Interesting Events in Early British History
Ambrosius Aurelianus - AD c.438
Ambrosius Aurelianus was the leader of the Britons, whose impact on his time must have been significant, although it is clouded
by much uncertainty. We know of him since he is mentioned in four early
texts. First, he is mentioned in "De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae",
a sixth century diatribe against the lazy and apathetic British people and
five corrupt British kings, called "contemptible principalities", written
by the monk, Gildas. Gildas says that Ambrosius, alone, is worthy of praise
among his countrymen for his leadership of the British counteroffensive
against the invading Anglo-Saxons. He is credited with standing against
the tide of invasion and heartening his countrymen by his own courage.
Gildas refers to him as a "Roman", which could have been a statement
of political inclination rather than ethnic origin. He also says that his
father "wore the purple", possibly a reference to descent from
an emperor, or maybe his father had the rank of senator. Gildas goes on
to say that the Saxon advance was halted, altogether, by a stunning British
victory at Mt. Badon, believed to have been fought around the year 500,
but stops short of naming the commander of the home forces. Subsequent centuries
have given that credit to Arthur, but, as Gildas never mentions Arthur at all, it is possible to interpret him as referring to Ambrosius.
Our second reference to Ambrosius comes from The Venerable Bede, an eighth
century monk of the monastery of Jarrow, in "A History of the English
Church and People." In a statement which seems to support Gildas, Bede
calls him "Ambrosius Aurelius, a modest man of Roman origin, who was
the sole survivor of the catastrophe in which his royal parents had perished."
Bede tells us that "under his leadership the Britons took up arms,
challenged their conquerors to battle, and with God's help inflicted a defeat
Nennius, monk of Bangor, was the early ninth century compiler of the eclectic bunch of material known as the "Historia
Brittonum", an interesting document of uncertain historical reliability. Nennius seems to write about two different Ambrosius's. In the first case, he refers to a clearly legendary Ambrosius as being a fatherless child who displayed prophetic powers before Vortigern (this Ambrosius was later transmogrified by Geoffrey of Monmouth into the Merlin of Arthurian notoriety). Nennius also says that Ambrosius was a rival whom Vortigern dreaded, and, in a later passage, calls him "the great king of all the kings of the British nation."
Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his imaginative "History of the Kings of Britain",
calls him Aurelius Ambrosius, links him with Merlin, and has him as the
heir to the throne of Britain. Geoffrey says that when King Constans was
murdered by the usurper, Vortigern, Ambrosius and his brother, Uther, were
smuggled to Brittany to gain strength to return to campaign against Vortigern.
In time, Ambrosius defeated Vortigern, warred successfully against the Saxons
and had their leader, Hengist, killed. According to Geoffrey, Vortigern's son, Paschent, eventually had Ambrosius poisoned.
Whether Ambrosius was a king of the Britons, a war leader against the Saxons,
a Briton, a Roman, all of the above or none of the above, we don't know for sure.
Some have thought that Ambrosius and Arthur are really one and the same,
others that he was Arthur's uncle. The truth is probably that Ambrosius
Aurelianus was a genuine, heroic, fifth century, Romano-British war leader,
some of whose own exploits have been applied to the legend of King
©2007 Britannia.com Design and Development by SightLines, Inc.