Many years ago I wrote an essay suggesting that the "them" Arthur is said to have fought against in Chapter 56 of Nennius's HISTORIA BRITTONUM were none other than the Kentishman mentioned at the beginning of the said chapter. I then suggested, tentatively, that certain spellings found for Kent in sources such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle could have been confused in early tradition with spellings found in Irish annals for Kintyre. The argument then pointed towards Arthur son of Bicoir "the Briton" who, however, lived too late to be the Arthur of Nennius and the Welsh Annals.
Having since written my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY, it has occurred to me that I should revisit this chapter and see if a better interpretation of Arthur's identity and location can be offered.
Firstly, it is vital to recognize that immediately prior to Chapter 56 we find Chapters 54-55, which are devoted to St. Patrick. I've definitively identified the 'Banna venta Bernia' of Patrick with the Banna (modern Birdoswald) Roman fort on Hadrian's Wall, Bernia being from Irish berna, 'gap, pass', a designation for the Tyne Gap. Further research on the Dark Age/sub-Roman hall at Birdoswald/Banna, and a linguistic analysis of the name of the Irthing Valley in which Banna is situated, allowed me to postulate Arthur's presence here. The name Arthwys, found in the genealogy of the ancient Men of the North, may well be an early British name for the Irthing region.
Secondly, the battles listed in Chapter 56 all belong quite solidly in the North. Attempts to place them in the south of England have universally failed (if we are to accept the language laws that guide toponomastic scholars; amateur "sound-alike" etymologies, based in ignorance of early forms and principles of philology, phonology, etc., abound, and are not to be taken seriously).
There is an interesting phrase in Chapter 56 that, to my knowledge, has not been remarked upon before. This describes Octha, the son of Hengist, coming down to Kent from the north of Britain:
"his son Octha came down from the north of Britain to the kingdom of the Kentishmen,"
Whatever was the son of a Kentish king doing in the North?
Rather naively, we could say he might have been fighting Arthur up there. But a more probable explanation is a confusion with a Bernician prince who had a very similar name:
Occa (Occ, Ogg, Ocga) son of Ida
In the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Bede, Octha's place is taken by Aesc (or Oisc). It would appear, then, that the northern and southern English genealogies have been confused. I have often wondered if the Octha of Nennius could not be a strange conflation of Occa and Adda - Adda being another son of Ida.
Ida himself features at the very end of Chapter 56 as the first king of Bernicia. As Nennius claims, it was Arthur's defeat of the Saxons in all the battles IN THE NORTH that led the Saxons to bring in reinforcements and kings to rule over them. In the translation by John Morris:
"and he [Arthur] was victorious in all his campaigns. When they were defeated in all their campaigns, the English sought help from Germany, and continually and considerably increased their numbers, and they brought over their kings from Germany to rule over them in Britain, until the time when Ida reigned..."
The implication here is plain. Arthur is not fighting in Kent, or indeed anywhere in southern England. He is fighting in the North. The increase of the Saxons in Kent is matched with the increase of the Saxons in Bernicia.
"At that time the English increased their numbers and grew in Britain. On Hengest's death..."
It is Arthur who stymies the Northern Saxons through twelve battle victories.
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