Ambrosius Aurelianus

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Ambrosius Aurelianus, Welsh: Emrys Wledig; called Aurelius Ambrosius in the Historia Regum Britanniae and elsewhere, was a war leader of the Romano-British who won an important battle against the Anglo-Saxons in the 5th century, according to Gildas. He also appeared independently in the legends of the Britons, beginning with the 9th-century Historia Brittonum.


Aurelianus according to Gildas

Ambrosius Aurelianus is one of the few people that Gildas identifies by name in his sermon De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, and the only one named from the 5th century.[1] Following the destructive assault of the Saxons, the survivors gather together under the leadership of Ambrosius, who is described as "a gentleman who, perhaps alone of the Romans, had survived the shock of this notable storm. Certainly his parents, who had worn the purple, were slain by it. His descendants in our day have become greatly inferior to their grandfather's [avita] excellence." We know from Gildas that he was of high birth, and had Roman ancestry; he was presumably a Romano-Briton, rather than a Roman from elsewhere in the empire, though it is impossible to be sure.[1] It also appears that Ambrosius was a Christian: Gildas says that he won his battles "with God's help".[1] According to Gildas, Ambrosius organised the survivors into an armed force and achieved the first military victory over the Saxon invaders. However, this victory was not decisive: "Sometimes the Saxons and sometimes the citizens [meaning the Romano-British inhabitants] were victorious."

Two points in this brief description have attracted much scholarly commentary. The first is what Gildas meant by saying Ambrosius' family "had worn the purple": does this mean that Ambrosius was related to one of the Roman Emperors, perhaps the House of Theodosius or an usurper like Constantine III.[citation needed] Roman males of the senatorial class wore clothes with a purple band to denote their class, so the reference to purple may be to his aristocratic heritage. In addition, Roman military tribunes (tribuni militum), senior officers in Roman legions, wore a similar purple band, so the purple may refer to military leadership background in his family. It has also been suggested that "the purple" is a euphemism for blood, and therefore "wearing the purple" may be a reference to martyrdom.[2]

The second question is the meaning of the word avita: does it mean "ancestors", or did Gildas intend it to mean more specifically "grandfather"—thus indicating Ambrosius lived about a generation before the Battle of Mons Badonicus? The lack of information for this period inhibits accurate answers to these questions.

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