The Twelve Battles of King Arthur

Defeat of the Saxons by Arthur by John Cassell (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Defeat of the Saxons by Arthur by John Cassell (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Today in the United States is Memorial Day, when we remember those who have served and have fallen in battle. This got me thinking about all of the wars that have been fought through the centuries and how many millions of warriors have died. So many lives tragically cut short. And for what? We’re still fighting over the same things we were thousands of years ago. But I digress.

I’m also editing my second book right now, so Arthur and his battles have also been on my mind. The list that comes down to us was recorded by Nennius, a Welsh monk and historian, who lived in the 9th century. He lists Arthur’s victories as:

Battle 1. On the river Glein.

Battle 2, 3, 4 and 5. On the river Dubglas in the region of Linnuis.

Battle 6. On the river Bassas.

Battle 7. In the wood of Celidon/Cat Coit Celidon.

Battle 8. At castle Guinnion.

Battle 9. In the city of the Legion

Battle 10. On the river Tribruit

Battle 11. On Mount/Hill/Rock Agned or Breguoin

Battle 12. At Mount/Hill/Rock Badon.

Interestingly, the final – perhaps most famous – battle, Camlann, isn’t noted by Nennius, but is mentioned in the Annales Cambriae, a Welsh historical document dating to the 1100s.

If this list is to be believed, Arthur was certainly a patriot. He is commonly called Dux Bellorum (Leader of Battles), even in the earliest literary references. These are only the victories. Can you imagine how many other battles he fought and lost? Tradition tells us the Britons and the Saxons were fairly evenly matched during the time of these battles (approximately to 480 to 510 AD), both sides winning and losing untill Badon decisively turned things in the Briton’s favor, ushering in an era of peace that may have lasted as long as 30 years.

As with everything Arthurian, historians can’t agree on if these legendary battles took place, and if so, when and where. The only two that are part of historical record are the Battle of Mount Badon (possibly at Bath) and a skirmish at a place called Camlann (sometimes placed in the north of modern England near Hadrian’s Wall, other times in Wales or southern Britain). Because of translations and changing place names as power shifted from the Celts to the Saxons, then to the Normans, and so on, the modern locations of these conflicts is the subject of great interpretation. If you want to read about some location possibilities, Early British Kingdoms has a great list. Historians also argue over whether it is humanly possible that one man could have led (and survived) so many battles over such a long period of time and in such far-reaching locations.

Someday I’ll probably do posts on the individual battles, as I have plans to write more fiction about them, so I’ll have to get to know each one intimately. But for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed this general overview. Happy Memorial Day, everyone. Please take a moment to think of those who served your country (wherever that may be) so that you might live in peace and freedom.

Have you heard of Arthur’s 12 battles before? Do you have theories on where they might have been located or who he fought against? Which historians do you think are correct, if any?

The Quest for Arthur’s Britain by Geoffrey Ashe
King Arthur: The True Story by Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman

5 thoughts on “The Twelve Battles of King Arthur

  1. I put Badon as well as Camlann on Hadrian’s Wall, but you’ll have to read my series, The Dragon’s Dove Chronicles, to find out how I handle these and Arthur’s other battles. Dawnflight (vol. I) opens in the aftermath of the battle I call Abar-Gleann and includes the first 2 “Dubglas” battles. The forthcoming Morning’s Journey includes 3 more battles…

    • Can’t wait to read them, Kim! I haven’t heard of your Dragon’s Cove Chronicles. Are those forthcoming or did I just miss them on your site?

  2. I think it’s things like the ‘twelve battles’ and the need for historical detective work that make this period so fascinating. Sadly I think these battles have been picked up by bad historians as well as good ones – like a lot of things relating to Arthur.

    I can’t offer any original suggestions for locations, but I’m fortunate to live a short drive from one of the candidates for Badon.

  3. I’m near Liddington Castle/hillfort. In its favour as Badon are that its in what must surely have been a strategic location at the time, and the village of Baydon lies nearby. On the downside, archaeology didn’t pick up anything from the period – unlike Cadbury, for example.

    Irrespective of its history, Liddington’s stunning views alone make it worth a visit.

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