Monday, 18 May 2009

Comments on Arthur and the lost Kingdoms

I fundamentally disagree with the central tenets of Arthur and the Lost Kingdoms, but it's good to read something provocative every now and again. It's never reassuring, though, to come across a book with so many factual errors, one that even a layman like myself can spot.

Some of them are matters of interpretation or emphasis, others are things the author has picked up somewhere although there's no evidence to support them. The claim, for example, that the first people into Britain after the ice age were Aryans, Indo-Europeans, if you will. However he dates the end of the ice age in Southern Scotland to 7000BC (I wouldn't do so, but forget that), a time long before the group known as the Indo-Europeans started their diffusion. The first arrival of the Aryans probably doesn't predate 2000BC when they're known to have been involved in the building of the Shang dynasty in China and the Hittite Empire, the fall of Harrapa and Mohenjo Daro and the enclosure of the Basques and the rise of the Achaeans. The original European race was earlier and spoke a non-Aryan language, they were split by the Aryan inroads into the Pelasgians, Basques, Etruscans, the "Old Peoples" of the Hebrides the author mentions when commenting on the Barbarian Conspiracy.

The next thing I disapprove of, a matter of emphasis, is that he claims chromosomal studies show the genetic continuity of the British population from pre-Celtic times to the present day. This is based on the assumption that the Welsh have the same Chromosomes as the pre- Celtic peoples. Only a time-travelling geneticist could tell that, I'm afraid. Besides the mDNA and Y chromosome tests meant by this, similar to those which found the Falashas to be real Jews, show the English and the Welsh to be noticably different genetically, with greater similarities in those areas closer to the Welsh border. That evidence shows that most of the genetic material is Anglo-Saxon, not Welsh, and most by a very large margin in the east of the country. Many of the parts of the country tested were also badly chosen in my view, but don't get me started on that. He;s following the Frances Pryor fashionable error. I miss the days when reputable historians talked about volkerwanderungs. On the same subject he claims names similar to the Welsh self-name cumbyrig, such as Cumberton, show that common people were still Welsh in these areas. I think he's ignoring the fact that the vast majority of place names are English. The few Welsh names don't indicate a sea of Welshmen with a few English incomers but a few ghettoes of Welshmen in now-English territory. These were places like Exeter, Wroxeter, the second participle of whose names are derived from -saetan, and Old English term meaning an area of Welsh population under a loose English political suzerainity.

Not mentioned in the book was the seven boroughs, but i'd still like to point out that I don't believe the historians viewpoint that the Seven are the Five and York and Norfolk. I think it's far more likely the other two are Northampton and Bedford. These were similar to the Five in form of government, in that they were part of Mercia rather than having their own earls, and that they were ruled largely by popular assemblies called armies.

He goes into the ancient name Albion, derived from the latin of a Roman traveller but doesn't mention that the name Britain is evil older and mentioned by Pytheas.

Patrick was from Dumnonia in the West Country, not Rheged.

Y Gddoddin wasn't the first vernacular work in a European language.

King Mark, of Tristan and Isolde, wasn't a Scot. Inscriptions of his name have been found in the West Country.

Like the black nationalists, they are, claiming Cleopatra and Shakespear and so on were black.

Devon in the south east, Angles west of rheged, he has a shaky sense of geography.

English is the language in Scotland rather than Welsh although the Welsh of the south were conquered by Gaelic Alba, largely because a hefty chunk of the population of Souothern Scotland, Lothian in particular is descended from Anglians which occupied the area up to Edinburgh (English suffix) and beyond. As late as the 11th century Lothian was English and Cumbria Scottish.

Scots, he says, celebrate celtic victories over England, in sport and that, which he implies is some sort of Celtic solidarity based on common ancestry and culture (although as I say he claims the English are really nothing more than Welsh and the lowland Scots are really English, as I've pointed out). Really they celebrate any foreign victory over England, mourning for example the 2002 footballing defeat of England by Argentina (which was against us in the Falkland war fought to defend some Scots sheep farmers.

On the whole he's very provincial, obsessed with the area around his Scottish home town. Like the anti-diffusionists, he just looks at one area but it wasn't that simple. The Saxons were fighting in France on the Rhone while the Welsh were fighting Saxons and Picts.

The garrison in Britain was not the biggest in the Empire, not as big as that in Illyricum, Germany or Pannonia.

He spends most of his time trying to downplay the strength of post-Roman southern Britain. Vortigern, it's ruler, too. However he mentions a force of Saxons planted on the Wall of Hadrian which he seems to think was hired by the lowland Scots ro replace soldiers lost to Cunedda's mission to Wales. However the force was planted south of the Wall, and in that same place arose the kingdom of Bernice, one of the earliest Saxon kingdoms. Their position makes it more likely they were planted as a northern defence for Vortigern's lands rather than support for the men of the north. Their presence in the time of Germanus' visit, in alliance with the Picts no less, also shows that their presence pre-dated the Vortigern plantations. The Romans had a long tradition of hiring barbarians to fight their battles and guard their frontiers. Given their early appearance if they were hired by the northerners they had evidently gone for foreign help long before Vortigern had needed to, which doesn't seem much for the strength of the men of the north. It shows the strength of Vortigern that his reponsibilities stretch so far north.

Cunedda, Vortigern, Riothamus, Arthur, all more likely to be honorifics that proper names. Perhaps two or more of the above were the same person.

Tintagel mediterranean finds show the south was nice and romanised long after the north had largely reverted.

The men of the north were never known, as far as I can tell, mistakenly as the men of north wales. This wouldn't make sense. He claims this came to be believed when the northern welsh-speakers were forgotten and the Welsh welsh-speakers took the stories for themselves, but their were independent welsh-speaking kingdoms in the north into the eleventh century long after the Arthur legend was supposedly translated to Wales.

He's also pro-Pelagus and misrepresents the Theology to support the heresiarchs.

Our author also blames the Saxon-pict allliance on Vortigern, although it was decades before Vortigern's saxons arrived and very probably before Vortigern even took power. Even at that time his evidence for lack of central government in the south is very weak, in that it basically amounts to a visiting bishop not mention Vortigern (who may not have been around yet, as I say), and the Bishop (who had a prestigious roman military record behind him) being offered command of the army. He seems to disregard the fact that an army could be called together under a united command at a single location in the first place.

At that time the most likely authority was the old romanvprovincial council who would probably have been glad to have an experienced military man to lead their forces, especially a man of the cloth and the Romanitas. The appearance of a native army also shows that the supposed lack of military tradition in the
south is a fiction as it was from the local population that the roman military was recruited, and later from hereditary legionary families. There were over 30,000 Roman soldiers in Britannia, after all (assuming four standard legions and a normal complement of auxilia, the author claims 25,000). He also goes in for the
honorius letter supposedly rejecting a british plea for help, although this supposed reply is the only evidence anywhere for such a plea. It's more likely he was just acknowledging a fait accompli by the British gaining their independence, a contemporary history showing that following the Barbarian conspiracy locals in Britain got together to defend themselves and boot out the Roman governors and that the Gauls followed suit. The Romans were just admitting defeat and a loss of access and reach to this far isle. That history is quoted in the book itself, if you're looking for a citation. Zosimus, it is, and contemporary ishis term. Zosimus clearly refers to the expulsion of the Roman government by the local populace, but the authot insists on thinking of it as a collapse of central government after the Romans had pulled out.

My considered opinion is that Arthur could have come fron anywhere, other than Sarmatia, and that the Saxons allied with the Picts were brough over by the Romans to man the Wall. They went on the found Bernice and a tyrant called Vortigern eventually seized some power and invited Saxons to Kent as he couldn't trust his own subjects to obey him. Then came Arthur, from somewhere.

Perhaps a crisis, such as that of 443, brought Vorti to power.

He also claims the country was rapidly emptying of people, but not long after continental historians would be describing the country as so full that both Welsh and Saxon were leaving for France in large numbers. That only changed when the Romans evicted the Saxons from their Rhonish strongholds.

Earliest reference to Arthur is made in Y Gododdin, but it could hardly be anywhere else as hardly anything else survives from that time. Many things named after him everywhere, but this isn't made evidence that he was from somewhere other then Scotland.

Aesc from northern britain, more evidence of Saxons in the north before the south.

No missionary activity amongst the english by the welsh, he points out, although there was amongst the Picts and Scots. Does this mayhap indicate a greater enmity twixt Angle and Cymru? He argues that the real enemy was always the PIcts.

He thinks the word Tor is Gaelic, Q-Celtic, and proves Gaelic incomers in the Lothian area. I believe it's English and is certainly very popular in Derbyshire, Mam Tor, for example.

He believes rivers were chosen as battle sites by Arthur so he could easily outflank infantry enemies. Firstly, you fight where the enemy are, secondly rivers make good frontiers, thirdly rivers make good lines of advance for transmarine raiders like the Saxons and Picts, contrary to his suggestion the Saxons didn't commonly advance along Roman roads. Lastly the reason not to get caught near a river is that you might be caught with only part of your force across the water, as happened to the Norse at Stamford Bridge. Also, the Nennius battle list needs to associate battles with places and rivers happen to be good landmarks. So I don't think the preponderance of riverine battle names in the list is evidence of cavalry warfare.

That brings me to Nennius' battle list. He's almost got me convicend that the city of the Legion is York, I admit, but he's far too convinced of it. The rest, though, are rubbish. I read it a bit ago but for Mount Agned he hasno explanation so he finds an obscure manuscript that puts something more palatable in its place. He also decides Linnuis must be in Scotland because the river Dubglas must be Douglas, although he can't find a Linnuis while he criticises those who place it in Lindsey (Linnuis) because theyy can't find a Dubglas.

That'll do.

1 comment:

  1. golly, quite a compendious ramble

    should come in handy at yr next New Deal Provision! :O)

    cheers, ray