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The 'Cities' of Vortigern
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Caer Guorthegirn
Robert Vermaat

old maps
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maps of
Stonehenge

Stonehenge
Stone circle
Wiltshire
Very good access for the disabledAccess restricted to opening times
Nearest town: Salisbury
Nearest village: Amesbury
Map reference: ST 122422
Location of Stonehenge by UK Streetmap
 

There have been several sources that have connected Vortigern with the area of Salibury plain, notably Stonehenge and Salisbury.

Historia Brittonum
The first of these was 'Nennius' in the ninth century:

Historia brittonum, Chapter 66

And from the reign of Vortigern to the quarrel between Guitolinus and Ambrosius, are twelve years, which is Guolopum, that is Catgwaloph. Vortigern reigned in Britain when Theodosius and Valentinian were consuls, and in the fourth year of his reign the Saxons came to Britain, in the consulship of Feliz and Taurus, in the four hundredth year from the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

et a regno guorthigirni usque ad discordiam guitolini et ambrosii anni sunt duodecim, quod est guoloppum; id est catguoloph. guorthigirnus autem tenuit imperium in brittannia theodosio et ualentiniano consulibus et in quarto anno regni sui saxones ad brittanniam uenerunt felice et tauro consulibus quadringentesimo anno ab incarnatione domini nostri iesu christi.

StonehengeThis Ambrosius is fighting Vitalinus at Guoloph (Wallop in Hampshire, which is only a few miles to the south-east of Amesbury), is also strongly connected with Vortigern. Ambrosius' estate may have been situated in the fort near the modern abbey in Amesbury, giving the family name to the whole area. Both men were therefore already linked to the area at an early date.

Geoffrey of Monmouth
Next, Vortigern became linked to Stonehenge through Geoffrey of Monmouth:

Historia Regum Britanniae, Book VI, chapter 15
And if these terms pleased Vortigern , he desired him to appoint a time and place for their meeting, and adjusting matters according to his pleasure. When these things were represented to the king, he was mightily pleased, as being very unwilling to part with Hengist; and at last ordered his subjects and the Saxons to meet upon the kalends of May, which were now very near, at the monastery of Ambrius, for the settling of the matters above mentioned. The appointment being agreed to on both sides, Hengist, with a new design of villany in his head, ordered his soldiers to carry every one of them a long dagger under their garments; and while the conference should be held with the Britons, who would have no suspicion of them, he would give them this word of command, "Nemet oure Saxas;" at which moment they were all to be ready to seize boldly every one his next man, and with his drawn dagger stab him.

The treason of the Saxons at StonehengeThat Geoffrey of Monmouth later confused Ambresbyrig (the fortress of Ambrosius) with Ambrius Mons (the hill of Ambr(os)ius) causes no wonder, for the Anglo-Saxon byrig can mean both 'fortress' (burgh) and 'hill' (byrg). Both names can be about one and the same place: Amesbury and the surrounding area. It is clear that, though Geoffrey did not know about Guoloph and the quarrel between Ambrosius and Vitalinus/Vortigern in the area, he was prapared to accept their involvement ther for different reasons.

Aside from Vortigern being betrayed there, Ambrosius is later buried there, in the monument that he commanded merlin to build in commemoration of the betrayed elders. Merlin (called by Geoffrey 'Merlin Ambrosius'), having had his hands both in the construction of Vortigern's tower and Stonehenge may well have added to the confusion about Ambrosius, causing a duplication of the Collapsing Castle from Gwynedd (Dinas Emrys) to Wiltshire.

Of Arthour and of MerlinStonehenge
The thirteenth-century English poem 'Of Arthour and of Merlin' went one step further and located the tower of Vortigern indeed Vpon ye pleyn of Salesbury
, right in the middle of Stonehenge!

This reeks of course strongly of a duplication. I have spoken elsewhere of the legendary relations of Vortigern and Merlin. While Merlin was strongly connected with Dinas Emrys (through his connections and early identification with Ambrosius) and thus with Vortigern, Merlin was also connected with Stonehenge through probably quite different legends. Now Stonehenge lies closest (only 2 miles) to Amesbury, which earliest recorded name of Ambresbyrig makes it a very good candidate of being named after a Romano-British estate-owner by the name of Ambrosius! Though we do not know for sure that this was the Ambrosius related by Gildas or any other from later legend, all subsequent connections made by history and pseudo-history make him a good candidate.

William of Worcester
William wrote in his notes made during his travels around Britain in the late 15th century about all he could find on antiquarian material. In his chapter written during his stay in Oxford in 1480 he directly identified the 'Caer Guorthigirn' from the Historia Brittonum with the Salisbury area:

Itineraries, Oxford, 1480:
Beginning of the ancient names of the cities of Britain:
The first city of Britain is called Caer Guorthegirn (that is to say the Castle of Vortigern, now Salisbury).

Salisbury was also very closely linked to Stonehenge, indeed so much that both were interchangeble to commentators of those days. I have looked at Salibury, or rather the hillfort of Old Sarum, elsewhere.

Though we might wonder how this indentification might have come so far south, it is not that far from Bradford-on-Avon, once called Wirtgernesburg.

Bibliography

  • Tolstoy, Nikolai: The Quest for Merlin, (Little & Brown 1985)*
  • William Worcestre: Itineraries, edited from the unique MS. Corpus Christi College Cambridge, 210, Latin and trans. John Harvey, (Oxford 1969).

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