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Go Back   Armchair General and HistoryNet >> The Best Forums in History > Historical Events & Eras > Warfare Through the Ages > The Medieval Era

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The Medieval Era Discussions on Knights and Crusaders, and all things medieval!

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  #61  
Old 20 Mar 09, 13:36
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Hi Peter
Certainly a muddled period of time!

I'm reading about Viroconium at present as a basis for the myth of Camelot.
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  #62  
Old 20 Mar 09, 18:07
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Evening Nick mate! (and everyone else)

I see the natter we had on Arthur has its roots here online... typically I've only just spotted the thread.

If I might add a comment or two.

I feel its become clear recently (in terms of decades) that much of what we call myth in Britain, or more accurately the British Isles, invariably does have a historical starting point. The problems we face in nailing this myths down is that contemporary gistorical records are normally non existant and we usually rely on those written well after the events or when the person in question lived. However I feel this is no reason to ignore such records, but instead to take them as starting points or guidelines to try and find the truth.

In general terms its surprising what does turn up accidentally to overturn previous given views. For example here in Essex at Colchester, Roman history mentioned that the tribes of the area were skilled in constructing and using chariots. However it was only very recently that evidence of Roman charioteering turn up, in the form of an large elaborate circus which was excavated just north of where Roman Colchester stood. No record of this structure existed and it was completely unknown until by chance it was found.

My point is that just because the little evidence we have is often vague, doesnt mean that its wrong. Very often, myth and folklore stand in for hard evidence simply because at the time, the story was the way that history was passed on through the generations.

You also have the problem of a certain conservative attitude in scholarly circles, combined with a basic lack of common knowledge. Heres another example to show what i mean.

A few years ago I watched a documentary on the battle of Towton, or rather the aftermath which was being researched by excavating an area I think was called bloody meadow. Many skeletons were excavated and quite a few were seen to have sword cuts and blows about their skulls. Now the team of boffins wracked their brains and came up with the notion that the captured prisoners were hoarded together on foot, stripped of their weapons and armour and then slaughtered to a man by men on horseback. Much was made of this apparent barbarity by the boffins who pontificated on the savagery of those doing the killing.

I must be honest and say I wanted to throw something at the TV!

With all their expertise, this large group of experts had missed an obvious fact. Simply put they suggested that the sword and weapon wounds were enabled by the men being stripped of their armoured protection deliberately. However, most scholars of military history will agree that when a rout begins, the first thing that happens is that those routing ditch anything they can to flee faster, weapons, kit and of course (if they are wearing it) armour! It simply didn't occur to these experts that the victims themselves might have removed their helmets and so laid themselves open to headwounds from pursuing cavalry!

Anyway...

As to Arthur himself I feel the mythos has a historical basis, probably from the early post roman period. Its likely that some form of group, influenced by both British and Roman culture and learning, stemmed the tide of coastal invaders for around half a century. The latter timing I feel is a key insight into the mythos, because it suggests the actual lifetime of a great leader, from his youth until his old age which was probably in his early 60's.

A powerful leader, rising to power as a young man and leading the 'Britons' to resist the invaders by personal example. It has a ring of truth about it.

Last point...

I dont think its been mentioned, but heres a version that might have more than a few grains of history in it...



I remember watching it as often as I could many many years ago... superb!

Regards and well done Nick et al!

Gaz
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  #63  
Old 21 Mar 09, 04:02
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I loved the TV show Arthur of the Britons as a kid, because it didn't have him as a knight in shining armour, but living in an iron-age Celtic hut!. Just seemed a more human character that way.

Still reading about Wroxeter as a possible kernal for the legend of Camelot.
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  #64  
Old 21 Mar 09, 10:23
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Nick,

I don't think you are giving enough weight to the invasion theory at all. As some have briefly mentioned, invasion in the 5th and 6th Centuries does not require armies of tens of thousands routing the locals and displacing or eliminating them. The arrival of Saxons, Angles and Jutes in the east and south and the subsequent "Saxon" conquest was not a dark age Sealion followed by a blitzkrieg-like expansion across Britain.

The timeline itself shows that it was more of a Saxon displacement of local authority and gradual replacement of Celtic culture with Saxon. The "armies", such as they would have been, need not have consisted of more than a few hundred "Saxon", or later, "Saxon-Celtic" warriors moving out from the local areas of control bit by bit. Much like what was going on in Europe throughout the western Roman Empire, the Saxon conquest of England was more a replacement of local authority and cultural norms (no doubt quite vilolently at times) with a more dynamic hybrid Saxon culture over generations. After all, if the warrior elite (Saxon) hold the true political power (to say nothing about the power of life and death), the locals have little choice but to submit.

Between 450 (to chose a date) and about 800 AD the Saxons had yet to completely consolidate their control of the entire territory that would make up England but Saxon culture had definitely replaced the previous Celtic sub-Roman practices.
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  #65  
Old 21 Mar 09, 12:44
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I'm between the annihilation theory and that of Francis Pryor. When he was studying the 'invasions' he was generally looking at areas north of London and Cornwall. Aside from the Jutes there does seem to be one major secondary invasion by Saxons. Cerdic landed at the very end of the 5th century in the Hampshire area. (Note the position of Winchester, I'll talk about that later in another post).



After landing Cerdic was expanding his territory both politically and militarily. Both he and his son Cynric married Britons, standard practise when trying to legitimate a title, and may have been commanding the 'Saxon' army at Badon Hill. There are different dates associated with Badon, but I prefer 518AD as it seems to fit in with the period. Oddly, although the Saxons were said to have been defeated soundly, in 519AD Cerdic is ruling in his own name. Some type of treaty?

If we have an Arthur figure operating from a Welsh area such as Powys or in neighbouring Shropshire then a battlefield site such as Little Solsbury Hill makes perfect sense.



Bath would be located between their territories, and an obvious target for a Saxon intent on expansion. If an invasion was halted here, and a treaty made promising non aggression (that seemes to have lasted 20 years or so), then that would be considered a major victory. Nothing like a few Welsh bards to exaggerate the story a bit as well.
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  #66  
Old 21 Mar 09, 15:52
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The problem with Little Solsbury Hill is that it is quite unremarkable when compared to the other hills in the area. If one stands on the hill it doesn't really suit as a defensive position for the 6th Century. The Roman crossings of the Avon, the garrison and Baths of Aquae Sulis lay some 5 odd kilometres to the southwest while the heights of modern Landsdown Park actually look down on the hill from some 2.5 kilometres to the west.

If one stands on the back terrace (grounds) of the Hare and the Hound Pub (excellent roast beef luncheon, by the way) on modern Landsdown Road you can clearly see L Solsbury on a bearing of 073 degrees. The terrain drops sharply away from 231 metres above sea level to only 40 metres before it rises again to L Solsbury, where the height reaches 191 metres.
While there is archeological evidence of a hill fort on L Solsbury the diggings appear to pre-date the Roman occupation and it is not very likely that those defences would have still been in existence at the time of the Saxon expansion westward and north from Hampshire. A further fact that casts some doubt on L Solsbury is why would the Saxons or the Celts have gone there in the first place.

If Certig is marching north from Basingstoke or Andover en route Gloucester or Cheltenham, why go to Bath? The more logical route for a northward march would have taken the Saxons across Salisbury Plain then by way of Marlborough and Swindon, avoiding the hill country to the west. Likewise, if an army of Britons is trying to block the Saxon's way north, why take up a position on a hill so far west from the approaches to Powys/Shropshire?

Little Solsbury is neat little hill and when one stands on it you get a great view of the surrounding terrain, including into what would have been the old Roman part of town (with good binoculars). However, it doesn't seem to fit the requirements as a strategic defensive position for the territory to the north. Rather, I belief the hill fort may have been used by the locals as a redoubt in pre-Roman times as a place to gather their flocks and herds against marauding neighbouring tribes.
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  #67  
Old 21 Mar 09, 19:24
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Some great points. Will have to check out the Beef dinner as we drive past that way on route to my sister in Devon .

Taking the hilly route hides your army, and if your opponent has cavalry that can both charge and skirmish then plains are a no go. You only need to look at the Battle of Casilinum in 554 to see a later period Roman style army (ie Early Byzantine) against a Saxon style army (Frank at Casilinum) to see what may have happened. Also I'm not convinced Gloucester and Cheltenham were viable targets around 518 AD. Bath on the other hand (great place to visit - especially if you love costume dramas and Jane Austin like my missus) still has the Springs - holy to both Roman and Celt alike. If nothing else, this is a great psychological target. Holy sites tend to be quite rich as well.

However, and this a big however, it is the 'knights' that I feel are the key to the centre of the legend. The 'knights' would have had to be unusual enough to be remembered, and available in a time that is supposed to be without a central government that can tax, and therefore support such an effective mounted force.

This is quite interesting but is likely to be disputed:
http://www.magtudin.org/Arthur%20part%201.htm
Professor Littlejohn states 5500 Sarmation cavalry were posted to Britain in 175AD, and the source of the legend of King Arthur. He also links the Sarmations to the Magyars and from them the Grail story to that of the Hungarian Holy Crown.
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  #68  
Old 21 Mar 09, 19:37
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The knights exist in the Arthur legend because it's a medieval legend and the knight was the dominant arm of the nobility during the middle ages - the people who were consuming these stories about King Arthur. Why do people persist in doing things like trying to make parallels to Sarmatian cavalry when the answer is so patently obvious?
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Old 21 Mar 09, 20:11
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Originally Posted by Alina View Post
The knights exist in the Arthur legend because it's a medieval legend and the knight was the dominant arm of the nobility during the middle ages - the people who were consuming these stories about King Arthur. Why do people persist in doing things like trying to make parallels to Sarmatian cavalry when the answer is so patently obvious?

However, the Sarmatians were here and a reason why the red dragon is on the Welsh Flag today. The red dragon was a symbol of the later Roman Emperors, and the Sarmatian cavalry used an early form of wind sock as a pennant, often in the shape of a dragon.
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Old 21 Mar 09, 22:40
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alina View Post
The knights exist in the Arthur legend because it's a medieval legend and the knight was the dominant arm of the nobility during the middle ages - the people who were consuming these stories about King Arthur. Why do people persist in doing things like trying to make parallels to Sarmatian cavalry when the answer is so patently obvious?
Alina,

My latest posts were more aimed at the historical Celtic vs Saxon conflict of the early 6th C, not about a possible link to an Arthur-type character.
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Old 21 Mar 09, 22:43
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Alina,

My latest posts were more aimed at the historical Celtic vs Saxon conflict of the early 6th C, not about a possible link to an Arthur-type character.
I was referring to the article about the Sarmatians being a possible "reason" for Arthur having knights. I think I know what the author of the article was up to when she came up with that particular bit of speculation
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Old 21 Mar 09, 23:10
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The problem with Little Solsbury Hill is that it is quite unremarkable when compared to the other hills in the area. If one stands on the hill it doesn't really suit as a defensive position for the 6th Century. The Roman crossings of the Avon, the garrison and Baths of Aquae Sulis lay some 5 odd kilometres to the southwest while the heights of modern Landsdown Park actually look down on the hill from some 2.5 kilometres to the west.

If one stands on the back terrace (grounds) of the Hare and the Hound Pub (excellent roast beef luncheon, by the way) on modern Landsdown Road you can clearly see L Solsbury on a bearing of 073 degrees. The terrain drops sharply away from 231 metres above sea level to only 40 metres before it rises again to L Solsbury, where the height reaches 191 metres.
I am so jealous of the position that you old world folk enjoy of being able to visit these ancient historical places with such frequency that you even know where to eat lunch!

We have hills around here that you can stand on and all that you see is where the next McDonald's is going to go!

You can stand on a hill and imagine history strolling by for thousands of years. Advantage Great Britain!
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Old 21 Mar 09, 23:46
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Originally Posted by Nick the Noodle
...Taking the hilly route hides your army, and if your opponent has cavalry that can both charge and skirmish then plains are a no go. ... <snip>
However, it was the Romano-Celts who lacked mounted troops not the Saxons (still rare to have more than the nobles mounted). Since the Romans withdrew in 410-411 it is highly unlikely that they left behind any organised force of former mercenary cavalry who might have formed part of the new Romano-Celtic kingdoms that sprang up after the legions went home. Certainly by the mid 5th C there would have been few mounted troops other than the wealthiest tribal members, perhaps only the king and his retinue. Also, if Gildas and Bede's account are even reasonably accurate, the Briton's were fighting a slow rearguard action from about 455 AD with Vortigern's defeat (with counter attacks led at some point in the early years by an Ambrosius Aurellianus) and culminating with the victory of "Mons Badonicus" (Mount Badon), wherever that may have been, in about the year 500 AD.

In fact, since Gildas was alive and writing just as the "long peace" ended (the mid 6th C) the Saxon advance had to have been halted in the south quite some distance from Bath. Since both he and Bede both recount a series of victories by the Britons, which could not have all been fought and won in the same area, it would appear that the Saxon drive was halted after the first waves of migration had reached the limits of it power.

Between the Saxon advent of 447-449 AD and the better documented Anglo-Saxon history beginning with Cynric and Ceawlin there is approximately five to seven generations. It is at the end of this period (approx 560AD) that the Britons are soundly defeated and finally driven into Wales and Cornwall. From what I can glean from the sparse evidence "Badon Hill" could not have been much further west than Wroughton (Ellendun).


Quote:
Originally Posted by Nick the Noodle
...However, and this a big however, it is the 'knights' that I feel are the key to the centre of the legend. The 'knights' would have had to be unusual enough to be remembered, and available in a time that is supposed to be without a central government that can tax, and therefore support such an effective mounted force.
I think I have to agree with Alina here. I am more than sceptical that even Vortigern (the last truly powerful Celtic king) could have managed to finance and equip anything like a professional cavalry force. In fact, Vortigern could not even manage to keep enough cash flowing to pay the Saxon mercenaries he had hired to defeat the Picts to the north,....and the ensuing rebellion of the local Saxons then started the whole downward slide.

By the time we get to the year 500 AD, such a cavalry force would have beyond the means of any of the minor kings that followed. I fear the knights are a grafting of 13th Century culture onto the 6th C.

I don't even want to touch the Grail legend.
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Old 22 Mar 09, 00:36
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I am so jealous of the position that you old world folk enjoy of being able to visit these ancient historical places with such frequency that you even know where to eat lunch! ... You can stand on a hill and imagine history strolling by for thousands of years.
Here you go Torien,... Baddon Hill (?) as seen from the low ground to the west. I can't imagine it looked much different 1500 years ago except there would have most likely have been more trees around.
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File Type: png Baddon Hill.png (2.30 MB, 20 views)
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Originally Posted by The Purist View Post
Here you go Torien,... Baddon Hill (?) as seen from the low ground to the west. I can't imagine it looked much different 1500 years ago except there would have most likely have been more trees around.
...and less barbed wire.

Thanks for the picture!
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