One of the earliest written references to Arthur comes from the Historium Britannia collated by the Welsh monk Nennius. Written in the 9th century the Christian scribe opens by stating that although he is not so knowledgeable about these things he has recorded information which he has been informed is reliable. Within the body of his work Nennius relates the Wonders of Britain and Arthur’s Twelve Battles. (Note that the reference is not to King Arthur, just Arthur). It is very possible that his list of Arthur’s twelve victories was part of an earlier heroic poem and as such it is also possible that the events described may be out of sequence. It has generally been viewed that these battles formed a campaign fought over a short period, however it is equally possible that the famous victories took several years to achieve.
Many historians (notably W.F. Skene - 19th century Royal Histiographer for Scotland) have identified the battle sites listed above as being within the present day Scottish landscape and there is now widespread belief that the majority of these events took place in Northern Britain between or around the two Roman Walls (Hadrian’s & Antonine’s). Arthurian tradition maintains that Arthur fought against the Saxons and the Picts and he is often portrayed as a Christian crusader. The location in Northern Britain fits well with the ancient Brythonic Central Belt being trapped between the pagan Germanic invaders from Northumberland to the south (Angles or English) and the incessant raiding pagan Picts from north of the Highland line.
There are two additional battles not listed by Nennius at which Scottish tradition recounts Arthur’s presence. Ardunion or Ardinning fought in 570 recorded by the Welsh speaking poet Taliesin, and the ultimate Christian victory won at Ardrydd or Arthuret fought in 573. The dates for these events are out with the traditional lifespan of King Arthur (c480 - c540) however they do match with the lifespan of Artur MacAeden (c540 - c590) and many other traditional Arthurian characters, particularly Urien, King of Rheged. It is possible that Ardunion and Ardrydd are alternative names for two of the battles on Nennius’ list and identification of such could be pivotal in identifying the true origin of Arthurian legend. We shall return to Ardunion and Ardrydd in time.