(c. 500-570)
   A monk and Briton whose history of the Anglo-Saxon invasions of England is the only substantial contemporary account of the fall of late Roman Britain to the invading barbarians. His history is also the earliest source for the deeds that became the basis of the later Arthurian tales, even though Gildas never mentions a King Arthur in his work. Although it does not seem to have been frequently copied in the Middle Ages, his work is important also because it is one of the two sources the great Anglo-Saxon historian Bede used for his ecclesiastical history, and thanks to Bede the name of Gildas was remembered with honor by other historians in the Middle Ages.
   Born around the year 500, the time of the great victory by the British over the invaders at Badon Hill, Gildas wrote his history in the middle of the sixth century, possibly in 547. Gildas's history of the conquest of England is not systematically organized, and includes a collection of quotations of scriptural citations and historical information. It is a bitter tale full of recrimination and reproach. The essential them of the work by Gildas, one borrowed by Bede in his discussion of the invasion and conquest of England, is that the coming of the Anglo-Saxons was the just punishment by God of people who claimed to be Christian but who indulged in wanton excess and luxury. The conquest of England, for Gildas, began with invasions of barbarians, probably Picts and Scots, and an appeal to the Roman general, Aëtius, for aid, which was not forthcoming. The Britons were able to expel the barbarians but then fell into civil war and further raids. A British ruler, traditionally Vortigern, invited Saxon war bands to aid against other barbarians, and those war bands were subsequently joined by other Saxons against the Britons. The invasions of the Saxons, according to Gildas, laid waste the towns of Briton and destroyed the way of life that had existed.
   Gildas's account is not, however, without its heroes, and it is one of these who may have provided the first outlines for the figure of Arthur. Gildas fails to mention Arthur directly, but he only names kings directly who fit into his broader theme that the invasions are divine punishment for the Britons' failure to live as good Christians. Moreover, he does mention one leader on whom the legendary figure of Arthur may be based and a battle that is often listed among those of the legendary king. In 500, the year of Gildas's birth as he tells us, the Britons won a great victory over invading barbarian armies at Mount Badon, a victory that provided England a period of much needed peace that continued at least until the time that Gildas wrote his history. The victor at that battle was the Roman commander Ambrosius Aurelianus, who had reorganized the defense of the Britons, and whose victory was later associated with the deeds of King Arthur.
   See also
 ♦ Barber, Richard. The Figure of Arthur. Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1972.
 ♦ Bede. Ecclesiastical History of the English People with Bede's Letter to Egbert and Cuthbert's Letter on the Death of Bede. Trans. Leo Sherley-Price. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1991.
 ♦ Blair, Peter Hunter. The World of Bede. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970.
 ♦ Gildas. The Ruin of Britain and Other Works. Ed. and trans. Michael Winterbottom. London: Phillimore, 1978.
 ♦ Stenton, Frank M. Anglo-Saxon England. 3d ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1971.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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