Deciphering Gildas
Below: outline of the entire first sentence.
1. Gildas's Latin (courtesy of Keith Matthews)
Mommsen's edition, based on Cotton Vitallius
roborante deo reliquiae... duce ambrosio aureliano uiro modesto, qui solus forte romanae gentis tantae tempestatis collisione occisis in eadem parentibus purpura nimirum indutis superfuerat, cuius nunc temporibus nostris suboles magnopere auita bonitate degenerauit, uires capessunt, uictores prouocantes ad proelium, quis uictoria domino annuente cessit.
[Ch. 26]
ex eo tempore nunc ciues, nunc hostes, uincebant, ut in ista gente experietur dominus solito more praesentem israelem, utrum diligat eum an non; usque ad annum obsessionis badonici montis, nouissimaeque ferme de furciferis non minimae stragis, quique quadragesimus quartus, ut noui, orditur annus, mense iam uno emenso, qui et meae natiuitatis est.
Avranches Ms. [corrected by Cambridge Ff I.27]
roborati a deo celi... duce itaque ambrosio aureliano uiro modesto, qui solus fortis superfuerat de romana gente occisis parentibus purpura indutus in eadem collisione tante tempestatis, cuius etiam nunc nostris temporibus suboles magnopere ab auita bonitate degenerauit, uires capescunt, uictores prouocantes ad proelium, quibus uictoria domino annuente ex uoto cessit.

et ex eo tempore nunc ciues, nunc hostes, uincebant, ut in ista gente experietur dominus solito more superstitem israelem, utrum diligat eum an non; usque ad annum obsessionis Badonici montis, nouissimaeque ferme de furciferis non minimae stragis, quo quadragesimus [quartus], ut noui, or[itur] annus, mense uno iam emenso, qui et meae natiuitatis est annus.
Bede's version:
utebantue eo tempore duce ambrosio aureliano, uiro modesto, qui solus forte romanae gentis praefatae tempestati superfuerat, occisis in eadem parentibus regium nomen et insigne ferentibus. hoc ergo duce uires capessunt brettones et uictores prouocantes ad proelium uictoriam ipsi deo fauente suscipiunt.

et ex eo tempore nunc ciues, nunc hostes uincebant, usque ad annum obsessionis badonici montis, quando non minimas eisdem hostibus strages dabant, xlmo circiter et iiiio anno aduentus eorum in brittaniam

Full Mommsen text available on Keith Matthews' website!

Keith's comments on the 3 versions:
The Avranches Manuscript: Dumville has suggested it may preserve better readings, most notoriously in giving us the name of _tyranno uortigerno_). It looks to me as if Bede had a manuscript of Gildas with features of both the Avranches and the Cottonian versions; does this mean that Mommsen's text - which has become the standard - retains inferior readings because of his reliance in MS Cotton Vitallius This might mean that we should treat the _quo quadragesimus quartus... annus_ seriously (and the ablative _quo_ more directly connects us with _eo tempore_ than Mommsen's reading).

We also need to recognise that Bede read his version of the text as implying that the siege was in the forty-fourth year after something (and he assumed that it was from the Adventus Saxonum, which I find highly implausible, knowing how Gildas felt about the Saxon _furciferi_!).
Kevin Bowman:
" ut in ista gente experietur dominus solito more praesentem Israelem, utrum diligat eum an non" in 26:1 appears to me to be a reworking of or echo of  Judges 2:22, which in the Vulgate is :  "ut in ipsis experiar Israhel utrum custodiant viam Domini et ambulant in ea sicut custodierunt patres eorum an non."
      KJV: "That through them I may prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the Lord to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not."

J. Shoaf:
The 3 versions--well, Mommsen's version looks good to me. The Avranches version has a more relaxed, medieval/vernacular word order.  The reviser/copyist does not trust the Latin endings to convey syntactical relationships: Gildas's "deo"  and "romanae gentis" become "a deo" and "de romane gente," with prepositions to clarify what goes with what. Gildas's "tantae tempestatis collisione" (which goes with "superfuerat," survived) is moved after the "in eadem" (in Gildas referring to the family killed in "the same" tempest which AA survived) so that it is not clear whether it refers to AA's survival, his parents' death, or the occasion of his wearing purple (like earning a purple heart?). He/she is trying to break Gildas's sentences down into more digestible chunks without losing anything, but it is not really very digestible and the sense gets lost. Bede's simplification is masterful, Avranche's confused.
     It is still of course possible that Avranches (or Bede) preserves elements of the original text which were for some reason omitted from the mss. with which Mommsen worked.
2. from Coe & Young's Celtic Sources:

[The survivors, strengthened by God, were led by] a gentleman, Ambrosius Aurelianus, who perhaps alone of all the Romans had survived the impact of such a tempest; truly his parents, who had worn the purple, were overcome in it. In our times his stock have degenerated greatly from their excellent grandfather. With him our people regained their strength, challenged the victors to battle and with the lord acceeding it fell to us. From then on now our citizens, and then the ememies conquered; so on this people, as the Lord is accustomed, he could make trial of his latter day Israel to see whether it loves him or not. This lasted up until the year of the seige of Badon Hill, almost the most recent defeat of the malefactors and certainly not the least. That was the year of my birth; and as I know since then 44 years and one month have already passed.
Notes (J. Shoaf):

This translation breaks up what is one long long sentence into shorter ones. Otherwise a meat and potatoes "classic" interpretation.

"44 years since Badon and my birth" interpretation.

3. J. A. Giles, Six Old English Chronicles, of which two are now first translated from the monkish Latin originals, 1891

[the poor remnants of our nation, being strengthened by God] took arms under the conduct of Ambrosius Aurelianus, a modest man, who of all the Roman nation was then alone in the confusion of this troubled period by chance left alive. His parents, who for their merit were adorned with the purple, had been slain in these same broils, and now his progeny in these our days, although shamefully degenerated from the worthiness of their ancestors, provoke to battle their cruel conquerors, and by the goodness of our Lord obtain the victory.
     After this, sometimes our countrymen, sometimes the enemy, won the field, to the end that our Lord might in this land try after his accustomed manner these his Israelites, whether they loved him or not, until the year of the siege of Bath-hill, when took place also the last almost, though not the least slaughter of our cruel foes, which was (as I am sure) forty-four years and one month after the landing of the Saxons, and also the time of my own nativity.
J. Shoaf:

     Giles implies that Ambrosius's family were elevated to the purple (one possible interpretation of "clothed with purple", emphasizing the passivity of the parents thus clothed). See Winterbottom's note below.
     Giles takes as the subject of the verbs at the end of ch. 25 not the "remains [of the Britons] with AA as leader" but rather AA's degenerate descendents. The former seems to be correct, "reliquae" being a plural for the verb "capessunt" and the participle "prouocantes,"  while "suboles" (progeny) is singular.
      Giles places the 44 years before Badon and Gildas's birth; it corresponds to the period from the time of the landing of the Saxons (Gildas's Chapter 23) until the battle.

4. Michael Winterbottom, 1978 (transcribed by Kevin Bowman)
God gave strength to the survivors.... Their leader was Ambrosius Aurelianus, a gentlemen who, perhaps alone of the Romans, had survived the shock of this notable storm: certainly his parents, who had worn the purple, were slain in it.  His descendants in our day have become greatly inferior to their grandfather's excellence.  Under him our people regained their strength and challenged the victors to battle. The Lord assented, and the battle went their way.

From then on victory went now to our countrymen, now to their enemies: so that in this people the Lord could make trial (as he tends to) of his latter-day Israel to see whether it loves him or not.  This lasted right up to till the year of the siege of Badon Hill, pretty well the last defeat of the villains, and certainly not the least.  That was the year of my birth; as I know, one month of the forty-fourth year since then has already passed.
Excerpts from Winterbottom's notes, with comments:

"CERTAINLY.  The Latin might alternatively mean 'his parents, who had certainly worn purple'."
      (Bowman: Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews and others have convinced me that Winterbottom probably should have gone with the alternate translation here)
"PURPLE.  /Purpuram sumere/ is the late empire term for  to 'become emperor';  /induere/ carries a slight suggestion of 'assume without adequate qualification'. "
      (Shoaf: this seems to be the shade of meaning that Giles was going for.)
"THE YEAR.  The battle was fought in the year of Gildas' birth, about 43 years before he wrote.  He wrote before the death of Maelgwn, in the mid sixth century Justinian plague, in or before 550 (33.1 note); and before the monastics became a mass movement, in the 540's (65.2 note).  The date should therefore be in the 490's. "
5.  Keith J. Fitzpatrick-Matthews (revised 1/6/2012)
The remainder, strengthened by God... took up arms under the leadership of the Right Honourable Ambrosius Aurelianus (almost alone of the Roman race, he had survived the shock of so great a storm, his parents killed in the same, doubtless having assumed the purple, and whose offshoots in our days have greatly declined from their ancestral virtue) and calling the victors to battle, he gave them victory, with the Lord nodding (agreement).
From that time [the victory of Ambrosius] up to the year of the siege of the Badonic mount, and almost the newest (and not least) slaughter of the rascals, sometimes our people, sometimes the enemy were being victorious, so that in this the Lord might test in his usual way whether his people (the present Israel) loves him or not; and also is both counted the forty-fourth year (as I have learned), one month having already passed, and is also [the forty-fourth year] of my birth.


The "them" to whom Aurelianus gives victory are "the remainder" - it's a sentence with so many subordinate clauses that it's easy to forget who the object of _cessit_ is meant to be.
     I've taken the _quique... qui et..._ of the last sentence as an "and... also..." statement, with the implication that the siege and Gildas's age are in the forty-fourth year "from that time" (i.e. Aurelianus's victory). I stand by my earlier view that _obsessi[o] badonici montis_ is in the forty-fourth year from something (the most logical interpretation being Aurelianus's victory, as that's portrayed as the great turning point from "so great a storm") as I can see nothing in the text to uphold the view that now is the forty-fourth year from it.
     Well, that's my view and I'm sticking to it, at least until someone convinces me otherwise!
6. Kevin Bowman:

The survivors, with the Lord giving strength...(their leader being Ambrosius Aurelianus, that gentleman, who perhaps alone among the Romans survived the shock of that notable storm, in which his parents--decked in scarlet, no doubt--were killed, whose descendants now, in our times have degenerated greatly from grandfatherly excellence) regain their power, challenging the victors to battle, [and] with the Lord assenting, victory fell to them.

From that time, now the citizens, and now the enemy were victorious (so that the Lord, as is his usual practice, might test among this people, the latter-day Israel, whether they love him or not) right up until the year of the siege of Mount Badon, almost the last, though not the least slaughter of the villains, which year, with one month having already passed, begins as the forty-fourth (as I know), and is also the year of my birth.

This translation (which was based on Winterbottom's) attempts to accomplish several things different than those Winterbottom strove for. First, I have tried to make the English translation reflect the grammatical construction of the Latin wherever possible. Where Gildas has a single sentence, I have struggled to keep a single sentence. Where Gildas has ablatives absolute, I have tried to indicate those with participle phrases or prepositional phrases with participles. Where Gildas has verbs in the present tense, I have translated them into English present, so with "capessunt" "orditur" and "est". The purpose of all this, which renders the passage moderately less readable, is to facilitate discussion of the grammar underlying the translation, since this passage has been so notoriously difficult to translate and interpret.
     There are, I think, basically four controversial decisions that I have incorporated into the translation.
(1) I have rendered "purpura nimirum indutis," Gildas' description of Ambrosius' deceased parents as "decked in scarlet, no doubt." Winterbottom places a different emphasis on the "certainty" conveyed by nimirum. More controversially, I have translated "purpura" as "scarlet" instead of purple. This is to emphasize the aspect of "purpura" as being the color of oxygenated blood, which Gildas relies upon elsewhere. Gildas, I believe, is making a pun regarding the circumstances of Ambrosius' parents' death, and is not, as it has conventionally been read, seriously asserting anything about the nobility of Ambrosius' family.
(2) The relative "quique" (i.e., "qui" + the enclitic conjunction "que") which begins the clause with the forty-forth year, I am translating with the antecedent, "annum", the "annus"/"year" of the siege of Mount Badon.
(3) I also have treated the same "annum" as the antecedent of the relative "qui" in the last clause establishing the year of Gildas' birth.
(4) Finally, I have interpreted the month that has passed as describing when the siege of Mount Badon occurred, not when Gildas was born.

phrase modifying main clause
subordinating pronoun /conj.
verb of subordinate clause
subj. of subordinate clause phrase relevant to subject of subordinate clause
yet more

Tempore igitur interveninente aliquanto
Time therefore passing somewhat
recessisent domum
went home
crudelissimi praedones
cruellest predators

roborante Deo
with a strengthening God

the remnants
[of the Britons]

to whom
confugiunt undique de diversis locis
fled together from every side from various places
miserrime cives
most miserable citizens
tam avide quam apes alvearii
as eager as bees to the hive
procella imminente
in an impending storm

simul deprecantes eum toto corde
at the same time beseeching him with whole heart

et ut
and as
it is said
(no subject needed)
innumeris onerantes aethera votis
loading the air with innumerable prayers

(depends on "loading with prayers")
ad internicionem usque delerentur
to extermination so far they would be destroyed
(still cives)

duce Ambrosio Aureliano viro modesto
with as leader AA, a modest man

solus forte Romanae gentis
alone perhaps of the Roman people
tantae tempestatis collisione
in such a storm's breaking

occisis in eadem parentibus
having had slain in it relatives
purpura nimirum indutis
in purple no doubt clad



nunc temporibus nostris
now in our time


magnopere avita bonitate degeneravit
greatly from the ancestor's goodness have degenerated

vires capessunt
strength/courage they took
victores provocantes ad proelium
victors provoking to battle
(i.e., provoking the Saxon victors to battle)
quis (=quibus)
to whom
(but to WHOM? victores or reliquiae?)

domino annuente
with God approving

fell, befell