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Ten Must See Iron Age Hill Forts In Britain

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Republication from heritagedaily

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A hill fort is a type of earthworks used as a fortified refuge or defended settlement

A hill fort is a type of earthworks used as a fortified refuge or defended settlement, located to exploit a rise in elevation for defensive advantage.

The fortification usually follows the contours of a hill, consisting of one or more lines of earthworks, with stockades or defensive walls, and external ditches. Hill forts developed in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Age, roughly the start of the first millennium BC, and were in use by the ancient Britons until the Roman conquest. There are around 3,300 structures that can be classed as hillforts or similar “defended enclosures” within Britain, all worthy of considering. The following list represents ten of the most impressive examples.

1 : Maiden Castle, Dorset

Maiden Castle is an Iron Age hill fort 2.5 kilometres (1.6 mi) south west of Dorchester, in the English county of Dorset. The name Maiden Castle may be a modern construction meaning that the hill fort looks impregnable, or it could derive from the British Celtic mai-dun, meaning a “great hill.”

The earliest archaeological evidence of human activity on the site consists of a Neolithic causeway enclosure and bank barrow. In about 1800 BC, during the Bronze Age, the site was used for growing crops before being abandoned. Maiden Castle itself was built in about 600 BC; the early phase was a simple and unremarkable site, similar to many other hill forts in Britain and covering 6.4 hectares (16 acres). Around 450 BC it underwent major expansion, during which the enclosed area was nearly tripled in size to 19 ha (47 acres), making it the largest hill fort in Britain and by some definitions the largest in Europe

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Image Credit : Google Earth

 

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KING ARTHUR (PART IIΙ): Some literary, archaeological and historical evidence

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sutton_hoo_helmet
A replica of the Sutton Hoo helmet which was discovered in an Anglo-Saxon burial. At first, the Anglo-Saxons met large difficulties after their landing on the British shores and some of them had to return to their ancestral home in modern Germany. But after the alleged death of Arthur or the possibly historical military commander of the Britons that he represents (or the fall of the dynasty that he represents), they finally gained military superiority over the latter, conquering the lands that later became England.
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Late Roman helmet2
A Late Roman helmet rather of Persian distant origin, used also by the Briton inheritors of the Roman military tradition.
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By Periklis Deligiannis
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CONTINUED from  PART II
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If Arthur was an historical personality, he probably had his headquarters in contemporary Southwestern England, the land of the Dumnonii and their sub-tribes, where Tintagel and Cadbury are located. It is likely that he was a Dumnonian. However, many researchers believe that he came from other British regions, with the stronger versions being the ones of Wales and modern Northern England or Lowland Scotland (theory of a ‘Northern Arthur’). Concerning the opinions on the origin and the seat of Arthur (which are not as strongly supported by the existing data as that of Dumnonia), I will mention only the following: the legends on Arthur often connect him with Brittany (West Armorica) and the rest of Northern Gaul, while it should also be observed that the main directions of the Anglo-Saxon advance followed the British south coast and the Thames Valley. If Arthur resided in Wales or Northern Britain, it would be difficult for him to have frequent contacts with Gaul or restrain the “spearhead” of the Saxon invasion.
According to Geoffrey, when Arthur campaigned in Gaul, he left Mordred, his nephew, as protector of his throne. Mordred usurped his power together with his queen, Guinevere. Arthur faced the usurper and his forces on the banks of the River Camel. In the bloody battle, all the knights were killed except three. Arthur and Mordred were among the survivors, then clashing themselves in a duel. Arthur surprised Mordred and wounded him mortally. Before he drop dead, he managed to strike Arthur with a crushing blow on his face. After the battle, nine hooded women carried Arthur on a boat to the island of Avalon (Insula Avallonis), where he died. According to the Welsh legend, the king survived and still lives sleeping in a cave near Avalon, waiting for the right moment to return to his people and to evict the barbarians from Britain. Geoffrey seems to adopt the Welsh legend, because he does not mention that Arthur died. However it is recognized that if Arthur was buried somewhere, his grave was in the mythical island of Avalon, of unknown location.

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KING ARTHUR (PART IΙ): Some literary, archaeological and historical evidence

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Spangenhelm Hofbourg Museum
The spangenhelm, of Sarmatian origin, became popular in both Romans and barbarians because of its cheap cost of construction and the effective protection that offered. Its construction was simple, made of metal fragments which were bound tightly together. Especially towards the end of the Western Empire and after that, the spangenhelm variety of helmets became rather the most popular group. This group was also used by some Romano-Britons and their Anglo-Saxon enemies.
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britannia_draco_

A Romano-Briton of the 5th cent. AD with his hound, possibly watching the Anglo-Saxon enemy. He is holding the standard of the Dragon, of Sarmatian origin, and wears a Late Roman helmet of Persian design. The strong Iranian influences on the Late Roman army survived for a long time among the Briton fighting men (reenactment by Britannia)
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By Periklis Deligiannis
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CONTINUED from PART I
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According to legend, when King Arthur needed a new sword, the Lady of the Lake emerged from the water and handed him the sword Excalibur. The sword’s name probably derives from the Roman ‘Caliburnus’ meaning ‘steel’ and indicates the material of the blade. Excalibur’s episode is likely rooted in the known Celtic ritual of dropping the swords of mighty warriors who died, in lakes or rivers to symbolize their passage to the netherworld. Archaeologists have found countless ancient swords at the bottom of lakes and rivers of Britain and other Celtic lands. However, the Sarmatians had also similar traditions. The Sarmatians and the Iranian nomads generally attributed (as the Celts did) “magical properties” in their swords surrounding them with respect, a custom which survived in the tradition of Medieval European Chivalry. Here, the Celtic tradition correlates with the Sarmatian tradition.
Chretien de Troyes quotes that Arthur lived in the strong fortress of Camelot, from where he controlled his territory living a rather luxurious life. Some scholars believe that Camelot was the Roman Camulodunum (modern Colchester) because this toponym is analyzed as ‘Camelot-dun’. The Celtic word dun means the fortress, e.g. Lund-dun i.e. modern London, Lug-dun modern Lyon (Roman Lugdunum) etc. However, perhaps there were some other Briton towns also named Camelot/Camulon (Camulum). The hypothetical Camelot of the 5th-6th centuries would have been a wooden fort on a hilltop, according to the British Celtic stereotype. In 1542, John Lelant, a researcher and collector of archaeological finds, observed in modern Somerset, the existence of the River Cam and two villages known as West Camel and Queen Camel. The three toponyms are originated from the same verbal root ‘Cam’ as “Camelot.” In a distance of 7 km from the Camel villages, Lelant observed the Cadbury hill. In the 16th century, the hill was found surrounded by four rows of defensive ramparts and moats. These were the fortifications of a fortress of impressive size. Lelant thought that he spotted the legendary Camelot at Cadbury hill, but he had no archaeological evidence to prove it. In the 1950s, British archaeologists began excavations at Cadbury hill and confirmed the existence of a large fortress of the Dark Ages. At its southwestern part, they discovered the foundations of the main gate and confirmed the existence of a wooden wall with a very long perimeter. The inner rampart was made of wood and stones, a style unique to Britain, found only in Cadbury. The fortress was dated to the 4th-5th centuries, from the utensils and other items found inside. This is probably the biggest British fort of this age, with a probable area of 7-8,000 square meters. Although only a part of its area is excavated, it is obvious that it was the seat of a powerful commander of the 4th-5th centuries.

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KING ARTHUR (Part I): Some literary, archaeological and historical evidence

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By Periklis Deligiannis

Romano-Briton
A Late Roman helmet rather of Persian distant origin (design), decorated with semi-gemstones. The Romano-Britons inherited this type together with the rest of the Roman weaponry and military organization.
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Wulfheodenas
In the 5th-6th centuries AD, the Anglo-Saxons brought to Britain many elements of the eastern Scandinavian Proto-Vendel and Vendel cultures, several of which are obvious on their arms and armor, i.e. on their helmets (Sutton Hoo burial, etc.), daggers, swords etc (reconstruction of an Anglo-Saxon warlord wearing a Sutton Hoo-type helmet, by the Historical Association Wulfheodenas ).
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In 407 AD the Romans withdrew their last regular troops from the British provinces. The independent Romano-Britons had to fight hard against the Pict, Irish and Anglo-Saxon barbarians who were besieging their territory. Former Roman Britain was gradually divided into autonomous ‘principalities’ led by warlords. However they tried to keep united their “British kingdom” as they considered their common territory, and mainly to repel the invading Anglo-Saxons who had conquered the Southeast, advancing headlong. It seems that the Britons in order to maintain their unity, elected a military commander (Dux) as a senior politico-military leader, who led the operations against the invaders and took care on preventing infighting. A sequence of inspired Dukes (Voteporix, Vortigern, Ambrosius Aurelianus) led the British resistance. Those who accept Arthur’s historicity usually consider him as one of these Dukes (a theory consider him Aurelianus’ son).
The Briton literary tradition and the archaeological evidence, mainly the Saxon burials, denote that the Anglo-Saxon invasion was halted on the verge of the 5th-6th centuries AD. Many scholars believe that the military action of the legendary king Arthur was the main ‘factor’ for the repulse of the newcomers. However, his historicity is strongly and justifiably disputed. In this series of articles I will deal with some additional literary, archaeological and historical evidence concerning his historicity.

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The literary sources on Arthur

The first literary reference to Arthur appears in the Northern Briton epic “Y Goddodin” (“the Votadini” around AD 600) which recounts an attempt of the Votadini people (Celtic Goddodin) of the modern Scottish Lowlands and their allies, to check the advance of the Angles. Some scholars believe that the mention of Arthur in this epic was added later. The first ‘secure’ reference to the legendary commander comes from Nennius in his “History of the Britons” (“Historia Britonnum”, end of 8th century). Nennius’ work was based mostly on the local Briton tradition. Nennius describes the legendary figure as a warlord who repelled the barbarians around the 5th-6th centuries. This was followed shortly after by another reference of Arthur in the “Annales Cambriae” (9th c.). But the author, who developed most of all Arthur’s renowned image as a just and powerful warrior-king, was the Archdeacon of Oxford Geoffrey of Monmouth in his largely mythical “History of the Kings of Britain” (“Historia Regum Britanniae”, AD 1133). Geoffrey relied heavily on the two aforementioned works, and possibly on the local oral tradition. In France, the late medieval chronicler Chretien de Troyes holds an analogous contribution to the Arthurian legend. The later writers of the Arthurian epic circle are based on the works of the last two authors (mostly on Geoffrey’s work and less on Chretien’s) going on to the enrichment of the epic with elements belonging mainly to the Late Middle Ages, such as the Round Table, the quest for the Holy Grail, etc.

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