British History, 407-597, by Fabio P. Barbieri

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Book V: Saxon settlement and rebellion

Although later books will show that this turning point was not as decisive as it is usually held to be, it certainly represents the most fateful single break with the Roman past, and therefore is treated with attention. It helps that Gildas gives a remarkably precise and understandable account. I place at this point an assessment of Gildas’ sources.

 

An analysis of Gildas’ account of the Saxon settlement and rebellion (ch.22-25) argues that it comes from a contemporary account, different from E, and highly tendentious. The text suggests that Vortigern had called the Saxons about 432 to make up for a shortfall of adult males caused by a violent plague, and to resist a threatened Pictish assault; and that the Saxons’ presence in Britain had caused the growth of an anti-Saxon party of which the overthrown Mild King, Ambrosius’ father, became a part. When the Saxons revolted, one thing they did was to murder him.

Overview of the sources thus far identified in Gildas, including the not properly historical ones (which are important to assess the kind and quality of his reading). It argues that his picture of history is essentially party political, dependent on sources selected (not by Gildas himself, but before his time) for their support of Ambrosius Aurelianus and his family; also, that there is a leap in quality between information before and after 407 - legendary before, wholly historical after - which suggests that the establishment of a British government had caused a leap in the quality of records. I underline the importance of the lost account of the Saxons war for whose existence I argued in Book 1, ch.3, which I call L.

History of Britain, 407-597 is copyright 2002, Fabio P. Barbieri. Used with permission.

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