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Discussion of the Two Key Sub-Roman Characters, Appendix
by David H.R. Sims


GILDAS THE MONK & MAELGWN THE MURDERER
A Note on Dates

At the outset, it is generally agreed that even the most precise dates for the period are, at best, only likely to be accurate to the nearest year or so either way and considering the vagaries of the dating process, the figure of one hundred and forty six years between the migration of Cunedda and the accession of Maelgwn given by Nennius, has been the subject of some comment. A generation count would place the visitation in the early or middle 5th century, and this seems to be the received wisdom. How then did Nennius15 obtain this figure (always assuming that it is not the product of a scribal error). It might be argued that he knew the ancestry and the date when Maelgwn annexed the throne, and thus he could back-calculate to a known event. This would certainly be consistent with the Nennian penchant for obscure (and often inaccurate) calculations. But what event did he choose? The late 4th century offers two realistic possibilities: first, in his bid for Imperial power, it appears that Macsen Wledig caused a number of political rearrangements within the native dynasties about, say AD 385. This would give a date of accession for Maelgwn of AD 531. Alternatively, Nennius might have felt that Cunedda and his band had been relocated in the wake of the rebellion of AD 367, resulting in a date of say, AD 516. As Gildas suggested that Maelgwn was a youth at the time of his coup, and his death in AD 547 is recorded in the Welsh Annals, the earlier date appears preferable, and is in reasonable agreement with a pedigree date of AD 517 given for the death of Cadwallon.

As for the composition of the Exidio: in a well-known and somewhat ambiguous passage, Gildas seemed to suggest that the Battle of Badon had been fought in the year of his birth, some forty-four years before. Given that the extant Annals were compiled some time after the events they describe and the paucity of the earlier entries, a dislocation of say, one Easter cycle would not be improbable - i.e. the battle occurred in AD 497 and not AD 516 as reported. Adding 44 to 497 gives 541 as a date for the Exidio and this seems consistent with the information supplied by Gildas.

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Footnotes:

  1. Considerable scholarship has been expended on whether Nennius wrote the Historia. As the actual authorship is generally irrelevant to the text, use of the terms Nennius, Nennian is retained as this avoids awkward constructions.

 


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