|The First Crusade||The Hill of Death||The Death of Rufus||Crusades Bookstore|
|Sign Guestbook||View Guestbook||About this Site|
'I Have Made a Heap of All that I could Find'
|In the ninth century AD a celtic monk,
fearful that the history of his people would be lost forever, gathered together into one
book such scraps of history as he could find. The result has perplexed, frustrated, and
tantalized the historians that followed him even to the present day.
At the beginning of the ninth century, Celtic Britain lay in ruins. Pushed to the fringes of their lands by the barbaric Anglo-Saxon and Scottish invaders, the Christian Celts clung to their strongholds in the west and dreamt of the day when they could throw off the Anglo-Saxon yoke.
It was in this atmosphere that a celtic monk by the name of Nennius compiled a history of his defeated people. Nennius, a 'disciple of St. Elbotus' (presumably Elfod, who was the bishop of Bangor in modern-day North Wales), based his work, the Historia Britonnum, mostly upon an older history that is now lost, which he embellished
To this literary melting pot he liberally added any scraps of oral tradition that he chanced upon..
Sadly, Nennius was not a good historian, and the result was a wild and unrestrained history, full of fanciful genealogy and romantic tales of past Celtic heroes. Nennius did not stoop to question the veracity of his sources, and he made no attempt to synthesize a coherent story or even logical timeline from them. Instead, he confesses in his apologetic preface, 'I have made a heap of all that I could find'. His failings as a historian contrast sharply with the polished writings and keen critical analysis that marks the history written by his Anglo-Saxon predecessor, the Venerable Bede. Nennius would probably not have disagreed with this assessment in his shamefaced and apologetic preface, Nennius implores:
But in many ways it was Nennius' failings as an investigative historian that give value to his work. By not scrupling to write of shadowy, half-mythical figures, he has become, for example, one of the earliest sources to mention King Arthur, in a passage in which he relates the twelve battles at which Arthur is claimed to have lead the British to victory over the English.
So we should not be too hard on poor Nennius. He has, after all, provided us with a window, albeit murky, through which we can peer into half-remembered world of Dark Age Britain. Perhaps we should do well, instead, to heed the sage's advice, and be grateful that we have any knowledge at all of those dark times.
Copyright © 2001 Dr Tom J Rees. All rights reserved.