Badon Hill: The Importance of Defending Bath

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One of the chief mysteries of the story of King Arthur is where the famous Battle of Badon Hill was. Was it at Badon? A corresponding place-name can’t be found. Other theories have been advanced, including the one that Badon was really Bath-on, meaning that Badon Hill was near Bath.

This would have made sense from a Roman perspective in the following way: Bath was still, even at the dawn of the 6th century, a flourishing Roman town. It was one of the last vestiges of Roman civilization in Britain. The sacred springs that gave the town its name still pulsed through the sacred baths at Aquae Sulis, and the customs of the Eternal City still held sway in the town named for a Roman custom.

If Badon Hill was indeed outside or even near Bath, it would have been a strategic convergence of two warring enemies bent on gaining control for good of a Roman jewel in a faded crown. For the Britons, keeping control of Bath meant hanging on to their Roman tradition. (Remember that not every Briton detested the Romans and their influence; many a Briton became a Roman patrician when he “saw the light” that Roman good will and coffers could bring his cooperation.) Bath was still a bustling city, and it was right in the heart of the contested territory. As such, it was a prime target for the ever-westward-moving Saxons as well, for as conquerors they showed the inevitable need to replace what they had destroyed or at the very least hang on to what they had gained control of.

So, Badon as Bath-on makes sense from a strategic and cultural significance. The Britons would have wanted to keep hold of their cherished Roman symbolism; the Saxons would have wanted to gain control of the Roman culture center and struck a blow for their own advantage in a war of changing boundaries and intents.