THE AGE OF ARTHUR: PART SEVENTEEN

Unique among the territories of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, Britain succeeded in holding back and even reversing the tide of Germanic conquest for nearly two centuries. This was an age of heroes… It was the Age of Arthur!

This is the seventeenth-part of our discussion of Britain in the 5th though the mid-6th Century A.D. It is a fascinating period, with the Classical civilization of Greece and Rome giving way to the Germanic “Dark Ages”; the sunset of Celtic-Roman culture in Britain.

(Read Part Sixteen here. Or start from the beginning, with Part One!)

Our explorations into “the Age of Arthur” have taken us to 511 A.D.* We have suggested that as Ambrosius Aurelianus grew old, he passed the reins of military leadership to his chosen successor; the man known to legend as “Arthur”.

REVOLT IN THE NORTH

We now come to 514 A.D. Our guide has been the 9th century Welsh monk, Nennius; whose Historia Brittonum tells of 12 battles waged by Arthur in his role as “Dux Bellorum” (warlord) of the British.

At that time the English increased their numbers and grew in Britain … Then it was that the magnanimous Arthur, with all the kings and military force of Britain, fought against the Saxons…

Then Arthur fought against them in those days, together with the kings of the British; but he was their warleader (or ‘dux bellorum’).

The first battle was at the mouth of the river called Glein.

The second, the third, the fourth and the fifth were on another river, called the Douglas, which is in the country of Lindsey.

The sixth battle was on the river called Bassas.

The seventh battle was in Celyddon Forest, that is, the Battle of      Celyddon Coed.

The 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 a great slaughter upon them, through the power of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The ninth battle was in the City of the Legion.

The tenth battle was on the bank of the river called Tribruit.

The eleventh battle was on the hill called Agned.

The final battle was on Badon Hill, in which 960 men fell in one day from a single charge of Arthur’s, and no one laid them low save he alone; and he was victorious in all his campaigns

Our discussion now comes to this tenth battle, at “river called Tribruit”.

In or about 514-515 A.D. events in Gododdin, in the north of Britain, threatened to unravel Arthur’s Northern Settlement (see Part Thirteen).

As detailed previously, between 508 and 510, Arthur campaigned north of the Wall. He nipped-in-the-bud a conspiracy by the chieftain Caw o’ Brydyn [1], crushing his forces at the Battle of the Bassus  (tentatively placed near modern Glasgow). He then turned back an incursion by the Picts (possibly coming to join in Caw’s rebellion) at the Battle of the Celyddon Forest. Arthur spent the rest of that year and, perhaps, part or all of the next in settling affairs in the north to his liking.

(To continue reading, go here.)

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DIADOCHI: MACEDONIAN GAME OF THRONES (PART 5)

olympias alexanderLong before George R.R. Martin penned his tale of war, intrigue and treachery the ancient world was scene to its own version of The Game of Thrones.

(This is the fifth in a series concerning the Wars of the Diadochi. Part 1 can be read here, and includes comprehensive biographies of the players in this drama. It is strongly advised that you start there before reading on here. Stay tuned to this blog for future installments! Special thanks to Michael Park for his indispensable help in filling in the gaps in the sources and putting-up with my incessant questions!)

THE SITUATION AT THE END OF THE LAMIAN WAR

With both the Lamian War concluded, and the revolt of the Greek settlers in Bactria crushed, the Greeks were once more reduced to submission. Any external threat to the Macedonian Empire was gone; and no new existential threat to Macedon and Macedonian supremacy would arise till the coming of the Celts, 41 years later.

The Macedonian leaders could now turn their attention to the matter of who would rule the Empire bequeathed to them by Alexander the Great.

The year 322 ended in Greece with Antipater and Craterus busy pacifying the city-states; establishing client oligarchies and, as in Munychia overlooking the port of Athens, garrisons. Key Macedonian garrisons seem to have been at Athens, Chalcis (across a narrow strait, on the island of Euboea); Corinth, whose broad and lofty mountain-top acropolis, the Acrocorinth was perhaps the strongest fortress in Greece and the key to passage in-and-out of the Peloponnese; and the Cadmeia of Thebes.

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This latter needs explanation, as Thebes was destroyed by Alexander in 335. However, the citadel, known as the Cadmeia, appears to have been restored and garrisoned as a Macedonian fortress; to keep Boeotia and central Greece under the Macedonian’s thumb.

Only isolated and isolationist Sparta in the south; and wild Aetolia in the mountainous west remained free of Macedonian dominance. Antipater and Craterus (now acting as first-and-second in command of Macedonian forces in Europe) planned a campaign in the west to reduce Aetolia in the coming year (321).

At this stage in the game, both men had relatively good relations with the Regent, Perdiccas, in Asia; and there was as yet no hint of the trouble to come. As a sign of both good faith and acceptance of the Regent as spokesman for the Kings, Antipater had deferred to Perdiccas’ judgment the settlement of the Samian issue; important to Athens, now governed by Antipater’s men. Antipater would soon make moves to tie his house  closer to the Regent; as well as the other great men of the empire. Perdiccas, perhaps as early as autumn of 323, insecure in his position and looking to shore it up with a marriage alliance, had negotiated with Antipater for his daughter Nicaea’s hand. While still pending, it was likely the two houses would be united in marriage; making strife between them unlikely…

(To continue reading, go here.)

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THE AGE OF ARTHUR: PART SIXTEEN

king_arthur_by_panaiotis close up

Unique among the territories of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, Britain succeeded in holding back and even reversing the tide of Germanic conquest for nearly two centuries. This was an age of heroes… It was the Age of Arthur!

This is the Sixteenth-part  of our discussion of Britain in the 5th though the mid-6th Century A.D. It is a fascinating period, with the Classical civilization of Greece and Rome giving way to the Germanic “Dark Ages”; the sunset of Celtic-Roman culture in Britain.

(Read Part Fifteen here. Or start from the beginning, with Part One!)

As we attempt to reconstruct the life of an “historical” King Arthur, it is important to bear in mind that all of this is highly speculative. We know little of Arthur beyond the legends; and that little we do have in way of “historical” data come from sources centuries later. However, unlike many modern historians who use this paucity of contemporary material as excuse to dismiss an historic Arthur as mere invention; we are here attempting to build a plausible narrative based upon what is available.

Certainly the historical facts support the possibility, even the likelihood of a British national leader in the late 5th/early 6th century; who defended the remnants of Roman civilization in Britain; and led the resistance to Anglo-Saxon expansion on the island. We see evidence in the archeological record, including the locations of Anglo-Saxon burial sites, that in the early 6th century the seemingly inexorable advance of the Anglo-Saxons across Britain was arrested and thrown back to the eastern fringes of the island.

Procopius, the Byzantine historian of the mid-6th century, noted that there was an ongoing exodus of Saxons from Britain to the continent during his lifetime. Something (or someone) caused this to happen; almost certainly by making successful war upon the hitherto triumphant Anglo-Saxons.  It goes without saying that successful warfare is impossible without good leadership; so such an achievement must be attributed to a otherwise unknown British leader.

Why would not that leader be the basis for the later stories and legends of “Arthur”?

(To continue reading, go here)

 

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DIADOCHI: MACEDONIAN GAME OF THRONES (PART 4)

phalanx

(This is the fourth in a series concerning the Wars of the Diadochi. Part 1 can be read here, and includes comprehensive biographies of the players in this drama. It is strongly advised that you start there before reading on here. Stay tuned to this blog for future installments! For Part 3, go here.)

REVOLT IN BACTRIA

The winter of 323-322 BC passed, with Antipater the Regent bottled-up in Lamia; besieged by a Hellenic League army commanded by Leosthenes the Athenian. Antipater’s agents in Macedon were raising mercenaries for the coming campaign season. Meanwhile, across the Hellespont, the ambitious Leonnatus was planning to march as soon as weather permitted; to Antipater’s rescue and, he hoped, to military glory. Further east, in Cilicia (or perhaps a bit closer, in Phrygia*) the popular Craterus was also planning a spring march back to Macedon. He had started home from Babylon, with 10,000 discharged veterans, before Alexander’s death. Aside from leading these veterans home, his personal mission to Macedon had been to relieve Antipater of his command and take over the governorship of Macedon. However, the king’s death and the rising of the Greeks had thrown such plans into question. Always the selfless soldier, he was prepared to return and serve Macedon (and Antipater) in whatever capacity was needed.

In the east, the Greek settlers left by Alexander in the Upper Satrapies (Northeastern Iran, Afghanistan, and parts of Turkmenistan and Tajikistan) were also in revolt. It had been his policy to found settlements of aging veterans and Greek mercenaries throughout the east, as Hellenizing agents. Settling these Greek mercenaries in the east might also have been Alexander’s attempt to solve the issue of a surplus of Greek soldiers which had been a constant source of problems in the Greek world since the end of the Peloponnesian War. If so, it went counter to the interests of the professional class of mercenary captains (such as Leosthenes) whose living was dependent on the easy availability of such men. But Macedonian leadership was never popular among the Greeks, and such captains were able to play upon their simmering resentment….

(To continue reading, go here)

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CARNAGE AT CLONTARF: IRELAND’S DARKEST DAY!

realweaponsandarmor 1

On Good Friday, April 23, 1014 just north of Dublin a momentous and bloody battle was fought. At stake was the nascent unification of the island under its first true king, Brian Boru; and the future influence of the Vikings, who had settled and meddled in Ireland for nearly two centuries. The battle that resulted changed the course of Irish history, forever!

The Vikings had first begun raiding Ireland in the late 8th century.  As throughout western Europe, Scandinavian longships, crammed with warriors bent on rapine and plunder, descended on the coastal settlements and raided deep into the countryside; bringing death and destruction to the unwary inhabitants. These Vikings were perhaps the first iron-clad, mailed warriors the Irish had ever encountered: the defending Gaelic warriors “had nothing to defend their bodies… save only elegant tunics, shields, and finely wrought collars”; who fought in as light infantry in loose-formation.  By contrast, the Vikings were often veteran warriors, who fought in close order, “a solid, skillful, and firm rampart of strong coats mail like a thick, dark stronghold of black iron with a battle-wall of gleaming shields around their chiefs”.

(To continue reading, go here.)

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WEAPONS OF WAR: POLE-ARMS PART 1

Bad-war

Deadliest blogger looks at various weapons of war; examining them by category. This first is a quick look at pole weapons; beginning with spear and pike. 

From the the earliest times as hunter-gathers, humans have sought to gain advantages over the large game they hunted and rival clans/tribes they competed against, though the use of various kinds of weapons. One of the earliest weapon used by man was the spear. Useful either at a thrusting or throwing weapon, it had the advantage of keeping the savage animals teeth or tusks at a distance while inflicting lethal wounds; or striking an enemy before he came within reach with stone or club (or stone club). Also, deep puncture wounds were more likely to prove deadly than blows with wooden or stone club; particularly on a very large animal or man.

As the history of man progressed, so did the variety and sophistication of pole weapons. Some, like the spear or pike, were strictly for thrusting (or fending-off attackers). Others, sporting cutting blades or clubs, were used to deliver a more powerful chopping blow. All pole weapons were eventually superseded in the west by the development of the gun (first the musket, followed by the rifle), mounting a spike, sword or knife: the bayonet. This turned the gun into a pole weapon (albeit a rather short one), useful when combat came to close quarters.

SPEARS AND PIKES

The spear is the most ubiquitous of human weapons. Beginning with the earliest clans of human hunter-warriors, the spear (along with the bow) were the weapon of choice. To this day, “primitive” tribesmen of New Guinea muster for battle with long spears or pikes….

(To continue reading, go here)

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THE AGE OF ARTHUR: PART FIFTEEN

irish

Unique among the territories of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, Britain succeeded in holding back and even reversing the tide of Germanic conquest for nearly two centuries. This was an age of heroes… It was the Age of Arthur!

This is the fifteenth-part of our discussion of Britain in the 5th though the mid-6th Century A.D. It is a fascinating period, with the Classical civilization of Greece and Rome giving way to the Germanic “Dark Ages”; the sunset of Celtic-Roman culture in Britain.

(Read Part Fourteen here. Or start from the beginning, with Part One!)

THE CITY OF THE LEGION

Continuing on, we are attempting to piece-together a hypothetical career of Arthur, the historical basis for the legendary king. At present, we are drawing upon the work of the 9th century Welsh monk, Nennius. In chapter 56 of his Historia Brittonum (c. 830), he discusses twelve battles fought and won by Arthur as war leader (dux bellorum) among the kings of the Romano-Britons in their wars against the Anglo-Saxons:

At that time, the Saxons grew strong by virtue of their large number and increased in power in Britain. Hengist having died, however, his son Octha crossed from the northern part of Britain to the kingdom of Kent and from him are descended the kings of Kent. Then Arthur along with the kings of Britain fought against them in those days, but Arthur himself was the military commander [“dux bellorum”]. His first battle was at the mouth of the river which is called Glein. His second, third, fourth, and fifth battles were above another river which is called Dubglas and is in the region of Linnuis. The sixth battle was above the river which is called Bassas. The seventh battle was in the forest of Celidon, that is Cat Coit Celidon. The eighth battle was at the fortress of Guinnion, in which Arthur carried the image of holy Mary ever virgin on his shoulders; and the pagans were put to flight on that day. And through the power of our Lord Jesus Christ and through the power of the blessed Virgin Mary his mother there was great slaughter among them. The ninth battle was waged in the City of the Legion. The tenth battle was waged on the banks of a river which is called Tribruit. The eleventh battle was fought on the mountain which is called Agnet. The twelfth battle was on Mount Badon in which there fell in one day 960 men from one charge by Arthur; and no one struck them down except Arthur himself, and in all the wars he emerged as victor. And while they were being defeated in all the battles, they were seeking assistance from Germany and their numbers were being augmented many times over without interruption. And they brought over kings from Germany that they might reign over them in Britain, right down to the time in which Ida reigned, who was son of Eobba. He was the first king in Bernicia, i.e., in Berneich.

First, it must be remembered that though he clearly drew on Gildas, a near-contemporary of  Arthur’s, and perhaps other Welsh sources, Nennius wrote centuries after the events he purports to chronicle. At best, we must take Nennius with a grain of salt. However, for purposes of constructing this hypothetical narrative, he is a useful roadmap.

Our discussion to date takes us to Arthur’s ninth battle; which Nennius claims  took place at “the City of the Legion”.

Attempts to identify this location has (not surprisingly) caused controversy….

(To continue reading, go here!)

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