If one steps away from the minutiae of Dark Age British scholarship and looks at the bigger historical picture, it becomes apparent that—contrary to Gildas’ later polemic—independent Britain, far from being a “failed state,” was eminently successful and well able to repel repeated barbarian threats throughout the fifth century and well into the sixth.
Less discussed than Britain’s successful response to the many challenges to its independence, is the fact that a major component of this success had to have been dominance of the seas surrounding the British Isles. This present essay explores a corollary to that foundational premise: that as part of the Brittonic campaigns to gain & maintain hegemony over the encircling seas during the Brittonic Era, the Isle of Man played a strategic role in the struggle for control of the Irish Sea.
Lying midway between Ireland and Britain and dominating trade and invasion routes across the Irish Sea, control of the Isle of Man would have been crucial for whomever sought to dominate its surrounding shores and the green fields beyond. Regarding the isle’s history, written documentation is scarce before the Viking Age, although archaeological remains date back as far as the Mesolithic era, as do a jumble of ancient traditions and customs, remnants of the various folk who colonized or conquered the island over the ages.
Well before independence, there is evidence of enduring contact between Ireland and Britain, some of it peaceful, much of it violent. Although much of this contact is known only from the mute testimony of archaeology, it is a safe assumption that most travel and trade which passed across the Irish Sea at some point involved the Isle of Man.
Complicating study of the period is the fact that transition from Roman to post Roman in Britain is not distinguishable by means of material culture alone. Indeed, long after actual Roman political hegemony ceased in Britain, some of its inhabitants still regarded themselves as more Roman than Briton. At some point, however, the Celtic substratum of Brittonic culture came to the fore on the mainland. On the Isle of Man, Roman cultural influence was always far less and Celtic culture far more pervasive in the pre-Viking ages than on mainland Britain. One enduring result has been that Arthurian lore swirls around Man as thick as the fog which often envelops it. As Celtic traditions remember it, the island is alleged to be the hiding place of the Holy Grail; it is claimed to be the location where Arthur was married, and it is also reputed to be the place graced by Queen Guinevere’s grave.
Of necessity, a British occupation of the island would have required naval control of the seas surrounding it; yet, to the best of my knowledge, this possibility has never been properly investigated. The landlubbers of mainstream academia do not dispute the importance of sea-power during this period in regard to the Saxons, nor would they quibble over its importance insofar as the Irish or the Picts are concerned, but they become strangely myopic with regard to native Britons’ own seafaring skills during this same period. The lack of surviving contemporary documents from the British Isles—save for the dubious reliability of Gildas’ mid-sixth century homily—makes the task of historical reconstruction doubly difficult, allowing for any number of competing chronologies and models to be put forward, many of which would otherwise not be taken seriously.
The Britons themselves believed that there had been a unified government, ruled by a single sovereign, appointed or elected by an island-wide “Council of Elders,” presumably drawn from the surviving civitates, tribes or other political entities formerly under the sway of the Roman Empire. In the service of this post-Roman polity, Saxons were one of several barbarian ethnic sub-groups recruited as mercenaries to defend the island, not only against fellow barbarians, but perhaps against a potential Roman effort to reoccupy the realm. Although later writers—starting with Gildas—heaped derision on this decision, in truth it was the right move at the time and, in fact, worked after a fashion.
The Saxons were an excellent choice to supplement Brittonic maritime defenses, since they were, like our modern Marine Corp, elite amphibious assault troops, skilled at war on both land and sea—with the key proviso that you kept paying them their wages. But it would be a mistake to assume (as most scholars do) that they were the only naval force at the Brittonic state’s disposal. Flavius Vegetius Renatus, the late Roman military idealist, provides corroboration for the fact of a Brittonic navy, albeit his reference is maddingly brief. The preponderance of evidence points to Flavius’ tome having been originally composed during the reign of Valentinian III, but given its awkward positioning in Part IV of that work, the passage about the British navy may have been inserted by Renatus some time after the initial draft, into one of several revised editions of his work known to have been made before AD 450.
Our first hint of naval campaigning along the coast of Britannia and the Irish Sea occurs relatively early in the post-Roman era. Not long after his elevation as the first Brittonic sovereign, Vortigern as “Overking” (or Ameradaur) recruited a small detachment under north Germanic warlord (and perhaps outlaw) Hengist, whose “three cyls” of Saxon marines went into service in His Majesty’s Navy, where they were initially posted to guard the approaches to the Thames estuary and Londinium—a deployment which would indicate a greater fear of Roman invasion than of barbarian raids.
Within a short time, however, further detachments of Saxons under Octha and Ebissa—ostensibly “sons’ of Hengist—were recruited to guard the northern borderlands adjacent to the eastern terminus of the Wall. These latter Saxon chieftains are reported to have led an expedition of some forty warships to harry the northern and western sea-faring folk who had been raiding Britannia off and on for centuries, but who had become particularly troublesome after Roman garrisons on the island ceased to be paid by Ravenna.
We now know that the Brittonic polity continued to maintain a strong military presence along the Wall, in response to which northern barbarians took to the sea to evade the land defenses. The Saxon fleet, true to their oath, not only began raiding up the eastern coasts of Pictland but round the jagged top of Pictia, penetrating the northern seas at least as far as the Orkneys and probably beyond.
Whether this expedition penetrated into the Irish Sea as far as the Isle of Man at this time is not recorded, but it would certainly make sense to have done so. Having raided as far as the Orkneys, from there they could easily have sailed down the western coasts of Pictland and Scotia, pillaging as they went, and ended up putting into Brittonic ports along the western coast of Britain for resupply. Visible from the Welsh coast on a clear day, the Isle of Man would have been an obvious landfall—and tempting target.
Dating is always a contentious issue for this period, but while linguists still speculate absurdly late dates as to a Saxon advent, archaeology has solidly confirmed a date sometime in the 420’s for the earliest Saxon occupation sites of a military nature. We also have the mid-fifth century hagiography of Germanus of Auxerre by Constantius of Lyon, composed shortly after the saint’s death, which mentions Saxon detachments present in western Britain at this time. Although his biographer Constantius mistakenly has the Saxons allied with the Irish in the Alleluia Victory of AD 428/9, it is far more likely that at this time they were part of Germanus’ British army and the biographer simply misunderstood what the aged Bishop Lupus had told him of their participation in the battle.
It is generally agreed the battle happened somewhere in the mountainous regions of Wales or nearby. If such were the case, the city of Chester would have been ideal as a staging area for Germanus’ army. It had been a Roman legionary fortress but a few decades before, its stout walls were intact and in good condition at this time, and the city marked the limit of navigability of the River Dee (Deva Fluvius) for both merchant ships and naval vessels. Chester likely had already served as a naval base in Roman times and the beleaguered inhabitants would have welcomed a quasi-Roman army arriving to defend its hinterland.
While no doubt the Roman general-turned-bishop spent Lent piously engaged in prayer and fasting, we can be sure that he also used this period to train and equip his new army to face the invaders. With the arrival of a large detachment of Saxon auxiliaries by sea, Germanus’ “bloodless” victory (on the British side) was virtually assured, divine intervention or no. What goes generally unmentioned, however, is Germanus’ subsequent campaigns in the region to clear it of barbarian influence.
An old Manx tradition asserts that at the beginning of the fifth century the isle was ruled by a sovereign named Mananan Mac Llyr, a “magician,” who kept it magically hidden, enveloped in perpetual mists. St. Patrick, tradition asserts, broke the enchanter’s charm; “and, having persuaded or compelled Mac Lier to relinquish the possession, made Germanus bishop and ruler of the island.”
Ignoring St. Patrick’s intrusion into the tale, it is not unreasonable to assume that, after decisively defeating an Irish-Pictish Army at the Alleluia Victory in the hill country of Wales, Germanus waged a broader campaign to clear the region of the barbarian invaders, as well as British leaders of dubious loyalty. Logically, this would have included establishing control over the Isle of Man—probably with the aid of the seagoing Saxons—and in fact Germanus figures large in early traditions about Christianity on the Isle. Moreover, we have contemporary corroboration for this: the Ulster Annals for the year AD 434 mentions “first booty of the Saxons from Ireland” which accords well with Octha & Ebissa’s naval expedition and subsequent operations in the Irish Sea around the time of the Alleluia Victory. For a Saxon fleet to land on Eire, it would have first have had to pass by the Isle of Man, if in fact the raid was not launched from there.
Dating to about the same period, or perhaps a little later, we get a further hint of British presence on Man through early hagiographies. Irish clerics, wishing to emphasize their priority over the British church there, concocted a folk tale designed to emphasize the first bishop’s subservience to the Irish church, even though he had been invested in his office by two British bishops. While early saint’s lives are often full of fabulous accounts, they also reveal real underlying situations or make political points which reflect contemporary affairs. In this case, the author of the foundation legend wished people to believe that the first bishop—and by extension the whole island—was under Irish dominion in the mid-fifth century, when the fact of the first native bishop being appointed by British clerics proves it was actually under Brittonic sway at that time.
St. Patrick, a Romano-Briton, is believed to have resided on Man preceding his crossing over to Ireland on his life mission. From Patrick’s correspondence one can deduce that the bishop regarded himself as more Roman than native Briton and, implicitly, viewed his mission to the barbarian Irish as much a cultural one as ecclesiastical. Authorities in Britain and Gaul may also have intended Patrick’s mission to the Irish as a covertly political one as well. Underlying his theological narrative, one may see a general trend of growing Brittonic influence and control of the Irish Sea littoral—with the Isle of Man in the center of it.
In the 440’s, the central Brittonic authority (either Vortigern or Ambrosius) seems to have engaged in a major reallocation of military resources along the northern borders to further deal with Irish threats to the western coast. A segment of the Votadini tribe, who are believed to have been serving as foederati to the central government at the time, were transferred from the northeastern coast of Britannia, near the line of Hadrian’s Wall, over to the western coast, with a mandate to clear the region of Irish political influence. Cunedda and his “sons” (who may or may not have been actual kin) led a detachment, first overland and thence by sea down the coast to set up operations around the strait of Anglesey and north Wales. Whether this reallocation was conducted in one major move or carried out in successive waves remains a moot point, but there is no reason to doubt that it occurred and that their military campaigns included not only land actions but naval ones as well.
We do not have specifics regarding their military occupation of the Isle of Man, but if they were engaged in maritime operations in the region to prevent attacks by the Scotti, at the very least they would have raided the island to deny it as a base to the enemy. Indeed, Celtic scholar N. K. Chadwick went so far as to suggest that not only did the Votadini arrive by sea but made landfall first on the Isle of Man, before descending on Anglesey and vicinity. Chadwick’s thesis makes sense: this strategy would have isolated in advance the Irish colonies in north Wales from any potential reinforcements coming from Eire.
One should always remember that terms like Scot, Pict or Saxon were generic terms coined by upper class Roman authors, residing far from the frontiers and with only a vague knowledge of the actual ethnology and geography of the regions they wrote about. At any given time, one or another Irish tribe may have been at war with the British, while another tribe, or confederation of tribes, been at peace and eager for trade. Our detailed knowledge of the era is a virtual lacuna and, of necessity, to fill in the void one must rely on oblique statements and traditions which survived in oral folklore of a late date, which were in origin of a much older period than when they were finally committed to paper. The “guilty until proven innocent” approach to evaluating these traditions is not only unhelpful but fundamentally flawed. Conversely, literal or uncritical acceptance of folk traditions can also be fraught with errors. One thing one may say with some confidence is that, during this period, tribal loyalties may well have shifted many times and the fifth century naval struggle for control of the Irish Sea likely was far more complex and convoluted than our sources show knowledge of. Amid the varying fortunes of war during the fifth and early sixth centuries, however, control of the Isle of Man at all times would have been decisive.
There is an abundance of archaeological remains on the island, some as early as the Mesolithic Period, although most remain poorly documented. Bronze and Iron age military sites are represented, as are other periods, especially the Viking Era. According to recent studies, some 18 coastal promontory forts, two inland promontory forts and two “major hillforts” have been identified on the island. It seems certain that Brittonic remains are present at many of these locations, but to date only one site, Port y Candas has been subject to modern archaeological investigation. The finds from this site so far seem to date to the seventh rather than the fifth or early sixth centuries.
When we turn from archaeology to Dark Age British literature, we get some inkling as to Brittonic naval operations in and around the island, although as is the case elsewhere, interpretation of these texts can vary wildly among scholars. In particular, after close analysis by Professor Bachrach, a specialist in late Classical/early Medieval military history, the Arthurian Battle List of Nennius (Chapter 56) evinced evidence that some of the twelve battles may have been naval engagements. He demonstrates that the language of the chapter indicates that five of the battles were fought, “super fluvium.” on a river; one was fought “in ostium fluminis,” in (or at) the mouth of a river; while another was fought on a shoreline or beach. In particular, the Latin text describing the tenth battle as “on the shore of the river that is called Tribuit,” indicates an action fought where river met sea, indicating an amphibious assault or a naval engagement in an estuary close to land, the British proving the victors.
Nikolai Tolstoy, a British author and scholar of some repute, using an entirely different line of reasoning, also identified a battle on Nennius’ list as being a naval engagement as well. Tolstoy’s identification of locale is quite different than the accepted interpretation, but makes perfect sense if one assumes the battle list was transcribed, not from a written text, but from an oral recitation. A monk, whose main language was Latin and being unfamiliar with either the dialect of the reciter or of the region’s geography, may well have assumed it was a Roman place-name instead of a Celtic one. Orally, the two localities would have sounded virtually the same.
In light of these two previous hypotheses, we would now add a third: that no less than four of the battles on the list were fought on or near the Isle of Man and were either naval or amphibious operations. While in recent years it has been the fashion to dismiss the Arthurian Battle List out of hand (the “guilty until proved innocent” school of criticism), this author finds that the original arguments for its validity still hold water. Had the battle list been a later fabrication, the author would surely have cobbled together better-known battles of great renown to attribute to the legendary leader. Instead, except for Baden, the battles are otherwise unknown and there is no consensus as to the location of most of the battles on the list—nor even if they were all fought against the Saxons. In addition, although the list includes Badon, conspicuous by its absence from the list is the Battle of Camlann, the other great battle attributed to Arthur in numerous sources. The implication is that the original source, believed to have been a listing poem of his victories, was composed after Badon but before Arthur’s demise at Camlann. As with so much else regarding sources of the period, conclusive proof as to the list’s authenticity or falsity is lacking; in this case, the present author would agree with some of the leading lights of Celtic studies who have come down on the affirmative side.
Far and away the most curious feature of the Arthurian Battle List is that it places no less than four of the twelve battles at exactly the same location: the River Dubglas, “in the region of Linnuis”. Were this list a mere literary fabrication, its author would surely have cited (or recited) four battles held at different locations to make the narrative more dramatic and interesting for his audience, not simply repeat one place-name four times..
Dubglas is generally believed to refer to a river named Douglas. It so happens the British Isles are graced with a number such rivers by that name. There is a Douglas river in southern Scotland, which runs into Loch Lomond on the borders of Strathclyde and which many scholars, especially those partial to the “Men of the North” theory of Arthur, have been quick to fix this series of battles at that spot, or alternately at another location nearby. Besides this river there is also a Douglas in Lancashire, near Wigan. Then there are the rivers Divelish and Devil’s Brook, both claimed linguistically to derive from the Celtic name Dubglas, which flow in the region of Ilchester (the Roman Lindinis) in Somerset. Renowned Celtic scholar K. H. Jackson, following Geoffrey of Monmouth, believed that the battles occurred near the city of Lincoln, Lindum, in the district known as Lindsey—which in Roman times may have been pronounced Linnuis—although there are no rivers named Dubglas or Douglas in that region. Doubtless there are several other candidates we have overlooked, but the list of proposed candidates as it stands is enough to illumine the dilemma of identifying this battle-site based solely on linguistics. Wherever Dubglas may lay, in the late fifth century it was a location of utmost strategic importance, one which neither side was willing to relinquish easily
While there are a number of important harbors on the Isle of Man, the main port, Douglas, lies on the east side of the island and an early account explains its primacy: “for it has the best harbour, and the most easie entrance, and is frequented by the French and other foreigners, who bring hither their Baysalt, and buy up the Commodities of the Island.” A more modern description of the island ascribes the port of Douglas’ growth in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to a thriving smuggling trade. At the beginning of the nineteenth century Douglas was well served by a fishing industry, with herring, whitefish and salmon all being caught in ample numbers.
The Port of Douglas was also a center for the construction of fishing boats, “the workmen having acquired the character of being singularly skilful,” with vessels being built both for local use and for export. It is safe to assume both industries date back well into antiquity. In Camden’s day, the fishing boats averaged about two tons capacity; by the time Woods wrote in 1811, however, Manx fishing boats had grown to sixteen tons, with the island’s fishing fleet numbering between four to five hundred vessels.
What is more relevant to our present discussion, however, is the origin of the town’s name. Local tradition holds that the town gained its name because it sits just below the confluence of two mountain-fed streams, the Duff (or Dubb) and the Glass, the combined waters forming the Dub-glas River which flows into the sea at Douglass Bay. A more academic etymology traces it back to the P-Celtic words *dubo-, black or deep, plus *glassio-, water or river, although the same roots occur in other Celtic languages.
The harbor formed by the conjoined rivers was deep and broad enough to admit vessels of deep draft at high tide in the Age of Sail which were able to tie up dockside. In earlier periods, before improvements to the port, it may still have accommodated deep draft vessels.
The port of Douglas lies on the south end of a broad bay, near to Douglas Head, with the shoreline stretching in a broad gentle curve some two miles northward, bordered by another headland, so that the bay sheltered ships from high winds on three sides. North of the town the bay features a sandy shore, well suited for beaching small craft (such as curraghs) while the waters of the bay itself are ideal as an anchorage, being placid and generally lacking treacherous currents or reefs, save for the rocky headlands and a tidal reef in the middle. On a clear day the coast of Wales is easily seen, alternately reassuring British seafarers or tempting barbarian marauders, depending on who was in possession of this strategic port.
Despite the brevity of the passage, if the Isle of Man was indeed the site of the four battles in, on or near the Dub-glass/Douglas, one can safely make several inferences about these engagements. Although taking place in the same general locus, they may not necessarily have been in the same spot or transpired in the same manner. For example, one battle may have been a sharp, short amphibious raid on the port proper, with a view to burning the larger vessels and putting to sword their crews. Another may have been a true naval battle, with the invading fleet coming around one or another of the headlands and attacking the enemy fleet riding at anchor unawares in the bay. If the resident fleet consisted mainly of curraghs, the aggressor could similarly have stormed the broad beach where the craft had been drawn up and been in among the enemy camps before an alarm was raised. There may even have been one naval battle within the confines of the Dub-glass River proper, an extremely difficult and hazardous maneuver, but one which a Dutch fleet successfully carried out against the English navy on the Medway, a branch of the Thames Estuary, in 1667.
Who held Douglas at the outset of the campaign and who was the aggressor is impossible to say based on the written evidence, and it could have passed back and forth between barbarian and Brittonic hands over the course of the four battles. Regardless, this port on the Isle of Man would have been of immense strategic value to both realms, with neither side willing to relinquish it without a bitter struggle. Since the four battles were included in the Arthurian Battle List, we may safely assume that the final outcome of the campaign proved a victory for the British under Arthur.
Nor is this the only historical connection between Arthur and the Isle of Man. In the dispute over Arthur’s historicity, one of the arguments trotted out to discredit his existence is the fact that Gildas, in his “history” makes no mention of Arthur at all. Early medieval authors were not unaware of this difficulty, however. In his hagiography of Gildas, Caradoc of Llangarfan provides us a reason why Gildas pointedly omits the greatest of Britain’s leaders.
Caradoc informs us that the saint had twenty-three brothers, who “constantly rose up against the afore-mentioned king (Arthur)” Foremost among them was Hueil, “the elder brother, an active warrior and most distinguished soldier, (who) submitted to no king, not even to Arthur.” Hueil would swoop down from “Scotland” (i.e. Pictland) and harass Arthur’s realm, bringing fire and sword to the southlands and carrying away spoils and renown. Finally, Arthur pursued Hueil and finally captured the pirate chieftain after a long pursuit. Arthur, in a “council of war held on the island of Minau” tried the barbarian raider and sentenced him to die. Hueil’s sentence was carried out on the island. Geraldus Cambrensis (1146 – c. 1223) supplements this account, telling us that, angered at Arthur’s actions, Gildas destroyed “a number of outstanding books” praising Arthur after hearing on the death of his brother, thus expunging him from history.
Hueil seems to be a genuine historical personage and is mentioned in several early Welsh sources. The Welsh Triads refer to Hueil as one of three “battle-diademed” warriors. As a stubborn Pictish warlord who refused to submit to Brittonic hegemony by land or sea, he may well have incurred Arthur’s special enmity. Whether Hueil’s naval campaigns against Arthur included any of the four Dubglass battles is unknown, but given his execution on the Island after a drumhead court-martial, it is not beyond the realm of possibility.
We have one last connection between Arthur and the Isle worthy of consideration, although it is admittedly tenuous. After the Battle of Camlann—the site of which is also hotly debated—Arthurian lore holds that the mortally wound ruler was borne away to the misty magical Isle of Avalon.
During the Middle Ages and continuing on up until today, the general candidate for this mist-enshrouded realm has generally been Glastonbury. While today dry land, in the early sixth century Glastonbury would have been an island within the Brue Estuary and navigable by boat. Evidence on the ground indicates it was a tidal promontory, only approachable by narrow causeway and guarded by a clay rampart. A grave containing a dark age warrior of substantial stature, accompanied by a female skeleton, were unearthed here in the twelfth century and this was identified as King Arthur and Guinevere. Glastonbury was also supposed to have been the hiding place of the Holy Grail, placed there by Joseph of Arimathea. The site remained a popular tourist attraction until the Reformation, when the Abbey was sacked, its Abbot tortured to death by pious Protestants, and the graves desecrated and destroyed. In recent decades, scholars have come to doubt the identification of the graves and posited, without evidence, that it was all a hoax designed to enrich the abbey.
But Geoffrey of Monmouth, the first to mention Avalon, did not associate it with Glastonbury, or any other place. He did mention that Arthur’s sword Caliburn was forged on Avalon. In the Vita Merlini, Geoffrey waxes more fantastic, perhaps spurred by an overindulgence in sacramental wine, and gives us more details. He mentions that it is “The Island of apples, which is called the Fortunate island” because it “produces all things for itself,” and that no one needs to till the soil, since all crops grow by themselves.
Moreover, it was governed by nine sisters, one of whom was Morgen, all skilled in the healing arts. Although this description of Avalon is more detailed, its location is still vague. Geoffrey tells us that, “to that place after the battle of Camblan we brought Arthur, hurt by wounds, with Barinthus leading us, to whom the waters and the stars of the sky were known.” Geoffrey’s description does not sound like the island would be hidden in a marsh or fen, as Glastonbury certainly was. Moreover, citing “Barinthus” as the helmsman of the boat is thought to refer to a character who appears in accounts of Saint Brendan the Navigator, telling the saint of a wonderful island to the West.
While one may take it as a given that Geoffrey of Monmouth is far from being a reliable narrator, he is also known to have borrowed heavily from earlier Celtic folklore and tradition, rather than inventing things out of whole cloth and it is to these earlier gleanings of his we should devote our attention, rather than his literary fictions. When he describes an island being reached by a pilot who is skilled in celestial navigation and knowledgeable of ocean currents, lying somewhere west of mainland Britain, Glastonbury quickly recedes as a candidate and the Isle of Man grows proportionally.
Avalon had the repute of being the “Fortunate Isle,” a place of abundance where food grew on its own and needed no cultivation, an isle where its inhabitants enjoyed great longevity, ruled over by an order of wise women renowned for their healing skills. It was a fruitful realm, abundant with groves of apple trees and, indeed, one etymology ascribed its name to mean, “the isle of apples.” Since it was also the place where Arthur’s sword was forged, one may assume it was sufficiently rich in iron-ore deposits to allow a swordsmith to ply his trade. Another French author, not directly influenced by the Breton-Norman traditions, also described it as a place abundant in gold as well.
It is easy enough to see how such a place may grow in the telling and retelling into a magical fairyland, especially in hands of the fertile Celtic imagination. But it is also not hard to imagine that Manx sailors, farmers and craftsmen, eager to promote their island as a center of trade and commerce, might promote its fresh fruit, abundant grain, fish and other foodstuffs, as well as its flowing fresh water streams, to weary wayfarers upon the western seas in search of a safe haven to refit and restock their depleted stores. That a famed warrior, suffering from grievous injuries in battle, might be shuttled to an isle known as the abode of an order of female healers is not a proposition without merit.
While the close association of Man with Arthur might be dismissed by those who choose to deny Arthur a place in history, the island’s military and naval importance highlighted in these traditions are not necessarily dependent on a belief that a person so named actually existed in late 5th/early 6th century Britain. While in another paper we do make the case for Arthur’s historicity, we should also point to one theory that the name Arthur, in the context of the late 5th century, may well have been a nom de guerre and not the Christian name of a leader of the Britons, making all etymologies, pro or con, irrelevant to the argument.
To round out the strategic importance of the island, we may take note of occasional references to the Isle of Man in more accepted historical sources. They are fleeting accounts, and one wishes the annalists and chroniclers had been forthcoming about the subject in their entries.
The Ulster Annals record a second Saxon raid on Ireland for AD 471, but whether this involved the Isle of Man is unknown. Alternately, the date for the second Saxon incursion may be misplaced, for while no Saxon source mentions this attack, one Saxon chronicle does mention a naval action in the Irish Sea around AD 500, which in turn could have been part of a more general campaign in the Severn Sea, perhaps culminating at the Battle of Badon. If a Saxon fleet was indeed rampaging around the Irish Sea at this time, it is not hard to see how the Isle of Man would also have been involved.
An entry in the Ulster Annals for AD 503 mentions an attack on Man by the Irish king Aedhan, which is curious, since Aedhan mac Gabrain, King of the Dal Riata Scots, had not been born yet. One editor of the Annals concluded that the entry should be placed later in the century, around 581-2 and that it in fact records a reconquest of the isle, which had been seized some years before by the Ulster warlord Báetán mac Cairill. When Baetan died in 581, Aedhan, who had alliances with both the Britons and the King of Leinster, took his large fleet and moved against the Ulstermen dispossessing them around this time. By this time, Irish kings were thoroughly Christianized; Irish and British rulers were often united through dynastic marriage. In Aedhan’s case, although King of the Dal Riata Scots, his mother was a British princess and he was one of the Celtic sovereigns who at this time named their sons after Arthur, the famed last ruler of unified Britain.
Although Edwin of Northumbria made a brief attempt to seize the island in AD 632, until the coming of the Vikings the island seems to have had British princes ruling it, although the common folk undoubtedly remained linguistically and culturally closer to the Irish than the Cymry of Wales.
Throughout the first millennium, despite different masters at different times, the island remained a strategic base for any seeking mastery of the Irish Sea. The preponderance of evidence, such as it is, indicates that this held true in the Brittonic Period as it did in later eras.
 See, Christopher Coleman, Britain’s Best Bulwark: Brittonic Seapower in the Age of Arthur, Chapter 10, forthcoming.
 Flavius Vegetius Renatus, Epitoma de Rei Militari, IV, cap. 37; Paul D. Emanuele, Vegetius and the Roman Navy, MA Thesis, (Vancouver: Univ. of British Columbia, 1974), 28. Many modern authors, wishing to use Vegetius for the Roman Army of the 3rd-4th centuries, have preferred to date his work too early; for an in depth discussion of the dating of the book’s composition, see Emanuele, 6-12. Also see my discussion in Britain’s Best Bulwark, Chapter VIII, “The Pendragon Navy.”
 Historia Brittonum, c.38
 When, who, and how many, Roman soldiers actually departed the island and its defenses is a thorny question which experts still vehemently argue over. The general trend has been to minimize the actual disruption so romantically portrayed by Victorian nationalist historians. To be sure, an army did depart Britain ca. AD 405/406 (not in 410) under the usurper Honorius III, but this would have been a field army (comitatenses) and not composed of limitanei, the local border garrisons tasked with the mundane but vital role of protecting the frontiers. Ironically, Honorius’ army was probably composed in large part of barbarian mercenaries such as the Saxons. The literature on this issue is extensive, but just to mention a few, see: H. E. M. Cool, “Which ‘Romans’; What ‘Home’? The Myth of the ‘End’ of Roman Britain” in Fiona K. Haarer, ed., AD 410: The History and Archaeology of Late and Post-Roman Britain (London: Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies, 2014), 13-22;
 “and took possession of many regions, even to the Pictish confines” HB ibid.
 See Helena Hamerow, Excavations at Mucking Volume 2: The Anglo-Saxon settlement, (English Heritage Archaeological Report 21), (London: English Heritage/British Museum Press, 1993).
 Vita Germani cap. 17; cf. Wilhelm Levison, ed., “Vita Germani episcopi Autissiodorensis auctore Constantio”, in: B. Krusch and W. Levison (eds.), Passiones vitaeque sanctorum aevi Merovingici (IV), MGH SS rer. merov. 7, (Hanover and Leipzig: 1920), p.283
 George Woods, An Account of the Past and Present State of the Isle of Man, (London: Robert Baldwin, 1811), Book III, Chapter I, 328. Of course, Mananan was also a Celtic god, venerated by both the Irish and the pagan British, but he was considered by all the protector of the island and numerous myths are told about him and his relationship to the island. The actual ruler’s name had obviously been forgotten (or deliberately expunged) by the earliest hagiographers. Moreover, a second saint, an imaginary “Germanus of Man” was later invented to account for the presence of Germanus of Auxerre on Man at this time: a saint whose origins and date are virtually identical to Germanus of Auxerre, but who is instead made subservient to the Irish patron saint.
 See F. A. Patterson, “Roman Wales and the Votadini” Welsh History Review, Vol. 7 No 2 (Dec. 1979), 221.
 Lewis Morris, discussing Cunedda, relates that “Selden in Mare Clausum, p. 251, concludes from his driving the Scots out of all the islands…that he must have very great strength in shipping.” Celtic Remains, (London: Cambrian Archaeological Association, 1878). Unfortunately, later authors have not followed up on this observation.
 N. K. Chadwick, in D. Moore, Ed. The Irish Sea Province in Archaeology and History, (Cardiff: Cambrian Archaeological Association, 1970), 68-69.
 Bob Carswell, “The Castles and Forts of the Isle of Man,” via Culture Vannin site: https://www.culturevannin.im/special/castles/Castles%20and%20Forts%20of%20the%20Isle%20of%20Man%20-%20General%20Introduction.pdf.
 See John T. Koch, An Atlas for Celtic Studies, (Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2007), Map §15.3: “The Penine-Solway Region Later Prehistory and Roman Period.” As noted above, even in carefully excavated sites, distinguishing between Roman and post-Roman occupations is very difficult and earlier surveys tended to assume that Roman cultural material culture ended in the 4th century, whereas modern experts now recognize that many such sites were still in active use into the sixth century.
 However, there have been some post Roman burials, excavated at Balladoole and Peel Castle; they are referred to as “pre-Viking,” and analysis indicated foreign migration to the island: K. Hemer et al, “No Man is an island: evidence of pre-Viking Age migration to the Isle of Man” Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 52, (December, 2014), Pages 242-249.
 Laura Hebert “Porty y Candas: A Manx site with similarities to Irish ringforts” Journal of the University of Manitoba Anthropology Student’s Association (JUMASA) Vol. 30 (2012) 1-8; H. Mytum, 2014 “Excavations at the Iron Age and Early Medieval Settlement of Port y Candas German.” Proceedings of the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society Vol. 12 No.4 (2014)), 650-665.
 Bernard Bachrach, “The Questions of King Arthur’s Existence and of Romano- British Naval Operations” The Haskins Journal 2, 19. Bachrach notes however that the scribes of the Vatican Recension, an outlier among the various editions of the Historia Brittonum, saw fit to modify the text of chapter 56 to exclude this novel naval interpretation of the text.
 Bachrach, “Romano-British Naval Operations,” 23. Bachrach follows Jackson in believing that all the battles were fought in the north of Britain; the present author, while accepting most of Bachrach’s arguments, is not in agreement with him on this issue.
 Nikolai Tolstoy, “Early British History and Chronology” Transactions of the Honorable Society of Cymmrodorian, 1964, pg. 308.
 It should also be noted that not just Caerleon (Isca Augusta), but Chester (Deva Victrix) and York (Eboricum) were all sited on navigable rivers and were probably served by naval detachments when they were Roman bases—and likely afterwards as well. Even if Tolstoy’s suggestion is disregarded, the thesis that the battle at Urbs Legionis was a naval or amphibious engagement is not disproven. Caerleon is at the mouth of the Usk, and even if the fortress itself had been abandoned at this time, it would still have been a port of some importance in the fifth century.
 Hector Chadwick and Nora Chadwick, The Growth of Literature, vol.1 (Cambridge University Press, 1932), p. 155; Jackson, ‘Arthur of History,’ in Arthurian Literature in the Middle Ages, p. 7.
 Historia Brittonum, c.56.
 William F. Skene, The Four Ancient Books of Wales, 9 1868), Chapter IV, 53; also see John S. Stuart-Glennie, “Arthurian Localities, their historical origin, chief country, and Fingalian relations,” in Henry B. Wheatley (Ed.) Merlin or The Early History of King Arthur: A Prose Romance, Vol. I (London: Kegan Paul, 1899), Chap. III, lxxi*.
 Charles Hardwick, On Some Ancient Battle-Fields in Lancashire and their historical, legendary, and aesthetic associations, (London: Simpkin Marshall & Co, 1882), 1-31.
 Leslie Alcock, Arthur’s Britain, (London: Penguin, 1987), 66; M. K. Wade “King Arthur of Somerset: early battles above the River Divelish” kingarthursomerset website: https://kingarthursomerset.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/king-arthur-of-somerset-early-battles-above-the-river-divelish/
 K. H. Jackson, “Once Again Arthur’s Battles,” Modern Philology 43 (1945), 46-47.; also see Caitlin (“Thomas”) Green, “Lincolnshire and the Arthurian Legend” Arthurian Notes & Queries 3 http://www.arthuriana.co.uk/notes&queries/N&Q3_ArthLincs.pdf.
 William Camden, Britannia (London: 1695; trans. by Edmund Gibson, 1722) Vol. II, 1441/1442.
 “the smuggling trade was to Douglas what the slave trade became later to Liverpool,” John Quine, The Isle of Man (Cambridge County Geographies), (Cambridge: University Press, 1922), 109. In the fifth and sixth centuries, one may assume that piracy occupied the place of pride smuggling later assumed, as we know more certainly for the ensuing period of Viking ascendancy.
 George Woods, An Account of the Past and Present State of the Isle of Man, (London: Robert Baldwin, 1811), 114.
 Camden, Britannia, 1447/1448; Woods, Account, 79. One may safely assume that in the Brittonic Period traditional Manx boats, regardless of function, would have been closer to those of Camden’s day in size and capacity than Woods’.
 Woods, Account, 103;
 George Broderick “Pre-Scandinavian Place-Names in the Isle of Man” http://docs.exdat.com/docs/index-73563.html VIA EXDAT.COM (via EXDAT.COM, a Manx website).
 Woods, Account, 103, 105-106.
 See P. G. Rogers and J. D. Davies, The Dutch in the Medway, (Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing, 2017).
 Caradoc of Llangarfan, The Life of Gildas, (ca. 1130-1150), cap.5; after translation in Medieval Sourcebook, Fordham University: https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/1150-caradoc-lifeofgildas.asp. Elis Gruffudd, Welsh writer of the Tudor era, recorded a bawdy variant of the feud between Arthur and Hueil, reducing it to rivalry over a woman and placing the site of the beheading in Wales.
 Bromwich, Rachel. Trioedd Ynys Prydein, 2nd Ed., University of Wales Press, 1978, p. 409
 Geoffrey of Monmouth Historia Regum Brittaniae (AD 1136), XI.2; Lewis Thorpe translation, (Penguin Classic edition, Hammondsworth, 1966), 261. Geoffrey’s account is a simple factual statement of him taking ship to the island; later writers added more fabulous details to elaborate on this.
 Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia, ix.4; Thorpe, 217.
 Geoffrey of Monmouth, Vita Merlini, l.907-919, 928-930; Emily Rebekah Huber (Translator), “Avalon from the Vita Merlini” Camelot Project, Robbins Library Digital Projects, University of Rochester (2007).
 Both Copper and Iron Ore were mined in ages past, and the island also produced silver and lead in commercial quantities in the nineteenth century: Moore, A History of the Isle of Man, 960.
 See “Le Couromement de Louis” (ca. AD 1155): “n’l voldreit estre por tot l’or d’Avalon,” F.M. Warren, Modern Language Notes, Vol. XIV, No.2, (Feb. 1899), 96.
 AD 471 “Praeda secunda Saxonum de Hibernia ut alii dicunt, in isto anno deducta est, ut Maucteus .i. Mochtae dicit. Sic in Libro Cuanach inueni.” Hennessy translates this as: “the second prey of the Saxons from Ireland, as some say, was carried off in this year, as Maucteus (i.e. Mochtae) states. So I find in the Book of Guana.” Donnchadh Ó Corráin, Mavis Cournane, The Annals of Ulster, CELT online edition U471.1 for original text; W. B. Hennessy, Ed. & Translator, Annals of Ulster, Otherwise Annals of Senat, a Chronicle of Irish Affairs from AD 431 to AD 1540, (Dublin: HMSO, 1887), 23. Also see Ethelwerd’s Chronicle, AD 500, in Giles, Old English Chronicles (London: George Bell, 1906), 7.
 William M. Hennessy, Annals of Ulster, or Annals of Senat, A Chronicle of Irish Affairs from AD 431 to AD 1540, Vol. I (Dublin: HMSO, 1887), 35
 Bedwyr L. Jones, “Gwriad’s Heritage: Links Between Wales and the Isle of Man in the Early Middle Ages”, Transactions of the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 1990, 39.