Into the Void: The Emergence of Ambrosius and Arthur


So this is Britannia in the 400s: Romans gone, Saxons streaming in, Picts threatening in the north, Britons besieged. Vortigern is himself betrayed, not only by Hengist at a supposed peace banquet but also by his (Vortigerns) own belief that his opponent/ally would ever act in good faith in the face of marked opportunity to the contrary.

Into the Void: The Emergence of Ambrosius and ArthurInto the void step two legendary figures: Ambrosius and Arthur. Some historians have argued that they are the same person; whether they were need not concern us here; rather, their role in defending the Island needs some attention. Certain things we do know, such as Ambrosiuss being trained as a Roman soldier and winning a few great battles of his own in defense of his homeland. Other things we speculate on, such as Arthurs role in these battles and his eventual takeover of leadership of the defending Romano-British.

The Britons under Ambrosius were a well-trained fighting machine; they were lacking only in personnel, which turned out to be quite a lacking. Despite his success (or perhaps in spite of it), Ambrosius was eventually defeated and taken out of the picture completely. This is where the story of Arthur begins to diverge into two camps: historical and legendary. We will concern ourselves here with the historical aspects.

It has been put forward that Uther Pendragon succeeded Ambrosius as High-King (this after Ambrosius succeeded Vortigern as High-King). It has also been put forward that Arthur followed in his father Uthers footsteps and became High-King. Historians dont find much to back up this claim, but they dont find much to dissuade it, either. Thus, we are left to assume, one way or the other. What we do know is that someone who was subsequently called Arthur racked up quite a number of impressive number of victories against the invading Saxons and Picts, culminating in the epochal victory atop Mons Badonicus.

Mount Badon it was, in English, and significant it was in the scheme of things historical. It stopped the Saxon migrations cold for a generation. Shortly thereafter, Arthurs name recedes from the writings of history.

Now that the scene is set, let us reflect on what we know and look forward to what is to come. We know that a man called Arthur won several great victories against (we presume) Saxons and Picts. We know that he won a particularly great victory on Mount Badon. That is all we know for sure. In the next two columns, we will consider the location of Arthurs famous 12 Battles, including the invasion-halting Badon. We will see history through the eyes of the historians who wrote about these things. Their names are Gildas, Nennius, and Geoffrey of Monmouth.