Why do we all know so little about British history before Julius Caesar landed in 55 BC? Read any modern account of the history of these islands and you will find that virtually no historical material is given for the period prior to this. Vague references are made to this culture or that, to this group of ‘hunter-gatherers’ or that group of lake-dwellers. Yet no individual is named. No exploits are set out. No episodes are recounted. It is as if the period prior to 55 BC is entirely prehistoric, and that no written accounts exist for the vast expanse of time predating the coming to Britain of the Romans. Yet, such accounts do exist, both in abundance and in great detail covering some two thousand years or more of recorded history. They are those of the early Britons, the early Irish-Celts, and the Saxons.
THE BRITISH CHRONICLES
The main body of records dealing with the history of the early Britons is contained especially in two ancient books. The first is Historia Britonum or “The History of the Britons” compiled by Nennius in the ninth century AD: the second Historia Regum Britanniae or “History of the Kings of Britain” as recounted by Geoffrey of Monmouth and published by him in AD 1136. Both accounts deal with the arrival in these islands of the earliest settlers after the Flood.
Nennius, for his History, gathered together many different sources that were extant in his own day. Among them were various surviving oral traditions, but many written sources also, including certain Irish records, a Roman chronicle and many other written histories. Most of these records were already of great age by the time Nennius copied them out, and it is important to remember that in copying them Nennius made no attempt to doctor or edit the accounts in order to enhance his own credibility as a historian. He simply gathered them all into one book, ‘warts and all’, so that future historians could make of them what they would. It was a magnificent achievement.
The level of his achievement is demonstrated in the seventeenth and eighteenth chapters of his book in which are recounted the origins of various European nations. These included the Franks, Britons, Saxons, Bavarians, Thuringians, Goths, Valagoths and several olhers. The descent of these nations is traced in detail – verifiable detail – and Nennius follows them back to their very beginnings, to Noah through his son Japheth, thus supplementing the broader account that is contained in the tenth and eleventh chapters of the book of Genesis.
There was a time-span of several centuries between the birth of the European nations, as recounted by Nennius, and the coming to Britain of the Romans in 55 BC. This eventful period is described in the afore-mentioned work of Geoffrey of Monmouth. Geoffrey’s book covers in great detail the history of the early Britons, beginning with the founder of the race, Brutus, who colonised these islands in about the twelfth century BC. Until the coming of the Britons, the British Isles had lain uninhabited since the Flood. His history then goes right up to the time of Kings Yvor and Yni, the last kings of purely British descent who both died in the seventh century AD. Thus, some two thousand years of continuous history are preserved in Geoffrey’s book.
Geoffrey of Monmouth was an Oxford cleric who became Bishop of Asaph. His History, however, was itself a translation into Latin of a much earlier work. This book was written in the ancient British language now better known to us as Welsh. (The Welsh and the Cornish are directly descended from the early Britons). The book had been acquired by Walter of Oxford, a famous scholar and student of ancient history, and Archdeacon of Oxford. The book was a unique copy brought over from Brittany. Walter gave it to Geoffrey with the express command to translate it into Latin. Geoffrey wasted no time, and his book became a popular classic almost as soon as it was published.
Today it is fashionable to decry Geoffrey’s History as a work of fiction, though there was no motive for such an act of forgery by an eminent cleric. However, to accept such a notion, we would have to ignore the considerable body of archaeological evidence which tells us that whatever else it was that Geoffrey of Monmouth was writing, it was not pure fiction. Space forbids a detailed discussion of this, yet one instance will illustrate the point. In the fourth chapter of Book Five of his History, Geoffrey relates the occupation of London by Roman Troops. They in turn were besieged by the troops of the British king Asclepiodotus. The king demanded the surrender of the Roman Forces, and in return he offered them their lives. However, the Venedoti (a British warrior tribe) thought it better to punish the foreign invaders, and they beheaded the Romans en masse. The slaughter took place at a stream in London which the Britons called Nantgallum. This same stream became known to the later Saxons as Galabroc, and to still later Londoners as The Walbrook. The stream has since been built over. It is interesting to note that when its bed was excavated in the 1860s a large number of human skulls was found. These skulls were the remnants of what had once been some great pile of human heads. Now, is it likely that Geoffrey of Monmouth could have guessed what would be discovered under The Walbrook in centuries to come, and have made up a story to fit? Either the History is a true translation, or Geoffrey was a forger with uncanny prescience. It is much more likely that he was recounting an actual incident, taking his information from an early and authentic record of the event. There are several other archaeological corroborations of the genuineness of Geoffrey’s source book. Taken together, they tell us that his History is generally reliable, in spite of its now unfashionably long and flowery speeches, and its tales of a sometimes unlikely level of heroism. References to giants may seem far-fetched, but the Jewish Chronicles make similar claims for some Philistines.
In short, Geoffrey’s “History of the Kings of Britain” provides us with a vital historical link between the early post-Flood world and modern times. The same can be said for certain other ancient documents:
THE IRISH CHRONICLES
The early Irish chronicles are among the most fascinating of all the ancient records that have come down to us. They trace in detail the coming to Ireland of various early peoples over many centuries, beginning with the first colony, that of Partholan, who landed with his people in the year 1484 BC. (Interestingly, the pagan Irish historians dated every important event from the year of the Creation – Anno Mundi = the year of the world, and their date for Creation was not far removed from Ussher’s of 4004 BC. Moreover, the chronicles tell us that Ireland had lain uninhabited for some 864 years after the Flood-waters had receded – the Flood also being a very real event in the memory of pagan Irish). Partholan was to die in the year 1454 BC, and some two hundred and seventy years after his death his colony was wiped out by a plague. Around nine thousand people perished in one week and it is interesting to consider that the place where they died is still littered with ancient burial-mounds. It is called ‘Tallaght’, a name denoting a place where plague victims lie buried.
Later settlements of Ireland are recorded, notably those of the children of Nemedh – the Nemedian invasion of 1145 BC; and the Scythian invasion that occurred some time after the year 764 BC. (Again, all dates were calculated from the year of Creation). A mysterious people called the Tuatha de Danann then appeared on Ireland’s shores in 701 BC, and lastly there was the Milesian invasion led by Eber and Eremon in the year 504 BC. This last invasion gives us a firm point of reference in other histories from which we can check these various dates, and it shows them to have possessed a fair degree of accuracy.
We know from the histories of other nations that at around the time of the Milesian invasion of Ireland as recorded in the Irish chronicles, the city of Miletus on the Turkish mainland was under severe threat from the Persian army. It was at this juncture that the colony of Milesian refugees left in search of a safe land. Ireland was already very well known to the Phoenician traders of the time, so it is fairly certain that the refugees knew exactly where they wanted to go. The city of Miletus was finally destroyed by the Persians in the year 494 BC, so this leaves us with a discrepancy (if it is a discrepancy) of only ten years in the early Irish chronology. Many an Egyptologist wishes that he could get that close!
THE SAXON GENEALOGIES
Moreover, the records of another ancient race have survived, and this race was ethnically, geographically, linguistically and culturally distinct from both the Irish- Celts and the Britons. These records are the genealogies of the Saxons, and these also contain remarkable details concerning the early, pre-Roman, history of Europe.
The Saxons began their prolonged migration to England in about the middle of the 5th century AD under the invitation of Vortigern, then King of the Britons. It is usually from this point that modern historians begin their own accounts of Saxon history, implying by this that nothing definite is known of any individual among the Saxons before this date. But the actual history of the Saxons, their early recorded history, goes back much further than the 5th century. Indeed, like the British and Irish chronicles, the records of the Saxons go way back to the time of the Flood and the scattering of the nations from Babel.
When the Saxons arrived here from Europe they became divided up into seven separate kingdoms. This was called the Saxon Heptarchy (i.e. seven kingdoms as opposed to monarchy, one kingdom). Naturally, each separate kingdom had its own royal family, and these various royal families each kept their own genealogies. This was important for determining the succession and a host of other legal matters.
Now, regarding the Saxon genealogies, there is one remarkable fact that has not been referred to in any modern work. All seven genealogies trace the lineages of their various kings back to the same ancestors – ancestors, moreover, who were themselves descended from Noah through Japheth’s line! That cannot be a coincidence. Yet, we are persistently asked to believe that, say, the kings of Northumbria fraudulently and accidentally traced their lineage back to the same ancestors as those of Kent. Yet these kingdoms were separated by hundreds of miles, and their people spoke somewhat different dialects, rarely wandering beyond their own borders unless it was to fight!
Those modern historians who do deal with the Saxon genealogies, consistently voice the opinion that these genealogies were invented by upstart tyrants who were seeking legal justification for their pretended claims to the throne. Yet this assertion could not be further from the truth. In those days, great importance was attached by force of law to the keeping and preserving of genealogies, and especially the royal genealogies. Everyone who mattered knew those records virtually by heart, and it would have been a very reckless man who attempted to tamper with them in any way. The attempt would have fooled no-one, and it would have brought the full rigour of the law, if not the more immediate remedy of someone’s sword, down upon the culprit’s head.
Massive stone alignments in such sites as Newgrange and Stonehenge reveal a people of advanced abilities in science and technology. Their king lists provide a link between the biblical record in Japheth and the Roman times. This framework is in contradistinction to the evolutionary view of primitive man grunting and shuffling his way up from the ape over imagined millions of years. Small wonder that Geoffrey of Monmouth’s translation is not accepted! Yet these histories confirm one another, and archaeology has, time and again, reinforced the veracity of the records.
Clearly, then, it is time to re-assess these ancient records, The book of Genesis necessarily touches upon the immediate post-Flood history of the nations only briefly. The records that have come down to us from the British, Irish and Saxons, however, enable us greatly to enlarge our understanding of those times, and therein lies their immense and lasting value.