Historia Brittonum

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The Historia Brittonum, or The History of the Britons, is a historical work that was first composed around 830, and exists in several recensions of varying difference. It purports to relate the history of the Brittonic inhabitants of Britain from earliest times, and this text has been used to write a history of both Wales and England, for want of more reliable sources. Nennius is traditionally named as the author of the text, though this is widely considered a secondary tradition, originating in the 10th century.

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Primarily on the basis of a dating clause in § 16, the prevalent view by historians is that the text of the Historia Brittonum was composed for Merfyn Frych ap Gwriad, king of Gwynedd (r. c. 825-844) in the 4th year of his reign, probably sometime between 828 and 830.[1][2]

The text itself is a collection of excerpts, chronological calculations, glosses, and summaries based on earlier records, many of which no longer exist. As a result, the reliability of this work has been questioned both in part and in whole. The archaeologist Leslie Alcock observed that in one recension of this manuscript the author called his work a heap of all he could find, and suggested that if we were to extend this metaphor, this text is:

Another view is offered by Professor David Dumville, who has done a great deal of research into the transmission of this text and the relationship of its recensions. Dumville believes that this text has been revised, supplemented, and rewritten many times and in many ways between the date of its apparent origin, and the date of its surviving manuscripts.[4] The intent of its author was to produce a synchronizing chronicle after the manner of Irish historians in his own time. And since this manuscript offered the only history of Wales complementary to Bede's own Ecclesiastical History of the English People, it was reproduced and revised to meet this demand.

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