The Info List - Nennius

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NENNIUS — or NEMNIUS or NEMNIVUS — was a Welsh monk of the 9th century. He has traditionally been attributed with the authorship of the _ Historia Brittonum _, based on the prologue affixed to that work, This attribution is widely considered a secondary (10th century) tradition.

Nennius was a student of Elvodugus, commonly identified with the bishop Elfodd who convinced British ecclesiastics to accept the Continental dating for Easter , and who died in 809 according to the _ Annales Cambriae _.

Nennius is believed to have lived in the area made up by present-day Brecknockshire and Radnorshire counties in Powys , Wales. Thus, he lived outside the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, isolated by mountains in a rural society. Because of the lack of evidence concerning the life of Nennius he has become the subject of legend himself. Welsh traditions include Nennius with Elbodug and others said to have escaped the massacre of Welsh monks by Ethelfrid in 613, fleeing to the north.


* 1 Authorship of the _Historia Brittonum_ * 2 Debate regarding his life and works * 3 Associated historians and authors * 4 Notes * 5 References * 6 External links


Main article: Historia Brittonum

Nennius was traditionally credited with having written the _Historia Brittonum _ c. 830. The _Historia Brittonum_ was highly influential, becoming a major contributor to the Arthurian legend. It also includes the legendary origins of the Picts , Scots , St. Germanus and Vortigern , and documents events associated with the Anglo-Saxon invasion of the 7th century as contributed by a Northumbrian document.

Evidence suggests that this medieval literature was a compilation of several sources, some of which are named by Nennius while others are not. Some experts say that this was not the first compiled history of the Britons and that it was largely based on Gildas ' _De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae _ written some two centuries before. Scholarship indicates that other sources included a _Life of St Germanaius_ and a number of royal pedigrees. Most other sources have not survived and therefore cannot be confirmed. The surviving manuscripts of the _Historia Brittonum_ appear to be redacted from several lost versions: information about Nennius contained in the _Prologue_ and in the _Apology_ differs, the _Prologue_ containing an expanded form of the _Apology_ that is only found in editions copied during the 12th century, leading experts to believe that later versions of the document were altered. The largest known edition contains seventy-six sections including the _Prologue_ and the _Apology_. The work was translated into Irish by Giolla Coemgin in c. 1071 and is the earliest example of the original _Historia Brittonum_, but includes the author’s name, Nennius.

Originally written as a history of the Britons in an attempt to document a legitimate past, the _Historia Brittonum_ contains stories of legend and superstition alike. The historical accuracy of the _Historia Brittonum_ is at best questionable, but the document is internally consistent and provides information from and indirectly about Nennius' sources. Some historians argue that the _Historia Brittonum_ gives good insight into the way 9th century Britons viewed themselves and their past. Nennius makes several attempts to trace the history of the Britons back to the Romans and Celts through his empirical observations of what he refers to as _"The Marvels"_ or _"Wonders of Britain"_. These include ruins, landmarks and other aspects of the British countryside that Nennius deems worthy of documentation. His explanation of the physical landmarks and ruins take on a very mystical interpretation despite Nennius being a Christian monk. Within the writing of Nennius is a sense of nationalist pride attempting to legitimise the people of Britain and embellish the past through legend much as the Romans used the story of _ Romulus and Remus _ to legitimise the founding of Rome. One such example of Nennius stressing legend is in his accounts of Arthur and his twelve battles. The _Historia Brittonum_ would come to be the basis on which later medieval authors such as Geoffrey of Monmouth would write the romantic histories of King Arthur.


The Prologue, in which Nennius introduces his purpose and means for writing the _British History_, first appears in a manuscript from the twelfth century. The prologues of all other manuscripts, though only included marginally, so closely resemble this first prologue that William Newell claims they must be copies. "The preface has evidently been prepared by some one who had before him the completed text of the treatise. It appears in the first instance as a marginal gloss contained in a MS. of the twelfth century;' under ordinary conditions, the chapter would unhesitatingly be set aside as a forgery." He counters Zimmer's argument by reasoning that the Irishman responsible for the "superior" Irish translations might have added his own touches, further claiming that if a Latin version of the _Historia_ had been available in the 12th century, it would have been replicated in that language, not translated.

David N. Dumville argues that the manuscript tradition and nature of the Prologue in particular fail to substantiate the claim that Nennius authored _Historia Brittonum_. In his argument against Zimmer, he cites a textual inconsistency in the Irish translation regarding a place called Beulan, concluding that "we must admit to ignorance of the name of ninth-century author."


* Gildas – Sixth-century historian who lived in South-west Britain. Wrote _ De excidio et conquestu Britanniae _, which focused largely on the history of Christian Britain but fails to give an in depth look of the Pagan period. * Bede (the Venerable Bede ) – Lived in Northumbria about half a century prior to Nennius. He wrote _Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum _ (Ecclesiastical History of the English People) over many years (completed 731 or 732). It includes a geographical description of the British Isles and focuses on the history of the Anglo-Saxon Church from St. Augustine 's 597 mission though his preamble covers earlier ages. * William of Malmesbury – Early twelfth-century historian. Recorded history of Britain by compiling both Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman traditions. He was the first historian of England to make use of topography and ancient monuments as historical sources. * Geoffrey Gaimar – Twelfth century Norman historian who wrote _L\'Estoire des Engleis _. It was the first known Romance in vernacular verse written in England.


* ^ J. A. Giles (translator), _Nennius: The History of the Britons_, in _Six Old English Chronicles_ (1847) * ^ e.g. David Dumville , quoted at: http://www.britishhistoryclub.com/bhc/sources/nennius_hb.html Archived 7 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine . * ^ _ Lee, Sidney , ed. (1894). "Nennius". Dictionary of National Biography _. 40. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 218. * ^ Gransden, Antonia. _Historical Writing in England_. Ithaca, New York: Cornell UP, 1974. 12 * ^ Lee, Sidney, ed. "Nennius." _Dictionary of National Biography_. XL. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1894. 221 * ^ Gransden, Antonia. _Historical Writing in England_. Ithaca, New York: Cornell UP, 1974. 6 * ^ Marsh, Henry. _Dark Age Britain: Some Sources of History_. Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books, 1970. 84 * ^ Gransden, Antonia. _Historical Writing in England_. Ithaca, New York: Cornell UP, 1974. 7 * ^ _A_ _B_ Stenton, Frank . _Anglo Saxon England_. New York: Oxford UP, 1971. 75–76 * ^ Lee, Sidney, ed. "Nennius." _Dictionary of National Biography_. XL. London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1894. 218-19 * ^ Lee, Sidney, ed. "Nennius." _Dictionary of National Biography_. XL. London: Smith, Elder Algernon, Herbert, eds., _Leabhar Breathnach Annso Sis: The Irish Version of the Historia Britonum of Nennius_, Dublin: The Irish Archaeological Society (published 1848), retrieved 10 August 2008


* Gransden, Antonia (1974) _Historical Writing in England_. Ithaca, NY: Cornell U. P. * Dumville, David N. (1975) _ Nennius and the "Historia Brittonum"_ in: _Studia Celtica_, 10/11 (1975/6), 78–95 * Chadwick, Nora K. (1958) "Early Culture and Learning in North Wales" in her: _Studies in the Early British Church_ * Chri