Who were the traitors, Saxons or Local Britons?

Jan 2016
809
Europe
I read this very interesting work posted by another member, .

HISTORY OF BRITAIN, 407-597, by Fabio P. Barbieri

What fascinated me the most was the author's claim the Britons essentially deserved what they got, when they refused to pay the Saxons. The version of events I keep seeing is that in fact Hengest and Horsa deceived Vortigern, rather than the other way around. First coming as mercenaries, the nobles were initially disgusted by the "barbarians" but Vortigern paid them handsomly in gold, food and land. Eventually though, H&H decided they wanted more, and invited their women and children over, slaughtering every single man in Vortigern's army at a "peace meeting". Sure, some of the nobles felt disenfranchised and probably disgusted enough by the Saxons to rebel, especially the nobles from Kent that Vortigern had stolen lands from. And they did start a Rebellion. Vortigern's position as King was already shakey, my own belief is that he usurped the throne from a son of Constantine ap Magnus Maximus who held lands in Wales, perhaps a weak and inneffective king (being a warrior culture, no one would care if a weak king died except for the king's family). This, coupled with a possible famine from the many Saxons who came, angry displaced nobles and the betrayed family of the King who Vortigern usurped the throne from might have caused a united effort against him.


Which version is more accurate?
 
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notgivenaway

Ad Honorem
Jun 2015
5,781
UK
I doubt we'll ever know for sure. the picture though is complex undoubtedly, and must have been some trickery, subjugation, and voluntary submission.
 

Peter Graham

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
2,650
Westmorland
Which version is more accurate?
Probably neither. What you have to remember is that no-one even mentions someone called Vortigern until three hundred years after he is supposed to have lived. His name first crops up in Bede, writing circa 730 AD. Some commentators seek to argue that Gildas' 'proud tyrant' is Vortigern, but there is nothing to really support that, beyond the similarity of the surrounding stories. And, of course, the similarity between Gildas' and Bede's accounts is hardly surprising, given that Bede essentially copies Gildas' account and just adds in a few more details (including Vortigern's name), which one assumes must have been floating around as oral tales.

We have no evidence of any line of transmission which takes tales of Vortigern from the fifth century to the eighth, when they were first written down. So, all we can say for sure is that by the eighth century, it was believed, at least by some people, that a chap called Vortigern had invited in the Saxons. But whether those stories were true, partially true or entirely fabricated is not easy to tell. There do appear to be conflicting traditions (Vortigern as good guy or bad guy) which do not give much cause for confidence.

Notwithstanding, certain features of the stories may have a grounding in reality. Gildas talks about settlement of Germanic federates in Kent and whilst his apocalyptic account of their rebellion is unlikely to be terribly reliable, the notion that federates were settled by British authorities is likely to be true, partly because it was fairly standard late Roman practice but mainly because there is archaeological evidence for it.

However, this doesn't make the rest of the story any more likely to be true. To the contrary, the structure of the Vortigern story - a self contained vignette with a clear narrative, good guys, bad guys, hubris and a Moral Lesson For Us All - suggests that is is first and foremost a carefully shaped fictional construct. As such, it has the potential to tell us a very great deal about the world view of the eighth century whilst perhaps telling us very little about actual fifth-century events.

The arguments that are pressed into service to rebut this conclusion (lost sources, oral memory et al) are usually unsupported by any evidence, and are therefore little more than unproven - and unprovable - hypotheses. In addition, they also arguably misunderstand the nature of, for example, oral memory. The problems with the written sources have given rise to a trend towards 'disaggregation' (as one scholar terms it), in which the historical and archaeological evidence is uncoupled and the written sources are largely (although not wholly) rejected as a useful source of evidence for narrative events. Essentially, the problems with the written sources are regarded as insurmountable. I'm personally not quite ready to go that far, but I do feel that scepticism about both the written sources and the complex historical narratives which are woven from them is absolutely essential for a proper understanding of this period.

Regards,

Peter
 
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Jan 2015
941
England
Gildas's 'proud tyrant' is obviously Vortigern. Whether he had that name or not (and it may well have actually been a title) is a completely superficial matter. Gildas describes exactly the same story as that described by later historians (such as Bede), so the main character is, by any logic, the same person. Some manuscripts even include the name 'Vortigern'. Arguing that the unnamed main character in Gildas's account is not the same as the named main character in a later account who does the same thing is just nonsensical.

But regardless, we know that there was a king who invited the Saxons over to defend the shores of Britain. His name is unimportant. We know that the essential essence of the later legends is true from the almost contemporary account of Gildas - that the Saxons grew more and more demanding until they eventually completely turned on the Britons and started taking over the country. That is what the earliest evidence tells us, and every record thereafter supports it (the idea that every record thereafter ultimately stems from Gildas is also obviously untrue, as it would have us believe that he was the only person who wrote anything down around that time, when in fact we know there were many major schools of learning at that time, such as the Cor Tewdws, or Llanilltud Fawr - and, according to John Morris (who, contrary to popularist critics, was not a scholar of any less value than any other given scholar of Dark Age Britain; he simply did not provide the reasons for his conclusions in The Age of Arthur as he had in his other, perfectly acceptable, scholarly works, even though the conclusions he reached were exactly the same), the great number of styluses found in Britain from that time period attests to the extent of writing that took place).
 
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Jan 2016
809
Europe
Seems very unlikely it was a title. "High King" isn't an unusual name if you check out other Celt's names. Plus, Vortigern pops up twice. There is a separate Vortigern in the 200's, an ancestor of the current Vortigern. He was mentioned by a greek text and listed as "Outigern", which is how they would spell the pronunciation of Vortigern (With Celts pronouncing the V as a W). That of course means you have to accept that Vortigern is descended from Ebiud.

Some other funny Celtic names:

Cunobelinos: Hound of God/Beli
Maelgwn: Dogboy
Arthur: Bearman
Cadeyrn: Battle King
Bouddica: Victory
Caratacos: Loved
Cassiuelanos: Battle leader (possibly "excellent at/in battle")

It seems quite common to name your child something heroic, even if they might end up never fighting. Vercingetorix is a non-British good example, and there are other examples.
The etymologies of most of their names is what leads me to believe a lot of Celtic women did fight (relatively speaking. I'm not saying half an army, but at least a handful in a warband of 100). A lot of women are called "battle-raven", "maiden of war", "keen-blade".
 
Jan 2016
809
Europe
Gildas's 'proud tyrant' is obviously Vortigern. Whether he had that name or not (and it may well have actually been a title) is a completely superficial matter. Gildas describes exactly the same story as that described by later historians (such as Bede), so the main character is, by any logic, the same person. Some manuscripts even include the name 'Vortigern'. Arguing that the unnamed main character in Gildas's account is not the same as the named main character in a later account who does the same thing is just nonsensical.

But regardless, we know that there was a king who invited the Saxons over to defend the shores of Britain. His name is unimportant. We know that the essential essence of the later legends is true from the almost contemporary account of Gildas - that the Saxons grew more and more demanding until they eventually completely turned on the Britons and started taking over the country. That is what the earliest evidence tells us, and every record thereafter supports it (the idea that every record thereafter ultimately stems from Gildas is also obviously untrue, as it would have us believe that he was the only person who wrote anything down around that time, when in fact we know there were many major schools of learning at that time, such as the Cor Tewdws, or Llanilltud Fawr - and, according to John Morris (who, contrary to popularist critics, was not a scholar of any less value than any other given scholar of Dark Age Britain; he simply did not provide the reasons for his conclusions in The Age of Arthur as he had in his other, perfectly acceptable, scholarly works, even though the conclusions he reached were exactly the same), the great number of styluses found in Britain from that time period attests to the extent of writing that took place).
So Vortigern ran out of money, food and land to give the Saxons, so the Saxons rebelled against him. Displaced lords, farmers and merchants, and even his own sons rebelled against him. And the family of the King he had usurped the throne from rebelled against him.
All this having started since he thought Rowena was hot and gave the Saxons Ceint. It's reminiscent of the Helena of Troy business.

Do we know when these texts were lost? Since we literally have only a handful of surviving ones from 500-800, did they likely succumb to age? It sounds like me that it's more likely they were purposefully destroyed, though I can't see why. One would presume they'd be testaments to the victories of the Saxons, and the Normans wouldn't have cared enough to destroy them.

Dismissing the legends in such a period is a bit silly. The only battle Gildas thought was worth mentioning was Mount Badon. It's ridiculous some historians say that's proof that it's the only conflict from 410 to 539, since it's the only one that's not part of a legend. I firmly believe Nennius' battles are real. Why would he bother making it up? Especially if the details are so vague. The texts that are clearly legends, like the one of Macsen and Elen (not saying they were legendary, they definitely weren't, but the story of Macsen's dream is), are ridiculously detailed. Nennius is so vague there are about five different possibilities for which battle took place where. I think Morris situated them quite well.
 
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Peter Graham

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
2,650
Westmorland
Gildas's 'proud tyrant' is obviously Vortigern.
It is not obvious at all. Gildas gave his proud tyrant no name. Halsall makes a good case (although personally I don't agree with it) that the 'proud tyrant' is actually Magnus Maximus.

The issue here is one of circular logic. Your case is, I suspect, that Text A talks about an event but doesn't give a name to the protagonist, whereas Text B talks about the same event and gives a name to a protagonist. Ergo the name in Text B can be confidently assigned to the unnamed character in Text A. The problem with the argument is this - as Text B is drawn almost entirely from Text A, the two are NOT separate witnesses to the same event. As such, we cannot use B to support A.

Gildas describes exactly the same story as that described by later historians (such as Bede), so the main character is, by any logic, the same person.
See above. Your logic would only apply if Bede and Gildas could be considered as independent of one another. But they clearly aren't. Open your Gildas and open your Bede and do a line by line comparison of the relevant passages. For the most part, Bede is simply repeating Gildas. As such, the statement that they are describing exactly the same story is entirely to be expected.


Some manuscripts even include the name 'Vortigern'. Arguing that the unnamed main character in Gildas's account is not the same as the named main character in a later account who does the same thing is just nonsensical.
Again, this would only be valid if Gildas and Bede were independent of one another.

I agree that we need to answer the question 'where did the name Vortigern come from?' Unfortunately, we just don't know. If you want to argue that the name had been transmitted accurately across three centuries, you will have to be able to evidence a line of transmission, which of course, you can't as one doesn't exist. All we can reasonably conclude is that by about 730 at the latest, some people thought that a person called Vortigern had invited in the Saxons. But we can say no more as to whether that is right or not.


We know that the essential essence of the later legends is true from the almost contemporary account of Gildas - that the Saxons grew more and more demanding until they eventually completely turned on the Britons and started taking over the country.
That's what Gildas tell us, but we know Gildas was often wrong - sometimes very wrong - about events that happened before his lifetime. He directly attributes the desertion of towns to the Saxon revolt, yet we know from archaeology that the towns had declined at least a generation before the revolt is supposed to have happened. So, Gildas has drawn a false correlation. Not that he would have cared, I suspect. After all - he wasn't writing history, he was giving a Stern Moral Lesson. That is the point of DEB and Gildas (knowingly or otherwise) was perfectly happy to shape events to fit the message he wished to convey.

And, of course, Gildas isn't 'almost contemporary' with the Saxon revolt any more than you or I are 'almost contemporary' with D-Day.

(the idea that every record thereafter ultimately stems from Gildas is also obviously untrue, as it would have us believe that he was the only person who wrote anything down around that time,
No it wouldn't. All you have to do is compare your Gildas and your Bede. You can't fail to see that Bede copied Gildas.

when in fact we know there were many major schools of learning at that time, such as the Cor Tewdws, or Llanilltud Fawr
This is the 'lost source' argument which Halsall magnificently debunked (in the context of Arthur) in Worlds of Arthur. Very occasionally, a lost source can be demonstrated to have existed (see, in particular, the late Kathleen Hughes' work on the lost Northern chronicle which underlies some of the early entries in the Welsh Annals), but unless you can prove the existence of one through close textual criticism, you cannot just decide that one must have existed.

- and, according to John Morris (who, contrary to popularist critics, was not a scholar of any less value than any other given scholar of Dark Age Britain;
Populists may argue that he was a lesser scholar, but academics don't. I was defending him on another thread only last week. A great scholar and a great deductive reasoner, even if his conclusions have not withstood legitimate academic criticism.

he simply did not provide the reasons for his conclusions in The Age of Arthur
He did by implication over and over again. He did what you do - looked for apparent links in a widely disparate corpus of (usually very much later) literature, hagiography, annals and religious sermonising and then knitted it all together into a narrative account. The issues with this approach (essentially, completely ignoring the principles of textual or literary criticism) were highlighted almost immediately that Age of Arthur was published.
 
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Jan 2015
941
England
See above. Your logic would only apply if Bede and Gildas could be considered as independent of one another. But they clearly aren't. Open your Gildas and open your Bede and do a line by line comparison of the relevant passages. For the most part, Bede is simply repeating Gildas. As such, the statement that they are describing exactly the same story is entirely to be expected.
Exactly. They are clearly describing the same story. Bede is essentially just supplying a name for one of Gildas's nameless characters. Ergo, Bede's 'Vortigern' is Gildas's 'proud tyrant', whether Vortigern was actually Maximus Magnus or some later king.

I agree that we need to answer the question 'where did the name Vortigern come from?' Unfortunately, we just don't know. If you want to argue that the name had been transmitted accurately across three centuries, you will have to be able to evidence a line of transmission, which of course, you can't as one doesn't exist. All we can reasonably conclude is that by about 730 at the latest, some people thought that a person called Vortigern had invited in the Saxons. But we can say no more as to whether that is right or not.
Fortunately, I'm unconcerned as to whether he was called Vortigern, Vitalianus or Trahaern.

And, of course, Gildas isn't 'almost contemporary' with the Saxon revolt any more than you or I are 'almost contemporary' with D-Day.
But we are. There are still people alive today who remember that event, with whom we can converse and question. You seem to be confusing 'almost contemporary' with 'contemporary'.

No it wouldn't. All you have to do is compare your Gildas and your Bede. You can't fail to see that Bede copied Gildas.
That would be a good point if I was 'every record thereafter' means Bede, but it does not. There is Nennius, there is Geoffrey of Monmouth, there is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, to name just a few.

This is the 'lost source' argument which Halsall magnificently debunked (in the context of Arthur) in Worlds of Arthur. Very occasionally, a lost source can be demonstrated to have existed (see, in particular, the late Kathleen Hughes' work on the lost Northern chronicle which underlies some of the early entries in the Welsh Annals), but unless you can prove the existence of one through close textual criticism, you cannot just decide that one must have existed.
Only if I was arguing for a particular lost source. But I'm not. I'm just pointing out the inescapable fact that Gildas was not the only person in the British isles in a three century long period to have written anything down.

Populists may argue that he was a lesser scholar, but academics don't. I was defending him on another thread only last week. A great scholar and a great deductive reasoner, even if his conclusions have not withstood legitimate academic criticism.
-Even if some of his conclusions are not currently agreed with. The idea that all, or even most, of what he wrote in his books (or even just The Age of Arthur) is wrong is absurd. It's much like HRB's account of the Roman era. Plenty of inaccuracies and mistakes, but a very accurate overall summary, with plenty of accurate details.

Anyway, the point of bringing him into the conversation was to point out that we know that plenty of writing went on in Britain in the 'Dark Ages', due to the great number of styluses that have been found.
 
Jan 2016
809
Europe
The argument that only Gildas wrote anything can basically be ruined by pointing out Gildas, born around 496 (some say 516), was obviously taught to read and write by SOMEONE.
Of course, basic logic would say it's absurd that only one man would write anything in the Sub-Roman period.

Going off on a bit of a tangent here, but Gildas being Caw's son would explain why he spoke and wrote latin, as Caw had a lot of Roman blood in him and was a Christian.
Of course hey may haved learned it at a church in Wales, which is a simpler explanation.
 
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Jan 2015
941
England
The argument that only Gildas wrote anything can basically be ruined by pointing out Gildas, born around 496 (some say 516), was obviously taught to read and write by SOMEONE.
Of course, basic logic would say it's absurd that only one man would write anything in the Sub-Roman period.
Exactly. And that being the case, we know that there are lost sources for what went on in fifth and sixth century Britain.