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  Vortigern Studies > Vortigern > The Sources > Gildas

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The Sources
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(early sixth century AD)
Robert Vermaat

Who was Gildas?

After Patrick, Gildas is the second British source for the fifth century, of which he shows us a rare, but extremely distorted picture (see Gildas in the Dark Ages). Gildas lived in the fifth, but more likely in the first half of the sixth century. We have but a small clue as to who he really was.

A transcript of the relevant chapters can be found at this site.

The name ‘Gildas’ is very unusual. There is only one parallel in Roman history is the fifth-century North African rebel Gildo, who has essentially the same name. But though there is no connection between these men (Gildo was a Mauretanian), it is clear that neither men had a Latin name. Wade-Evans suggested a Pictish origin (but see below), others have stressed a Gaelic one. Though often claimed as Irish as in the name 'Gilla goeshyd' (Gilla Stag Shank) or the OI word for servant, armed man (gillae), the Irish version of the name is usually ‘Gillas’, and Columbanus calls him ‘Giltas’.

Sims-Williams ruled out any British origin for the name, but not for the man. He thought, perhaps not so unlikely, that Gildas had good cause to hide his real name. Given his puns on the names of the tyrants (which were not funny at all), he might have treated his own name in the same way. Sims-Wiliams therefore proposed a pseudonym, maybe a cipher, or an anagram for *Sildag. In all, mainly due to his writings about Britain, accepting him as a Briton, though unsubstantiated, is probably the best choice.

Gildas’ birthplace is as enigmatic as his name. Though later hagiography (below) situates him in Strathclyde (Gildas, son of Caw), we have no contemporary information about that. I will not deal here with the question where Gildas actually wrote, but in another article (see Where did Gildas write?). The ‘monk of Rhuys’ (below) situated him in Arecluta (Dumbarton, in the valley of the Clyde), while some have identified his father Caw with ‘Cau Pritdin’ (Caw of Britain) of the Vita sancti Cadoci. Gildas’ animosity towards the Picts might hint to a northerly region as well. Wade-Evans, however, actually identified Gildas and Caw with Picts! This seems unsubstantiated, though, by De Excidio itself, where Gildas calls Latin ‘nostra lingua’ (DEB 23); This may be normal for Romans, even possible for Britons, but rather impossible for Picts!

As with his birthplace, his birth date is also quite an enigma. Gildas says himself that he was born in the year of ‘the battle of Badon Hill’, a battle that has gained subsequent fame as later tradition and legend associated it with the elusive King Arthur. The debate about the exact date of this battle, which ranges from about 490 to 520, is also connected with the date of the publication of Gildas’ most important work (de Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae), which he wrote in the forty-fourth year after that battle. Gildas is usually taken to have died in 570, but there are other opinions (see below and When did Gildas write?). The Bonedd y Saint mentions two sons (Gwynnog and Noethon) and later a third (Tydech), but also a daughter (Dolgar).

Later hagiography put Gildas, who is called both the ‘Historian’ and later ‘Sapiens’ (the Wise) in a northern context (see Where…). He was to have studied in a monastic school in Wales under St. Illtud (because Maelgwn of Gwynedd seemed to be connected to that school as well), though it is not clear by what he writes about himself, if he was a monk or a member of the secular clergy. His activities ranged from Britain to Ireland, and eventually to Brittany, where he was credited with founding the monastery of St. Gildas de Rhuys, and where he was supposed to have died. There are two fundamental Lives of Gildas:

The first Vita
This ‘Life’, known as the Vita Gildae auctore monacho Ruiensi, which is dated to the eleventh century (though possibly based on ninth-century material), was written by an anonymous ‘monk of Rhuys’ in Brittany.

Gildas was born as one of five sons of Caunus (Caw) in Arecluta (Clydeside, Strathclyde), one of these sons being the warrior Cuillus (Huail), the others (Mailocus, Egreas, and Alleccus) all hermits and ecclesiastics, as was their sister Peteova (Peithien). Gildas studies with St. Illtud, together with Samson and Paul. After these studies, Gildas went to Ireland and later preached in North Britain. Gildas made a bell for St. Brigit. He then returned to Ireland to restore churches (at the request of the Irish king Ainmere, AD 566-569). He then went to Rome and Ravenna, before returning, at the age of 30, to Armorica in the time of Childeric (AD 457-481!). The Life mentions that Gildas wrote the Epistola (below) 10 years after leaving Britain. Gildas died on January 29. Here ends the first Life.

Gildas’ visit to Ireland is confirmed by the Annales Cambriae, which suggest Gildas sailed for Ireland in 565 and died in 570, which is also the year of his death in the Annals of Tigernach. Modern opinion seems to agree that Gildas never left Ireland after his second visit, and that the second part of the Life is about another saint, possibly St. Gueltas of Ruys. This Gueltas would then have been born c. 427, which would be confirmed by an otherwise enigmatic entry in the chronicle of Mont St. Michel:

Aliud chronicon ejusdem montis [S. Michaelis in periculo maris] col. 1323:
Ann. 421- Natus est S. Gildas

This chronicle, published by Migne with the works of Robert de Torigny, unfortunately makes many mistakes, such as dating the death of Cadwallon of Gwynedd in 534 (correct 634), thereby creating confusion with Cadwallon, the father of Maelgwn. But if the entry is correct, does that mean that this ‘Gueltas’, who was apparently born in 421, also wrote the Epistola?

Significant in this Life is chapter 19, which describes Gildas writing the Epistola, or second part of De Excidio. Quoted here are chapters 26 and 27, joined by the word etenim. This is proof of the internal connection between the Historia and the Epistola, and thus of the integrity of De Excidio as one manuscript.

The second Vita
This ‘Life’, known as the Vita Gildae auctore Caradoco Lancarbanensi, was written by Caradog of Llancarfan (fl. 1135). Though Caradog was a friend of the pro-Breton Geoffrey of Monmouth, he knows nothing of a connection between Gildas and Brittany.

His Gildas was the son of Nau, but his brothers amount to no less than 23, all warriors. Gildas studies in Gaul, preached in Dyfed in the time of king Trifinus (Tryffin, born c. 430). After Nonnita appears in his congregation (pregnant with St. David) and the unborn saint silences him, Gildas leaves for Ireland. While there, Arthur kills Gildas’ rebellious brother Hueil, which grieves Gildas. Later, Arthur does penance. Gildas spends time with St. Cadog. Gildas visits Rome, retires to an Island (Flatholm), before moving to Glastonbury (Glastonia), where he writes the Historias de Regibus Britanniae. Gildas mediates in a conflict between Arthur and king Melwas, who has captured Arthur’s wife Guennuvar. Gildas later became a hermit, and after his death was buried at Glastonbury Abbey. Here ends the second Life.

This Life is complementary with the first Life. It has nothing on Armorica, includes however Arthurian legend, but confirms the Irish connection. Strangely enough, it places Gildas in Dyfed during the first half of the fifth century in the reign of Tryffin, even when Gildas later admonishes the (elderly) grandson of that king. The story of the pregnant Nonnita originated with Rhhygyvarch (Ricemarchus - Vita beati Dauidis), though he does not name the preacher as Gildas.

The part about the bell is echoed in the ‘Life of St. Illtud’, where Gildas ‘the Historian’ made another bell. Maybe we have here a hint as to Gildas’ original profession? The island part is confirmed by others, one of them (Life of Oudoceus), containing a strange reference to the ‘just and good’ Gildas Sapiens, who nevertheless steals Oudoceus’ building material! The reference to Gildas wiring a ‘History of the Kings of Britain’ is puzzling. Bartrum suggests that Caradoc was confused by his friend Geoffrey, who refers to Gildas’ work more than once, but all but the last ones are not found in Gildas at all. Did Geoffrey indeed refer only to an imaginary work, or to an embellished later copy (or even more complete)?

Other references to Gildas are by Columbanus, who is in fact the very first to mention him. Columbanus wrote between 595 and 600 to pope Gregory the Great about monks becoming hermits, referring that some ‘Vennianus’ (probably St Finnian of Clonard, d. 549) consulted Gildas (Giltas auctor) on the subject. Gildas wrote on the matter of simoniacal bishops, which fits his ideas on the clergy as written in de Excidio and the Fragmentae. The Life of St Finnian of Clonard mentions a similar dispute between Gildas and David, probably about a particular form of monastic life. Gildas criticises those who flee to a stricter discipline, which is very like the subject of his advise to Finnian. Gildas, expressing an intention to enter the monastic life himself, nevertheless later thought David’s rule too severe and strict. In any case, later tradition seems to indicate that Gildas lost the dispute, and went to Ireland. If the above identification is correct, and keeping in mind that Finnian died halfway during the sixth century, Gildas probably entered the monastic life a few years earlier in order to become an internationally recognised expert on the subject. This would date the writing of De Excidio to only a few years after 500, i.e. when based on the orthodox dating scheme.

Bede, writing in the early eight century, was the one that made Gildas famous a historian, calling him the ‘Historian of the British’. Bede used and adapted much information from Gildas for his history of the fifth and sixth centuries. This shows that during Bede’s time, no other historical material was available for this period. It also meant that Gildas’ reputation, supported as he was by the very good reputation of Bede, has been secured for centuries to come. Even today it is usual for historians to agree with those parts of the DEB that have been used by Bede, even though Gildas’ general reputation as a historian has long since been destroyed.

Gildas secundus – or even more?
It is not strange that confusion has occurred over the centuries about the person or persons of Gildas. Especially a supposed distinction between the first 26 chapters (the so-called Historia) and the rest (called the Epistola), led many authors and editors astray in believing both were written by two different men (below). I have summed up a collection of the various ‘personalities’ which have sprung up over the ages as a result:

  • Giltas Auctor – St Columbanus wrote about Gildas (Giltas auctor) in a letter to Gregory the Great, ca. 600. Gildas advised Finnian, who died ca. 550, which would fit the traditional dates of Gildas. The ‘auctor’ could perhaps have been used in the sense of ‘authority on church discipline’.
  • Gildas Historicus – This phrase was coined by Bede, who rised Gildas to the position of ‘Historian of the British’. After that, most early references to Gildas are to him as historicus. The Life of St. Illtud mentions a bell manufactured by ‘Gildas the Historian’.
  • Gildas Sapiens – After Alcuin called him ‘the wisest of the Britons’, this became the usual name for Gildas. The name was also mentioned by Caradog of Llancarfan, when he described Gildas mediating between Melwas and Arthur, which might have been another possible origin of the epithet.
  • St. Gildas – This was the usual term for the later Celtic writers, although there was confusion between a St. Gildas of Rhuys (b. 427) and the historian of the sixth century.
  • Gildas Albanius - This name was coined by John Bale (1557) and followed by James Ussher (1639), to distinguish the Gildas he thought described by Caradog of Llancarfan (above, the second Life) from the author of De Excidio, whose Life had been written by the monk of Rhuys. Bale dated Gildas Albanius to AD 425-512.
  • Gildas Badonicus – This was Bale’s author of De Excidio, whom he dated to AD 520-570. Wade-Evans used this term to describe his ‘anonymous’ author of the first part of De Excidio (cc. 2-26), whereas the Epistola (cc. 1, 26-110) were written by the original Gildas. Wade-Evans dated the ‘Badonicus’ to 708, being in fact born in the year of the ‘Bellum Badonicus Secundo’, which took place in AD 665, according to the Annales Cambriae (below).
  • Gildas Cambrius – A fictitious character. This ‘Gildas of Wales’, a poet, was invented in the sixteenth century by an Italian author, abridging the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth. He is not connected with the historical Gildas.
  • Gildas Quartus – Another fictitious character. He was called ‘quartus’ because Iohannes Pitseus (1619) listed him as the fourth Gildas, describing him as an Irishman, a monk of Bangor and an old man by 860. Usher (1639) placed him in 820. This fictitious character seems to have arisen from the fact that certain copies of the Historia Brittonum were ascribed to Gildas (the 13th-century texts P and Q), amongst others by Henry of Huntingdon. This confusion might have occurred through the mistake by Caradog of Llancarfan, who mentioned that Gildas wrote a Historias de Regibus Britanniae.
  • St Gildas of Rhuys – Alfred Anscombe (1893-5) made a distinction between a St Gildas, who according to him wrote the Historia in 499, while the Epistola was written by an anonymous monk in Gwynedd in 655.

Today, opinions do no longer differ about the personality of Gildas. It is usually taken for granted that, generally speaking, the DEB was written by one person called Gildas, around the middle of the sixth century.

Gildas’ writings

For more about Gildas as a historian, I refer to the most excellent article by Sheila Brynjulfson on this site. I will discuss his writings in more depth here. Though Gildas is famous for his De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, he wrote at least two other works, the Fragmentae (which are the fragments of lost letters on ecclesiastical matter ascribed to Gildas) and the Poenitentiae.

Fragmentae and Poenitentiae
The Fragmentae cover subject such as discussed with Finnian, like we have seen above, such as excommunication, abstinence, overzealous monks, and the roles of bishops and abbots. There is contemporary evidence (Letter 4) that some concerned Ireland, and others intervene in the dispute between ascetic extremists and milder monks which sharpened in the 560s (Letters 2 and 3). These subjects can also be found in De Excidio, so we can safely ascribe the Fragmentae to Gildas.

The Poenitentiae or Monastic Rule (the oldest penitential known to us), are a profound influence on the Irish penitentials, which later became the norm to the western church. The Poenitentiae is ascribed to Gildas, while it deals with the same problems as the Fragmentae. The Poenitentiae discuss the roles of both regular and secular clergy, and are a brief collection of simple rules for an early British church. Gildas wrote the Penitentials in his later years, when he edged closer and closer to his ideals on monasticism.

De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae
Gildas wrote his main work, De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (‘on the Ruin and Conquest of Britain’) about 10-30 years before Procopius, who wrote around 550 (see When..). At that time he was at least forty three years old. But here we immediately stumble on the first problem. When we say ‘wrote’, we can only mean ‘published’, for the text is not unambiguous. Gildas may even have ‘sat on the book’ (or parts of it) for a period of ten years before publishing it, which makes dating it difficult from the start. Another problem is that the work is entirely anonymous – it was only Bede (d. 735) that ascribed parts or all of it to Gildas. We have seen above what this could mean for the person of Gildas alone; it also led to discussions about forgery, but I will deal with these consequences below.

Neither is the text of the work straightforward. It is a fierce denunciation of the rulers and churchmen of his day, prefaced by a brief explanation of how these evils came to be. This preface is the only surviving narrative history of fifth century Britain, but it was not written as history. Though Gildas was a native of Britain and deals with the period at some length, he was extremely ill-informed about the Roman period. Still he leaves much interesting clues about his times and he may be regarded as the authority for the period before 547-9 (the year of death of Maelgwn Gwynedd in the Annales Cambriae), but in general he gives very little definite information.

The pieces of real information are small enough. The only persons mentioned in the Historia are (Claudius) Caesar, Tiberius, Diocletian, the martyrs Alban, Julius and Aaron, (Magnus) Maximus, Agitius (probably Aetius), Vortigern (when you identify the superbus tyrannus with him) and lastly Ambrosius Aurelianus. Gildas does not mention any dates, not even any regnal years. There are, however, some tantalizing indicators, such as the rebellion of Maximus (383-388), the so-called ‘Rescript of Honorius’ (410), the letter to Aetius (446), the siege of Badon Hill (?) and the rules of the British kings. But apart from Maximus, none of these is securely datable. The identification of the ‘Rescript’ is very shaky, if not impossible. The identification of Gildas’ Agitio with Aetius is not secure, and even when it was that, we cannot be sure of the year (as it could to any time during or after 446). The dating of Badon is next to impossible, and the rules of the British kings rests but on shaky seventh-century genealogical evidence. (I will go much deeper into these problems in When did Gildas write?)Therefore, the DEB does not constitute a history, and eminent historians like Charles Oman declared the narrative ‘nonsense’.

The narrative is unclear because it was written from oral memory. The experience of our own age or any other defines the limits of oral memory. So it was with Gildas. In youth he knew older men who had lived through the wars, but few who were adult before they began. Though we need not have any hesitation in accepting e.g. his testimony of the five kings reigning in his day, I would not blindly accept what he has to say about their character. We should not mistake Gildas for a modern historian who is giving us an unbiased report of history, nor was he writing an objective chronicle of his times. Nevertheless, Gildas is our most important source for the history of Britain and the organization of the ‘Celtic church’ during the fifth and early sixth centuries.

Gildas had a very substantial political agenda and he wrote his book accordingly. He criticises not only the clerics for bad habits, but more so, the British kings. He attacks them for their character flaws, but also for their subjugation to an unnamed ruler (but clearly not a British Christian), who clearly received taxes and homage from all these kings. One of the purposes of his book seems to have been a rallying-call to end this. As a result of this dangerous political message, Gildas writes in metaphors (see Images). Names are changed (‘punned’), persons and events are translated into biblical examples, so that no persecutor could prove any slander or political crimes within his writings. Our problem is how far we go in interpreting these metaphors; so are clear, others very obscure, so that any opinion about this process must be based upon personal conviction only.

What we are sure about is which sources Gildas used. From his seemingly anachronistic prose style, Gildas shows that he was a man with a classical education, which must have been very rare at that date. Gildas was familiar which most of the books of the bible, both the older Vetus Latina version as well as the newer Vulgate version from Jerome. He used works by Vergil (Aeneid), Rufinus, Orosius, Sulpicius Severus, John Cassian and Prudentius. These authors, together with his perfect grammar and syntax (no vulgarisms), show the high quality of his classical education from what could hardly have been anything other than a British school. His scheme was Christian, however, and not classical. The text shows his enormous dependence on the bible and on biblical themes.

The Text
The earliest manuscript of De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (I will refer henceforth to DEB) dates only from the eleventh century, with the rest later. There are several other witnesses of DEB, which I have entered here below with the earliest manuscripts of DEB:

  • Bede - De temporum ratione (725) and Historia Ecclesiastica (731). He quoted and sometimes paraphrased several passages from DEB in both works. With the exception of a possible quote from c. 37, all quotes come from cc. 1-26.
  • Corpus Glossary (770-800) and Leyden Glossary (790-800). These lists contain ‘Excidian’ words that were derived from the DEB.
  • Cottonian MS. Vitellius A. vi (11th c.) – Mommsen’s MS. C. This one was damaged in a fire in 1731, which destroyed much of the text. It formed the basis for Josselin’s edition of 1568 though.
  • Avranches public library MS. 162 (12th c.) – Codex Abrincencsis, or Mommsen’s MS. A.
  • Cambridge University Library MS. Ff. I.27 (13th c.) – Mommsen’s MS. X. This manuscript, also called the ‘Cormac recension’, differs sharply from the others in that it has a shortened form of chapter 1, but also that it breaks off after chapter 26 and differs in many readings. This has had a major influence over the years with regard to interpretations about Gildas’ person and the authenticity of the DEB (below, forgery) as it crept into the later editions.
  • Cambridge University Library MS. Dd. I.17 (c. 1400) – Mommsen’s MS. D. This one was derived from MS. Vitellius.
  • Paris MS. Lat.6235 (15th c.) – Mommsen’s MS. E. This one only contains the chapters 3-12.
  • Vita Gildae auctore monacho Ruiensi (11th c., possibly even 9th c.) – Mommsen’s MS. R. This one contains only brief quotations, but amongst them the very significant ‘connection’ of chapters 27 and 27 (above).
  • Bibliothèque Nationale de Reims MS. 414 (probably 9th c.). This one, unknown to Mommsen, has chapters 27 and 63, but also parts of 31, 42, 43, 46, 50 and 59.

The first printed edition, by Polidore Virgil, appeared in 1525, almost exactly a thousand years after the original! Other printed editions are those by John Josselin (1568), Thomas Gale (1691) and Joseph Stevenson (1838), before Theodor Mommsen’s text in 1898. The latest edition is that of Michael Winterbottom in 1978.

The contents
DEB consists of 110 chapters, arranged accordingly:

  • Chapter 1: General preface, vindication and motives.
  • Chapters 2-26: The Historia:
  • Chapter 2 is a table of contents, chapters 3-26 are a selective and rhetorical description of British history from the Roman conquest to the events of Gildas’ own time. Some think this in fact part of the introduction;
  • Chapters 3-12: History of Britain, from the Roman conquest to the fourth century;
  • Chapter 13: Revolt of Magnus Maximus;
  • Chapters 14-19: Britain invaded, Roman interventions, building of the walls;
  • Chapters 20-21: Appeal to Agitius, famine, disasters, British counteroffensive, period of luxury;
  • Chapters 22-24: New invasions, Superbus Tyrannus, invitation to the Saxons, their rebellion, destruction of urban life;
  • Chapters 25-26: Reaction under Ambrosius Aurelianus, wars until Badonis Mons, Gildas' lifetime, 44 years until the time of writing.
  • Chapters 27-110: The Epistola:
  • Chapters 27-36: Denunciation of five British kings, probably contemporary with Gildas: Constantius, Aurelius Caninus, Vortiporus, Cuneglasus and Maglocunus;
  • Chapters 37-63: Quotations from the Scriptures denouncing wicked princes.
  • Chapters 64-5: transition.
  • Chapters 66-110: Attack on the British clergy:
  • Chapters 66-8: An opening diatribe against the sacerdotes, against the wicked and reprobate priests, with much rhetoric paralleling c. 27;
  • Chapters 69-75: Against good and chaste priests, who nevertheless are not zealous enough;
  • Chapters 76-105: Quotations from the Scriptures denouncing unworthy and lazy priests;
  • Chapters 106-7: Quotations from Scriptural reading from an ancient British ordination rite.
  • Chapters 108-10: Conclusion to the second section.

It has been argued for a long time that the DEB was not one single document, or even a forgery, mostly dating it to the seventh century. As early as the later middle ages authors such as John Bale (1557) had separated the Historia from the Epistola, thinking that it must have been written by two different authors. James Ussher took this up, and declared (1639) that there were two authors, one datable to the fifth century and the second to the sixth (above). Especially the nineteenth century gave rise to a new revisionism that sprang up in the wake of ‘modern’ Christian theological debate. Authors interpreted Gildas’ anti-Roman (Catholic) criticism as anachronistic or even protestant (!)

  • Peter Roberts (1811) found the DEB too critical of the Celts or the Celtic church to be authentic. He proposed that it was a deliberate forgery; propaganda written by a Latin author to encourage the English, not to dishearten the Welsh. Roberts did, however, think of it as a whole, and he discarded the printed version of Gale (1691), which separated the Historia from the Epistola between chapters 26 and 27, as he thought both were forged by the same man. He dated it to the seventh century on the grounds of resembling the work of Aldhelm of Malmesbury.
  • Thomas Wright (1842) agreed to this dating and the authorship of Aldhelm.
  • Alfred Anscombe (1893-5) raised the issue again of the unity of the text. Both the editions of Gale and Stevenson (1838) had separated the text in two parts, but still presented it as written by one author; Anscombe doubted this. He made a distinction between a St Gildas, who according to him wrote the Historia in 499, while the Epistola was written by an anonymous monk in Gwynedd in 655, on the grounds of supposed internal evidence.
  • Arthur W. Wade-Evans (1904-52) was a disciple of Anscombe. Wade-Evans published many articles on the subject of early British history ‘on account of his sufferings as a ‘Kelt’ at the hands of the ‘Teutons’ as a young Welshman at Oxford. It never ceases to amaze me what bullying can lead to. The current academic feelings at Oxford at the time, that the Germans were the only productive race ever, and that England was more German than Germany, must have sourly wounded him as well.
    Wade-Evans dated the Epistola to 502 or earlier, and attributed it to Gildas Sapiens. The Historia, however, he dated to much later. He called it the Excidium Britanniae, or later the De excidio Britanniae, but he meant chapters 2-26, as did others before him. The author was supposedly unknown, but he later called this ‘anonymous’ Auctor Badonicus, or later Gildas Badonicus. Wade-Evans found numerous anachronisms (at least he though so), such as the migration into Wales, anointing of kings and some others. He also combined a passage about a prophecy about 150 years of raiding with that of the 44-years since the siege of Badon. Gildas wrote 150 + 43 (and one month) = 193 years after the Adventus Saxonum.
    But when was that? Wade-Evans interpreted the ‘Siege of Badon’ as the battle mentioned in the Annales Cambriae under year 221 (A.D. 665): Bellum Badonis secundo. Morcant moritur. This ‘proved’ to wade-Evans that Gildas Badonicus had been writing in 708, 43 years after the battle of Badon in 665, and that the Adventus Saxonum had taken place in 514, which was, conveniently enough, the landing of Cerdic.
    Wade-Evans later wrote that Gildas Badonicus had lived at Glastonbury.
  • Père Grosjean (1946-69) attributed the forgery of DEB first to Aldhelm of Malmesbury (7th-8th century), but later to the bishops Daniel of Winchester and Nothelm of Canterbury (8th century).


Today, the matter is still under discussion. Is DEB one text? Though it has been suggested that it consisted of two parts, the Historia (cc. 2-26) and the Epistola (cc. 1, 27-110), no conclusive arguments have proven that these were if fact written by two diffrent authors. By AD 709, Aldhelm of Malmesbury knew both parts, while the Leyden Glossary (ca. 790-800) appears to be derived from a manuscript of the whole text. Though by far the most (if not all) historians accept the DEB as an authentic product of the sixth century, the possibility that some of the material (and most likely, if at all, from chapters 2-26) was interpolated at a later date, most probably during the seventh century, before Bede used it as a source. But the text shows no linguistical differences between both parts. If the DEB had been forged, however, the forger must have been diabolically clever; not only did he write in a perfect rhetorical Latin which was unusual for Gildas’ age, but he wrote an anti-English piece, even though he must have been English or pro-English himself! I feel this theory needs too many assumptions and should be rejected.


  • Bachrach, Bernard S. (1988): Gildas, Vortigern and Constitutionality in Sub-Roman Britain, in: Nottingham Mediaeval Studies 32, 1988, pp. 126-140.*
  • Bartrum, P.C. (1966): Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts, (Cardiff).*
  • Bartrum, P.C. (1993): A Welsh Classical Dictionary, (Cardiff).*
  • Caradoc of Llangarfan: The Life of Gildas, ed. Hugh Williams, translator, in: Two Lives of Gildas by a monk of Ruys and Caradoc of Llancarfan, Cymmrodorion Record Series, 1899. Facsimilie reprint by Llanerch Publishers, (Felinfach 1990), at: http://members.aol.com/michellezi/translations/LifeofGildas.html
  • Dark, Kenneth R. (1994): Civitas to Kingdom, British Political Continuity 300-800, Studies in the Early History of Britain, (Leicester).*
  • Dumville, David N. (1984): Gildas and Maelgwn: problems of dating, in: Lapidge and Dumville, Gildas: New Approaches, pp. 51-60.*
  • Dumville, David N. (1984a): The chronology of De Excidio Britanniae, Book 1, in: Lapidge and Dumville, Gildas: New Approaches, pp. 61-84.*
  • Dumville, David N. (1984b): Gildas and Uinniau, in: Lapidge and Dumville, Gildas: New Approaches, pp. 207-214.*
  • Gildas: The Ruin of Britain and other works, Latin and trans. M. Winterbottom, History from the Sources 7, (Old Woking 1978).*
  • Gildas: De Excidio Brittonum, trans. John Allan Giles, in: Six Old English Chronicles, of which two are now first translated from the monkish Latin originals (London, George Bell and Sons, 1891), full text (English) at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/gildas-full.html.
  • Gildas: The de excidio Britonum (The Ruin of Britain): ed. and Latin Keith Matthews (2000), based on Mommsen's version, at: http://www.kmatthews.org.uk/history/gildas/frames.html
  • Jones, Michael E. (1996): The End of Roman Britain, (Cornell).*
  • Morris, John (1973): The Age of Arthur, a History of the British Isles from 350 to 650, (London repr. 1989).*
  • O'Sullivan, Thomas D. (1978): The De Excidio of Gildas, its Authenticity and Date, Columba studies in the Classical Tradition 7, (Leiden).*
  • Sims-Williams, P. (1983): Gildas and the Anglo-Saxons, in: Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies 6, pp. 1-30.*
  • Sims-Williams, P. (1984): Gildas and vernacular poetry, in: Lapidge and Dumville, Gildas: New Approaches, pp. 169-190.*
  • Snyder, Christopher A. (1998): An Age of Tyrants, Britain and Britons AD 400-600, (Stroud).*
  • Thompson, E.A. (1979): Gildas and the History of Britain, in: Britannia 10, pp. 203-226.*
  • Winterbottom, M. (1978):The Ruin of Britain and other works, History from the Sources 7, (Old Woking).*
  • Wood, Ian N. (1984): The End of Roman Britain: Continental Evidence and Parallels, in: Lapidge and Dumville, Gildas: New Approaches, pp. 1-26.*

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