Alans, Ancient warfare, Anglo-Saxon, Arthur, Gildas, Huns, Military history, Nennius, Romans, Rome, Round Table, Sarmatians, Saxons
Left: Sarmatian sword with the distinctive ring-type handle ending. A leather strap was probably tied in the ring and in the hand of the warrior as well, in order to prevent the loss of the sword during combat.
Right: a spangenhelm, popular to the Sarmatians (many researchers consider it to be of Sarmatian origin), the Later Romans, the Romano-Britons and many barbarian peoples (Goths, Huns, Saxons etc.)
By Periklis Deligiannis
Continued from PART I
Arthur’s warriors are described as knights. Some scholars believe that this description is due only to the fact that in the time of Geoffrey of Monmouth, every hero had to be a knight. But this view is rather superficial and incorrect because there is clear evidence that in the 5th-6th centuries, the Romano-Britons had a strong heavy cavalry, which probably was their main military striking force. The cataphract (heavy armoured) Sarmatian cavalrymen were in fact the first knights of the European history, the founders of European Chivalry according to the most popular view.
The Sarmatian armies included among other types of combatants, many cataphract cavalrymen protected (like their horses) with nearly full-length metal armor (usually scale armor). They also included many horse-archers and horse-spearmen without any cuirass. The cataphracts fought mainly as lancers with a long heavy spear (like the subsequent European knights) as their main offensive weapon. They were also carrying a composite bow, a long sword and a dagger. The familiar to us, figure of the Late Medieval European knight was created when the East Germanics (Goths, Vandals, Burgundians), the Suebi Germanics (Marcomanni, Longobards/Lombards, Quadi) and the Romans adopted the full Sarmatian cavalry equipment. The decimation of the Roman army by the Gotho-Sarmatian cavalry at the battle of Adrianople in 378 AD, established the dominance of the knight (cataphract) during the Middle Ages. The Normans of Northern France were the ones who shaped the final form of chivalry.
At this point, Ι have to make a remark on the origins of the Normans. The Normans are usually described by the modern historians as the descendants of Danish Vikings , but in reality they had little to do with them. Danish ancestry was in fact very limited among the Normans. They were mainly the descendants of the Latinized Gauls (specifically Aulerci and Belgae/Belgians) of the mouth of the Seine who adopted a Scandinavian national name (Normans, meaning the People of the North) mainly for propaganda purposes and also a few Scandinavian elements of culture and warfare. The primary historical donation of the Danes to the Normans was the complete independence of Normandy from France and the subsequent “making” of the Norman national identity. Another racial component of the Norman people were the Sarmatian Alans, as we shall see below.
Returning to the Arthurian Era, in Britain, the “knights” of Arthur probably consisted of Latinized and Celtisized descendants of the Sarmatian mercenaries, and of Celtic cavalrymen who fought in the Sarmatian way. The Iazyges (Iazygae) of Bremetennacum are mentioned in the early 5th century as “the army of the Sarmatian veterans“. They probably survived until then as a national entity, even speaking Latin instead of their native Iranian language. Furthermore, almost all of the Sarmatians of the Roman Empire were already Latinized linguistically. It is also certain that many Alans (the most populus Sarmatian tribe) settled in Britain as mercenaries. Some modern scholars have theorized that the modern British personal name Alan and the French or generally Neo-Latin Alain/Alen come from the Alans. When members of this people settled en masse in western Europe and were assimilated by the natives, they turned their national name to a personal name: Alanus in Latin (modern Alan, Allen, Alain, Alen). Large groups of Alans settled as local aristocracies in Northeastern Spain, Northern Africa, Northern Gaul (giving their name also to the region of Alencon), etc.
Alans, Ancient warfare, Anglo-Saxon, Arthur, Gildas, King Arthur, Military history, Nennius, Picts, Romans, Rome, Round Table, Sarmatians, Saxons, Vortigern
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.
By Periklis Deligiannis
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.
Ancient warfare, Anglo-Saxon, Arthur, Gildas, King Arthur, Military history, Military topics, Nennius, Picts, Romans, Rome, Round Table, Saxons, Vortigern
By Periklis Deligiannis
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’).
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.