Vortigern, probably a Romano- Celtic warlord of the 5th century, is accused in later sources to have invited the Saxons to come to Britain as mercenaries. Later, these mercenaries had then revolted and established their own kingdoms.

The details of his life story vary over the years since it was written. It is also unclear whether there actually is Vortigern to a historical figure, or merely an attempt to explain the increased influence of the Anglo-Saxons in the British Isles. That depends solely depend on credible for how to keep the sources: The authors Gildas, Bede, Geoffrey of Monmouth and Wace, and the Anglo - Saxon Chronicle and the Historia Britonum describe each different details from the life Vortigerns. It is possible also that it is not is a personal name but a title at Vortigern.


The earliest author who ( presumably) tells the story of Vortigern, was in the 6th century the historian Gildas. Gildas calls but not its name ( only in some late manuscripts, a corresponding set has been inserted ), but only a nameless proud / haughty tyrants. He reported in Chapter 23 of his work over the demise of Britain, such as " all members of the Council, together with the proud tyrant " made ​​the mistake " the proud and impious Saxons " to settle in Britain to serve as soldiers of the local Romano-British aristocracy, which lacked the imperial help to fight against the Picts. A small group came first and was " on the east side of the island due to an invitation from a disaster ruler " settled. This small group invited, according to Gildas more and more of their fellow countrymen to follow her, and the number of warriors grew. At the end of the Saxons demanded that " their monthly allotment " should be increased, and was rejected as this, they broke their contract and plundered the country. The British then shouted Gildas the Roman army champion Flavius ​​Aetius to help, as this is the third time held the consulship (446 ), but without success.

Gildas adds two small details that suggest that either he or his source was a part of the history of the Anglo-Saxons. On the one hand, if he describes the size of the first group of Saxony, he notes that they came in three " cyulis " or " keels ", " as they call their warships " - probably the first known English word. This detail is unlikely to come from a Roman or Celtic source. On the other hand asserts Gildas, that the Saxons " by a certain soothsayer prophesied among them that they should occupy the land to which they had sailed 300 years to get it for half the time, 150 years to loot and rob ." This motif could be both a Roman invention, since it expresses the hope that the rule of the Saxons will be limited in time, as based on Saxon narratives.

Modern researchers have repeated several details in Gildas ' report discussed and tried to analyze his text carefully to gain more information. Thus, efforts are stronger today than in the past to classify Gildas ' information in the context of the Western Roman history. Importantly include the terms that Gildas used to describe the duties of the Romano - Britons to the Saxons ( " Annona ", " Epimenia " ) because it is legal concepts of a typical assistance contract ( foedus ). This was a common late ancient Roman practice to get out of the "barbarian ", ie non-Roman peoples against the granting of supply as foederati, so mercenaries under their own leaders, to recruit groups of warriors. It is not known whether individuals or individual civitates with their city councils adopted this practice, but conceivable. In addition tyrannus referred late antique parlance a usurper; so it may be that the unnamed tyrant, the mentioned Gildas and the one with Vortigern equated later, in itself herrscherliche ( imperial? ) Powers took to complete and could therefore also conclude a foedus.

Another, less important point is the question of where exactly in Britain Gildas sees the " east side " of the island, in Kent, East Anglia or on the coast of Northumbria. The only certainty is obtained after reviewing the sources, is that the writer in Gildas ' successor fought with the gaps in the geographical information, which they then simply filled with their own " investigation results " or with their imagination.

Often it is suggested that took place the decisive historical events between the withdrawal of the last imperial troops in 410 and 440: The anonymous Chronica Gallica of 452 is almost fixed, 441 is the island that had been plagued by misfortune for a while, for the Romans lost and fallen to the Saxons: Britanniae usque ad hoc tempus variis cladibus eventibusque latae in dicionem Saxonum rediguntur ( Chron Gall a CCCCLII, ad ann 441.. ). 511 then announced another nameless chronicler, 440 had been abandoned Britain by the Romans and under Saxon rule passes ( a Britanniae Romanis amissae in dicionem Saxonum cedunt; . Chron Gall a DXI, ad ann 440. ). So evidently joined 440/441 an event that seemed to mark the end of Roman Britain and the beginning of the Anglo-Saxon rule contemporaries. It is well conceivable that this involved a rebellion of the Saxon foederati.

Gildas ' text about the rebellion of the Saxons could not unreasonable to be part of an attempt to cover up a fraction of the foedus with the Saxons by the Romano- British aristocracy. "They ( the Saxons ) complained because their monthly supply was not fully delivered ... " ( Gildas, chap. 23). Possibly had the Saxon mercenaries after they had the danger averted by the Picts from the north, apparently no more importance to the Romano- British aristocracy, which then maybe tried to get rid of the foederati. This could have triggered the mutiny of the warrior. Gildas ' description of the " downfall of Britain " would be deemed a subsequent attempt to read, put the blame on the military and political failure Romano - British of the barbaric savagery of the Saxons and of malice and stupidity of a " tyrant ". But it is also conceivable that the Saxon warrior after the death of the " tyrant " no longer felt bound by the old foedus and replayed the annona demanded, but which was denied them.

Whether with the nameless " tyrant ", the Gildas mentioned in this context, really Vortigern is meant, however, to clarify hardly definitive. The British historian Guy Halsall, for example, has formulated the hypothesis Gildas had been referring to the tyrannus on the usurper Magnus Maximus, who was called 383 by the Roman troops in Britain to the Emperor and had possibly been the first, the Angles and Saxons as foederati have been recruited (see Halsall 2007). Vortigern would therefore be a later invention. Whether Halsalls position will prevail in the research, remains to be seen.

The Venerable Bede

The first, considered Gildas ' statement, was in the early 8th century, the Venerable Bede, who is traditionally considered quite high for modern researchers. Bede took Gildas ' report part verbatim, but added some details that must come from other sources, including, perhaps, most important, the alleged name of the " proud tyrant ": Vortigern (Latin " Uurtigernus " Old English " Wyrtgern "). According to some researchers (see Traina 2009) is behind the Celtic expression Gwrtheyrn which would be roughly as " overlord " translate: If so, then it is not a name but a title. Bede mentions the date of the revolt with the year 450 - " Marcian was made emperor with Valentinian, and the 46th ( emperor ) Augustus ruled the empire seven years," - which was traditionally accepted, but since the late 20th century, but - is called into question - especially with reference to the above mentioned Gallic chronicles. In form Bede should have taken this literally dating from a late antique history. It also offers information about the "savages" that Vortigern invited: He gives her alleged ringleaders name Hengest and Horsa ( " stallion" and "horse" ), and identified their tribes, Saxons, Angles and Jutes. ( Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum 1.14,15 ).

Anglo - Saxon Chronicle

The representation in the Anglo - Saxon Chronicle comes up with a great amount of detail. The Chronicle provides dates and locations of four battles that hit Hengest and his brother Horsa against the British in the south east of England, in the historic counties of Kent and Middlesex. Vortigern is only in the first battle of the leaders of the Britons have been, the opponent in the next three meetings are called alternately " British " and " Welsh " - which is not unusual for this part of the Chronicle - but the Saxon invaders contributed according to the Chronicle in each encounter to win it.

Historia Britonum

The Historia Britonum counts the same four battles in the Southeast, but claims that Vortigern or his son Vortimer had won all four battles. Since the date of origin of the Historia Britonum is not clear ( 9th century? ) And also could be than that of the Chronicle later, argued that the Historia Britonum could have drawn their material from a source close to the Chronicle. But If you put both reports side by side, then one wonders about the similarities and the differences and wonders if not both go back to an older tradition.

The Historia Britonum provides more information about Vortigern as a collection of four battles, but they contradict each other on several points. These contradictions can be understood only if we grouped the parts of the Historia that reflect their possible origin. Besides what has been acquired by Gildas, there are five strands:

  • Material from the life of St. Germanus. These excerpts describe St. Germanus ' meeting with a Benlli, an inhospitable host who comes to an unseemly end, while his servant who exercises hospitality, is the ancestor of the kings of Powys; Vortigerns son of his own daughter, the Germanus promotes at the end, and Vortigerns own end. Due to a falling fire from heaven by Germanus ' prayers
  • Narratives that explain why Vortigern the Saxons in Britain promised land - first Thanet in exchange for service in the army, then the rest of Kent against Hengests daughter, then Essex and Sussex for a banquet at which the Saxons treacherously every British leader killed, but Vortigern spared to obtain precisely this ransom.
  • The magic story by Ambrose and the two dragons that were found at Dinas Emrys (Welsh for " fortress of Ambrose ").
  • A number of calculations to attempt to define the year in which the Vortigern ( in the third year of his reign ) the Saxons to Britain invited (which should be then been around 429 ); and
  • Genealogical material on Vortigerns ancestors, the names of his three sons Vortimer, Pascent and Catigern that brings him in contact with Gloucester.

The stories of the Historia Britonum reveal the attempt of one or more anonymous British writer to accommodate more detail and adapt the texts simultaneously to the number of known facts of British tradition. This is an important point, which makes it clear that at this time one or more of Welsh kings tried to trace their genealogy to Vortigern. Taking her time information seriously and combines it with the data that provide the Gallic Chronicles and Gildas, there would result as a possible chronology of events that Vortigern about 426 for men swung across the Romanized Britons and 429 Saxon foederati called into the country, which then raised to 440 and began the conquest of the island. 446 asked the British then in vain the Heermeister Aetius for help.

Geoffrey of Monmouth

It was then Geoffrey of Monmouth, who brought the story of Vortigern in its most familiar form. Geoffrey - or the oral tradition, which he wrote - tried to reshape the contradictory material of the Historia Britonum in a coherent narrative. Two of the new elements from contemporary oral tradition come from: the banquet at which the Saxons invaded the British - it is located in a modern Wiltshire - and the figure of Count Eldol of Gloucester, the free fights his way out of the trap to Aurelius Ambrosius as a service man to be available ( Geoffrey forms the name of the figure of Ambrosius Aurelianus at Gildas ).

According to Geoffrey Wace took the material and added further added about Vortigern, and research concedes him to have made far more credible record of the oral tradition than Geoffrey of Monmouth. Vortigern appears in the later stories of the Arthurian legend, but if so, then it is typically described as Geoffrey or Wace.

Column of Eliseg

In the early medieval stone cross of the column of Eliseg the name Guorthigern is mentioned. This is a variant of the name Britannic Vortigern. About this Guorthigern is reported that he had been married to a certain Sevira ( a Roman name) and ancestor of the royal house of Powys, this was built by the column.

Side Note

John Henry Ireland, a notorious forger of Shakespeare's manuscripts, claimed to have found a lost piece of him, titled Vortigern and Rowena, which was performed on April 2, 1796 at the Drury Lane Theatre. But the very first performance was lost in the laughter of the audience and the actor.