The Grail Code 
Looking for Arthur in Nennius, Part 2

The Twelve Battles

Arthur shows up quite suddenly in Nennius. Nennius hasn’t all that much to say about him, but he does give us a tantalizing list of twelve battles:

At that time the Saxons were strengthening in multitude and increasing in Britain.

Now after the death of Hengist, his son Octha crossed from the left-hand part of Britain to the kingdom of Kent, and from him arose the kings of Kent.

Then Arthur used to fight against them in those days along with the kings of the Britons, but he himself was the commander-in-chief [dux bellorum].

1. The first battle was at the mouth of the river called Glein.

2. The second,

3. third,

4. fourth, and

5. fifth were on another river, which is called Dubglas and is in the region of Linnuis.

6. The sixth was on the river called Bassas.

7. The seventh was the battle in the Celidon forest; that is, Cat Coit Celidon.

8. The eighth was the battle in Castle Guinnion, in which Arthur carried the image of St. Mary Ever Virgin on his shoulders, and the pagans turned in flight and there was a great slaughter among them by the power of Our Lord Jesus Christ and by the power of St. Mary the Virgin his mother.

9. The ninth battle was waged in the City of the Legion.

10. The tenth battle he waged on the shore of the river called Tribruit.

11. The eleventh battle happened on the mount called Agned.

12. The twelfth was the battle at Mount Badon, in which 960 men fell in one day by Arthur’s single assault, and no one struck them down except himself alone.

Here Arthur is set in history some time around the death of Hengist and the rise of Octha, but vaguely “in those days,” when he fought in the imperfect tense (“pugnabat”). It looks as though Nennius had an entirely different source for the history of Arthur from the one he had been using before, and he pasted the two sources together with only the most desultory sort of transition.

Was Arthur a king? Nennius has been interpreted as saying that he wasn’t, but I think that’s reading too much into what he wrote. Arthur fought “along with the kings of the Britons, but he himself was the commander-in-chief.” That could mean either that he was not a king but fought along with kings, or that he was a king, and the preeminent one.

Nennius may also be using the term “kings” loosely or anachronistically; there hadn’t been much time since the end of the orderly Roman provincial government for legitimate hereditary monarchies to form. We’re probably talking about a loose association of normally feuding warlords who put aside their differences to fight the Saxons, and since none of the others are named we can take it that Arthur was preeminent among them.

Some take “dux bellorum,” which I’ve translated as “commander-in-chief,” as a memory of the old Roman imperial title by that name, and go on from there to imagine Arthur as trying to restore some shadow of the old Roman imperial government in Britain. I won’t draw that conclusion, but I will remember an interesting fact I mentioned earlier: that medieval Welsh legends often call Arthur “emperor.”

As we mention in The Grail Code, whole academic careers have been spent trying to identify the locations of the twelve battles in Nennius. I won’t get into that, either. Instead, I’m more interested in the eighth battle, the one at Castle Guinnion. Once again we see Arthur carrying an image on his “shoulders.” (Some historians suspect that “shoulders,” both here and in the Annals of Wales, may be a mistranslation of “shield,” which was almost identical to “shoulders” in the old British or Welsh language. If that’s true, it’s evidence that there was an ancient written source for the Arthurian traditions.) Here the image is of the Blessed Virgin, rather than the Cross. But once again the implication is the same: Arthur won because he fought on the side of God.

But if he won by divine assistance, how did he lose God’s favor? That’s an interesting question that will send us looking into all sorts of obscure local traditions.

3 Responses to “Looking for Arthur in Nennius, Part 2”

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