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The historical basis of King Arthur is a source of considerable debate among historians. The first datable mention of King Arthur in an historical context comes from a Latin text of the 9th century - more than three centuries after his supposed floruit in 5th to early 6th century Sub-Roman Britain - where he is styled as a British soldier (miles in the original Latin) fighting alongside of the British kings against the invading Saxons. Later texts regard him as a legendary king of the Britons. The king Arthur of Arthurian legend as it develops from the 12th century is detached from a possible historical character, and there is no consensus as to such a possible identity.


Historical context

In the 9th century Historia Brittonum, inserted between anecdotes concerning the death of Hengist (followed by the arrival of his son Octha) and the reign of Ida in Bernicia, we find a brief list of 12 battles said to have been conducted by the soldier Arthur and the British kings against the Saxons. This suggests that the Historia Brittonum's compiler believed Arthur's floruit to have been in the early-mid 6th century.

In the 12th century, Geoffrey of Monmouth's list of kings of the Britons, which was partially based on the chronology found in the Historia Brittonum, placed Arthur and Uther Pendragon in sequence between Aurelius Ambrosius and a Breton ruler named Constantinus (often erroneously identified with Constantine III), all of them Romano-British rulers placed in the Sub-Roman period of the 5th to 6th century. The search for a historical ruler corresponding to Arthur must thus focus on this period, later than the completion of Roman withdrawal in 410 but earlier than the historical kings of the Britons recorded from the mid 6th century.

During this period, dated to c. 446, a message is recorded by Gildas in his De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae, and later Bede, known as the Groans of the Britons, a last-ditch plea for assistance against barbarian incursions to Aëtius, military leader of the Western Roman Empire who spent most of the 440s fighting insurgents in Gaul and Hispania. It describes a people in extreme danger and was an attempt to persuade the late Western Roman Empire to send troops across the English Channel to help defend its former subjects from the Saxons. The collapsing Roman Empire had few military resources to spare during the period referred to as the Decline of the Roman Empire and, as is briefly described here, the record is ambiguous on what was the response to the appeal, if any. It is in this context of the incipient Anglo-Saxon invasion in the mid to late 5th century that the later legends of the "Matter of Britain" place Arthur.

Battle of Badon

A variety of sources name Arthur as the victor of the Battle of Mount Badon, at which the Saxons were routed and their invasions halted for many years. The battle itself is first mentioned in Gildas' De Excidio Britanniae, and historians regard it as a probable historical event[1] that might have taken place in 482 AD, according to one recent estimate.[2 ] Gildas does not name Arthur, or any other leader of the battle, though he does discuss Ambrosius Aurelianus as a great scourge of the Saxons immediately prior.[1] Gildas' Latin is somewhat opaque, but he does seem to say some time passed between Ambrosius' victory and the battle of Badon. He also tells us that he was born in the same year as the battle (which he describes as taking place "in our times" and being one of the latest - and greatest - slaughters of the Saxons) and that, at the time of his writing, a new generation born after the battle of Badon, has come of age in Britain.

Badon appears in several other texts, but Arthur is not associated with it until the Historia Brittonum of the 9th century.[3] Other accounts associating Arthur with Badon, such as the Annales Cambriae and Geoffrey of Monmouth's influential Historia Regum Britanniae, can be shown to derive directly or indirectly from the Historia Brittonum.

The name "Arthur"

The etymology of the Welsh name Arthur is uncertain, though most scholars favor either a derivation from the Latin gens name Artorius (ultimately of Messapic or Etruscan origin), or a native Brittonic compound based on the root *arto- "bear" (which became arth in Medieval and Modern Welsh). Similar "bear" names appear throughout the Celtic-speaking world. Those that favor a mythological origin for Arthur point out that a Gaulish bear goddess Artio is attested, but as of yet no certain examples of Celtic male bear gods have been detected.

John Morris argues that the appearance of the name Arthur, as applied to the Scottish, Welsh and Pennine "Arthurs", and the lack of the name at any time earlier, suggests that in the early sixth century the name became popular amongst the indigenous British for a short time. He proposes that all of these occurrences were due to the importance of another Arthur, who may have ruled temporarily as Emperor of Britain.[4] He demonstrates on the basis of archaeological findings that after a period of Saxon advance, it was halted and surrounded by Celto-Roman finds, before resuming again in the 570s. Morris also suggests that the Roman Camulodunum, modern Colchester, and capital of the Roman province of Britannia, is the origin of the name "Camelot".

Early sources

The earliest reference to king Arthur that can be dated confidently is the 9th century Historia Brittonum, usually attributed to Nennius, a Welsh ecclesiastic who was probably active in the early ninth century.[5] Nennius lists a dozen battles fought by Arthur, and gives him the title of "dux bellorum", which can be translated as "war commander". Nennius also says that Arthur fought "alongside the kings of the Britons", rather than saying that Arthur was himself a king. One of the battles Nennius lists appears to be the same as a great British victory mentioned by Gildas in an earlier history, the battle of Mons Badonicus, though Gildas does not give the name Arthur. Gildas in his De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae (or On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain) does mention a British king Cuneglasus who had been "charioteer to the bear".

There are a number of mentions of a legendary hero called Arthur in early Welsh and Breton poetry. These sources are preserved in High Medieval manuscripts, and cannot be dated with accuracy. They are mostly placed in the 9th to 10th century, although some authors make them as early as the 7th. The earliest of these would appear to be the Old Welsh poem, Y Gododdin, preserved in an 11th century manuscript. It refers to a warrior who "glutted black ravens [i.e., killed many men] on the rampart of the stronghold, although he was no Arthur".[6]

The Welsh poem Geraint, son of Erbin, written in the 10th or 11th century, describes a battle at a port-settlement and mentions Arthur in passing.[7] The work is a praise-poem and elegy for the 6th-century king Geraint, and is significant in showing that this historical king was associated with Arthur at a relatively early date.[7] It also provides the earliest known reference to Arthur as "emperor"[7] Geraint son of Erbin is earliest found in the Black Book of Carmarthen,[8] compiled around 1250, though it may date to the 10th or 11th century.[7] Y Gododdin was similarly copied at much the same time. The two poems differ in the relative archaic quality of their language, that of Gododdin being the older in form. However, this could merely reflect differences in the date of the last revision of the language within the two poems. The language would have had to have been revised for the poems to remain comprehensible.

The 10th century Annales Cambriae give the date of Mons Badonicus as 516, and Arthur's death as occurring in 537 at Camlann. These annals survive in a version dating from the tenth century. All other sources relating to Arthur by name are later than these; that is, they were written at least four hundred years later than the events to which they refer.[6]

The Legenda Sancti Goeznovii, a hagiography of the Breton saint Goeznovius dated to 1019, includes a brief segment dealing with Arthur and Vortigern. The Legenda is important for providing an early historical narrative of Arthur that is independent of Geoffrey of Monmouth's highly legendary Historia Regum Britanniae.[9]

Roman era candidates

Some theories suggest that Arthur was a historical individual of the Roman era.


Lucius Artorius Castus

In 1924 Kemp Malone suggested that the character of King Arthur was ultimately based on one Lucius Artorius Castus[10], a career Roman soldier of the late 2nd century or early 3rd century. This suggestion was revived in 1994 by C. Scott Littleton and Linda A. Malcor and linked to a hypothesis (below) that the Arthurian legends were influenced by the nomadic Alans and Sarmatians settled in Western Europe in Late Antiquity[11][12]. Littleton had earlier written about this hypothesis in 1978 together with Ann C. Thomas.

All that is known about Artorius’ life comes from two Latin inscriptions discovered in the 19th century in Podstrana on the Dalmatian coast. After a long and distinguished career in the Roman army as a centurion and then primus pilus, Artorius was promoted to praefectus legionis of the VI Victrix, a unit that had been stationed in Britain since c. 122 AD and headquartered at Eboracum (York). The praefectus legionis (otherwise known as the praefectus castrorum) served as third-in-command of the legion and was responsible for the general upkeep of the legionary headquarters; the position was normally held by older career soldiers who were close to retirement and they did not normally command any soldiers during battle (they remained at the headquarters during times of conflict)[13][14][15]. When Artorius term as praefectus legionis ended, he was assigned the temporary title of dux legionum and was put in charge of (or was responsible for the transfer of from one station to another)[16] some units with British associations of unknown size (perhaps multiple cohortes or alae; the inscription was damaged prior to the 19th century, so it is not certain which he commanded) in an expedition against an unknown enemy on the Continent (as best as can be determined from the damaged inscription, either the Armorici or the Armenians)[17][18]. After this (and no doubt due to his long, loyal service to Rome) he became civilian governor (procurator centenarius)[19] of the province of Liburnia, where he seems to have ended his days - likely at an advanced age – and was buried

In a hypothetical reconstruction of Artorius’ life[20][21], based in part on the groundwork laid by Malone and Helmut Nickel[22] (author and curator of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art's medieval arms and armor collection), Malcor proposes that Artorius successfully fought against Sarmatians in eastern Europe early in his military career and this experience with their unique fighting styles led to him being assigned in 181 AD (during the reign of Commodus) the command of a numerus of Sarmatians based at Ribchester (Bremetennacum) and that which campaigned at (and north of) Hadrian’s Wall (5,500 Sarmatians had been sent to Britain by the emperor Marcus Aurelius in 175 AD and many might still have been in the country during Artorius’ tour of duty there). Malcor contends that Artorius led these Sarmatians against invading Caledonians, who overran Hadrian’s Wall during the period 183185. Malcor then has Artorius (in 185 AD, after the collapse of his legion), return to the northern city of Eboracum, before being sent by the governor of Britannia to lead cavalry cohorts against an uprising in Armorica (modern Brittany). Malcor also suggests that Artorius’ standard was a large red dragon pennant (auxiliary forces did not use eagle standards), which is proposed as the origin of the Welsh epithet Pendragon “Dragon Chief/Head” (alternately, "Leader of Warriors") in Arthurian literature.

According to both Malone and Littleton/Malcor[23][24], Artorius' alleged military exploits in Britain and Armorica could have been remembered for centuries afterward, thus generating the figure of Arthur among the Welsh, Cornish and Bretons. This is linked to the original theory of Littleton, Thomas and Malcor which suggests that the folk narratives and history associated with the Alano-Sarmatians settled in Western Europe formed the core of the Arthurian tradition (see below).

Problems with the identification

Neither of Artorius’ inscriptions from Podstrana mention command of any full legions (as proposed by Malcor, et al.), or establish his command of the VI Victrix (no less any numeri), nor do the inscriptions provide any evidence of command of, or association with, Sarmatians, or indicate anything about his standard.

In the earliest descriptions of Arthur, he is not a king, but is rather a soldier, knight (miles in the medieval Latin of the Historia Brittonum) that acted as a dux bellorum (variant dux belli) or "commander of war(s)"; as also mentioned above, Artorius was assigned the title of dux legionum, literally "leader of the legions", during a military expedition late in his career. However, unlike dux legionum, neither dux bellorum or dux belli were actual titles or ranks in the Roman Army, rather they were generic Latin phrases used to describe any leader of an army, Roman or otherwise[25] (famous examples being the Biblical figure of Joshua, who was called dux belli of the Israelites in the Latin Vulgate Bible, Hanno the Great, called the dux belli of Carthage in Justin's Historiarum Philippicarum, and Saint Germanus of Auxerre, who was twice styled as dux belli by Bede[26]).

In the Historia Britonum, compiled shortly after AD 820, there is a list of twelve battles in which Arthur is stated to have been victorious. About three centuries later, Geoffrey of Monmouth in his History of the Kings of Britain, places these twelve battles in the north against barbarians. Based on the slimmest of evidence, seven of these battles have been matched by Malcor to battles Artorius could have fought in Britannia; but Artorius is not recorded as having fought in any known battles. Geoffrey also adds that Arthur fought a civil war, and twice took troops across the sea to Armorica, once to support the Roman emperor and once to deal with his own rebels. Depending on how one reads the phrase "adversus Arm[....]s" on the inscription from his sarcophagus, Artorius led British legions either in Armorica (according to Malcor's reconstruction of Artorius' biography, this was to help quell the bacaudic rebellions taking place in Western Europe in the late 2nd century AD) or in Armenia.

Medieval sources often place Arthur’s headquarters in Wales at Caerleon upon Usk[27], the "Fortress of Legions" (borrowed from Latin Castra Legionum). Though it may be purely coincidental, Eboracum, in the Vale of York, was sometimes referred to as Urbe Legionum or the "City of the Legion", and was the headquarters of the legio VI Victrix.

Critics of the Artorius hypothesis would argue that the obscurity surrounding Artorius makes this identification unlikely, as there seems to be little reason for him to have become a major legendary figure. No Roman historical source actually mentions him, or his alleged exploits in Britain. Nor is there any clear evidence that he ever commanded Sarmatians.[28][29][30]

5th century candidates

Sarmatian hypothesis

In 1978, C. Scott Littleton and Ann C. Thomas expanded on the ideas of Vasily Abaev and Georges Dumezil and published their theory of a connection between the related Alan and Sarmatian peoples and the history and later legend of King Arthur. According to this theory, cavalry units left behind in the Roman departure from Britain during the early 5th century became the nucleus of an elite in Dark Age Britain which still preserved elements of Alano-Sarmatian mythology and culture. In 1994 Littleton and Linda A. Malcor further developed this theory, identifying the Roman officer Lucius Artorius Castus, who may have commanded Sarmatian auxiliaries in the 2nd century, as the original basis for Arthur.

The Alano-Sarmatians were steppe nomads from what is now southern Ukraine, who fought from horseback with a kontos ('lance'), longsword and bow and carried a shield with a tamga marking, similar to heraldry. They wore scale armour and conical helms, and were known in the 2nd century for their skill as heavy cavalry. In 175, Marcus Aurelius, after defeating the Sarmatian Iazyges tribe during the Marcomannic Wars, forcibly hired 8,000 Sarmatians into Roman service. 5,500 of these recruits were sent to the northern borders of Britain. The 5th century Notitia Dignitatum mentions a "Formation of Sarmatians" (Cuneus Sarmatarum; cunei were small auxiliary units in the late Empire) being present at Bremetennacum (Ribchester), a location where earlier we find mention in inscriptions dating to the 3rd century AD of a "Wing of Sarmatians" (ala Sarmatarum) and a "Company of Sarmatian Horsemen" (numeri equitum Sarmatarum).

The culture of the Sarmatians has many similarities to the legends of Arthur. Apart from their skill as armoured knights, they held great, near religious, fondness for their swords — their tribal worship was directed at a sword sticking up from the ground, similar to the Sword in the Stone motif. They carried standards in the form of dragons, a symbol used by Arthur and his father Uther Pendragon according to the 12th century pseudo-history Historia Regum Britanniae. The Sarmatians also had shamans, which proponents have linked to Arthur's wizard Merlin.

Proponents of the 'Sarmatian connection' theory also look to the legends of the Sarmatians' descendants for evidence. The Ossetians, an Iranian people from Ossetia, a country in the Caucasus, speak the Ossetic language, the only Sarmatian language still spoken. The Ossetian Nart sagas, indigenous epics celebrating the exploits of an ancient tribe of heroes, contain a number of interesting parallels to the Arthurian legends. First, the life of the Nart warrior Batraz is tied to his sword, which must be thrown into the sea at his death. When the wounded Batraz asks his last surviving comrade to do the task for him, his companion tries to fool him twice before finally hurling the weapon into the sea. This is very similar to the tale of Arthur's wondrous sword Excalibur which had to be returned to the Lady of the Lake at his death by his last surviving knight, Bedivere. Like Batraz's friend, Bedivere is reluctant to lose such a wonderful sword and lies to his master twice before finally assenting. Additionally, the Nart heroes, Soslan and Sosryko, collect the beards of vanquished enemies to trim their cloaks, which is the practice of Arthur's enemy Rience. Like Rience, Soslan has one last beard to obtain before his cloak is complete. Two other similar motifs are the Cup of the Narts ("Nartyamonga"), which appeared at feasts, delivered to each person what he liked best to eat, and which was kept by the bravest of the Narts ("Knights") - somewhat similar to the Arthurian Holy Grail; and the magical woman, dressed in white, associated with water, who helps the hero acquire his sword, similar to the Arthurian Lady of the Lake.

Critics of the Sarmatian hypothesis note that much of the parallels or similarities between Arthurian and Sarmatian tales only occur in writings dating from and after Geoffrey of Monmouth (Latin: Galfridus Monemutensis - thus the terms "pre-Galfridian" and post-Galfridian") published Historia Regum Britanniae, which was a seminal influence on succeeding Arthurian works. Despite proponents' claims of Merlin, the Lady of the Lake, the Sword in the Stone and the Grail as crucial Arthurian elements (and therefore relevant in investigating Arthur's historicity), there is no mention of these in pre-Galfridian tales of Arthur. There is also no mention of Excalibur, then called Caledfwlch, being returned to (and in the first place, acquired from) a body of water. Some of the strongest similarities of Arthurian and Sarmatian tales occur in Thomas Malory's Le Morte D'Arthur, when Arthur and his warriors had already evolved into "knights in shining armor". Critics conclude that Sarmatian influence was limited to the post-Galfridian development of the tales instead of historical basis, if at all.[30]


Riothamus (aka Rigothamus or Riotimus, apparently meaning Kingliest or "Great King" (from Brittonic *rigo- "king", plus the Brittonic superlative suffix -tamo-) was a historical figure whom ancient sources list as "a king of the Britons". He lived in the late 5th century, and most of the stories about him were recorded in the Byzantine historian Jordanes' The Origin and Deeds of the Goths, written in the mid-6th century, only about 80 years after his presumed death.

Circa 460, the Roman diplomat and bishop Sidonius Apollinaris sent a letter to Riothamus, asking his help to quell unrest among the Brettones, British colonists living in Armorica. This letter still survives.

In the year 470, the Western Emperor Anthemius began a campaign against Euric, king of the Visigoths who were campaigning outside their territory in Gaul. Anthemius requested help from Riothamus, and Jordanes writes that he crossed the ocean into Gaul with 12,000 warriors. The location of Riothamus’s army was betrayed to the Visigoths by the jealous Praetorian Prefect of Gaul, and Euric defeated him in a battle in Burgundy. Riothamus was last seen retreating near a town called Avallon.

Geoffrey Ashe points out that, as above, Arthur is said by the early sources to have crossed into Gaul twice, once to help a Roman emperor and once to subdue a civil war. Assuming that Riothamus was a king in Britain as well as Armorica, he did both. Arthur is also said to have been betrayed by one of his advisors, and Riothamus was betrayed by one of his supposed allies. Finally, it is well known how King Arthur was carried off to Avalon (which Geoffrey of Monmouth spells "Avallon") before he died; Riothamus, escaping death, was last known to have been in the vicinity of a town called Avallon.

It is unknown whether Riothamus was a king in Britain or of Armorica; as Armorica was a British colony and Jordanes writes that Riothamus "crossed the ocean", it is possible both are correct. The name Riothamus has been interpreted by some as a title "High King", though there is no evidence for such a title being used by ancient Britons or Gauls and the formation of the name (noun/adjective + superlative -tamo- suffix) follows a pattern found in numerous other Brittonic and Gaulish personal names (for example, Old Breton/Welsh Cunatam/Cunotami/Condam/Cyndaf [Brittonic *Cunotamos "Great Dog"], Old Welsh Caurdaf [Brittonic *Cauarotamos "Great Giant"], Old Welsh/Breton Eudaf/Outham [Brittonic *Auitamos "Great Will/Desire"], Uuoratam/Gwrdaf [Brittonic *Uortamos "Supreme"], Old Breton Rumatam [Brittonic *Roimmotamos "Great Band/Host"], Gwyndaf [Brittonic *Uindotamos "Fairest/Whitest/Holiest One"], Breton Uuentamau [Brittonic *Uenutamaua: "Friendliest or *Uendutamaua: "Little Fairest/Whitest/Holiest (One)"]).[31]

Cognates of the name Riothamus survive in Old Welsh (Riatav/Riadaf) and Old Breton (Riatam).

Ambrosius Aurelianus

Ambrosius Aurelianus (also sometimes referred to as Aurelius Ambrosius) was a powerful Romano-British leader in Britain. He was renowned for his campaigns against the Saxons, and there is some speculation that he may have commanded the British forces at the Battle of Badon Hill. At any rate, the battle was a clear continuation of his efforts.

According to Gildas (an early British historian and priest who may have been born during Aurelianus’ lifetime) in his sermon, On the Ruin of Britain, following a massive Saxon invasion, Aurelianus was the only person who stayed calm, despite the fact that his parents and most other Roman settlers had been killed in the attacks. Subsequently, Aurelianus became leader of the remaining British (according to the Major Chronicle Annals, he rose to power in 479), organized them, and led them in their first victory against the Saxons, although subsequent battles went both ways. Gildas also writes that Aurelianus’ parents "wore the purple", and thus were apparently descended from Roman emperors. The Aurelii were a noted Roman senatorial family, and it is possible that Ambrosius was descended from them.

The Battle of Badon Hill, depending on varying sources and archeological evidence, was fought sometime between 482[2 ] and 516 (Gildas writes that the battle took place at the year of his birth) with most scholars accepting a date around 500. The location of the battle is unknown, though locations have been proposed over the years, including southwest England, perhaps near the city of Bath or the nearby Solsbury Hill, where an ancient hill fort existed, and somewhere to the north, in or near modern Scotland.

Badon Hill was fought between the British and the invading Saxons, believed to have been the South Saxons under their Bretanwealda (Lord of Britain, also spelled Bretwalda) Aelle, reigned 477-514. This title, used by the Saxons, is an odd one as it may be etymologically related to the Welsh Brythonic 'Gwledig' which some interpret as meaning 'Emperor', applied to a number of British rulers such as Cunedda. The Saxons were utterly defeated by the British (it is theorized that Aelle may have died in the battle), and did not again attack the Celts until 571; even by the 590s the Celts were still inflicting large defeats on the Saxon kingdoms, leaving a final "golden age" for Celtic civilization in Britain.

Gildas fails to name the commander at Badon but he refers to one of his contemporary "fetter kings" as having been "charioteer to the bear". Owing to a possible mistranslation of a word from Gildas, describing Aurelianus as either the "ancestor" or the "grandfather" of his descendants of Gildas’ generation, it is possible that Aurelianus lived in the generation before the Battle of Badon.

Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain also states that Arthur led the forces at Badon; on the other hand, Geoffrey is notoriously unreliable and much of what he writes is incompatible with factual history. However, Geoffrey makes Aurelianus (whom he calls Aurelius Ambrosius) a king of Britain, an older brother of Uther Pendragon, the father of King Arthur, thus relating Aurelianus and Arthur. He also states that Aurelianus was the son of a Breton ruler named Constantinus, brother of Aldroenus.

6th century candidates


Artognou was an inhabitant of 6th century Tintagel. He is known only from archaeology. A piece of slate bearing his name, and since (erroneously) dubbed the 'Arthur stone', was discovered during excavations of the 6th century layers under Tintagel Castle. It was apparently a practice inscription for a dedicatory plaque within the structure of a building or other edifice. The Latin inscription reads "PATERN[--] COLI AVI FICIT ARTOGNOU COL[I] FICIT" and has been translated as "Artognou descendant of Patern[us] Colus made (this). Colus made (this)". Artognou was the Late Brittonic form of a name that would later be rendered as Arthnou in Old Welsh and Artnou in Old Breton, meaning "Bear-knowing" or "Famous/Well Known Bear" (from Brittonic *arto- "bear" and *gna:wo- "knowing"; compare Modern Welsh arth "bear" and gno "evident, clear, manifest, well known"). The initial element, arth "bear", was very common one in Celtic personal names. From the same area, pieces of expensive 6th century Mediterranean pottery have been excavated, showing that this high-status site was controlled by a rich and powerful noble with trade links with distant civilizations. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth and subsequent medieval writers, King Arthur was conceived at Tintagel, though it is likely a coincidence that we find a man with a similar-looking name such as Artognou living here.

Athrwys ap Meurig

Amateur researchers Baram Blackett and Alan Wilson have re-interpreted Welsh manuscripts and other evidence to suggest that Arthur was Athrwys ap Meurig, possibly a king of Glamorgan and Gwent. They claim to have discovered what they believe to be two Arthurian artifacts of great importance, though serious questions about the provenance and authenticity surround the items. The first, discovered in 1983, is an alleged burial stone of Athrwys ap Meurig, which reads, "Rex Artorius, Fili Mavricius". The other, an electrum cross weighing some two-and-a-half pounds, discovered in 1990 and reads "Pro Anima Artorius" or "for the Soul of Arthur". The Latin grammar on both inscriptions is idiosyncratic and agrammatical, which has lead some to suggest that the inscriptions may be forgeries. Subsequently writers Chris Barber and David Pykitt identified Arthur with Athrwys by similar means, adding the suggestion that he emigrated to Brittany in old age, where he became known as Saint Armel. However, most scholars who have examined the names Athrwys and Arthur have rejected the idea of any similarity.[32] The Archaic Welsh spelling of the name Athrwys can be reconstructed as *Antrēs, based on the spelling Andres/Andrus found in the Latin Life of Saint Cadoc.[33] Iolo Morgannwg's various spellings of the name Athrwys (on one page writing it as Arthur) may account for the later confusion over the names.

Owain Ddantgwyn, the 'Arthur'

Graham Phillips and Martin Keatman, in their book, King Arthur: The True Story, argue that the name 'Arthur' was a mere title (see below) and that its recipient was Owain Ddantgwyn, an apparent King of Rhôs whom they relocate to Powys. From a passage in Gildas' De Excidio Britanniae, they interpret the description of Owain's son, Cuneglas, to mean that he was the successor at the 'bear's fort', the 'bear' or 'arth' being his father.

Artuir mac Áedáin

Though he was the eldest son of Áedán mac Gabráin, Artuir never became king of Dál Riata; his brother Eochaid Buide ruled after his father's death. When Áedán apparently gave up his role and retired to monastic life, Artuir became war leader, though Áedán was officially still king. Thus it was Artuir who led the Scotti of Dál Riata in a war against the Picts, separate from the later war with Northumbria. By this theory, Artur was predominantly active in the region between the Roman walls — the Kingdom of the Gododdin. He was ultimately killed in battle in 582. This is the solution proposed by Michael Wood [34]. In modern times, Artur's name is spelled Artuir.

Many aspects of the King Arthur legend correspond to Artuir’s life. Artuir made use of an old Roman fortress known as Camelon (possibly the later Camelot), and he died in battle near the river Allan , also known as Camallan (possibly Camlann). In myth, the mortally wounded Arthur was taken to an island called Avalon. In the 6th century there was an island surrounded by three rivers, Allan, Forth and Teith. On the island was a settlement called Invalone. This island was near the site of the real Artuir’s death and may be the inspiration for Avalon. It should also be noted that the earliest mentions of Arthur are in Welsh. The area of Scotland in which Artuir lived and fought (Strathclyde) was Welsh speaking at this time.

However, Artuir was not the only person named "Artur" or some variant of the name in his time. For example, here was also an Arthur in Pembroke. As such, Artuir and the others were more likely named for a figure who was already established in folklore by that time. Additionally, Artuir lived somewhat later than the time frame generally associated with a hypothetical historical Arthur. He was part of the generation born after the Battle of Mons Badonicus, one of the key events often associated with a 'historical' Arthur.

No historical basis

Some modern historians have suggested that Arthur had no historical basis, and was instead a mythological or folklore figure who was historicized over time. These historians point to the lack of hard evidence for a historical Arthur. Arthur is not mentioned in the writings of Gildas, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, or any other surviving manuscript dating between the 5th century and around 820.[35] Later sources that do mention Arthur, such as the Historia Brittonum and the Annales Cambriae, contain very little about a historical king or leader named Arthur. Historian Thomas Charles-Edwards noted this lack of evidence, saying that "at this stage of the enquiry, one can only say that there may well have been an historical Arthur [but …] the historian can as yet say nothing of value about him".[36] Recent scholarship has further questioned the reliability of the Historia Brittonum[37] and the Annales Cambriae.[38] Historian David Dumville summed up the position that Arthur was not a historical figure, saying, "I think we can dispose of him [Arthur] quite briefly. He owes his place in our history books to a 'no smoke without fire' school of thought ... The fact of the matter is that there is no historical evidence about Arthur; we must reject him from our histories and, above all, from the titles of our books."[39] Some scholars who hold this position note that other mythological figures have become historicized; one suggestion is that Hengest and Horsa were originally Kentish totemic horse-gods, ascribed a historical role by Bede.[40]

It has also been suggested that Arthur was originally a Celtic or prehistoric demi-god, whose legends were gradually adapted to fit historical fact as a means of keeping the Celtic legends alive after Christianity was introduced, though no evidence for a demi-god by this name (or any closely resembling it) has so far been discovered.

Arthur's story also bears many similarities to Celtic mythologies, such as the hero's possession of a magical weapon (see Gáe Bulg), the Lady of the Lake having many similarities to Celtic water deities, etc.

Still another theory is that Arthur was a completely legendary person, the hero of Celtic bards meant to inspire and enthrall listeners, similar to the Germanic stories of Beowulf. In fact, Beowulf was composed (c. late 8th Century) by Saxon settlers in Britain around the time the first stories of Arthur were emerging, and Arthur and Beowulf share several similarities: both were brave war-leaders who later became king; both carried magical swords; both were betrayed by their men; and both died without an heir. Dragons figure prominently in both stories, and, like Arthur's, Beowulf's name has ursid connections; the name Beowulf, literally "bee-wolf," is a kenning of "bear". The name of Bodvar Biarki, a figure who some identify with Beowulf, means "battle bear".

See also


  1. ^ a b Green, p. 31.
  2. ^ a b Ó Cróinín, Dáibhí and McCarthy, Daniel, pp. 237-8
  3. ^ Green, p. 41.
  4. ^ Morris, John (1977). The Age of Arthur: A History of the British Isles from 350 to 650. Chichester, West Sussex, United Kingdom: Phillimore & Co Ltd.  
  5. ^ Fletcher, Richard (1989). Who's Who in Roman Britain and Anglo-Saxon England. Shepheard-Walwyn. p. 112. ISBN 0-85683-089-5.  
  6. ^ a b Fletcher, Richard (1989). Who's Who in Roman Britain and Anglo-Saxon England. Shepheard-Walwyn. pp. 17–19. ISBN 0-85683-089-5.  
  7. ^ a b c d Bollard, John K. (1994). "Arthur in the Early Welsh Tradition". The Romance of Arthur: An Anthology of Medieval Texts in Translation (Routledge): 11-23.  
  8. ^ Jarman, A.O.H (1982). Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin. Gwasg Prifysgol Cymru. ISBN 0-7083-0629-2.  
  9. ^ Ashe, Geoffrey (1991). "Legenda Sancti Goeznovii"". in Norris J. Lacy. The New Arthurian Encyclopedia. New York City: Garland. pp. 204–205. ISBN 0-8240-4377-4.  
  10. ^ Malone, Kemp, "Artorius," Modern Philology 23 (1924-1925): 367-74
  11. ^ Littleton, C. Scott, Malcor, Linda, From Scythia to Camelot: A Radical Reassessment of the Legends of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table and the Holy Grail, New York, Garland, 2000
  12. ^ C.Scott Littleton - A.C. Thomas: "The Sarmatian Connection: New Light on the Origin of the Arthurian and Holy Grail Legends." Journal of American Folklore 91, 1978, pp. 512=27
  13. ^ Keppie, Lawrence, Legions and veterans: Roman army papers 1971-2000, Franz Steiner Verlag, 2000, p. 168
  14. ^ Webster, Graham, The Roman Imperial Army of the first and second centuries A.D., University of Oklahoma Press, edition 3, 1998, pp. 112-114
  15. ^ Mommsen, Theodor, Demandt, Barbara, Demandt, Alexander, A history of Rome under the emperors, Routledge, London & New York, 1999 (new edition), pp. 311-312
  16. ^ Breeze, David John, Dobson, Brian , Roman Officers and Frontiers, Franz Steiner Verlag, 1993, p. 180
  17. ^ Birley, Anthony, The Roman Government of Britain, Oxford, 2005, p. 355
  18. ^ Pflaum, Hans-Georg, Les carrières procuratoriennes équestres sous le Haut-Empire romain, Paris, 1960, p. 535
  19. ^ Webster, Graham, The Roman Imperial Army of the first and second centuries A.D., University of Oklahoma Press, edition 3, 1998, pp. 112-114
  20. ^ Malcor, Linda, "Lucius Artorius Castus, Part 1: An Officer and an Equestrian" Heroic Age, 1, 1999
  21. ^ Malcor, Linda, "Lucius Artorius Castus, Part 2: The Battles in Britain" Heroic Age 2, 1999
  22. ^ Nickel, Helmut, "Wer waren König Artus' Ritter? Über die geschichtliche Grundlage der Artussagen." Waffen- und Kostümkunde 17: 1, 1975, pp. 1=28
  23. ^ Littleton, C. Scott, Malcor, Linda, From Scythia to Camelot: A Radical Reassessment of the Legends of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table and the Holy Grail, New York, Garland, 2000
  24. ^ Malcor, Linda, "Lucius Artorius Castus, Part 1: An Officer and an Equestrian" Heroic Age, 1, 1999
  25. ^ Esmond Riddle, Joseph, Georges, Karl Ernst, Arnold, Thomas Kerchever A, Anthon, Charles, A copious and critical English-Latin lexicon, Harper & Brothers, 1856, p. 435
  26. ^ Higham, N. J. King Arthur, Myth-Making and History, London: Routledge, 2002 p. 142.
  27. ^ Karl, Raimund, Celtic Culture. A Historical Encyclopaedia, ed. John T. Koch. 2006. pp. 322-323
  28. ^ Melia, Daniel Frederick, Review of "From Scythia to Camelot. A Radical Reassessment of the Legends of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and the Holy Grail" by C. Scott Littleton; Linda A. Malcor, in "Western Folklore", Vol. 55, No. 2 (Spring, 1996), pp. 166-167
  29. ^ Snyder, Christopher A., "Arthurian Origins" in "A History of Arthurian Scholarship", Lacy, Norris J., ed., D. S. Brewer, 2006, pp. 15-18
  30. ^ a b "The Historicity & Historicisation of Arthur". Thomas Green's Arthurian Resources. Thomas Green.  
  31. ^ Lambert, Pinault, p. 464.
  32. ^ Bartrum, Peter C (1993). A Welsh Classical Dictionary. Aberystwyth: National Library of Wales. p. 136.  
  33. ^ Sims-Williams, Patrick, The Emergence of Old Welsh, Cornish and Breton Orthography, 600-800: the evidence of Archaic Old Welsh", Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, V. 38, 1991, p. 52
  34. ^ Wood, Michael (2007). In Search of Myths and Heroes. University of California Press. p. 255. ISBN 978-0520251700.  
  35. ^ Pryor 2004, pp. 22–27
  36. ^ Charles-Edwards 1991, p. 29
  37. ^ Dumville 1986; Higham 2002, pp. 116–69; Green 2007b, pp. 15–26, 30–38.
  38. ^ Green 2007b, pp. 26–30; Koch 1996, pp. 251–53.
  39. ^ Dumville 1977, pp. 187–88
  40. ^ Green 1998; Padel 1994; Green 2007b, chapters five and seven.
  • Geoffrey Ashe. (1985). The Discovery of King Arthur.
  • Mike Ashley. (2005). The Mammoth Book of King Arthur. ISBN 1-84119-249-X
  • Barber, Chris & Pykitt, David. (1993). Journey to Avalon.
  • Baram Blackett & Alan Wilson. (1986) Artorius Rex Discovered.
  • David F. Carroll (1996) Arturius: The Quest for Camelot. ISBN 0-9528410-0-2.
  • David N. Dumville. (1977). 'Sub-Roman Britain: History and Legend' in History 62.
  • Adrian Gilbert, Baram Blackett & Alan Wilson. (1998). The Holy Kingdom
  • Thomas Green (2007). Concepts of Arthur. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus. ISBN 978-0-7524-4461-1.
  • C. Scott Littleton & Linda A. Malcor. (1994). From Scythia to Camelot.
  • C. Scott Littleton & Ann C. Thomas. (1978). 'The Sarmatian Connection: New Light on the Origin of the Arthurian and Holy Grail Legends' in Journal of American Folklore 91.
  • Kemp Mallone. (1925). 'Artorius' in Modern Philology 22.
  • Graham Phillips & Martin Keatman. (1992). King Arthur: The True Story.
  • J.E Russell (2005) "The historical Arthur of Galloway"
  • Lambert, Pierre-Yves, Pinault, Georges-Jean, Gaulois et celtique continental, Librairie Droz, 2007, p. 464
  • Ó Cróinín, Dáibhí and McCarthy, Daniel. "The 'Lost' Irish 84-year Easter Table Rediscovered", Peritia, 6-7(1987-88): 227-242.

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