Were Hengest and Horsa Real?

Nov 2008
1,278
England
My issue with mercenaries is that if I was an ertswhile civilian decurion trying to keep (for example) post-Roman Carlisle running, I'd be wary about inviting people in that I couldn't control.
If there were two potentates or ruling elites at enmity, the tendency is to augment the local forces with hired help, and this would have been either federates or mercenaries.

Now concerning post Roman Britain, or, as archaeologists prefer to call it sub Roman Britain, we really need to discuss if the central authority fragmented, and if so when it happened. We are, furthermore, deliberating about events that took place from about the turn of the fifth century when the Romans left until the battle of mons Badonicus, which is supposed to have happened at the end of the fifth century. That is almost one hundred years, and what happened during those decades would no doubt have been nuanced, varying from region to region. There are many questions to be asked, Peter, and few definite answers. Did, for instance, some semblance of the Roman way of life survive longer in the South-West than in the South-West? And what happened in northern Britain? Did the economy collapse more rapidly in the East than the West? To even answer a few questions, we may have to start discussing the Great Conspiracy (barbarica conspiratio), and its effects on the Roman province of Britain. All of this is your area of expertise, but one I`m interested in because it saw the coming of the Anglo-Saxons as they were eventually called, a period of history which I have been interested in for a long time. This period is actually one I have neglected regrettably and perhaps wrongly.

By the way, Is Stuart Laycock a reputable historian, taken seriously by his peers, or is he regarded as someone on the fringe of academe?
 
Likes: Peter Graham
Dec 2014
23
Kent, England
It's difficult to tell the veracity of old texts from the Dark Ages as so little survives, it's interesting to consider their supposed battle standard though.


From Wiki:


But now let's consider the old flag of Lower Saxony:







And this is the flag of Kent (which Hengist and Horsa conquered at Aylesbury) :






Co-incidence?


If Hengist and Horsa were from Saxony the old battle standards seem to tie in with their story and the claims of Aubrey.


Incidentally, when Hengist/Horsa and their cronies killed Vortigen it was described as the 'Night of the Long Knives' as a reference to the saxe swords used by the Saxons. This is the same name given to the night for when Hitler and his sunshine parade bumped off all his competitors like Ernst Rohm.

I think you mean Aylesford in Kent. That area has a number of standing stones and one of them is still known as the Hengist Stone. It can easily be found on Ordnance Survey maps.
There is (naturally) another version of the myth which states that the victorious Men of Kent pursued and killed Hengist there.
 
Jan 2014
2,382
Westmorland
If there were two potentates or ruling elites at enmity, the tendency is to augment the local forces with hired help, and this would have been either federates or mercenaries.
I rather agree with you here. One can imagine that those brought in to augment were perhaps numerically small but significantly better able to fight than those they were augmenting. Of course, this is the 'federates' model, which I agree provides an entirely plausible explanation for early Anglo-British relations, at least in some areas.

Now concerning post Roman Britain, or, as archaeologists prefer to call it sub Roman Britain, we really need to discuss if the central authority fragmented, and if so when it happened. We are, furthermore, deliberating about events that took place from about the turn of the fifth century when the Romans left until the battle of mons Badonicus, which is supposed to have happened at the end of the fifth century. That is almost one hundred years, and what happened during those decades would no doubt have been nuanced, varying from region to region.
Yes indeed. On the central authority point, do we not also have to remind ourselves what central authority meant? 'The Britains' was a collective late Roman term for four (or five) provinces which together formed the Diocese of Britain which, in turn, was part of the Gallic Praefecture. Each province comprised a number of civitates which in turn comprised groups of pagi. In the north, this civilian system was overlain by the military administration and it is quite possible that each fort commander had direct control not only over his fort and related vicus, but also over a territorium from which he could levy supplies for the garrison. If we can agree that the wheels came off when Constantine III rebelled and that his Diocesan-level bureaucracy was ejected in or about 409 (which is how I read that passage from Zosimus), we have to ask whether what was left operated at Diocesan, Provincial, civitas or even pagus level. I suspect you might point to the correlation between Germanic artefact types and putative provincial boundaries to advance the case for survival at provincial level. On the basis of Patrick's writings, we have hints of a still-functioning civitas system in the early post-Roman years and as I recall, he also refers to 'the Britains'.

There are many questions to be asked, Peter, and few definite answers.
Again, I completely agree with you here.

Did, for instance, some semblance of the Roman way of life survive longer in the South-West than in the South-West? And what happened in northern Britain? Did the economy collapse more rapidly in the East than the West? To even answer a few questions, we may have to start discussing the Great Conspiracy (barbarica conspiratio), and its effects on the Roman province of Britain. All of this is your area of expertise, but one I`m interested in because it saw the coming of the Anglo-Saxons as they were eventually called, a period of history which I have been interested in for a long time. This period is actually one I have neglected regrettably and perhaps wrongly.
Very fair points. The impact of the Great Conspiracy is currently subject to ongoing critical review. Put simply, it's increasingly seen in terms of major annoyance rather than a major crisis. Roman authority was re-established quickly and with very modest forces and both historians and archaeologists are increasingly questioning the old certainties which tended to equate pretty much destruction evidence of the late fourth century with the events of 367. I suppose it is all part of the modern tendency not to oblige the archaeological evidence to fit a pre-determined historical framework, although there is always a danger of throwing baby out with the bathwater.

By the way, Is Stuart Laycock a reputable historian, taken seriously by his peers, or is he regarded as someone on the fringe of academe?
More the latter than the former, from what I can work out, although he could not be accused of being a pseudo-historian. He seems to be part of the same broad category of commentators as Ken Dark - someone who is treated as a peer, but who is quoted in order to be disagreed with. As you may know, his big contribution was his Britannia: A Failed State (that might not be the exact title) in which he sought an analogy for the end of Roman Britain with the horrors of the collapse of Yugoslavia. It was an interesting theory, but Laycock now tends to be held up as an example of what happens if you try to write history through the lens of the zeitgeist - a topic which you and I have touched on in the past.
 
Jan 2014
2,382
Westmorland
I read this paper by Guy Halsall a while back. You may not agree, but the article is interesting.

Northern Britain and the Fall of the Roman Empire
Thanks for that. It appears to be a condensed version of much of what he argued in Worlds of Arthur. I largely agree with his view of the nature of migration, but I've always struggled with his notion of an ordered pull back of regular Roman troops from the frontier and their replacement with local warlords. If the theory could be proven, it would account for the lack of late Roman military metalwork on the frontier, but alas, there is no proof.

My issue with the theory is that it requires us to accept the existence on the frontier of paramilitary local groups to whom military control could be ceded. I don't think it worked like that. The military organisation of the frontier was based around the forts and there is no evidence of the parallel existence of any Romano-British chieftains with their warbands. Equaly, there is no evidence that warlords of the buffer zone further north (who I agree were most likely friendly to Rome) were invited south. Indeed, as Charles-Edwards has it, Rome did not tolerate kings within its borders. It had to in the end (Aquitaine, for example) but such groups are visible in the record. In addition, the archaeology of the fifth-century frontier shows none of the ostentation in material artefacts which I personally think we can associate with parvenu Germanic and Irish groups.

This leaves the distribution of belt sets as yet unexplained. Perhaps they were associated with the field army? Perhaps they were given to federates a a means of displaying affinity with the Roman army in circumstances where the federates did not otherwise wear Roman military uniform or use Roman military equipment?
 

GogLais

Ad Honorem
Sep 2013
5,043
Wirral
Hengist was coarser than Horsa,
And Horsa was awfully coarse.
Horsa drank whiskey,
Told tales that were risqué,
But Hengist was in a divorce.

Horsa grew coarser and coarser,
But Hengist was coarse all his life.
That reprobate Horsa
Drank tea from a saucer,
But Hengist ate peas with his knife.
Interesting. What rhymes with Vortigern?
 
Sep 2015
319
ireland
Thanks for that. It appears to be a condensed version of much of what he argued in Worlds of Arthur. I largely agree with his view of the nature of migration, but I've always struggled with his notion of an ordered pull back of regular Roman troops from the frontier and their replacement with local warlords. If the theory could be proven, it would account for the lack of late Roman military metalwork on the frontier, but alas, there is no proof.

My issue with the theory is that it requires us to accept the existence on the frontier of paramilitary local groups to whom military control could be ceded. I don't think it worked like that.
Nevertheless this is what appears to have happened in the west. The Notitia Dignitatum gives no indication of what was happening in Wales and the usual assumption seems to be that the section which dealt with this is lost. I think a case can be made for saying the Romans had ceded control in the west to local warlords by the end of the 4th century. Quite apart from the evidence of Notitia Digitatum or lack of it, it is thought that Deva had been abandoned in the later 4th century. One of the reasons suggested is that the Dee had silted up and so proper sea access had been denied to the city. I don`t see this as reason enough for the Romans to leave Deva and there must have be other circumstances which forced events. If Deva was really abandoned, it seems unlikely that the Romans would have left themselves exposed in Segontium.

Furthermore traditional tales can be reconciled with this. The Dream of Macsen describes how Macsen married the daughter of Eudaf and in return hands over control of south and west Wales to him. Eudaf appears to have initially been king of Dumnonia. There were units of Attacotti in the Roman military recorded in Gaul and even evidence of them in Thessalonica around the end of the 4th century and yet they were enemies of the empire in 367.
 
Jan 2014
2,382
Westmorland
I think a case can be made for the deliberate settlement of Irish federates in Wales (the Deisi), but I remain troubled by this notion that Rome had allowed an Iron Age British warrior culture to co-exist with imperial government So far as I am aware, that didn't happen within the Empire, notwithstanding that treaty arrangements with groups living immediately beyond the limes seem to have existed. Roman citizenship had been extended to every freeman in the Empire and Roman citizens were forbidden from carrying arms. The State provided the military muscle.

I accept that once the State had ceased to provide military muscle, local leaders had to arrange it themselves. It might not have taken that long to militarise a section of society, but it would presumably be a process measured in years and they may not have been the best quality, at least to start with. Britain was garrisoned until the early fifth-century and defences were being re-organised at an official level into the very late fourth century. The last garrisons of limitanei may well have provided the first generation of fighting men for what became the British warbands of Gildas' day, but we have to assume that their interests would have been local. The settlement of Irish federates in south Wales suggests a lack of professional soldiers in that area. There was a Saxon Shore style fort at Anglesey in the north, but I don't know what other arrangements existed up there. One assumes Chester was the key, but note what you say about it being abandoned. Is the positive evidence of abandonment solely its omission from the Notitia?

The Notitia is an interesting document, but it is also a frustrating one and we have to be careful about placing too much reliance on it. The problem is that the archaeology often disagrees with it. Of the twelve Cumbrian forts named in the Notitia, only three have definite archaeological evidence for late fourth-century Roman military occupation (although a fourth fort is a possible). A further seven forts have definite archaeological evidence for late Roman military activity, but aren't mentioned in the Notitia. Three others are possibles, but also aren't mentioned in the Notitia.
 
Sep 2015
319
ireland
I think a case can be made for the deliberate settlement of Irish federates in Wales (the Deisi), but I remain troubled by this notion that Rome had allowed an Iron Age British warrior culture to co-exist with imperial government So far as I am aware, that didn't happen within the Empire, notwithstanding that treaty arrangements with groups living immediately beyond the limes seem to have existed. Roman citizenship had been extended to every freeman in the Empire and Roman citizens were forbidden from carrying arms. The State provided the military muscle.

I accept that once the State had ceased to provide military muscle, local leaders had to arrange it themselves. It might not have taken that long to militarise a section of society, but it would presumably be a process measured in years and they may not have been the best quality, at least to start with. Britain was garrisoned until the early fifth-century and defences were being re-organised at an official level into the very late fourth century. The last garrisons of limitanei may well have provided the first generation of fighting men for what became the British warbands of Gildas' day, but we have to assume that their interests would have been local. The settlement of Irish federates in south Wales suggests a lack of professional soldiers in that area. There was a Saxon Shore style fort at Anglesey in the north, but I don't know what other arrangements existed up there. One assumes Chester was the key, but note what you say about it being abandoned. Is the positive evidence of abandonment solely its omission from the Notitia?

The Notitia is an interesting document, but it is also a frustrating one and we have to be careful about placing too much reliance on it. The problem is that the archaeology often disagrees with it. Of the twelve Cumbrian forts named in the Notitia, only three have definite archaeological evidence for late fourth-century Roman military occupation (although a fourth fort is a possible). A further seven forts have definite archaeological evidence for late Roman military activity, but aren't mentioned in the Notitia. Three others are possibles, but also aren't mentioned in the Notitia.
There appears to be a general acceptance that Deva was abandoned. Peter Salway for example, associates the abandonment with Magnus Maximus and he also appears to accept that Romans had given up on Wales by the end of the 4th century. I know that Romans In Britain website which appears to be down, mentioned that the Dee had silted up but this might be only speculative. Presumably no epigraphy survives that might indicate a military presence after 383. I`m interested in the Sanas Cormaic account of how Criomthann Mor mac Fidach had been a king in Britain and how he had a triple rampart fort called Caer Tradui. If he really was as powerful as the Irish source suggests, we shouldn`t be surprised that he might have taken control of Deva. Caer (fortress) Tra (beach) Dui (Dee?).

He might have taken Deva by force in 367 or perhaps after some later wheeling and dealing with either Theodosius the Elder or Magnus Maximus and in return the Attacotti were Romanized. I also suspect that a lot of these Irish migrants that turned up in western Britain in the 4th and 5th centuries, or their leaders at least, might have had some Roman pedigree and were essentially mariners who were powerful enough to establish themselves in south and south east Ireland and also in south west and western Britain and northern Gaul. Rome appears to have left Britain hanging in the wind for much of the 4th century.
 
Jan 2014
2,382
Westmorland
There appears to be a general acceptance that Deva was abandoned. Peter Salway for example, associates the abandonment with Magnus Maximus and he also appears to accept that Romans had given up on Wales by the end of the 4th century. I know that Romans In Britain website which appears to be down, mentioned that the Dee had silted up but this might be only speculative. Presumably no epigraphy survives that might indicate a military presence after 383. I`m interested in the Sanas Cormaic account of how Criomthann Mor mac Fidach had been a king in Britain and how he had a triple rampart fort called Caer Tradui. If he really was as powerful as the Irish source suggests, we shouldn`t be surprised that he might have taken control of Deva. Caer (fortress) Tra (beach) Dui (Dee?).

He might have taken Deva by force in 367 or perhaps after some later wheeling and dealing with either Theodosius the Elder or Magnus Maximus and in return the Attacotti were Romanized. I also suspect that a lot of these Irish migrants that turned up in western Britain in the 4th and 5th centuries, or their leaders at least, might have had some Roman pedigree and were essentially mariners who were powerful enough to establish themselves in south and south east Ireland and also in south west and western Britain and northern Gaul. Rome appears to have left Britain hanging in the wind for much of the 4th century.
Interesting thoughts.

I suppose to take it any further, we'd need to ask what Dui meant in Old Welsh? It admittedly sounds a bit like 'Dee', but presumably would have been pronounced 'dwee', which takes us a step away from the immediate apparent similarity.
 

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