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Historia Brittonum (History of the Britons)

For Britons in this context read Romano-British or even Welsh rather than any modern concept of British.

A compilation of material on the early history of Britain first drawn together in the early 9th century. Compiled by one Nennius from various earlier source documents (now lost) or possibly a revision of an even older work. Or even possibly the work of somebody different, to which a later cleric put his name to. Opinions and judgements vary widely.

The work contains an assortment of texts including,

  • a prologue and apology
  • a list of the thirty-three cities of Britain
  • a history of the British including sundry excerpts from the lives of the saints
  • genealogies of kings both Celtic and Anglo-Saxon
  • some chronological calculations

The Historia Brittonum exists in a number of different and widely varying manuscript versions, some abbreviated copies even show Gildas as the author and there are several Irish versions. It is therefore difficult to establish the exact text.

The material has been included without the exercise of any critical judgement, as the apology states "I have got together all that I could find" and includes elements of clear fantasy and legend. This has led many to conclude that the work is of little historical value. A typical historian's opinion of Nennius would be that of John Davies who states that "his ignorance was monumental

Others argue that there is worthwhile information in the document and that one can derive dates from the text for certain key events such as, the accession to power of Vortigern (425 AD), or the coming of the Saxons (429 AD), which are more consistent with the other historical evidence than say, for example those given by Bede.

It of course attracts attention from the devotees of King Arthur, as the Historia Brittonum names him as the military commander of the Romano-British forces who won twelve victories against the Anglo-Saxons culminating at Mons Badonicus.


Note: Various extracts from the Historia Brittonum that I have noded are as follows;

All of which are based on the translation by J. A. Giles from his Six Old English Chronicles (1848)


In his History of Wales Penguin 1994 p48

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