Although a consensus of scholars and historians claim that King Arthur’s twelfth battle, fought on “monte Badonis,” took place on Little Solsbury Hill near Bath, evidence indicates that the battle on Mount Badon was fought by Ambrosius Aurelianus at The Wrekin near Wroxeter.
KING ARTHUR’S BATTLE ON BADON HILL (BATH)
The battle of Badon is recorded in three ancient British manuscripts. The earliest has been dated by scholars as the last decade of the fifth century, penned by Gildas Baconicus. In Section 25.3 he describes how his countrymen had been cruelly plundered, writing that the Briton leader
was Ambrosius Aurelianus, a gentleman who, perhaps alone of the Romans, had survived the shock of this notable storm. Certainly his parents, who had worn the purple, were slain in it. His descendants in our day have become greatly inferior to their grandfather’s excellence. Under him, our people regained their strength, and challenged the victors to battle.
Victory went first from the Saxones, then to the Britons up to the year of the siege of Badon Hill, which was also the date of Gildas’s birth. At that point the Britons claimed victory.
The second manuscript, written by Bede in the 8th century, records this information in Book I, Chapter 16:
When the victorious Saxones had scattered and destroyed the native peoples and returned to their own dwellings, the Britons slowly began to take heart and recover their strength, emerging from the dens where they had hidden themselves, and joining in prayer that God might help them to avoid complete extermination. Their leader at this time was Ambrosius Aurelianus, a man of good character and the sole survivor of Roman race from the catastrophe. . . . Under his leadership the Britons took up arms, challenged their conquerors to battle, and with God’s help inflicted defeat upon them. Thenceforward victory swung first to one side and then to the other, until the battle of Badon Hill, when the Britons made a considerable slaughter of the invaders. This took place about forty-four years after their arrival in Britain.
Using Josephus Stevenson’s recension of a third manuscript, the Historia Brittonum, the Battle of Mount Badon is mentioned only once, the last battle in the battle list. The passage specifically reads, “The twelfth battle on Mount Badonis, in which nine hundred and sixty fell when Arthur charged, and he laid them down, and he was victorious in battle.”
However, John Morris’s translation is different, since he includes the Annales Cambriae and translates a variable manuscript in the Mirabilia. The information from Section 56 is basically the same as Stevenson’s translation; the date, equated with the birth of Gildas, leaves no doubt that the historic Arthur–that is, Lucius Artorius Castus–is NOT of the fifth century, and therefore could not have possibly fought a battle at Badon during the last decade of the fifth century. The floruit for Lucius Castus is undeniably the last three decades of the second century. Ambrosius Aurelianus is the only likely candidate as the leader at the Badon battle in the fifth century. To date, there is no proof of King Arthur, or any military commander besides Ambrosius Aurelianus,who would have been a leader competent enough to be victorious.
In answer to the question of when the battle of Badon Hill was fought, Lucius Artorius Castus absolutely does not belong to the fifth century. Gildas provides the basis for a chronological calculation, and although his tangled grammatical structure seemingly makes it questionable, the parameters are quite restrictive, especially when considering that the source dates back a stupendous millennium and a half. His date? One month of the forty-fourth year from the date of his birth (Gildas DE 26.1). John Morris sets the date at 495 (Morris 1989, 513); Leslie Alcock modified the date from 490 to 499 because of a lunar calibration (Alcock, 1973, xvii); Charles Plummer estimated the year as 493 (O’Sullivan 1978, 139); David Dumville cautiously inferred, “At the risk of foolish oversimplification, it was composed around 500+” (Lapidge and Dumville 1984, 83); and Kenneth Jackson wrote that “516 for Badon is probably too late by as much as ten or 15 years,” then extrapolates the date of 500 (Jackson 1959, 5). The Historic King Arthur sets the year at 497 because of the two-year variant in resetting the date of Easter (Reno 1996, 74-80). Surprisingly, the range from 493 to 500 is impressive, particularly since the period was plagued by three methods of chronological calibration: the Victorius reckoning according to Christ’s Passion, the Dionysiac method based upon Christ’s Nativity, and the adaptation of lunar cycles.
The second question which arises about the Battle of Badon is, “Where was the battle of Badon fought?” The common site selected by a large majority of researchers and scholars is the spa known as Aquae Sulis during the Roman occupation. Why the link between Badon and Aquae Sulis continues to be embraced is a mystery. Morphologically, linguistically, and philologically, the name Badon is not a cognate of Bath, Bathon, or Aquae Sulis. Leslie Alcock–whether knowingly or unknowingly–affirms this denial of Badon being equated with Aquae Sulis or the city of Bath. He writes:
It is generally considered that the English [Saxons] gave the name Bath to a decayed Roman spa-town because traces of the Roman hot baths were still visible when the Wessex dynasty captured the area in A.D. 577. Certainly the English name owed nothing to a Roman predecessor, for the Romans knew the spa as Aquae Sulis, “Waters of the Sul” (Alcock 1973, 70).
In the fifth century, and when Gildas penned his manuscript somewhere between 533 and 541, Aquae Sulis was known as Aquae Sulis. Yet, some of those who are proponents of Bath as the site of Badon defend their claim because of an adjacent “mount,” Little Solsbury Hill. From the standpoint of archaeology, however, it can be discounted. W. A. Dowden (1957, 28 and 1962, 182) reported on the excavations of Little Solsbury Camp during 1955 and 1956 and concluded that “the hillfort appears to have been abandoned well before the Roman period, for there is no trace of Roman influence.”
Other proponents of Bath as the Badon locale cite the Mirabilia (known also as “The Wonders of Britain”) in the Historia Brittonum, Section 67, and accept the italicized segment of that passage as a clue that Badon must indeed be Bath. Of the eighteen extant manuscripts of the Historia Brittonum, John Morris used and translated Manuscript L, which states.
The third wonder is the Hot Lake, where the baths of Badon are, in the country of Hwicce. It is surrounded by a wall, made of brick and stone, and men may go there to bathe at any time, and every man can have the kind of bath he likes.
This translation given by Morris seemingly answers the question of “Where was the battle of Badon hill fought?”, but his information is quite misleading. In an Introductory Note written by R.B. White after Morris’s death and included in the Historia Brittonum translated by Morris, White points out some crucial information. He not only writes that Morris used Manuscript L as stated above, but adds that “Words in italics are not found in any MSS but are supplied from the contents table prefixed to the Cambridge University MS (L). That means that the segment “where the baths of Badon are” is an interpolation, not appearing in any manuscript, and not part of the manuscript being copied by the scribe.
On the other hand, Josephus Stevenson’s recension of the Mirabilia is taken from Manuscript A, Harleian MS 3859, folio 135 b. He chose that particular manuscript because, in his own words, “ That text has been adopted because it is the least vitiated by extraneous matter.” Hence, he thinks it is the most important of all the copies and therefore adopted it for his recension. It reads
The third wonder is the hot lake which is in the region of Huich (Hwicce), surrounded by a wall of brick and stone, where men go to bathe, and the bath can be cold or hot.
To reveal how misleading the scribe’s interpolation was when inserting the passage “where the baths of Badon are,” a person must also read Section 68 of the Mirabilia which explains where the Hot Lake in the region of Hwicce truly is. According to R.G. Collingwood, Map VII, the country of Hwicce is between present-day Stratford-on-Avon and Worcester, over sixty miles north of Bath, at Droitwich Spa, which was known in the fifth century as Salinae South, Central Wales.
Equally significant is that battles are fought to either protect or capture coveted areas or resources. There were several villas in the vicinity of Aquae Sulis, but it was not an administrative center, nor a tribal city, nor a military fortress where a commander would have been strategically headquartered for quick responses to enemy incursions.
The tribal city of the Dobunni Territory was Cirencester, thirty miles from Bath, and the nearest legionary fortress was across the Mouth of the Severn, a trek of at least fifty miles.
The Roman name for this particular spa during Roman occupation was Aquae Sulis, named after Sulis Minerva which combined Celtic and Roman deities.
Another characteristic which is misleading about Bath being Badon are the statues similar to the one at the far right. Those statues were erected during the Victorian period and not during late-Roman times.
Some of those who are proponents of Bath as the site of Badon defend their claim because of an adjacent “mount” named Little Solsbury Hill. From the standpoint of archaeology, however, it can be discounted. W.A. Dowden reported on the excavations of Little Solsbury Camp during 1955 and 1956 and concluded that “the hillfort appears to have been abandoned well before the Roman period, for there is no trace of Roman influence.”
See Badon Hill: (Wroxeter)
As shown above, the Roman baths were twelve to fifteen feet below the present city of Bath. The King’s Bath, above and to the left, was constructed centuries after the Roman withdrawal . At left is one of the original Roman arches, but it is worthy to note that the baths were not large during the Roman era.