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The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, compiled so long after these events, may not be reliable on the details.

It describes a battle at Dyrham in 577 in which the West Saxons killed three British kings and captured three towns: Gloucester, Cirencester and Bath.(15) The repeated use of the number three, so popular in folktales, arouses suspicion.

Debate has raged over this source, while Gildas, our native source for the events of this period, is frustratingly imprecise.

However, in a thorough reinterpretation of both, Nicholas Higham suggests that after a period in which victories were divided between Britons and Saxons, the Saxons achieved dominance and could impose treaty terms in 441.

The West Saxons, their expansion to the west and north blocked, overran the free British territory of the South-west from 658, so the Bristol Avon became a boundary between Wessex and the The implication is that Eanfrith and Eanhere were of the royal family of the Hwicce; the context places them in the mid-seventh century.

Their names and those of subsequent Hwiccian royalty were Anglo-Saxon.

Differences in pottery may be a clue that those south of the Bristol Avon had formed a splinter group.(1) Under Roman administration, tribal areas became civitates.

If the Angles were indeed mercenaries or exacting tribute, then the West Saxon victory would have usurped their position. In 628, says the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the West Saxons fought the (Anglian) Penda of Mercia at Cirencester and afterwards came to terms.This left the highland zone as free British kingdoms and the east under Saxon control.The buffer zone between, including the Dobunni, seems to have remained British, but demilitarised, relying on Anglo-Saxon protection and paying tribute in return.(4) Such a divide could explain the creation of the Wansdyke.Probably after Britannia seceded from the empire in 409, it dissolved once more into local kingdoms, based on the Roman civitates.(3) Within decades Saxons swept over the lowlands.The fifth-century Gallic Chronicle reports that the Saxons were in control of a large part of Britain in 441.

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That massive earthwork would have made a sensible defence for the free British of the South-west.(5) While on their eastern flank the Wiltshire and Hampshire Avon was protected by the New Forest, on the north their best strategy would be a defensive line along the hills overlooking the Bristol Avon and the Kennet.