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the Romans decided to leave Britain, the Gododdin were left to
their own devices. Their alliance with the Romans meant that they
had lost a powerful ally, but it also meant that after the Romans’
departure, they were, south of the Forth, the only Celtic tribe
that had retained its power. Whereas the rest of Britain was a
power vacuum, the Gododdin knew where their borders were: what
was theirs, and what was not theirs.
They were in a precarious position: they could try to extend their
territory, although at the same time, it was clear to any thinking
man that elsewhere in Britain, new power bases would be created,
and they would try to extend their power. The Gododdin might have
the organisation in place, but could organisation outweigh the
desire, the wild enthusiasm of the new claimants?
we know very little of what happened to the Gododdin – but
then, as we shall see, perhaps we know a great deal more than
we realise – perhaps we just are just not aware of it.
First, though, let us paint the picture: the Gododdin enter into
alliance with the Romans, and survive as a Celtic tribe, a unique
position south of the Firth. In the 5th century, the Romans will
leave and it is clear that the Gododdin are trapped between two
fires: the Picts to the north will want to push south, as has
been their intention for some time; from the south, new forces
will arrive, in search of newfound independence, and they will
challenge the Gododdin.
is in this context that we should see the legend of King Arthur.
It is one of the most universally known of all myths, particularly
in Great Britain, the kingdom of this hero. No other name is found
as frequently in England, which gives evidence of his popularity.
Furthermore, the name occurs from the extreme south to the extreme
north, as well as east and west. Trying to use place names to
answer where Arthur’s Kingdom was located, is therefore
extremely difficult. Some people do argue that Arthur ruled “Britain”
as a whole, not just parts of it – although he would have
had to have been Superman to do so and traces of this would have
been left not merely in legends, but history as well.
So what chance would the Lothians have of being singled out as
Arthur’s Homeland? A very good one, as its ruler is mentioned
specifically in the Arthurian accounts. And, if anything, it is
King Loth who is able to locate the historical Arthur.
earliest known reference to King Arthur is indirect, but intriguing.
Y Gododdin, is the Welsh epic poem by the bard Aneurin, composed
around 600 AD. This means that around 600 AD, suddenly Welsh bards
were writing about a Scottish Celtic tribe. What had happened?
The story is quite simple: the Gododdin had disappeared from the
Lothians, and had surfaced in Wales. It seems unlikely that this
was a large exodus, but it is clear that something had happened,
which had forced the Gododdin to abandon their homeland, something
the Romans had not been able to manage. At the same time, the
Welsh bards began to sing the lost fame of the Celtic tribe, explaining
in the epic what had happened: after the withdrawal of the last
Roman garrison, the Gododdin area had been subjected to various
invasion attempts, and in the end the invaders were successful.
It was in this context that Aneurin refers to one warrior as being
great, “although he was no Arthur”. Thus Aneurin is
thus describing a lesser known character and is comparing him
to Arthur, with whom his audience seems to be familiar. Historians
have a problem here, as there is no earlier written reference
to Arthur, though this poem is hard evidence that there was a
famous warrior by the name of Arthur.
Though modern folklore firmly links Arthur with England, and Glastonbury
specifically, scholar Camilla Ann Richmond, who is an expert on
Arthurian traditions, concluded that Arthur was real. She concluded
that the traditional claims that Arthur was an “English
hero”, was frail. Instead, she felt, “King Arthur
most likely resided in Scotland.”
key to unravel the mystery of Arthur is through the various battles
he fought. The exact translation of the battle site locations
is much disputed among Arthurian scholars. Many of the place names
no longer exist in Britain; therefore, their exact positions are
left to individual interpretation. More traditional scholars place
the majority of the battles in the south of England, although
the sites are spread over a wide area. This in itself is remarkable,
and quite unlikely. It is more likely that the battles all took
place in one area. The question is: which area?
The final battle of Mount Badon is the most important to locate
because it secured Arthur’s military reputation and began
an extended era of peaceful reign. This battle is so significant
that three of the primary sources, Gildas, Nennius, and the Annals
of Wales, go so far as to describe the location in detail. The
battle is even remembered by some, such as Gildas, in relation
to the day of their birth.
With Badon being possibly the best evidence, where is it? Badon
has traditionally been placed at Bath because of its Roman history
and because Geoffrey of Monmouth put it there. But there are many
reasons why this is wrong: Bath was a Roman spa, not a fortress.
It does not fit the description of Mount Badon. It is very distant
from the other battles. Etc.
possibilities have been put forward, but what is clear is that
in this case, the evidence needs to be looked at as a whole. There
were twelve battles, and all twelve battles should have to be
placed in one general area, rather than scattered across the length
of Britain, an area Arthur could impossibly defend. Furthermore,
it is likely that some sites will not be found; this should not
be surprising, as the lack of knowledge about the sites is what
has lead to the debate in the first place.
are the sites:
-Battle 1: mouth of the River Glein
-Battles 2, 3, 4, 5: by the Dubglas River in the Linnuis area
-Battle 6: the River Bassas
-Battle 7: in the Celidon Wood
-Battle 8: in Fort Guinnion
-Battle 9: in the City of the Legion
-Battle 10: on the banks of the River Tribruit
-Battle 11: on Mount Agned
-Battle 12: on Mount Badon
Where are they likely to be situated? The evidence suggests that
we should look towards the kingdom of Loth, as it is clear that
Arthur would most likely have fought for his brother-in-law. This
suggests the Lothians. Furthermore, we need to place it within
its most likely framework, the period around 430 AD, around the
time the Romans abandoned Britain, at a time when it is known
that the Gododdin were left to fight for themselves – and
would begin a series of battles that would eventually result in
their defeat two centuries later. If the Arthurian tradition is
to be inserted, it seems that after the initial wars, a long period
of peace did exist, before the final defeat – and the move
of the Gododdin to Wales, where, it seems, they could only remember
a “Dreamtime”, when they lived in their homeland,
battles would most likely be to preserve a territory. Although
in Geoffrey’s account Arthur is all over the place, fighting
battles across Britain, such a form of warfare is more in line
with the modern American “surgical strikes” across
the world, from Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. They make the
American presidents into formidable warlords, and yet it is clear
that in all those places, the American army has not been able
to keep a government going for a period of twenty-odd years. In
all cases, the Americans saw, entered, fought, conquered, and
Though in some areas, it did bring peace, we should not interpret
Arthur within such a framework. It is not the framework of any
war before modern warfare was invented. Traditionally, wars were
about territory, either to keep it, or to extend it. As a result,
Arthur either defended a territory, or extended his territory.
If he was in search of extension, he might have been formidable,
but would he have the mystical appeal?
Arthur was remembered for his brilliant battles against the odds,
but also for his defensive policies. He tried to keep the dream
alive, and succeeded. If he was expanding his territory, the battles
would largely follow a line: from close to home, expanding further
from home, until a specific landmark was reached, or until everyone
in Britain was conquered. As not even the Romans were able to
conquer everything in Britain, it is clear that his task was not
an easy one. If Arthur was fighting for his territory, the battles
should be along the borders of the territory, possibly from various
angles, if not by various means: an attack over land, an attack
over sea, an attack from the south, an attack from the south,
invading, or fighting off an enemy, the first attack is always
close to home, so it seems logical to assume that Arthur’s
first battle was close to home. His first battle occurred at the
“mouth of the river Glein”. So where is the river
Glein? It is clear that the name is rather general, meaning valley.
Furthermore, most battles are fought in valleys, along rivers,
Glencoe being one example. Alistair Moffat has proposed that there
is a known River Glen, the one in Northumbria, near Yeavering
Bell. This is, in retrospect, a very logical location for the
first battle. The Gododdin must have had a station at Yeavering
Bell and an attack from the south must have been expected. The
Angles were already stationed at York and Yeavering Bell is specifically
the area which would become one of the capitals of King Edwin
after the Anglian expansion to the north. In later years, the
area would also see the Battle of Flodden, in 1513. Flodden sits
along the river Till, which is the river joined by the Glen; according
to Nennius, it was the mouth of the Glen where the battle took
next four battles all occurred “by the Dubglas River in
the Linnuis area”. It is unfortunate that Arthur had to
fight four battles in the same area, as it reduces the twelve
sites down to nine. Dubglas means “dark river” and
is the precedent of the modern Douglas. Searches for Douglas in
a region sounding like Linnuis have occurred, but without success.
Though it is clear that Douglas sounds specifically Scottish,
perhaps it is the river Douglas, which flows into the Clyde near
Lanark. It is the area of the infamous Douglas clan, who would
become one of the most heroic families in later centuries. But
the area is not known as Linnuis.
The Firth of Forth
Again, Alistair Moffat did a brilliant analysis, by realising
that the Firth of Forth was called Linn Giudain. Linn and Linnuis
are very similar – if not identical. But where is the Douglas
river? Moffat argues this is the River Forth itself, as the Gaels
called the river Forth “an Abhainn Dubh”, which translates
as “dark river”. The River Forth and the Firth of
Forth is a vast area, separating the Picts from the Gododdin.
Apart from the Angles in the south, it was the Picts in the north
who wanted to push south – and frequently mounted attempts
to do so, some of these successful.
the Dubglas river was a small stream somewhere, then it must have
been a very important location and a vital thoroughfare, as one
battle after another was waged there. But if it was the Firth
and the Firth of Forth, then it is clear that the Picts will have
tried numerous attempts along the length of the river, perhaps
some by normal cavalry, such as near Stirling, to the west, or
perhaps via a maritime expedition.
The abundance of Iron Age hill forts, such as The Chesters near
Drem, is clear evidence of a threat from across the Firth, and
it was Gildas himself who described the Picts as “transmarini”
– from over the water. If the battle was fought by cavalry,
then the most important battle site in Scotland would also have
been the most important battle site for Arthur.
The Firth of Forth cut Scotland in two, with the bog land called
Flanders Moss in the west, from Stirling to the lake of Menteith
and the foot of the mountains around Ben Vrackie. The only safe
passage through was dominated by the rock of Stirling Castle,
and the bridge over the Forth. It is here that the Battle of Bannockburn
would take place, in 1314, which would grant Scotland independence.
sixth battle occurred “beyond the river which is called
Bassus”. Alistair Moffat tried to place this battle, but
notes that the only examples of “Bas”, such as Basingstoke,
are in England. Others have been equally unsuccessful. There is
a Bassus, a Roman poet, who is believed to have lost his life
in the eruption of Vesuvius. Another Bassus was a Roman historian,
noted for his histories of the German battles. The name is therefore
well-known as a Roman name, but is apparently lacking in Scotland.
However, there is one candidate, and it is the Bass Rock. The
Bass Rock is an island off the coast of East Lothian. And that
is the problem: it is not a river.
The Bass Rock was connected with St Baldred, and the coastline
closely identified with him was the strip of land from Tantallon
Castle – a stronghold of the Douglas family in later centuries
– to Tyninghame, situated along the Tyne. We can perhaps
speculate that the Bass Rock and the river Tyne, both of which
were strongholds of Baldred in later years, somehow became identified
as one. Though logically this is not a stretch of the imagination
in general, trying to make this fit with “the river Bassus”
from Nennius’ account is. Even so, the area would have been
subject to invasions from the Picts; the Tyne near St Baldred’s
Seat, where it empties into the North Sea, is a prime location
from where to sail into the heartland of the Lothians, with Traprain
Law rising majestically in front of you. For a maritime force,
it would have been an ideal approach for laying siege to Traprain
confusion reigns over battle six, battle seven is agreed by all
Arthurian historians to have been Southern Scotland: “the
wood of Ceilidon, that is, Cat Coit Celidon”, or Caledon.
Today, it is known as the Ettrick Forest, to the West of Selkirk,
in the Borders. This was in the heartland of the Selgovae, the
Western neighbours of the Gododdin. Despite there being no great
controversy over where the battle occurred, Arthur’s enemy
remains unknown. Although it could have been the Selgovae, this
is unlikely, and it is believed that once again, the enemy might
have been the Picts.
information on battle eight is scant: “in the stronghold
of Guinnion.” Moffat again goes through a linguistic analysis,
stating the word is close to a P-Celtic word meaning “white
place”. This only places it within the local language, not
within a properly definable geographical context. As a result,
no-one has been able to locate this battle site with any success
– of course speculation exists, but none of it worth repeating.
Except, that is, for one, if only because of the novelty value.
There is a persistent legend that Fortingall, a small village
near Glen Lyon, in an area that has an enormous treasury of preserved
folklore and megalithic remains, was the site where Pontius Pilate
This ancient tradition also claims that Pontius Pilate was related
to the Scots King, Metallanus, whose royal seat was located on
a hill fort called Dun Geal (the White Fort) at Fortingall. According
to the ancient Scots Chronicles, Metallanus was on very good terms
with the government of Caesar in Rome. Local tradition records
a Roman camp at Fortingall and perhaps a clue as to its presence
there may be found in the Latinised name of the Scots King, Metallanus.
Though there is no evidence of a hill fort, there is evidence
of a fort at Fortingall. It sits just to the west of the village,
in a field along a river. It is most unlikely that this was the
area where Arthur fought, but it does suggest that the stronghold
of the White Fort might have been applied to more than one Roman
camp, or an Iron Age hill fort – both of which are present
in and near the Gododdin territory.
ninth battle happened in the city of the Legion.” This means
it was a city in which a legion was stationed, which does not
specifically reduce the odds, as legions were stationed both in
Scotland and in England. But there was only one city of the Legion:
York, known as Eboracum, or Ad Legionem Sextam, “the place
of the Legion”, in this case the Sixth Legion, which throughout
Roman times was stationed in York.
Perhaps Arthur realised that he should fight his battles further
from home? Perhaps the continuous success of his army had made
tribesmen join his rank. He had been successful eight times before
and rather than let the enemy come to him, a pre-emptive strike
in the south might scare any invader off. Arthur pushing south
towards York from the Firth of Forth is not unique; William Wallace
would repeat that offensive eight centuries later. Both realised
that to defend their territory, they could not defend it at its
borders, but had to push further south. Should the enemy attack,
they felt or hoped that it would merely be to recapture lost territory,
and would not result in a push further north, trying to invade
the homeland of the Gododdin or the Scots.
Furthermore, the Y Gododdin remembers the famous battle of the
Gododdin fighting the Anglian forces, at the Battle of York, specifically
at Catterick, a major crossing of the Roman road system. The attack
occurred in 595-600 AD, when a crack warrior band of three hundred
men set out from Gododdin to attack the invading English. They
met at the battle of Catraeth (Catterick) and, though the Gododdin
men were reputed to have slain seven times their number of the
enemy, they were overwhelmed by superior numbers and perished
without a survivor. It is here that one Gododdin tribesman fought
heroically, though “he was not Arthur”. In other words,
unlike Arthur, he was unable to fight off the invaders, and the
Gododdin lost; their end, and abandonment of the homeland, was
were other Roman camps near the Gododdin territory, the most famous
of which had been Trimontium. Trimontium had been the site of
the twentieth legion and as it sat right next to the territory
of the Gododdin, on an important route running north-south (Dere
Street, the modern A68), it may have been known locally as the
“the city of the Legion”. The problem here is one
of scope; from a British perspective, York or Carlisle were known
as major Roman sites. But from the Gododdin perspective, Trimontium
must have been the most famous one. Situated along the River Tweed,
in a valley in the shadow of the Eildon Hills, it would have been
another site along a river, like the first battle, along the river
Glein. Alistair Moffat stated on the first battle: “Arthur
was defending a Gododdin fortress at the Battle of Glein on ground
that was flat and unobstructed, and, crucially, that was near
a river. This last is a tactical theme which occurs throughout
the Nennius list and it was the choice of a cavalry general commanding
a small force of troopers who went against foot soldiers.”
The same applies to the site of Trimontium, and even such Roman
camps as the one at Fortingall. Although it teaches us little
about the actual locations of some of these battles, what it does
tell us, is that Arthur fought in the tradition of the Romans,
which might explain part of his success: the Roman army had been
the biggest war machine the ancient world had seen, and the Romans’
method of warfare had brought them success everywhere. If the
Gododdin were able to fight the Roman way, it might have explained
why Arthur was able to fight off his enemies.
tenth battle happened on the bank of a river which is called Tribruit”.
Tradition places this river in Scotland, but there is no clear
evidence where this battle might have occurred, only that it took
place on the river bank. The eleventh battle “was done on
the hill which is called Agned.” Geoffrey of Monmouth identified
Monte Agned as Edinburgh; did he finally get one right?
In the 5th century, the name “Breguoin” replaced or
appeared alongside “Agned” in several manuscripts.
Welsh poetry transformed the name to Brewyn. There is reason to
believe Agned was Bremenium, the Roman fort of High Rochester,
Northumberland, which in Celtic was called Bregion. Bremenium
was a fort north of Hadrian’s Wall, along Dere Street (A68).
The name of the fort is mentioned in three of the four major geographical
sources, though it is absent from the Notitia Dignitatum of the
late 4th century. The absence suggests that by then, the province
had receded behind Hadrian’s Wall to the south. The Bremenium
entry in Ptolemy’s Geography appears along with two other
towns attributed to the Gododdin tribe; CORSTOPITVM (Corbridge,
Northumberland) and ALAVNA (Learchild, Northumberland). Whether
Agned is therefore Bremenium or Edinburgh, it is clear that both
sit firmly within the reach of the Gododdin.
all eleven battles were preludes to the twelfth battle, at Badon
Hill, “in which Arthur destroyed 960 men in a single charge
on one day, and no-one rode down as many as he did by himself.
And in all these battles he emerged as the victor.” Three
of the primary sources (Gildas, Nennius, and the Annals of Wales)
describe the location in detail.
So where was this site? Amongst the possible locations for Badon
Hill are two Scottish contenders: Bowden Hill, West Lothian and
Dumbarton Rock, Strathclyde. W.F. Skene suggested that Bowden
Hill was Badon Hill. Another Arthurian author Norma Lorre Goodrich
provides a convincing explanation for Geoffrey’s mistake
of placing the battle in Somerset by using linguistics to divine
that “Somer” could easily be mistaken for “Cymry”,
the ancient Celtic name Old Wales or Strathclyde. Thus, the huge,
red lava rock at Dumbarton has been labelled a prime candidate
for “Mount Badon”. It controlled the Clyde estuary
and the Irish Sea. But the first is an intriguing and a logical
a good day, the views from Cairnpapple Hill are spectacular. On
a bad day, the top of the hill might be covered by clouds and
visibility is close to zero. On an average day, anyone will notice
Cockleroy Hill rising to the North. Cockleroy Hill itself is a
far more popular destination than Cairnpapple Hill to climb; it
is closer to Linlithgow and a large car park has made it an ideal
destination for families and dog walkers. From the top of Cockleroy
Hill, again a vast panorama is visible – on a clear day.
But whatever the weather, the small hill rising to the west of
Cockleroy and the North of Cairnpapple won’t immediately
strike any observer as a hill that might literally be legendary.
That hill is Bowden Hill. Like Cockleroy, Bowden Hill has a hill
fort, it is situated in a valley, in an area where Arthur could
have been defending the Gododdin territory. There is no ultimate
evidence to suggest Bowden Hill was Badon Hill, but it is clear
that taken en masse with the other battle sites, all sit on the
border of the Gododdin territory. It makes historical sense that
Arthur would have defended the territory of his brother-in-law,
and if he was, he would not be fighting in Bath, and perhaps not
even in Dumbarton. He would literally be involved in border skirmishes,
trying to keep his enemy out.
was, however, a 13th battle, in which Arthur perished, and which
occurred fifteen years after his final victory. Although Arthur
had been able to maintain peace, it was clear it would never last.
As a result, there was “the Strife of Camlann in which Arthur
and Medraut perished”.
Though tragic, it did not result in the immediate demise of the
Gododdin. They had lost their leader, but they would continue
for a few more decades. Medraut, or Modred, was the son of King
Loth, and hence a nephew of Arthur. As heir to the throne, it
seems likely Modred also had to become a great warrior to lead
his people in battle – and where better to learn it than
from Arthur himself?
Again, much speculation exists where this battle was fought. Once
again, romantics place it in south-western Britain, but Camlann
is a Welsh derivation of Camboglanna, a British word meaning “crooked
bank”; another battle site along a river. Most modern historians
recognise the battle site as a Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall.
The place is now called Birdoswald in Cumbria and of course places
Arthur again in a Northern context. To some extent, he was still
fighting the Roman fight, using their defences as his own. The
fort sits on a high spur overlooking the River Irthing, offering
The strongest candidate, however, is Camelon, near Falkirk, on
the south side of the River Forth. In 1522, Hector Boece associated
Colania with King Cruthneus Camelon of the Picts. In 1695, Gibson
recorded that the old Roman Fort of Colania at Camelon, on the
outskirts of Falkirk, was: “A little ancient city, where
the common people believe there was formerly a road for ships.
They call it Camelot. It may be gathered from history that this
was the Palace of the Picts.” If it was indeed a “palace
of the Picts”, it becomes a logical site for a battle between
the Picts and the Gododdin.
Camelon is connected to a place called “Arthur’s O’on”,
a structure that stood until 1743, when it was demolished. “Arthur’s
Oven” has been put forward as the site of the “Round
Table”, because as if it were the circular baking-place,
it could be the location where food was prepared for the Knights
of the Round Table. And let us note that it was apparently also
known as Camelot.
once a Roman temple, is recorded in Bowert’s Scotichronicon
as having been erected by Julius Caesar. Caesar came to the River
Forth and had the temple erected to sleep in, apparently its stones
being carried around with him. When he heard of trouble in Gaul
from ships sailing into the Firth of Forth, Caesar immediately
departed, leaving the temple behind. But that is not all; the
story continues that Arthur liked to come to this site “by
way of recreation”. Nennius does tell us that Carausius
built, on the banks of the Carron, a roundhouse of polished stone
as a triumphal arch in memory of his victory. Centuries later,
Hector Boece stated that it was raised by Vespasian, in honour
of his predecessor Claudius, and that it covers the ashes of the
distinguished officer Aulus Plautius. It suggests that though
Bower might have overlaboured the point by linking it with Julius
Caesar, it was a place where the Romans honoured their military
leaders. If Arthur was a Roman warrior, where better to come to
“by way of recreation”; what better description of
Camelot and the home of its twelve most valiant knights: the Knights
of the Round Table?