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new theory on Dark Age Britain

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juleswatson
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new theory on Dark Age Britain

Postby juleswatson » Sat April 4th, 2009, 2:12 pm

Hope this is the right place for this. Read an interesting article in Current Archaeology that might be of interest to lovers of Dark Age, Saxon and Arthurian material - or potential authors. I can't link to whole article but it's in the current issue of Current Archaeology. Here's the link to a summary:
http://www.archaeology.co.uk/articles/rewriting-the-age-of-arthur.htm

In a nutshell, a scholar looked at the fact a lot of the supposed founders of the Saxon kingdoms in England have British (Celtic) names - notably Cynric and Cerdic, and other names from post-roman / Arthurian contexts like Magnus Maximus and Ambrosius Aurelianus are also probably British. The new theory goes that later Anglo-Saxon chronicles hijacked these legends of battles between rival BRITISH warlords and rebranded them as Saxon heroes, as a way of legitimizing the rule of later Saxon kings (or maybe just because myths change over time). Therefore, that perhaps there were no big struggles between a British King Arthur against the Saxons at all, or other such big Saxon - Briton battles, and these tales just reflect the native squabbles after the Romans left. I thought this was pretty interesting for anyone into this time period - and it could even provide some new trains of thought for aspiring authors :) If anyone really wants the article email me through my website, as it's only on paper at present. Though CA is a very good populist magazine for British archaeology enthusiasts, if you want to subscribe.
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SarahWoodbury
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Postby SarahWoodbury » Sat April 4th, 2009, 3:00 pm

That is a fascinating thought . . . and on one hand, maybe not terribly surprising. On the other hand, the ancient Welsh texts do refer to 'Saxons'--Taliesin is attributed to have written in the 6th century and he speaks of battles with them, as does Aneirin (in Edinburgh), writing of the battle of Catraeth in 600 against the Angles. So, if the Saxons made it up, the Welsh and Scots would have had to too. That isn't saying, however that earlier, in the 5th century after the Romans left, it wasn't just Britons fighting Britons for the most part. A quick perusal through the EBK site's discussion of Gwynedd indicates they did a lot of that as it is!

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juleswatson
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Postby juleswatson » Sat April 4th, 2009, 3:28 pm

Yep, think that's what the guy meant - just the 5th / early 6th century stuff, not the later times. Though since we virtually never have any actual physical writing from that time (only later copied manuscripts referencing earlier ones) it's hard to say what was "real" and what was fuzzed by the intervening hundreds of years.
Author of Celtic historical fantasy

New book "THE RAVEN QUEEN" out Feb 22 2011: The story of Maeve, the famous warrior queen of Irish mythology.

Out now, "THE SWAN MAIDEN", the ancient tale of Deirdre, the Irish 'Helen of Troy'

http://www.juleswatson.com

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Anna Elliott
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Postby Anna Elliott » Sat April 4th, 2009, 3:28 pm

Oh, wow, that is fascinating, Jules, and if you don't mind, I will e-mail you through your website, because I would love to read the article in full.

I've certainly heard variations on that theory before; Pendragon, by Steve Blake and Scott Lloyd postulates an Arthur who was in fact a Welsh "leader of battles" and fought in the civil wars among the Welsh/Celtic chieftans of the day rather than against the Saxons. They cite the fact that in the earliest Welsh poetry traditions of Arthur, he's never referred to as having battled the Saxons.

And then Francis Pryor has argued in Britain AD: A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo-Saxons and elsewhere that there is actually no archaeological evidence for a full scale Anglo-Saxon invasion.

I've also heard Cerdic (King of Wessex) identified as probably of mixed Celtic and Saxon birth--which is, in fact, how he appears in my book! :)
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rex icelingas
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Postby rex icelingas » Sat April 4th, 2009, 5:13 pm

Its easy to equate Cerdic to Ceretic and Cynric to Kendrick
Shall we make Tewdrig into Theodoric or Gwytheryn into Wyrtegeorn?
See how easy to Germanicise the names also

Blake and Lloyd are a mystery on how book deals are achieved,The works are far more interesting for what they claim more than for what they actually claim to prove.They also have an unatural obsession with locating absoloutely everything in North Wales.

Francis Pryor,an archaeologist? I wouldnt let him dig my garden! I really have a problem how this guy goes about things,sorry.

I cant say I agree with the new theory at all and much of it belongs in the title of the piece `the Age of Arthur`.Ok Ok,calm down! Im not suggesting theres no Arthur, im saying dont look at the period first by looking at a character who has been majorly distorted by writers for many many years-from Dux Bellorum to King of Camelot,the round table and the rest.

Sadly many of those interested in the period of late antiquity turn there nose up at anything Roman,somehow I gather they think 1st Century Legions,Togas and Aqueducts,it really isnt the case.Its probably better to suggest starting at perhaps the revolt of Carausius and keeping track of events in Britain from that period on.Why was Britain always in Revolt? Why did towns get abandoned? what happened to the upkeep of fine buildings? why would Britain want to hire Germanic federates? questions like this can be answered with a far greater degree if one understands the late Roman period better.

Going back to the original article,If the age of Arthur was re-written in the 9th Century by Anglo-Saxons for political propaganda then why do we have authentic records of continental chroniclers-Victorius of Aquitaine or the Gallic Chronicle for example who state firmly about the wars of Saxon and Britain during the 5th Century?

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SarahWoodbury
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Postby SarahWoodbury » Sat April 4th, 2009, 8:07 pm

Thanks for sparking this great discussion, Jules! I've learned a ton today because I was so curious about it. Okay, so I haven't read the article, though I'd like too, so if I am talking through my hat, I apologize, but . . .

I was surfing around the documentation and non-Saxon sources for the invasions. I found this page:
http://www.cit.gu.edu.au/~s285238/DECB/DECBps.html
Which lays out sources in chronological order for the Ruin and Conquest of Britain (i.e. Gildas' work in 540 or so). I'd never heard of Zosimus, for example, but he was a higher-up in Constantinople in the 5th century and he says in 411:
"They (the barbarians) reduced the inhabitants of Britain and some parts of Gaul to such straits that they revolted from the Roman Empire, no longer submitted to Roman law, but reverted to their native customs. The Britons, therefore, armed themselves and ran many risks to ensure their own safety and free their cities from the attacking barbarians."

As Rex pointed out, in the Gallic Chronicle in 443 AD, it says:
"The British provinces, which up to this time have suffered various catastrophes and events, have been handed over across a wide area to the rule of the Saxons (read Angles)."

Of all the sources, I can see why Nennius, a Welshman, would have exaggerated the Saxon menace when he wrote about Arthur (and his triumphs), as a pep talk for the Welsh of 833 who were fighting Saxons (and losing).

I do think it is important to question conventional wisdom and the premise of the article is food for thought. I had fun reading Blake and Scott's work because I'm such a Wales-o-phile, but you have to look at each of these pieces and see what kind of whole you can create.

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Postby annis » Sat April 4th, 2009, 9:00 pm

Thanks for this link to Howard Wiseman's site, Sarah- there's all sorts of interesting reading in there, and it seems pretty up-to-date as it was last modified earlier this year.

He has included a short list of Arthurian related HF, and I noticed that we are in agreement about which titles we thought the best :)

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Postby Carla » Sun April 5th, 2009, 12:30 pm

Francis Pryor is an expert on prehistoric archaeology, e.g. his Bronze Age / Iron Age site at Flag Fen. The early medieval period is rather off his usual turf and I think it shows. I don't agree with him that one can simply ignore all the literary sources, problematic though they are, and treat the period as if it were prehistory, any more than I think one can ignore the archaeology and look only at the documents. The two together are surely going to provide a broader understanding than either alone - even if what they mostly seem to produce is more questions!

For what it's worth, my guess is that there were (many) more than two sides in the conflicts in post-Roman Britain, and that there were 'Britons', 'Saxons', 'Romans' and no doubt other ethnic groups (however defined - ethnicity can be a hard concept to pin down) on all of them.
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juleswatson
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Postby juleswatson » Sun April 5th, 2009, 2:18 pm

"SarahWoodbury" wrote:Thanks for sparking this great discussion, Jules!


I really don't know much about this time period, as it's a bit later than my books - but I knew some of you knew a LOT more. Hee hee - it's always good to have a bit of a debate. I look forward to reading some of your links, as they sound interesting. The fact this was a time of enormous change, coupled with the tantalising scraps of historical sources, mean the post-Roman centuries exert an irresistible pull on many readers and writers. It's no wonder authors keep coming back to it, as there is so much scope for different interpretations. Even the archaeologists can't work out what they are digging up the half the time or what it means! And don't diss Francis - I love him on Time Team! :D
Author of Celtic historical fantasy

New book "THE RAVEN QUEEN" out Feb 22 2011: The story of Maeve, the famous warrior queen of Irish mythology.

Out now, "THE SWAN MAIDEN", the ancient tale of Deirdre, the Irish 'Helen of Troy'

http://www.juleswatson.com

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Anna Elliott
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Postby Anna Elliott » Sun April 5th, 2009, 3:33 pm

Yes, for the record I have to say that I agree with Carla and lean away from the arguments of both Francis Pryor and Blake and Lloyd--and not just because that's the view that best suited my plot! :)

Saying that there were no major conflicts between Saxon and Briton forces seems to me a bit like arguing that the moon landings were faked. There's just too much evidence, but written and archaeological, that has to be ignored to make the theory work (at least for me).

I think the textual and physical evidence together suggests, at minimum, an ongoing Saxon-Briton conflict, a stunning victory for the British side that remained in the British cultural consciousness as the battle of Badon Hill, and then some 30 or 40 years later an equally crushing defeat at what would come down in the historic record as the battle at Camlann. Just where these battles were fought, who fought in them, and even the years in which they were fought are fiercely debated--leaving, as Jules said, tremendously rich ground for imagination and interpretation by authors of historical fiction!
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