Battle of Badon Hill

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Recorded in the Easter Annals, the Battle of Badon Hill (Mynydd Baddon in Old Welsh) is a relatively obscure battle which took place in England sometime in the early 6th Century. Most likely it was fought in 518 C.E., between the native Britons under the noted war chief Arthur (likely the person who inspired the later legends of King Arthur), and the invading Saxons under a warrior named Aelle.

The exact location of the battlefield is not known, but it was probably near Badbury in Wiltshire, east of Somerset. There is an ancient iron age earthwork fort now called Liddington Castle on a hilltop, just above the prehistoric road into Wiltshire.

The Buildup

When the Roman legions abandoned their province of Brittania in the year 410 C.E., the native Britons were forced to defend themselves from invading Angles, Jutes and Saxons. For generations they fought a series of losing wars against these invaders. In the early 6th century, a war-chief emerged under Ambrosius Aurelianus who was able to consistently defeat the invaders time and again.

While the details of the battle are largely lost, historical evidence indicates that, when Aelle led a Saxon host west from the Saxon Shore to strike at Briton-held Shropshire, he was ambushed by Arthur's smaller force.

The Battle

When Arthur's troops sprang their ambush on the Saxon column, the Saxons pulled into a rough shieldwall along the roadway and fought desperately until sundown, when Aelle withdrew his battered troops to a nearby hilltop under cover of darkness.

In the morning, Arthur's Britons were rested and well-fed. By contrast, the Saxons had spent the night on a steep, exposed hilltop without water or firewood. Rather than starve out the trapped Saxons, Arthur apparently chose to sweep them off the hilltop. At first light, the Britons started a series of charges up the hill.

Both sides engaged in a fierce melee all the second day, with the Britons charging up the steep hill and the Saxons countercharging down it. However, the battle ended near sundown when Arthur personally led a cavalry charge up the steep slope and broke the Saxon shieldwall, then rode down the fleeing Saxons until it was too dark to continue.

The Aftermath

The Battle of Badon Hill is relatively unknown, but it likely bought the various kingdoms of native Britons another generation or so of life before the waves of invaders from continental Europe would overwhelm them and drive the survivors into Wales and Ireland.