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A Synopsis of the Anglo-Scottish Historico-political Interactions

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By Periklis Deligiannis

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Most of this article is actually a part of my published book The Celts, Athens 2008, unfortunately available only in Greek.
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At about the same time when the Anglo-Saxons and other Germanics were landing in Britain and beginning the conquest of the territories which later became England (5th cent. AD.), one of the strongest Irish tribes, namely the Scots, were migrating to the opposite coast of Caledonia (northern Britain), founding the kingdom of Dal-Riada (or Dal-Riata). It has been hypothesized that in reality this colonization involved Scottish mercenaries (a Scot dynasty) who were to be used by the Britons as a buffer against the Pict raiders, like the earlier migration of the Votadini. The Picts (the “painted ones” in Latin because they retained the ancient Celtic custom of using body tattoo before the battle) were a pre-Celtic people of Caledonia, who at that time was almost Celticized and had incorporated most of the other tribes of the region. Τhey were calling themselves the Cruthni. The Britons generally used the Roman doctrine of dealing with barbarian peoples by turning one against another.
In Ireland, which has never been threatened by the Romans, the local Celtic tribes and dynasties fought each other for power. Some warlords managed to greatly expand their influence and it became a custom to be enthroned on the sacred hill of Tara.
Until the early 20th century, most researchers believed that the Anglo-Saxons were the principal ancestors of the modern English nation and the English are basically a Germanic people, on the hypothesis that their ancestors exterminated the native Celts or expelled them to the periphery of the island. Since then, the sciences of archaeology, genetics, anthropology and others demonstrated that this is not true. The English originate mainly from the indigenous population of the British Isles (as the neighbouring modern Celtic peoples) who first adopted the Celtic language due to cultural interaction with the Continent, and then adopted the Anglo-Saxon language because of the Germanic conquest. The same applies to the origins of the modern French people, the Spanish, the Walloons and others, who originate mainly from the pre-Celtic population of each country, who was Celticized mainly through cultural interaction and later Latinized because of the Roman conquest. The majority of the population of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms from the 7th century onwards, consisted of Germanized Britons who spoke the language of the conquerors and now called themselves ‘Saxons’. Their leading class consisted mainly of genuine Anglo-Saxons and some Germanized ex-Celtic aristocrats. The original Saxons were the majority only in some small coastal enclaves where they originally landed.

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AFTER ARTHUR: a synoptic study on the fate of the native Briton population after the Anglo-Saxon invasion and prevalence

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Sutton Hoo

            The renowned  helmet of the Sutton Hoo burial (reconstruction by  the  Royal Armouries).

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By  Periklis Deligiannis

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[This  article is actually a synopsis of a sub-chapter of my book  ‘The Celts‘, Periscope publ., Athens 2008, unfortunately available only in Greek]

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The Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain started around the middle of the 5th cent AD. After the first Saxon victories, the Britons were reorganized and had gone on the offensive against the invaders led by a succession of skilful Supreme rulers (under the military office of the Duke that is Dux Bellorum according to the Roman terminology) of the 5th-6th centuries, such as Voteporix, Ambrosius Aurelianus and the enigmatic Arthur, who managed to effectively repel the invaders.

‘King’ Arthur may have been a historical  personality, possibly a descendant of Artorius Castus – a much earlier Roman commander in Britain – and prince of the Dumnonii tribe/civitas in  South-western Britain. Arthur or more correctly, the possible historical figure that he represents, was not the ‘King of the island’ but rather the Supreme commander/ruler of the Britons. But he probably was the king of his own people/former civitas; probably Dumnonia. It is believed that his royal residence was in South-western Britain, perhaps in the royal fortress excavated at Cadbury. From there he was undertaking military and political action in all the Briton territories as far as the Antonine Wall in the North. The philological and archaeological data indicate that he managed to repel the Anglo-Saxon advance. According to the chroniclers, he defeated the Saxons in twelve major battles, killing many of them. Arthur managed to repel the Pictish and Irish raiders as well. He achieved his greatest victory in the Badonicus hill fort (Mount Badon, around 516 AD) on the Anglo-Saxons. After this victory, Arthur’s ruling influence was extended to some of the Anglo-Saxon rulers, as well as to the Bretons of Armorica in modern north-western France.

Archaeology confirms the Briton victories on the Anglo-Saxons around 500 AD. In the first half of the 6th century the Saxon advance stopped, the burials of the barbarian warriors raised sharply, while large groups of Anglo-Saxons returned to Germany, apparently frustrated by the Celtic victories. The superiority of the Briton army against the invaders probably relied to its armored cavalry, a legacy of the Late Roman army in Britannia. On the other hand, the Anglo-Saxons were almost entirely infantrymen.

britain 6th cent.

Britain in the 6th century (suggested  or approximate boundariess). The Anglo-Saxon kingdoms are noted in red, the Briton kdms in black, the Irish in blue and the Pictish in brown. In the 7th cent., the Angles of Bernicia, Deira and Lindsey were united in the large kingdom of Northumbria.  Bernicia, Deira and then  Nortumbria destroyed and conquered the Briton kdms of Bryneich, Ebrauc, Elmet and South Rheged. Mercia conquered South Elmet and a part of Luitcoyt. The territory of Lundein (London) was annexed mainly by Essex (East Saxons) and East Anglia, and Regia by Sussex (South Saxons). Finally Wessex joined by the Gewissae (possibly descendants of Germanic soldiers of Rome), managed to destroy and annex the Briton kdms of Glouvia, Cerin and Atrebatia, pressing hard towards Dumnonia (possibly Arthur’s homeland). A part of the Dumnonii had already fled to Armorica founding the colony of Domnonee.

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KING ARTHUR, ARTHURIAN LEGEND AND THE SARMATIANS – PART I

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Wulfheodenas

 Reenactment  of a Saxon warlord by the Historical association Wulfheodenas.  Until  the  9th  century  AD,  the  marching  Anglo-Saxons  gradually  conquered  the  greatest  part  of  the  former  Roman  territories  in  Britain. 

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By Periklis  Deligiannis

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In  AD  175  ,  the  Roman  emperor  Marcus  Aurelius  settled  thousands  of  Sarmatian  cavalry  mercenaries  in  Britain.  Two  centuries  later,  the  Western  Roman  Empire  withdrew  her  troops  from  the  island.  It  seems  that  the  independent
”British  kingdom”  preserved  its  unity  and  coherence  but  soon  after  it  was  struck  by  the  ruthless  Anglo-Saxon  invasion.  The  Sarmatians  were  now  merged  with  the  Celtic  and  Romano-Briton  population,  taking  the  lead  in  checking  the  barbarians.  This  Sarmatian  presence  in  Britain  consists  probably  the  historical  background  of  the  legend  of  king  Arthur  and  his  Knights  of  the  Round  Table.

The  Romans  conquered  modern  England  and  Wales  during  the  1st  century  A.D.  The  tribes  of  Caledonia  (Caledonii,  Cornavii/Cornovii,  Venicones  etc.)  which  corresponds  to  the  modern  Scottish  Highlands,  remained  independent.  By  the  4th  century,  her  peoples  had  been  incorporated  into  the  tribal  union  of  the  Picts  (Picti,  Pictae).  Their  name  meant  the  “painted  ones”  in  Latin  because  of  the  ancient  Celtic  custom  of   tattooing  which  they  maintained.  In  fact,  they  called  themselves  Cruthni.  The  Romans  held  Britannia  for  more  than  three  centuries,  but  the  Christianization  and  Latinization  of  its  population  were  confined  only  to  the  cities  and  in  a  few  Southeastern  rural  regions.  The  great  majority  of  the  population  remained  Celtic  in  language  and  in  cults.  Especially  the  rural  populations  were  greatly  influenced  by  the  Christian  heresy  of  Pelagianism.  In  the  late  4th  century  AD,  the  original  Roman  province  of  Britannia  was  split  into  four  provinces:  Caesaresia  Magna,  Caesaresia  Flavia,  Britannia  I  and  Britannia  II.  The  tribes  of  Caledonia  and  Ireland  were  raiding  the  Romano-British  territory  for  centuries.

The  Irish  were  crossing  the  Irish  Sea  with  their  light  vessels,  the  Celtic  curraghs.  The  Caledonians-Picts  were  attacking  the  Romano-British  population  by  land  and  sea,  using  the  same  type  of  ships.  Caledonia  and  Britannia  were  separated  by  a  “neutral  zone” (buffer  zone  in  fact)  between  Antoninus’  and  Hadrian’s  Walls,  which  is  almost  equivalent  to  the  modern  Scottish  Lowlands. The  limits  of  Caledonia  (latter  Pictland)  followed  roughly  the  modern  ‘unofficial’  boundaries  between  the  Highlands  and  the  Lowlands  of  Scotland.  The  tribes  of  this  buffer  zone  between  Britannia  and  Caledonia  (the  Damnonii,  the  Selgovae  et. al.)  had  lived  for  two  decades  of  the  2nd  century  AD  under  direct  Roman  control  that  had  reached  Antoninus’  Wall (Vallum  Antonini).  When  they  revolted,  the  Romans  evacuated  this  region  and  restored  the  line  of  their  defense  in  Hadrian’s  Wall (Vallum  Adriani).  Eventually  the  Romans  made  allied  vassals  (foederati)  the  tribes  of   Lowland  Scotland,  using  them  as  a  buffer  zone  against  the  Caledonians/Picts.  However,  their  fidelity  was  always  questionable  and  the  gradual  weakening  of  the  Empire  led  them  to  raiding  the  Romano-British  territory.

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KING ARTHUR: A synoptic study on his Historicity and his Deeds

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By  Periklis    Deligiannisanglosaxon1

British  and  Anglo-Saxons  around  500  AD  (map  copyright:  Ian  Mladjov).

[This  article is in fact a part of my book  ‘The Celts‘, Periscope publ., Athens 2008, unfortunately available only in Greek]


King  Arthur’s  deeds  belong  to  the  major  national  legends  of  Britain.  The  exploits  of  the  Knights  of  the  Round  Table,  the  shining  Camelot,  the  noble  and  benevolent  king  and  his  blessed  reign,  his  queen  Guinevere,  his  knights  Lancelot,  Parsifal,  Bors  and  others,  are  now  a  major  part  of  the  world  cultural  tradition.  Aside  from  the  romantic  late  medieval  atmosphere  that  Geoffrey  of  Monmouth  infused  to  the  Arthurian  Legend  (who  first  narrated  it  in  the  12th  c.  AD  in  his  book  “History  of  the  Kings  of  Britain“),  the  historical  reality  was  very  different.

In  407  AD  the  Western  Roman  Empire  withdrew  its  last  regular  soldiers  from  its  British  provinces.  The  Roman  emperor  advised  the  British  Celts  and  the  Romano-British  to  arrange  themselves  for  their  defense  against  the  Anglo-Saxon,  Pict  (of  Caledonia/modern  Scotland)  and  Irish  raiders  who  ravaged  their  territory.  The  Romano-British  and  British  warlords  followed  his  advice  and  elected  a  Duke  –  a  military  leader  –  possibly  with  the  title  of  the  “Supreme  Ruler”  or  “Supreme  Commander”,  whose  duties  was  to  resolve  their  disputes  and  lead  the  war  effort  against  the  invaders.  Vortigern,  the  warlord  of  the  Ordovices/Pagnenses  (a  Celtic  people  in  Powys,  modern  Central  Wales),  was  a  well  known  Supreme  ruler/commander  of  Britain  during  the  5th  century.  He  relied  mostly  on  Anglo-Saxon  mercenaries  to  repel  the  invaders  (and  their  Anglo-Saxon  compatriots  too)  and  to  impose  its  authority.

The  term  “Anglo-Saxons”  is  the  modern  conventional  name  of  a  major  tribal  union  of  Germanic  (and  a  few  Slav)  invaders  in  Britain,  originating  mostly  from  modern  Northern  Germany,  Netherlands,  Jutland  (Denmark)  and  Norway  (the  latter  not  to  be  confused  with  the  Viking  Norwegian  colonists  of  the  8th-10th    cents  AD  in  the  British  islands).  This  tribal  union  consisted  of  Saxons,  Engles  (in  Germanic:  Engeln,  in  Byzantine  Greek:  Inglini),  Frisians,  Jutes,  Proto-Norwegians  (Northwestern  Scandinavians),   Angrivarii,  Brukteri (Boruktuari),  Westphali (Westphalians),  Ostphali,  Franks,  Thuringians,  Wangrii  and  others.  The  more  numerous  among  them  were  the  Saxons,  thereby  the  Anglo-Saxon  group  is  often  called  only  by  their  own  ethnic  name  (Saxons,  named  by  their  fierce  Germanic  war  knife,  the  ‘Sax’).

Arthur

A  representation  of  Arthur  and  his  Late  Roman/Romano-British  heavy  cavalry  (“Knights”)  by  the  British  Historical  Association Comitatus.. Note  the  ‘Draconarius’ standart-bearer,  bearing the  Sarmatian  standart of  the  Dragon.

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