Battle of Badon
The Battle of Badon also known as the Battle of Mons Badonicus was a battle purportedly fought between Celtic Britons and Anglo-Saxons in Britain 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.
The earliest references to the battle by the British cleric Gildas date to the 6th century. It is chiefly known today for the supposed involvement of King Arthur, a tradition that first clearly appeared in the 9th-century Historia Brittonum, possibly written by Nennius. Because of the limited number of sources, there is no certainty about the date, location, or details of the fighting.
Siege of Mount BadonThe earliest mention of the Battle of Badon is Gildas' De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, written in the early to mid-6th century. In it, the Anglo-Saxons are said to have "dipped red and savage tongue in the western ocean" before Ambrosius Aurelianus organized a British resistance with the survivors of the initial Saxon onslaught. Gildas describes the period that followed Ambrosius' initial success:
De Excidio Britanniae describes the battle as such an "unexpected recovery of the " 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.
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 Marcian and Valentinian III in 449456, 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 of Auxerre'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' involvement would also place the battle around 430, although Bede's chronology shows no knowledge of this.
Battle of BadonThe earliest surviving text mentioning Arthur at the battle is the early 9th-century Historia Brittonum, in which the soldier 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 Arthur himself".
The Battle of Badon is next mentioned in the Annales Cambriae, assumed to have been written during the mid- to late-10th century. The entry states:
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 which 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 was massively popular and survives in many copies from soon after its composition. Going into 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 also mixes in aspects of other accounts: 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.
ScholarshipThere is considerable scholarly debate as to the exact date and location of the battle, though most agree that it took place in southern England sometime around the turn of the sixth century.
DateDates proposed by scholars for the battle include 493, 501 and 516. Daniel McCarthy and Dáibhí Ó Cróinín have posited that Gildas' 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 begin in January 438, which would place their revised date of the battle in February 482.
LocationSusan Hirst, Geoffrey Ashe and Michael Wood argue for the site of Liddington Castle on the hill above Badbury in Wiltshire. This site commands The Ridgeway, which connects the River Thames with the River Avon and River Severn beyond. The similarly-named Badbury Rings in Dorset have also been argued to be the location of the battle.
Tim and Annette Burkitt have proposed the site of Bath on the basis of the Welsh Annals, as well as archaeological and toponymic evidence.
More recently, Andrew Breeze argues that Badon must be etymologically Brittonic rather than English, and that the toponym as given by Gildas is a misprint of Bradonici Montis, based on known Celtic place names in Wales and Cornwall. Breeze posits Ringsbury Camp, near Braydon, Wiltshire, as the location of the battle.
Second BadonThe 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 "the second Badon" is not mentioned.
Local loreApart from the professional scholarship, various communities throughout Wales and England carry on local traditions maintaining that their area was the site of the battle: these include Bathampton Down, which has evidence of Dark Age camps, circumvallation entrenchments, and artillery mounds surrounding it; Badbury Rings at the Kingston Lacy House in Dorset; and Bowden Hill in Wiltshire.
- The battle is mentioned in the 1975 comedy film Monty Python and the Holy Grail as one of the many "feats" of Sir Robin, who is said to have "personally wet himself at the Battle of Badon Hill."
- It is featured prominently in the 1997 ' by Bernard Cornwell, in the book's second part, "Mynydd Baddon". In it, the armies of Angle and Saxon kings Aelle and Cerdic, aided by Celtic traitors led by Lancelot, are defeated in an epic battle by an uneasy alliance of various British and Irish kingdoms. Cornwell combines various medieval accounts of the battle, such as it beginning as an Anglo-Saxon siege of a hilltop and having Arthur's cavalry appear with the sign of the cross on their shields.
- The battle is depicted in the 2004 film King Arthur as occurring along Hadrian's Wall between the forces of Arthur and Cerdic.
- It is also depicted in the 2017 film ', in which Arthur and Merlin vanquish the Saxon hordes with the help of a Transformer in the shape of a dragon.