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Ambrosius' Dike

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Good gentles, forgive me if this has been covered at depth before.

Let's talk about "Ambrosius' Dike". This fortification across the north of Salisbury (and beyond) doesn't seem to have much explanation for its naming, and as the timeline has moved backwards into SIRES, the connection between it and Aurelius Ambrosius is more salient to the story.

First, we're talking about the Wansdyke, which runs from eastern Silchester all the way past (south of) Bath and to the sea. It's an impressive engineering feat that incorporates Roman roads at some points (road atop the wall). Here's a map:

Image result for Wansdyke

The dashed line here is the Thames River, while the solid line is the Dyke--in some places > 14 feet high in modern times with a ditch 8+ feet deep on the north side, so we can assume the whole thing was intended to be at least three times the height of a man. 

There are indications from archaeology that the Wansdyke (Woden's Dyke) dates back to Roman times (as if the road wasn't enough of a clue), but what I'm looking for is more input on why Greg slapped Ambrosius' name on it. Did he intend for Ambrosius to have contributed to its construction? Did the High King go for a ride one day and nod approvingly at the wall, saying "nice dike!" and the Count gave it to him? Something in-between?

For my own sake I can imagine a brief window after the 473 disaster of Winchester, in which Ambrosius might have more peasant labor on-hand than knights, and desired to throw up a speed-bump for raiders along the north of his rich lands in Salisbury and Silchester. The Wansdyke effectively wards the south downs from incursions originating from the Thames Valley--which means attacks sailing up the Thames and raiding south from it, as occurred following Winchester. If attacks from north of the Thames were the main focus, we'd expect to see the fords fortified (they were) and manors acting as quick-response posts... yet here is the wall some distance south of the river.

So... thoughts?




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Historically, the Saxons (Gewisse) around the Thames Valley were pretty early (<500) so the dyke - which if Roman or pre-Roman perhaps delineated a boundary between the Belgae and the Dobunni (and Atrebates), might have been refurbished in the late 5th century. In Geoffrey of Monmouth the Gewisse are the mercenary tribe serving Vortigern.


Edit: current historical theories: http://projects.arch.ox.ac.uk/wessex.html


Edit 2: 'Gewisse' is 'Gentian' where the knight who kills Constantine comes from...

Edited by jeffjerwin
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16 hours ago, Uqbarian said:

KAP 5.2 says Ambrosius "built these massive earthworks as a part of a defense system against the Saxons to the east."

The Dike appears to have been renamed Renn's Dyke in BoW and BoU. Maybe Stafford did have a new origin in mind?

Yeah if Greg moved the naming in later books that's fine. The only plausible reason I can think of Ambrosius to build the thing (or even to enlarge/complete/refurbish it) is because of the Saxons coming up the Thames Valley.

I'd be OK with the Dike being intact, USED by Ambrosius as a stopgap, and then colloquially known as "his" thereafter, even as other chroniclers call it "Renn's Dike" for reasons.

The reading I've been able to do indicate that this is not the only dyke in southern England, and some of them face east-west. It's just the largest linear fortification. There is some acknowledgement that the post-Roman Britons DID build it, but also note that the Saxons seem to have adopted linear fortifications as well as a means of warding their territory from irate Celts.

Aside from some bombshell of unpublished observations, this is probably solid YPMV territory.



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On 10/2/2019 at 8:48 PM, jeffjerwin said:

the dyke - which if Roman or pre-Roman perhaps delineated a boundary between the Belgae and the Dobunni (and Atrebates), might have been refurbished in the late 5th century.

I admit that I am partial to the idea (for KAP purposes) that the dike/dyke was built in Pre-Roman times, after the Belgic invasion, to help guard against inter-tribal aggression. And then refurbished in the chaotic times of 5th century, from the early chaos of Romans leaving to Pictish invasions to Saxon raids. In this case, Renn could be either one of the original Belgic Kings ordering it to be built, or someone who refurbishes it in early 400s.

That being said, I could easily see some of the early battles of the March of Aurelius happening near or even on the Dike, and that would give rise to the secondary attribution of the Dike to Aurelius Ambrosius in later chronicles.

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I believe the association with Ambrosius comes from the Wansdyke passing close to sites already traditionally associated with him (Amesbury most notably). I thought there might have been a preexisting folk tale connecting the earthwork with Ambrosius, but a quick google search only brings up sites associated with Pendragon (including this thread), a single webpage, a book written in 2000, and several sites involving one Anthony van Dyck.

12 hours ago, Uqbarian said:

Yep, I'd probably go with Ambrosius refurbishing it.

I wish there were more clues as to who Renn might have been, though. The closest name I can think of is Brennius.

Renn was an invention of Stafford's as far as I know, an ancestor of the equally invented Roderick (I want to say grandfather, but I can't remember the exact relation).

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The Dyke has been found to be at least begun after Roman times started, based on finding Roman nails in the lowest substrata.

It does seem like a good idea to just call it refurbished by Ambrosius and try to avoid making a big deal of it. The next major utilization might be as Sussex's border.



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From what research I've done and a website about the Dyke it was allegedly built by Vortigern. But as the aforementioned site is part of a site about Vortigern it might be somewhat suspect. The original name Wansdyke is Saxon, although the Dyke is probably pre-Saxon. But as KAP gives credit to Ambrosius it hard to figure out why he built it. It seems like he could have done something better with the resources in the 470s. 

But if it were a pre-Ambrosius fornication and was trashed by the Picts during 444-446, I could see him repairing it.


I think Greg just attributed it to him in order to give it a non-Saxon name, and to emphasize Ambrosius Roman heritage. Since the campaign used to start ic.495, and this was something that took place before the PK were born, not details were needed. But as we push the timline back and fill out more of the history,it becomes more noticeable.  


Chaos stalks my world, but she's a big girl and can take of herself.

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