Battle of Badon (Latin: Bellum in monte Badonis or Mons Badonicus,
Welsh: Cad Mynydd Baddon, all literally meaning "Battle of Mount
Badon" or "
Battle of Badon Hill") was a battle thought to have
Celtic Britons and
Anglo-Saxons in the late 5th or
early 6th century. It was credited as a major victory for the
Britons, stopping the encroachment of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms for a
period. It is chiefly known today for the supposed involvement of King
Arthur, a tradition that first clearly appeared in the 9th-century
Historia Brittonum. Because of the limited number of sources, there is
no certainty about the date, location, or details of the
1 Historical accounts
1.1 Siege of Mount Badon
1.2 Battle of Badon
4 Second Badon
5 Local lore
6 See also
See also: Historia Brittonum, Annales Cambriae, and Historia Regum
Siege of Mount Badon
Germanus of Auxerre
Germanus of Auxerre and Ambrosius Aurelianus
The earliest mention of the
Battle of Badon is Gildas' De Excidio et
Conquestu Britanniae ("On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain"), written
in the early to mid-6th century. In it, the
Anglo-Saxons are said to
have "dipped [their] red and savage tongue in the western ocean"
Ambrosius Aurelianus organized a British resistance with the
survivors of the initial Saxon onslaught.
Gildas describes the period
that followed Ambrosius' initial success:
From that time, the citizens were sometimes victorious, sometimes the
enemy, in order that the Lord, according to His wont, might try in
this nation the Israel of to-day, whether it loves Him or not. This
continued up to the year of the siege of Badon Hill (obsessionis
Badonici montis), and of almost the last great slaughter inflicted
upon the rascally crew. And this commences, a fact I know, as the
forty-fourth year, with one month now elapsed; it is also the year of
The Ruin of Britain is unclear as to whether Ambrosius is still
leading the Britons at this point, but describes the battle as such
an "unexpected recovery of the [island]" that it caused kings, nobles,
priests, and commoners to "live orderly according to their several
vocations" before the long peace degenerated into civil wars and the
iniquity of Maelgwn Gwynedd. Passages of The Ruin of Britain that
address Maelgwn directly are sometimes employed to date the work from
accounts of the king's death by plague in the 540s, but such arguments
ignore the obvious apostrophe employed in the passages and the
possible years of composition involved in the final collected sermon.
The battle is next mentioned in an 8th-century text of Bede's
Ecclesiastical History of the English People. It describes the
"siege of Mount Badon, when they made no small slaughter of those
invaders," as occurring 44 years after the first Anglo-Saxon
settlement of Britain. Since
Bede places that arrival during or
just after the joint reign of
Valentinian III in AD
449–456, he must have considered Badon to have taken place
between 493 and 500.
Bede then puts off discussion of the battle –
"But more of this hereafter" – only to seemingly never return to it.
Bede does later include an extended account of Saint Germanus's
victory over the Saxons and
Picts in a mountain valley, which he
credits with curbing the threat of invasion for a generation.
However, as the victory is described as having been accomplished
bloodlessly, it was presumably a different occasion from Badon.
(Accepted at face value, St. Germanus's involvement would also place
the battle around 430, although Bede's chronology shows no knowledge
Battle of Badon
King Arthur and Historicity of King Arthur
The earliest surviving text mentioning Arthur at the battle is the
early 9th century Historia Brittonum, in which the soldier (Latin
mīles) Arthur is identified as the leader of the victorious British
force at Badon:
"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
Battle of Badon is next mentioned in the
Annales Cambriae ("Annals
of Wales"), assumed to have been written during the mid- to
late-10th century. The entry states:
The Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the Cross of our Lord
Jesus Christ for three days and three nights upon his shoulders [or
shield] and the Britons were the victors".
That Arthur had gone unmentioned in the source closest to his own
time, Gildas, was noticed at least as early as the 12th century
hagiography that claims that
Gildas had praised Arthur extensively but
then excised him completely after Arthur killed the saint's brother,
Hueil mab Caw. Modern writers have suggested the details of the battle
were so well known that
Gildas could have expected his audience to be
familiar with them.
Geoffrey of Monmouth's c. 1136
Historia Regum Britanniae
Historia Regum Britanniae was massively
popular and survives in many copies from soon after its
composition. Going into (and fabricating) much greater detail,
Geoffrey closely identifies Badon with Bath, including having Merlin
foretell that Badon's baths would lose their hot water and turn
poisonous. He employs aspects of other accounts, mixing them: the
battle begins as a Saxon siege and then becomes a normal engagement
once Arthur's men arrive; Arthur bears the image of the Virgin both on
his shield and shoulder. Arthur charges, but kills a mere 470, ten
more than the number of Britons ambushed by Hengist near Salisbury.
Elements of the Welsh legends are also added: in addition to the
shield Pridwen, Arthur gains his sword Caliburnus and his spear, Ron.
Geoffrey also makes the defence of the city from the Saxon sneak
attack a holy cause, having
Dubricius offer absolution of all sins for
those who fall in battle.
Separate sources dating the concession of
Thanet to Hengist to 447
would place The Ruin of Britain and Bede's account of the battle
around the year 491. The
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is completely silent
about this battle but does seem to document a gap of almost 70 years
between two major Anglo-Saxon leaders (bretwaldas) in the 5th and 6th
If Rhigyfarch's celebrated Life of David is credited, its account of
Saint David's ten years of education under
Paul Aurelian suggests
David could not have been born later than 514.[why?] Since the same
Gildas preaching to
Saint Non while she was pregnant with
David, it is improbable that Gildas's birth – and therefore the
battle – could have occurred later than 498.[why?]
McCarthy and Ó Cróinín propose Gildas's 44 years and one month is
not a reference to the simple chronology but a position within the
84-year Easter cycle used for computus at the time by the Britons and
the Irish church. The tables in question in January 438, which would
place their revised date of the battle in February 482.
Hirst, Ashe and Wood argue for the site of
Liddington Castle on the
hill above Badbury (Old English: Baddan byrig) in Wiltshire. This site
commands The Ridgeway, which connects the
River Thames with the River
River Severn beyond.
The early sources' account that the Saxons were thrown back around
this time seems to be borne out by archaeological evidence. Studies of
cemeteries (at this point, the
Anglo-Saxons remained pagan while the
Britons were Christianized) suggest the border shifted some time
around 500. Afterwards, the pagans held the present areas of Kent,
Norfolk and Suffolk, and the area around the Humber. The
Britons seem to have controlled salients to the north and west of
London and south of
Verulamium in addition to everything west of a
line running from Christchurch at the mouth of the
north to the Trent, then along the Trent to the Humber, then north
along the Derwent to the North Sea. The salients could then be
supplied along Watling Street, dividing the invaders into pockets
south of the
Weald in east
Kent and around the Wash.
The A Text of the Annales Cambriae includes the entry: "The first
celebration of Easter among the Saxons. The second battle of Badon.
Morgan dies." The date for this action is given by Phillimore
as 665, but the Saxons' first Easter is placed by the B Text in
its entry 634 years after the birth of Christ and neither Second Badon
nor Morcant are mentioned.
See also: Locations associated with Arthurian legend
Apart from the professional scholarship, various communities around
Wales and England carry on local traditions that their area was the
site of the battle: these include Bathampton Down; Badbury Rings
at the Kingston Lacy House in Dorset; and
Bowden Hill in
Battle of Camlann
^ Ashe, Geoffrey, From Caesar to Arthur pp.295-8
^ Dupuy, R. Ernest & al. The Harper Encyclopedia of Military
History From 3500 B.C. to the Present, 4th ed., p. 193. HarperCollins
Pub. (New York), 1993.
^ Hollister, C. Warren. The Making of England to 1399, 8th ed., p. 31.
Houghton Mifflin Co. (New York), 2001.
^ Hugh Williams (ed.), Gildas, De Excidio Britanniae, Honourable
Society of Cymmrodorion, 1899, p. 61-63.
^ Geoffrey Ashe, for one, argues against his involvement. Cf. Ashe,
Geoffrey. The British Recovery 473–517, pp. 295–298.
^ The "Tiberius Bede" or C text. Cotton Tiberius MS. C.II. (in Latin)
^ Bede. The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, I.xvi.
^ L. ...usque ad annum obsessionis Badonici montis quando non minimas
eisdem hostibus strages dabant quadragesimo circiter & quarto anno
adventus eorum in Britaniam.
^ Per Bede's account. The actual dates were somewhat different.
^ Bede, I.xv.
^ Traditionally placed at Mold in
Flintshire in northeast Wales.
^ Bede, I.xx.
^ The "Nennius" entry of the
Dictionary of National Biography
Dictionary of National Biography credits
an 11th-century Irish edition by Giolla Coemgin with being the oldest
extant edition of the Historia Brittonum, but it apparently only
survived in a 14th-century copy. Cf. Todd, James. Irish version of the
Historia Britonum of Nennius. Irish Archaeological Soc. (Dublin),
1848. Accessed 6 Feb 2013.
^ L. Duodecimum fuit bellum in monte Badonis, in quo corruerunt in uno
die nongenti sexaginta viri de uno impetu Arthur; et nemo prostravit
eos nisi ipse solus. Mommsen, Theodore (ed.) Historia Brittonum.
Accessed 7 Feb 2013. (in Latin)
^ Lupack, Alan (Trans.) The
Camelot Project: "From The History of the
Britons (Historia Brittonum) by Nennius". Retrieved 6 Feb 2013.
^ a b c Harleian MS. 3859. Op. cit. Phillimore, Egerton. Y Cymmrodor 9
(1888), pp. 141–83. (in Latin)
^ The words for "shoulder" and "shield" being easily confused in Old
Welsh: scuit (shield) vs. scuid (shoulder)]. Cf. Jones, W. Lewis. The
Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes,
Vol. I, XII, §2. Putnam, 1921. Accessed 30 Jan 2013.
^ L. Bellum badonis inquo arthur portauit crucem domini nostri ihu
xp'i . tribus diebus & tribus noctibus inhumeros suos &
brittones uictores fuerunt.
^ a b Ingram, James. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Everyman Press
^ Green, p. 31.
^ The earliest two being the Cambridge 1706 II.I.14 and Berne
Stadtbibliotek MS 568, both apparently from the year of composition.
Cf. Griscom, Acton. The
Historia Regum Britanniae
Historia Regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of
Monmouth. Longmans, Green, & Co., 1929. Accessed 7 Feb 2013.
^ Thompson. VII.iii.
^ Thompson, Aaron & al. (trans.) History of the Kings of Britain,
IX.iv. In Parentheses, 1999. Accessed 6 Feb 2013.
^ Daniel P. McCarthy and Dáibhí Ó Cróinín. "The 'lost' Irish
84-year Easter table rediscovered". Peritia, vol. 6–7, 1987–1988,
^ Hirst, S. et al. "
Liddington Castle and the battle of Badon :
Excavations and research 1976". Archaeological Journal. 1996, vol.
153, pp. 1–59.
^ Ashe, Geoffrey. From Caesar to Arthur, pp. 162–4
^ Wood, Michael, In Search of Myths and Heroes (2005), pp. 219-220.
^ L. Primum pasca apud saxones celebratur. Bellum badonis secundo.
^ Public Record Office of the United Kingdom. MS. E.164/1, p. 8. (in
^ Scott, Shane (1995). The hidden places of Somerset. Aldermaston:
Travel Publishing Ltd. p. 16. ISBN 1-902007-01-8.
^ "Badbury Rings"
Green, Thomas. Concepts of Arthur. Tempus (Stroud, Gloucestershire),
2007. ISBN 9780752444611.
King Arthur and the Matter of Britain
Lady of the Lake
Morgan le Fay
Knights of the
Elyan the White
Hector de Maris
Ywain the Bastard
Elaine of Astolat
Elaine of Corbenic
Battle of Badon
Battle of Camlann
King Arthur's family
Historicity of King Arthur
King Arthur's messianic return
Geoffrey of Monmouth
Prophetiae Merlini (c. 1135)
Historia Regum Britanniae
Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1136)
Vita Merlini (c. 1150)
Roman de Brut
Brut y Brenhinedd
Alhfrith of Deira
Augustine of Canterbury
Bledric ap Custennin
Brutus of Troy
Budic II of Brittany
Cadfan ap Iago
Cadwallon ap Cadfan
Camber (legendary king)
Cap of Britain
Constans II (usurper)
Constantine the Great
Constantine III (Western Roman Emperor)
Cordelia of Britain
Edern ap Nudd
Edwin of Northumbria
Eldol, Consul of Gloucester
Goffar the Pict
Gwenddoleu ap Ceidio
Hengist and Horsa
Humber the Hun
Iago ap Beli
Ingenius of Britain
Jago of Britain
Julius and Aaron
Leir of Britain
Lucius of Britain
Lud son of Heli
Marius of Britain
Nennius of Britain
Octa of Kent
Oswald of Northumbria
Oswiu of Northumbria
Owain mab Urien
Penda of Mercia
Pir of the Britons
Publius Septimius Geta
Quintus Laberius Durus
Redon of Britain
Regan (King Lear)
Rud Hud Hudibras
Son of Gorbonianus
Wulfhere of Mercia
Æthelberht of Kent
Æthelfrith of Northumbria
Œthelwald of Deira
Battle of Arfderydd
Battle of Badon
Battle of Camlann
Battle of Guoloph
Brut y Tywysogion
List of legendary kings of Britain
List of legendary rulers of Cornwall
Matter of Britain
Siege of Exeter (c. 630)
Locations associated with Arthurian legend
Treachery of the Long Knives
Trojan genealogy of Nennius
Walter of Oxford