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Nennius

Nennius

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Nennius was a Welsh
Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

 monk of the 9th century.
He has traditionally been attributed with the authorship of the Historia Brittonum, based on the prologue affixed to that work, This attribution is widely considered a secondary (10th century) tradition.

Nennius was a student of Elvodugus, commonly identified with the bishop Elfodd
Elfodd
Elfodd , also known as Elfoddw , was a Welsh bishop who induced the Welsh church to adopt the Roman method of determining the date of Easter....

 who convinced British ecclesiastics to accept the Continental dating for Easter
Easter controversy
The Easter controversy is a series of controversies about the proper date to celebrate the Christian holiday of Easter. To date, there are four distinct historical phases of the dispute and the dispute has yet to be resolved...

, and who died in 809 according to the Annales Cambriae
Annales Cambriae
Annales Cambriae, or The Annals of Wales, is the name given to a complex of Cambro-Latin chronicles deriving ultimately from a text compiled from diverse sources at St David's in Dyfed, Wales, not later than the 10th century...

.

Nennius is believed to have lived in the area made up by present day Brecknockshire
Brecknockshire
Brecknockshire , also known as the County of Brecknock, Breconshire, or the County of Brecon is one of thirteen historic counties of Wales, and a former administrative county.-Geography:...

 and Radnorshire
Radnorshire
Radnorshire is one of thirteen historic and former administrative counties of Wales. It is represented by the Radnorshire area of Powys, which according to the 2001 census, had a population of 24,805...

 counties in Powys
Powys
Powys is a local-government county and preserved county in Wales.-Geography:Powys covers the historic counties of Montgomeryshire and Radnorshire, most of Brecknockshire , and a small part of Denbighshire — an area of 5,179 km², making it the largest county in Wales by land area.It is...

, Wales
Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

. He lived outside the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, isolated by mountains in a rural society. Because of the lack of evidence concerning the life of Nennius he has become the subject of legend himself. Welsh traditions include Nennius with Elbodug and others said to have escaped the massacre of Welsh monks by Ethelfrid in 613. by fleeing to Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

.

Authorship of Historia Brittonum



Nennius was traditionally credited with having written the Historia Brittonum c. 830.
The Historia Brittonum was highly influential, becoming a major contributor to the Arthurian legend. It also includes the legendary origins of the Picts
Picts
The Picts were a group of Late Iron Age and Early Mediaeval people living in what is now eastern and northern Scotland. There is an association with the distribution of brochs, place names beginning 'Pit-', for instance Pitlochry, and Pictish stones. They are recorded from before the Roman conquest...

, Scots
Scoti
Scoti or Scotti was the generic name used by the Romans to describe those who sailed from Ireland to conduct raids on Roman Britain. It was thus synonymous with the modern term Gaels...

, St. Germanus and Vortigern
Vortigern
Vortigern , also spelled Vortiger and Vortigen, was a 5th-century warlord in Britain, a leading ruler among the Britons. His existence is considered likely, though information about him is shrouded in legend. He is said to have invited the Saxons to settle in Kent as mercenaries to aid him in...

, and documents events associated with the Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon
Anglo-Saxon may refer to:* Anglo-Saxons, a group that invaded Britain** Old English, their language** Anglo-Saxon England, their history, one of various ships* White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, an ethnicity* Anglo-Saxon economy, modern macroeconomic term...

 invasion of the 7th century as contributed by a Northumbrian document.

Evidence suggests that this medieval literature was a compilation of several sources, some of which are named by Nennius while others are not. Some experts say that this was not the first compiled history of the Britons and that it was largely based on Gildas
Gildas
Gildas was a 6th-century British cleric. He is one of the best-documented figures of the Christian church in the British Isles during this period. His renowned learning and literary style earned him the designation Gildas Sapiens...

' De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae
De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae
De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae is a work by the 6th-century British cleric Gildas. It is a sermon in three parts condemning the acts of Gildas' contemporaries, both secular and religious, whom he blames for the dire state of affairs in sub-Roman Britain...

 written some two centuries before. Most other sources have not survived and therefore cannot be confirmed. The surviving manuscripts of the Historia Brittonum appear to be redacted from several lost versions: information about Nennius contained in the Prologue and in the Apology differs, the Prologue containing an expanded form of the Apology that is only found in editions copied during the 12th century, leading experts to believe that later versions of the document were altered. The largest known edition contains seventy-six sections including the Prologue and the Apology. The work was translated into Irish by Giolla Coemgin in c. 1071 and is the earliest example of the original Historia Britonum, but includes the author’s name, Nennius.

Originally written as a history of the Britons in an attempt to document a legitimate past, the Historia Brittonum contains stories of legend and superstition alike. The historical accuracy of the Historia Brittonum is at best questionable and serves more as historical fiction rather than a legitimate history of the Britons. Although, some historians argue that the Historia Brittonum gives good insight into the way 9th century Britons viewed themselves and their past. Nennius makes several attempts to trace the history of the Britons back to the Romans and Celts through his empirical observations of what he refers to as "The Marvels" or "Wonders of Britain". These include ruins, landmarks and other aspects of the British countryside that Nennius deems worthy of documentation. His explanation of the physical landmarks and ruins take on a very mystical interpretation despite Nennius being a Christian monk. Within the writing of Nennius is a sense of pseudo-nationalist pride attempting to legitimize the people of Britain and embellish the past through legend much as the Romans used the story of Romulus and Remus
Romulus and Remus
Romulus and Remus are Rome's twin founders in its traditional foundation myth, although the former is sometimes said to be the sole founder...

 to legitimize the founding of Rome. One such example of Nennius stressing legend is in his accounts of Arthur and his twelve battles. The Historia Brittonum would come to be the basis on which later medieval authors such as Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth
Geoffrey of Monmouth was a cleric and one of the major figures in the development of British historiography and the popularity of tales of King Arthur...

 would write the romantic histories of King Arthur.

Debate regarding his life and works


The Prologue, in which Nennius introduces his purpose and means for writing the British History, first appears in a manuscript from the 12th century. The prologues of all other manuscripts, though only included marginally, so closely resemble this first prologue that William Newell claims they must be copies. "The preface has evidently been prepared by some one who had before him the completed text of the treatise. It appears in the first instance as a marginal gloss contained in a MS. of the twelfth century;' under ordinary conditions, the chapter would unhesitatingly be set aside as a forgery." He counters Zimmer's argument by reasoning that the Irishman responsible for the "superior" Irish translations might have added his own touches, further claiming that if a Latin version of the Historia had been available in the 12th century, it would have been replicated in that language, not translated.

David N. Dumville argues that the manuscript tradition and nature of the Prologue in particular fail to substantiate the claim that Nennius authored Historia Brittonum. In his argument against Zimmer, he cites a textual inconsistency in the Irish translation regarding a place called Beulan, concluding that "we must admit to ignorance of the name of [the Historias] ninth-century author."

Associated historians and authors

  • Gildas
    Gildas
    Gildas was a 6th-century British cleric. He is one of the best-documented figures of the Christian church in the British Isles during this period. His renowned learning and literary style earned him the designation Gildas Sapiens...

     - Sixth century historian who lived in South-west Britain. Wrote De Excidio, which focused largely on the history of Christian Britain but fails to give an in depth look of the Pagan period.
  • Bede (the Venerable Bede) - Lived in Northumbria about half a century prior to Nennius. He wrote Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum
    Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum
    The Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum is a work in Latin by Bede on the history of the Christian Churches in England, and of England generally; its main focus is on the conflict between Roman and Celtic Christianity.It is considered to be one of the most important original references on...

     (Ecclesiastical History of the English People) over many years (completed 731 or 732). It includes a geographical description of the British Isles and focuses on the history of the Anglo-Saxon Church from St. Augustine's 597 mission though his preamble covers earlier ages.
  • William of Malmesbury
    William of Malmesbury
    William of Malmesbury was the foremost English historian of the 12th century. C. Warren Hollister so ranks him among the most talented generation of writers of history since Bede, "a gifted historical scholar and an omnivorous reader, impressively well versed in the literature of classical,...

     - Early twelfth century historian. Recorded history of Britain by compiling both Anglo Saxon and Anglo Norman traditions. He was the first historian of England to make use of topography and ancient monuments as historical sources.
  • Geoffrey Gaimar
    Geoffrey Gaimar
    Geoffrey Gaimar , was an Anglo-Norman chronicler. Gaimar's most significant contribution to medieval literature and history is as a translator from Old English to Anglo-Norman. His L'Estoire des Engles translates extensive portions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as well as using Latin and French...

     - Twelfth century Norman historian who wrote L'Estoire des Engleis. It was the first known Romance in vernacular verse written in England.

External links


  • Historia Brittonum at the Avalon Project
    Avalon Project
    The Avalon Project is a digital library of documents relating to law, history and diplomacy. The project is part of the Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Law Library....

    .
  • Nennius and Historia Brittonum commentary from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature
    The Cambridge History of English and American Literature
    The Cambridge History of English and American Literature was originally published by Cambridge University Press in 1907–1921. The 18 volumes include 303 chapters and more than 11,000 pages edited and written by a worldwide panel of 171 leading scholars and thinkers of the early twentieth century...

    , Volume 1, 1907–21.
  • The Wonders of Britain: The de mirabilibus britanniae section of the Historia Brittonum, with details