arthur. I would say that it is a "good possibility", but would not want to be pinned down on whether it is greater than 50% or not.Regarding your question about whether Arthur's victories were actually Ambrosius' victories originally, that is certainly a possibility. But as I've indicated before, I think this period of time has room for more than one heroic resistance leader against the Saxons. If my reading of Gildas is correct, there was 44 years of war, so I think it most likely that Ambrosius did not remain the leader (at least not in the field) for that whole time. And then there is the point that the question "who's victory was it" can have different answers. The generalissimo who may not even have been present, or the cavalry commander who led a decisive charge, for example? I agree that it is a fascinating period because of the possibilities for interpretation. On the one hand, I am firming on the timeline I suggested in http://www.ict.griffith.edu.au/wiseman/DECB/DECBbestest.html as probably being reasonably close to the truth. On the other hand, I like exploring different possibilities in which the much later legendary material is allowed to intrude, to make an fuller story.I certainly agree that unravelling all the opinions about Arthur is a massive undertaking, and I'd be happy to help if I can. A pretty comprehensive and balanced book on Arthur I'd reccomend (although at times it steps over the line towards being too "pro-Arthur") is Chris Gidlow's http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0750934190/. If you read that with the very skeptical mind you obviously have then you shouldn't go wrong. ;)Howard.

  • #17955

    TimHodkinson
    Participant

    Just one point: Hengest and Horsa (Hors) mean “Stallion and Horse”, not “Stallion and Mare”. Old Horsa might not have been too pleased about being called a female horse.

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