Michael Veprauskas discusses the Saxon Invasion of Britain
The date of the arrival of the first Germanic settlers in Britain is a matter of considerable debate. It is, however, critical, for dating key events between the departure of Roman authority in 410 and the arrival of the Christian mission of St. Augustine in 597. Examples of these events include: Vortigern's rise to power and the length of his reign; his dealings with Ambrosius; the Saxon revolt; the coming of Arthur and Badon itself. This Germanic influx is known historically by the Latin phrase "Adventus Saxonum", the coming of the Saxons.
The Venerable Bede
The first attempt at dating the Adventus Saxonum, was by the noted ecclesiastical writer and historian, Bede. His History of the English Church and People is exactly that. In addition, he gives a historical summary of what was to become England based on the records available to him. Completed in 731, it is a primary source for early events in the making of England. Not only a scholar, Bede can also be credited for introducing some remarkably modern concepts in his approach to history. He was fundamental in popularizing the Anno Domini (A.D.) method of dating, in our day taken for granted. He identified his sources, both oral and written, and was selective in his use of them. Whenever possible, and desirable, he fleshed out some of his more scanty primary sources with other material. A good example of this is his treatment of Gildas' De Excidio Brittaniae. Let us take a look at the scattered references regarding the Adventus Saxonum found within in his History.
In chapter 24, where a chronological summary of his book is presented, under the year 597 (the arrival of Augustine and his Christian mission) he says:
"These teachers arrived in Britain, roughly 150 years after the coming of the English."1
This gives us 447 as the time of their arrival. Elsewhere, when describing events surrounding the baptism of King Edwin in 627, Bede says Edwin:
"... received the faith and regeneration by holy baptism in the eleventh year of his reign, that is in the year of our Lord 627 and about 180 years after the coming of the English to Britain."2
Here again, we arrive at the year 447 for the Adventus. A third computation is found in the section concluding a summary of the state of Britain "at the present time", i.e. 731:
"This is the state of the whole of Britain at the present time, about 285 years after the coming of the English to Britain, in the year of our Lord 731."3
Based on the above, the year 446 is calculated for the Adventus Saxonum, consistent with the previous two dates. Turning to the main body of his History, where coming of the Saxons is actually described we find:
"In the year of our Lord 449 Marcian, forty-sixth from Augustus, became emperor with Valentinian and ruled for seven years. At that time the race of the Angles or Saxons, invited by Vortigern, came to Britain..."4
Bede's chronology is off by one year here as the actual date for Marcian should be 450. The joint rule of Marcian and Valentinian was from 450-455, during which time the "Angles or Saxons" arrived. This sequence is repeated again in the chronological summary at the end of Bede's History and also in another work called The Greater Chronicle found as an appendix in some translations of the History.
"449 Marcianus and
Valentinianus ruled as co-emperors for seven years. In their time
the English came to
Britain on the invitation of the Britons."5
The second date uses the Hebraic system of dating by Anno Mundi, where events are dated from the "Creation of the World". Again, we arrive at a minimum date of 449 (which should be 450), and a maximum date of 455, as Valentinian actually died in 455.
The reason for the apparent discrepancy, 446-447 vs 450-455, lies in the two primary sources Bede used to date the Adventus. The first relies on Gildas' De Excidio, in the section were an appeal made to Aetius is recorded:
"So the miserable remnants sent off a letter again, this time to the Roman commander Aetius, in the following terms:
'To Aetius, thrice consul: the groans of the British.'
Further on came this complaint:
'The barbarians push us back to the sea, the sea pushes us back to the barbarians; between these two kinds of death, we are either drowned or slaughtered.'
But they got no help in
With a date of 449 (450) established for the Adventus, Bede further estimates the battle of Badon as occurring 44 years after this event, or in 493 (494). This is based on his interpretation of Gildas' "forty-four years"10 as occurring after the Adventus itself.
"Thenceforward victory swung first from one side and then to the other, until the battle of Badon Hill, when the Britons made a considerable slaughter of the invaders. This took place about forty-four years after their arrival in Britain: but I shall deal with this later."11
Geoffrey of Monmouth appears to have taken the entry for the Battle of Camlann, in the Annales Cambriae, as occurring 93 years after the Adventus Saxonum. In the Annales Cambriae, Camlann is listed under the year XCIII or 93. By adding the 93 years to Bede's date of 449, we get 542 - the year of Geoffrey's Camlann.12
Later English writers, for example, William of Malmesbury and the composers of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, generally follow the initiative of Bede in their dating of events.
Chronicle, (Parker Chronicle), year
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