Battle of Badon

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Battle of Mount Badon
Part of the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain
Arthur Leading the Charge at Mount Badon.png
Arthur leading cavalry charge at Mount Badon in an 1898 illustration for Idylls of the King
DateUnknown, c. 500 AD
Unknown, various locations proposed
Result Strategic British victory; Saxon expansion halted for many decades
Celtic Britons Anglo-Saxons
Commanders and leaders
Unknown (possibly King Arthur) (?) Unknown

The Battle of Badon also known as the Battle of Mons Badonicus (Latin: obsessio[nis] Badonici montis, "Blockade/siege of the Badonic Hill"; Bellum in monte Badonis, "Battle on Badon Hill"; Bellum Badonis, "Battle of Badon"; Old Welsh: Badon; Middle Welsh: Gweith Vadon, "Battle of Badon"; Welsh: Brwydr Mynydd Baddon, "Battle of Badon Mount/Hill") was a battle purportedly fought between Celtic Britons and Anglo-Saxons in Britain in the late 5th or early 6th century.[1] It was credited as a major victory for the Britons, stopping the encroachment of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms for a period.

The earliest references to the battle date to the 6th century. It is chiefly known today for the supposed involvement of King Arthur, a tradition that first clearly appeared in the 9th-century Historia Brittonum, possibly written by Nennius. Because of the limited number of sources, there is no certainty about the date, location, or details of the fighting.[2][3]

Historical accounts[edit]

Siege of Mount Badon[edit]

The earliest mention of the Battle of Badon is Gildas' De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae ("On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain"), written in the early to mid-6th century. In it, the Anglo-Saxons are said to have "dipped [their] red and savage tongue in the western ocean" before Ambrosius Aurelianus organized a British resistance with the survivors of the initial Saxon onslaught. Gildas describes the period that followed Ambrosius' initial success:

From that time, the citizens were sometimes victorious, sometimes the enemy, in order that the Lord, according to His wont, might try in this nation the Israel of today, whether it loves Him or not. This continued up to the year of the siege of Badon Hill (obsessionis Badonici montis), and of almost the last great slaughter inflicted upon the rascally crew. And this commences, a fact I know, as the forty-fourth year, with one month now elapsed; it is also the year of my birth.[4]

De Excidio Britanniae describes the battle as such an "unexpected recovery of the [island]" that it caused kings, nobles, priests, and commoners to "live orderly according to their several vocations" before the long peace degenerated into civil wars and the iniquity of Maelgwn Gwynedd.

The battle is next mentioned in an 8th-century text of Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People.[5] It describes the "siege of Mount Badon, when they made no small slaughter of those invaders," as occurring 44 years after the first Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain.[6][7] Since Bede places that arrival during or just after the joint reign of Marcian and Valentinian III in 449–456,[8][9] he must have considered Badon to have taken place between 493 and 500. Bede then puts off discussion of the battle – "But more of this hereafter" – only to seemingly never return to it. Bede does later include an extended account of Saint Germanus of Auxerre's victory over the Saxons and Picts in a mountain valley,[10] which he credits with curbing the threat of invasion for a generation.[11] However, as the victory is described as having been accomplished bloodlessly, it was presumably a different occasion from Badon. Accepted at face value, St. Germanus' involvement would also place the battle around 430, although Bede's chronology shows no knowledge of this.

Battle of Badon[edit]

The earliest surviving text mentioning Arthur at the battle is the early 9th-century Historia Brittonum,[12] in which the soldier (Latin mīles) Arthur is identified as the leader of the victorious British force at Badon:

"The twelfth battle was on Mount Badon in which there fell in one day 960 men from one charge by Arthur; and no one struck them down except Arthur himself".[13][14]

The Battle of Badon is next mentioned in the Annales Cambriae ("Annals of Wales"),[15] assumed to have been written during the mid- to late-10th century. The entry states:

"The Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for three days and three nights upon his shoulders [or shield[16]] and the Britons were the victors".[17][18]

That Arthur had gone unmentioned in the source closest to his own time, Gildas, was noticed at least as early as the 12th-century hagiography which claims that Gildas had praised Arthur extensively but then excised him completely after Arthur killed the saint's brother, Hueil mab Caw. Modern writers have suggested the details of the battle were so well known that Gildas could have expected his audience to be familiar with them.[19]

Geoffrey of Monmouth's c. 1136 Historia Regum Britanniae was massively popular and survives in many copies from soon after its composition.[20] Going into (and fabricating) much greater detail, Geoffrey closely identifies Badon with Bath, including having Merlin foretell that Badon's baths would lose their hot water and turn poisonous.[21] He also mixes in aspects of other accounts: the battle begins as a Saxon siege and then becomes a normal engagement once Arthur's men arrive; Arthur bears the image of the Virgin both on his shield and shoulder. Arthur charges, but kills a mere 470, ten more than the number of Britons ambushed by Hengist near Salisbury. Elements of the Welsh legends are also added: in addition to the shield Pridwen, Arthur gains his sword Caliburnus and his spear, Ron. Geoffrey also makes the defence of the city from the Saxon sneak attack a holy cause, having Dubricius offer absolution of all sins for those who fall in battle.[22]


McCarthy and Ó Cróinín propose that Gildas' 44 years and one month is not a reference to the simple chronology but a position within the 84-year Easter cycle used for computus at the time by the Britons and the Irish church. The tables in question begin in January 438, which would place their revised date of the battle in February 482.[23]

Liddington Castle site. The ramparts of the Iron Age hill fort can be seen at the highest point of the skyline

Hirst, Ashe and Wood argue for the site of Liddington Castle on the hill above Badbury (Old English: Baddan byrig) in Wiltshire. This site commands The Ridgeway, which connects the River Thames with the River Avon and River Severn beyond.[24][25][26] The Burkitts argue for the site of Bath on the basis of evidence of the Welsh Annals, as well as archaeological, linguistic and place name evidence.[27][28]

Second Badon[edit]

The A Text of the Annales Cambriae[15] includes the entry: "The first celebration of Easter among the Saxons. The second battle of Badon. Morgan dies."[18][29] The date for this action is given by Phillimore as 665,[15] but the Saxons' first Easter is placed by the B Text in its entry 634 years after the birth of Christ and "the second Badon" is not mentioned.[30]

Local lore[edit]

Apart from the professional scholarship, various communities throughout Wales and England carry on local traditions maintaining that their area was the site of the battle: these include Bathampton Down,[31] which has evidence of Dark Age camps, circumvallation entrenchments, and artillery mounds surrounding it; Badbury Rings at the Kingston Lacy House in Dorset; and Bowden Hill in Wiltshire.[32]

Modern depictions[edit]

  • The battle is mentioned in the 1975 comedy film Monty Python and the Holy Grail as one of the many "feats" of Sir Robin, who is said to have "personally wet himself at the Battle of Badon Hill."
  • It is featured prominently in the 1997 Excalibur: A Novel of Arthur by Bernard Cornwell, in the book's second part, "Mynydd Baddon". In it, the armies of Angle and Saxon kings Aelle and Cerdic, aided by Celtic traitors led by Lancelot, are defeated in an epic battle by an uneasy alliance of various British and Irish kingdoms. Cornwell combines various medieval accounts of the battle, such as it beginning as an Anglo-Saxon siege of a hilltop (here initially desperately defended by Guinevere) and having Arthur's cavalry appear with the sign of the cross on their shields (here a requisite demanded by the Christian king Tewdric).
  • The battle is depicted in the 2004 film King Arthur as occurring along Hadrian's Wall between the forces of Arthur and Cerdic.
  • It is also depicted in the 2017 film Transformers: The Last Knight, in which Arthur and Merlin vanquish the Saxon hordes with the help of a Transformer in the shape of a dragon.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ashe, Geoffrey, From Caesar to Arthur pp. 295–8.
  2. ^ Dupuy, R. Ernest & al. The Harper Encyclopedia of Military History From 3500 B.C. to the Present, 4th ed., p. 193. HarperCollins Pub. (New York), 1993.
  3. ^ Hollister, C. Warren. The Making of England to 1399, 8th ed., p. 31. Houghton Mifflin Co. (New York), 2001.
  4. ^ Hugh Williams (ed.), Gildas, De Excidio Britanniae, Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 1899, p. 61–63.
  5. ^ The "Tiberius Bede" or C text. Cotton Tiberius MS. C.II. (in Latin)
  6. ^ Bede. The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, I.xvi.
  7. ^ L. ...usque ad annum obsessionis Badonici montis quando non minimas eisdem hostibus strages dabant quadragesimo circiter & quarto anno adventus eorum in Britaniam.
  8. ^ Per Bede's account. The actual dates were somewhat different.
  9. ^ Bede, I.xv.
  10. ^ Traditionally placed at Mold in Flintshire in northeast Wales.
  11. ^ Bede, I.xx.
  12. ^ The "Nennius" entry of the Dictionary of National Biography credits an 11th-century Irish edition by Giolla Coemgin with being the oldest extant edition of the Historia Brittonum, but it apparently only survived in a 14th-century copy. Cf. Todd, James. Irish version of the Historia Britonum of Nennius. Irish Archaeological Soc. (Dublin), 1848. Accessed 6 Feb 2013.
  13. ^ L. Duodecimum fuit bellum in monte Badonis, in quo corruerunt in uno die nongenti sexaginta viri de uno impetu Arthur; et nemo prostravit eos nisi ipse solus. Mommsen, Theodore (ed.) Historia Brittonum. Accessed 7 Feb 2013. (in Latin)
  14. ^ Lupack, Alan (Trans.) The Camelot Project: "From The History of the Britons (Historia Brittonum) by Nennius". Retrieved 6 Feb 2013.
  15. ^ a b c Harleian MS. 3859. Op. cit. Phillimore, Egerton. Y Cymmrodor 9 (1888), pp. 141–183. (in Latin)
  16. ^ The words for "shoulder" and "shield" being easily confused in Old Welsh: scuit (shield) vs. scuid (shoulder)]. Cf. Jones, W. Lewis. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes, Vol. I, XII, §2. Putnam, 1921. Accessed 30 Jan 2013.
  17. ^ L. Bellum badonis inquo arthur portauit crucem domini nostri ihu xp'i . tribus diebus & tribus noctibus inhumeros suos & brittones uictores fuerunt.
  18. ^ a b Ingram, James. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Everyman Press (London), 1912.
  19. ^ Green, p. 31.
  20. ^ The earliest two being the Cambridge 1706 II.I.14 and Berne Stadtbibliotek MS 568, both apparently from the year of composition. Cf. Griscom, Acton. The Historia Regum Britanniae of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Longmans, Green, & Co., 1929. Accessed 7 Feb 2013.
  21. ^ Thompson. VII.iii.
  22. ^ Thompson, Aaron & al. (trans.) History of the Kings of Britain, IX.iv. In Parentheses, 1999. Accessed 6 Feb 2013.
  23. ^ Daniel P. McCarthy and Dáibhí Ó Cróinín. "The 'lost' Irish 84-year Easter table rediscovered". Peritia, vol. 6–7, 1987–1988, pp. 227–242.
  24. ^ Hirst, S. et al. "Liddington Castle and the battle of Badon : Excavations and research 1976". Archaeological Journal. 1996, vol. 153, pp. 1–59.
  25. ^ Ashe, Geoffrey. From Caesar to Arthur, pp. 162–164
  26. ^ Wood, Michael. In Search of Myths and Heroes (2005). pp. 219–220.
  27. ^ Burkitt, Tim and Annette. "The Frontier Zone and the Siege of Mount Badon: A Review of the Evidence for their Location". Proceedings of the Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society 1990, vol.134. pp.81-93.
  28. ^ Burkitt, Tim and Bennett, Annette, "Badon as Bath", Popular Archaeology, April 1985, Vol.6, No.6.
  29. ^ L. Primum pasca apud saxones celebratur. Bellum badonis secundo. morcant moritur.
  30. ^ Public Record Office of the United Kingdom. MS. E.164/1, p. 8. (in Latin)
  31. ^ Scott, Shane (1995). The hidden places of Somerset. Aldermaston: Travel Publishing Ltd. p. 16. ISBN 1-902007-01-8.
  32. ^ Echard, Sian; Rouse, Robert; Fay, Jacqueline A.; Fulton, Helen; Rector, Geoff (2017-08-07). The Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature in Britain, 4 Volume Set. John Wiley & Sons.


  • Green, Thomas. Concepts of Arthur. Tempus (Stroud, Gloucestershire), 2007. ISBN 9780752444611.