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Historia Brittonum

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The Historia Brittonum or History of the Brtions is a short legendary history of Britain, probably composeed in the 9th century at latest.

ManuscriptsEdit

The main version is in a 12th century hand and is one of the works in the British Library manuscript Harley 3859. This version and some others claim that it is the work of one Nennius, a monk of Bangor. Some other versions cite Gildas as the author.

Attached to the work, apparently by the same author, is the Mirablia, a catalogue of geographical wonders, mostly in South Wales.

ContentsEdit

Introduction (1–3)Edit

The author names himself as Nennius, points out the lack of information on ancient British history in standard historical sources, apologizes for the inadequacy of his own efforts, and claims that he “has made on heap of all that he has found”.

The History (4—31)Edit

Basic Chronology (4–6)Edit

A division of time into seven eras is given twice with minor differences, followed by a list of nine emperors who ruled Britain.

Description of the Island of Britain (7–9)Edit

The author lists thirty-three cities of Britain and summarizes its surrounding island and rivers.

Peopling of Britain and Ireland (10–18)Edit

The author provides differing genealogies of Brutus, from whom supposedly the Britons descend. For a fuller discussion, see Britain Later the Picts seize the Orkney Islands, and from there first come to Britain. An short account of three invasions of Ireland is given: the invasion of Patholon, the invasion of Nemed, and the invasion of Mil, though Mil’s name is omitted.

Roman Britain (10–30)Edit

The author knows of seven Roman Emperors who have dealt with Britain: Julius Caesar, Claudius, Severus, Carausius who avenged the death of Severus on the Britons, Constantius the father of Constantine the Great, Maximinianus, and Maximus. (These last two are different versions of the historic Magnus Maximus).

Then follows more detail on Maximus and an account of raids by the Scots and Picts and the final visits by the Romans.

Vortigern (31–49)Edit

Vortigern and the Saxons (31)Edit

The author tells of the coming of the Saxons under Hengist in the 447th year following the passion of Christ. The Saxons are taken into service by King Vortigern of Britain.

Cadell Ddyrnllwg Made Ancestor of the Kings of Powys (32–35)Edit

St. Germanus comes to Britain. A certain king named Benlli refuses to allow him to enter his city, but a poor man gives Germaus hospitality for the night. The following night King Benlli’s city is destroyed by fire from heaven and Germanus bestows eternal kingship of that kingdom on Cadel Ddyrnllwg, the son of the poor man.

Vortigern Marries Hengist’s Daughter (36–38)Edit

The Saxons are dissatisfied with their pay. They agree to bring more people from their homeland in Scythia. Sixteen boats arrive, with Hengist’s daughter. At a banquet, Hengist gets Vortigern drunk and Vortigern desires Hengist’s daughter. Hengist gives him to her in return for the kingdom of Kent, without the knowledge of Guoyrancgon who was then King of Kent. Vortigern loves his new wife very much. Hengist suggest his two sons be asked to come over and Vortigern agrees. Oisc (written Octa) and Ebusa the sons of Hengist arrive with forty ships. They lay waste to the Pictish realms. Vortigern gives Oisc (written Octa) and Ebissa lands in the north. Yet more ships arrive in Kent.

Vortigern Has a Son by his own Daughter (39)Edit

Vortigern has a son by his own daughter. St. Germanus greatly blames him. When a council of lay folk and clergy come to court to discuss this matter, Vortigern has his daughter present her son to Germanus, and to claim that Germanus is the child’s true father. Germanus tells the child he will accept him as his son, if his hair be trimmed by his carnal father. The son then takes a razor, scissors, and comb to Vortigern and asks to have his hair trimmed. Vortigern then flees, excommunicated by the synod.

Vortigern and the Fatherless Boy (39–42)Edit

Vortigern’s twelve counselors tell Vortigern that the Saxons are plotting against him. Vortigern should build a castle such that the Saxons may not overcome it. Vortigern starts to build such a castle on Mount Eryri in Gwenydd, but each night the work done in the daytime falls down. The counselors tell him to find a boy born without a father, kill the boy, and sprinkle the ground with his blood.

The messengers find in Aelecti, in the district of Glevensing, a boy who is believed to be without a father. His mother claims that indeed she has not had intercourse with any man and does not know how he was fathered. The boy is brought to Vortigern. The boy questions the counselors asking them what they would find if they dug in ground. They do not know. The boy tells them they will find a poll containing two vases, and each vase a tent, and wrapped in each tent a dragon. The workmen dig and find this to be true. The white dragon and red dragon attack each other, the red dragon is almost defeated, but then recovers his strength and drives the white dragon out.

The boy explains that the red dragon is Vortigern’s, the white dragon represents the Saxons, and they will at last be driven out. But the castle that Vortigern is trying to build properly belongs to the boy. They boy reveals that he is Ambrosius, son of a Roman consul. Vortigern assigns the castle he is trying to build, along with the western provinces of Britain, to Ambrosius and goes off the build a castle in Gueneri, where he builds Caer Guorthegirn (Castle of Vortigern).

Vortimer (43–44)Edit

Vortimer, son of Vortigern, now fights the Saxons in Kent in four battles:

1.) A battle in which Hengist and Horsa are driven back to the Island of Thanet.
2.) A battle on the River Darent.
3.) A battle at Episford where Horsa, Hengist’s brother, and Catigern, Vortimer’s brother, both die.
4.) A battle near the stones on the shore of the Gallic sea, where the Saxons being defeated, flee to their ships.

But Vortimer himself dies soon after pf an illness, and asks to be buried where the Saxons first landed as protection. But this is not done.

Treachery of the Long Knives (45–46)Edit

Hengist and his Saxons hold and council with Vortigern and his people. But Hengist orders his Saxons to each conceal a knife on his person and to pull it out and attack when Hengist shouts “Nimed eure saxes!” (‘Take out your knives!’) This is done, and the nobility of Britain is slaughtered, save that Hengist will let no harm come to Vortigern.

Death of Vortigern (47–49)Edit

St. Germanus admonishes Vortigern to abstain from unlawful intercourse with his daughter. But Vortigern flees to the province of Guorthegirnaim where he hides with his wives. St. Germanus follows him with all the British clergyand prays prayed for his sins during forty days and forty nights.

Germanus is then chosen commander against the Saxons and by praying and singing hallelujah, and by the cries of the army to God, the enemies were routed, and driven even to the sea.

Vortigern flees from St. Germanus to the kingdom of the Dimetae, where, on the river Towy, he builds a castle, Caer Guothergirn. Germanus follows and fasts and prays for three days. On the third night, at the third hour, fire suddenly falls from from heaven and burns the castle. Vortigern, the daughter of Hengist, his other wives, and all the inhabitants miserably perished.

Others say that Vortigern became a wretched wanderer and finally made an ignominious end.

Others say that on the night the castle was burned, the earth opened under him, so that his body and the bodies of those with him were not found.

Vortigern has four sons, Vortimer and Categirm who died in war with the Saxons, Pascent who becomes King of Buelt and Guorthegirnaim by grant from Ambrosius, and Faustus whom Vortgern fathered on his daughter. Faustus was brought up by St. Germanus and became a famous abbot in Rhys in Gaul. (This Faustus is an historical person, though no other source states he is son of Vortigern.)

St. Patrick (50–55)Edit

Saint Patrick was a captive among the Scots of Ireland, his master's name being Milcho, to whom he was a swineherd for seven years. Then, when Patrick was 17 years old, Milcho give Patrick his freedom. Patrick applied himself to reading of the Scriptures. He went to Rome to continue his studies. At that time, Palladius, was sent by Pope Celestine to convert the Scots (the Irish{, but he was driven by storms to Britain and died in the land of the Picts.

Then Pope Celestine sent Patrick to convert the Scots accompanied by Victor, an angel of God. Germanus sent the ancient Segerus with him as a bishop, to King Amatheus, and Patrick was consecrated bishop assuming the name Patrick, having previously been known as Maun. Auxilius, Isserninus, and other brothers were ordained with Patrick to inferior degrees.

Patrick, after a short stay in Britain, reached Ireland where he baptized and preached. This was in the fifth year of king King Logiore, five thousand three hundred and thirty years from the creation of the world.

54. Saint Patrick taught for forty years, worked many miracles and founded many churches. In one day he baptized seven kings, who were the seven sons of Amalgaid. Patrick submitted three petitions to God for the Irish, that had embraced the faith: 1.) God would receive every repenting sinner, even at the very end of life; 2.)they should never be exterminated by barbarians; 3.) Ireland will be overflowed with water, seven years before the final coming of our Lord. Patrick at last died as an old man.

Patrick much resembles Moses.

Arthur Battles the Saxons (56)Edit

Arthur, chosen war-leader by the British Kings, fought against the Saxons in twelve battles.

The twelfth was when Arthur penetrated to the hill of Badon and nine hundred and forty fell by his hand alone.

But more and more Saxons came from Germany until the reign of Ida, son of Eoppa, the first Saxon Ling in Bernicia, and in Cair Ebrauc (York).

Genealogies of the Saxon Kings (57–61)Edit

Here follows genealogies of the Kings of Bernicia, the Kings of Kent, the Kings of East-Anglia, the Kings of Mercia, and the Kings of Deira, mostly identical to those found in other sources.

Kings of the Angles (62–65)Edit

Britons of the Old North War with the Kings of the Angles (62–63)Edit

Here follow notes on kings such as Urien and Maelgwn Gwynedd down to Rhun son of Urien who it is claimed baptized King Edwin.

Later Kings of the Angles (64–65)Edit

The author provides some information on Oswald son of Ethelfrid, Oswy son of Oswald, Egfrid son of Oswy, and St. Oswald.

Chronological Notes (66)Edit

Here it is said that Vortigern reigned twenty-eight years. From the reign of Vortigern to the quarrel between Guitolin and Ambrosius, are twelve years, which is Guoloppum, that is Catgwaloph.

Vortigern reigned in Britain when Theodosius and Valentinian were consuls, and in the fourth year of his reign the Saxons came to Britain, in the consulship of Felix and Taurus, in the four hundredth year from the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. From the year in which the Saxons came into Britain, and were received by Vortigern, to the time of Decius and Valerian, are sixty-nine years.

ReferencesEdit

Latin Text Only:Edit

Latin and English Text:Edit

English Text Only:Edit

Irish Text OnlyEdit

Irish and English TextEdit

Commentary:Edit

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