The British Chronicles
Nennius was an eighth-century historian who is a
major source for tales of King Arthur. [see #56 below]. Unlike the much more careful Bede,
Nennius was, as one modern historian writes "unrestrainedly inventive" [ Gerhard
Herm, The Celts, [London, 1976], p. 275]. Not all of Nennius can be dismissed as he
apparently had access to no-longer available 5th century sources, but neither can he be
I. THE PROLOGUE.
1. NENINIUS, the lowly minister and servant of the servants of God, by the
grace of God, disciple of St. Elbotus, to all the followers of truth sendeth health.
Be it known to your charity, that being dull in intellect and rude of
speech, I have presumed to deliver these things in the Latin tongue, not trusting to my
own learning, which is little or none at all, but partly from traditions of our ancestors,
partly from writings and monuments of the ancient inhabitants of Britain, partly from the
annals of the Romans, and the chronicles of the sacred fathers, Isidore, Hieronymus,
Prosper, Eusebius, and from the histories of the Scots and Saxons, although our enemies,
not following my own inclinations, but, to the best of my ability, obeying the commands of
my seniors; I have lispingly put together this history from various sources, and have
endeavoured, from shame, to deliver down to posterity the few remaining ears of corn about
past transactions, that they might not be trodden under foot, seeing that an ample crop
has been snatched away already by the hostile reapers of foreign nations. For many things
have been in my way, and I, to this day, have hardly been able to understand, even
superficially, as was necessary, the sayings of other men; much less was I able in my own
strength, but like a barbarian, have I murdered and defiled the language of others. But I
bore about with me an inward wound, and I was indignant, that the name of my own people,
formerly famous and distinguished, should sink into oblivion, and like smoke be
dissipated. But since, however, I had rather myself be the historian of the Britons than
nobody, although so many are to be found who might much more satisfactorily discharge the
labour thus imposed on me; I humbly entreat my readers, whose ears I may offend by the
inelegance of my words, that they will fulfil the wish of my seniors, and grant me the
easy task of listening with candour to my history. For zealous efforts very often fail:
but bold enthusiasm, were it in its power, would not suffer me to fail. May, therefore,
candour be shown where the inelegance of my words is insufficient, and may the truth of
this history, which my rustic tongue has ventured, as a kind of plough, to trace out in
furrows, lose none of its influence from that cause, in the ears of my hearers. For it is
better to drink a wholesome draught of truth from a humble vessel, than poison mixed with
honey from a golden goblet
2. And do not be loath, diligent reader, to winnow my chaff, and lay up
the wheat in the storehouse of your memory:: for truth regards not who is the speaker, nor
in what manner it is spoken, but that the thing be true;; and she does not despise the
jewel which she has rescued from the mud, but she adds it to her former treasures.
For I yield to those who are greater and more eloquent than myself, who,
kindled with generous ardour, have endeavoured by Roman eloquence to smooth the jarring
elements of their tongue, if they have left unshaken any pillar of history which I wished
to see remain. This history therefore has been compiled from a wish to benefit my
inferiors, not from envy of those who are superior to me, in the 858th year of our Lord's
incarnation, and in the 24th year of Mervin, king of the Britons, and I hope that the
prayers of my betters will be offered up for me in recompence of my labour. But this is
sufficient by way of preface. I shall obediently accomplish the rest to the utmost of my
II.-THE APOLOGY OF NENNIUS.
Here begins the apology of Nennius, the historiographer of the Britons, of
the race of the Britons.
3. I, Nennius, disciple of St. Elbotus, have endeavoured to write some
extracts which the dulness of the British nation had cast away, because teachers had no
knowledge, nor gave any information in their books about this island of Britain. But I
have got together all that I could find as well from the annals of the Romans as from the
chronicles of the sacred fathers, Hieronymus, Eusebius, Isidorus, Prosper, and from the
annals of the Scots and Saxons, and from our ancient traditions. May teachers and scribes
have attempted to write this, but somehow or other have abandoned it from its difficulty,
wither on account of frequent deaths, or the often recurring calamities of war. I pray
that every reader who shall read this book, may pardon me, for having attempted, like a
chattering jay, or like some weak witness, to write these things, after they had failed. I
yield to him who knows more of these things than I do.
4,5. From Adam to the flood, are two thousand and forty-two years. From
the flood to Abraham, nine hundred and forty-two. From Abraham to Moses, six hundred. From
Moses to Solomon, and the first building of the temple, four hundred and forty-eight. From
Solomon to the rebuilding of the temple, which was under Darius, king of the Persians, six
hundred and twelve
6. The first age of the world is from Adam to Noah; the second from Noah
to Abraham; the third from Abraham to David; the fourth from David to Daniel; the fifth to
John the Baptist; the sixth from John to the judgment, when our Lord Jesus Christ will
come to judge the living and the dead, and the world by fire.
The first Julius. The second Claudius. The third Severus. The fourth
Carinus. The fifth Constantius. The sixth Maximus The seventh Maximianus. The eighth
another Severus AEquantius. The ninth Constantius.
Here beginneth the history of the Britons, edited by Mark the anchorite, a
holy bishop of that people.
7. The island of Britain derives its name from Brutus, a Roman consul.
Taken from the south-west point it inclines a little towards the west, and to its northern
extremity measures eight hundred miles, and is in breadth two hundred. It contains
thirty-three cities, viz.
|1. Cair ebrauc (York)
2. Cair ceint (Canterbury)
3. Cair gurcoc (Anglesey)
4. Cair guorthegern
5. Cair custeint (Carnarvon)
6. Cair guoranegon (Worcester)
7. Cair segeint (Silchester)
8. Cair guin truis (Norwhich?)
9. Cair merdin (Caermarthen)
10. Cair peris (Porchester)
11. Cair lion (Caerleon-upon-Usk)
12. Cair mencipit (Verulam)
13. Cair caratauc (Catterick)
14. Cair ceri (Cirencester)
15. Cair gloui (Gloucester)
16. Cair lullid (Carlisle)
17. Cair grant (Cambridge)
|18. Cair daun (Doncaster)
19. Cair britoc (Bristol)
20. Cair meguaid (Meivod)
21. Cair mauiguid (Manchester)
22. Cair ligion (Chester?)
23. Cair guent (Caerwent?)
24. Cair collon (Colchester?)
25. Cair londein (London)
26. Cair Guorcon (Worren?)
27. Cair lerion (Leicester)
28. Cair draithou (Drayton)
29. Cair ponsavelcoit (Pevenscy) 30. Cairteimm (Teyn-Grace)
31. Cair Urnahc (Wroxster)
32. Cair colemion1
33. Cair loit coit (Lincoln)
1 - In the J.A. Giles translation, this is
identified as "Camalet, in Somersetshire."
These are the names of the ancient cities of the island of Britain. It has
also a vast many promontories, and castles innumerable, built of brick and stone. Its
inhabitants consist of four different people; the Scots, the Picts, the Saxons, and the
8. Three considerable islands belong to it; one, on the south, opposite
the Armorican shore, called Wight; another between Ireland and Britain, called Eubonia or
Man;; and another directly north, beyond the Picts, named Orkney; and hence it was
anciently a proverbial expression, in reference to its kings and rulers, "He reigned
over Britain and its three islands."
9. It is fertilized by several rivers, which traverse it in all
directions, to the east and west, to the south and north; but there are two pre-eminently
distinguished among the rest, the Thames and the Severn, which formerly, like the two arms
of Britain, bore the ships employed in the conveyance of the riches acquired by commerce.
The Britons were once very populous, and exercised extensive dominion from sea to sea.
10.Respecting the period when this island became inhabited subsequently to
the flood, I have seen two distinct relations. According to the annals of Roman history,
the Britons deduce their origin both from the Greeks and Romans. On the side of the
mother, from Lavinia, the daughter of Latinus, king of Italy, and of the race of Silvanus,
the son of Inachus, the son of Dardanus; who was the son of Saturn, king of the Greeks,
and who, having possessed himself of a part of Asia, built the city of Troy. Dardanus was
the father of Troius, who was the father of Priam and Anchises; Anchises was the father of
Aeneas, who was the father of Ascanius and Silvius; and this Silvius was the son of Aeneas
and Lavinia, the daughter of the king of Italy. From the sons of Aeneas and Lavinia
descended Romulus and Remus, who were the sons of the holy queen Rhea, and the founders of
Rome. Brutus was consul when he conquered Spain, and reduced that country to a Roman
province he afterwards subdued the island of Britain, whose inhabitants were the
descendants of the Romans, from Silvius Posthumus. He was called Posthumus because he was
born after the death of Aeneas his father; and his mother Lavinia concealed herself during
her pregnancy; he was called Silvius, because he was born in a wood. Hence the Roman kings
were called Silvan, and the Britons who sprang from him; but they were called Britons from
Brutus, and rose from the family of Brutus.
AEneas, after the Trojan war, arrived with his son in Italy; and having
vanquished Turnus, married Lavinia, the daughter of king Latinus, who was the son of
Faunus, the son of Picus, the son of Saturn. After the death of Latinus, Aeneas obtained
the kingdom of the Romans, and Lavinia brought forth a son, who was named Silvius.
Ascanius founded Alba, and afterwards married And Lavinia bore to Aeneas a son named
Silvius; But Ascanius married a wife, who conceived and became pregnant. And Aeneas,
having been informed that his daughter-in-law was pregnant, ordered his son to send his
magician to examine his wife, whether the child conceived were male or female. The
magician came and examined the wife and pronounced it to be a son, who should become the
most valiant among the Italians, and the most beloved of all men. In consequence of this
prediction, the magician was put to death by Ascanius; but it happened that the mother of
the child dying at its birth, he was named Brutus; and after a certain interval agreeably
to what the magician had foretold, whilst he was playing with some others he shot his
father with an arrow, not intentionally but by accident. He was, for this cause, expelled
from Italy, and came to the islands of the Tyrrhene sea, when he was exiled on account of
the death of Turnus, slain by Aeneas. He then went among the Gauls, and built the city of
Turones, called Turnis. At length he came to this island, named from him Britannia, dwelt
there, and filled it with his own descendants, and it has been inhabited from that time to
the present period.
11. AEneas reigned over the Latins three years; Ascanius thirty-three
years; after whom Silvius reigned twelve yeaars, and Posthumus thirty-nine years: the
latter, from whom the kings of Alba are called Silvan, was brother to Brutus, who governed
Britain at the time Eli the high-priest judged Israel, and when the Ark of the covenant
was taken by a foreign people. But Posthumus his brother reigned among the Latins.
12. After an interval of not less than eight hundred years, came the
Picts, and occupied the Orkney Islands: whence they laid waste many regions, and seized
those on the left hand side of Britain, where they still remain, keeping possession of a
third part of Britain to this day.
13. Long after this, the Scots arrived in Ireland from Spain. The first
that came was Partholomus, with a thousand men and women, these increased to four
thousand; but a mortality coming suddenly upon them, they all perished in one week. The
second was Nimech, the son of
..who, according to report, after having his ships
shattered, arrived at a port in Ireland, and continuing there several years, returned at
length with his followers to Spain. After these came three sons of a Spanish soldier with
thirty ships, each of which contained thirty wives; and having remained there during the
space of a year, there appeared to them, in the middle of the sea, a tower of glass, the
summit of which seemed covered with men, to whom they often spoke, but received no answer.
At length they determined to besiege the tower; and after a year's preparation, advanced
towards it, with the whole number of their ships, and all the women, one ship only
excepted, which had been wrecked, and in which were thirty men, and as many women; but
when all had disembarked on the shore which surrounded the tower, the sea opened and
swallowed them up. Ireland, however, was peopled, to the present period, from the family
remaining in the vessel which was wrecked. Afterwards, others came from Spain, and
possessed themselves of various parts of Britain.
14. Last of all came one Hoctor, who continued there, and whose
descendants remain there to this day. Istoreth, the son of Istorinus, with his followers,
held Dalrieta; Build had the island Eubonia, and other adjacent places. The sons of
Liethali obtained the country of Dimetae, where is a city called Menavia and the province
Guiher and Cetgueli, which they held till they were expelled from every part of Britain,
by Cunedda and his sons.
15. According to the most learned among the Scots, if any one desires to
learn what I am now going to state, Ireland was a desert, and uninhabited, when the
children of Israel crossed the Red Sea, in which, as we read in the Book of the Law, the
Egyptians who followed them were drowned. At that period, there lived among this people,
with a numerous family a Scythian of noble birth, who had been banished from his country,
and did not go to pursue the people of God. The Egyptians who were left, seeing the
destruction of the great men of their nation, and fearing lest he should possess himself
of their territory, took counsel together, and expelled him. Thus reduced, he wandered
forty-two years in Africa, and arrived with his family at the altars of the Philistines,
by the Lake of Osiers. Then passing between Rusicada and the hilly country of Syria, they
travelled by the river Malva through Mauritania as far as the Pillars of Hercules; and
crossing the Tyrrhene Sea, landed in Spain, where they continued many years, having
greatly increased and multiplied Thence, a thousand and two years after the Egyptians were
lost in the Red Sea, they passed into Ireland, and the district of Dalrieta. At that
period, Brutus, who first exercised the consular office, reigned over the Romans; and the
state, which before was governed by regal power, was afterwards ruled, during four hundred
and forty-seven years, by consuls, tribunes of the people, and dictators.
The Britons came to Britain in the third age of the world; and in the
fourth, the Scots took possession of Ireland.
The Britons who, suspecting no hostilities, were unprovided with the means
of defence, were unanimously and incessantly attacked, both by the Scots from the west,
and by the Picts from the north. A long interval after this, the Romans obtained the
empire of the world.
16. From the first arrival of the Saxons into Britain, to the fourth year
of king Mermenus, are computed four hundred and twenty-eigtht years; from the nativity of
our Lord to the coming of St. Patrick among the Scots, four hundred and five years; from
the death of St. Patrick to that of St. Bridget, forty years; and from the birth of
Columcille to the death of St. Bridget four years.
17. I have learned another account of this Brutus from the ancient books
of our ancestors. After the deluge, the three sons of Noah severally occupied three
different parts of the earth: Shem extended his borders into Asia, Ham into Africa, and
Japheth into Europe.
The first man that dwelt in Europe was Alanus, with his three sons,
Hisicion, Armenon, and Neugio. Hisicion had four sons, Francus, Romanus, Alamanus, and
Bruttus. Armenon had five sons, Gothus, Valagothus, Cibidus, Burgundus, and Longobardus.
Neugio had three sons, Vandalus, Saxo, and Boganus. From Hisicion arose four nations__the
Franks, the Latins, the Germans, and Britons: from Armenon, the Gothi, Valagothi, Cibidi,
Burgundi, and Longobardi:: from Neugio, the Bogari, Vandali, Saxones, and Tarincgi. The
whole of Europe was subdivided into these tribes.
Alanus is said to have been the son of Fethuir; Fethuir, the son of
Ogomuin, who was the son oof Thoi; Thoi was the son of Boibus, Boibus off Semion, Semion
of Mair, Mair of Ecthactus, Ecthactus of Aurthack, Aurthack of Ethec, Ethec of Ooth, Ooth
of Aber, Aber of Ra, Ra of Esraa, Esraa of Hisrau, Hisrau of Bath, Bath of Jobath, Jobath
of JJoham, Joham of Japheth, Japheth of Noah, Noah of Lamech, Lamech of Mathusalem,
Mathusalem of Enoch, Enoch of Jared, Jared of Malalehel, Malalehel of Cainan, Cainan of
Enos, Enos of Seth, Seth of Adam, and Adam was formed by the living God. We have obtained
this information respecting the original inhabitants of Britain from ancient tradition.
18. The Britons were thus called from Brutus: Brutus was the son of
Hisicion, Hisicion was the son of Alanus, Alanus was the son of Rehea Silvia, Rhea Silvvia
was the daughter of Numa Pompilius, Numa was the son of Ascanius, Ascanius of Eneas, Eneas
of Anchises, Anchises of Troius, Troius of Dardanus, Dardanus of Flisa, Flisa of Juuin,
Juuin of Japheth; but Japheth had seven sons; from the first, named Gomer, descended the
Galli; from the second, Magog, the Scythi and Gothi; from the third, Madian, the Medi;
from the fourth, Juuan, the Greeks; from the fifth, Tubal, arose the Hebrei, Hispani, and
Itali; from the sixth, Mosoch, sprung the Cappadoces; and from the seventh, named Tiras,
descended the Thraces: these are the sons of Japheth, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech.
19. The Romans having obtained the dominion of the world, sent legates or
deputies to the Britons to demand of them hostages and tribute, which they received from
all other countries and islands; but they, fierce, disdainful, and haughty, treated the
legation with contempt.