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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Arthur - King of the Britons - A New Idea On The Origin Of A Historical Figure

  I have just been reading a book King Arthur The true story by Phillips and Keatman. Graham Philips  Arthurian website is here.They conclude that Arthur was a real person who fought his major battle in raising the siege of a hill fort at Badon Hill [ Badon then being pronounced Bathon and being the site of the only warm water volcanic springs in Britain ie Bath} around 518.

    This fits such historic records as we have which are clear about the battle, though the earliest ones don't say who was in charge but do agree it was very decisive. Later ones say Arther killed 960 Saxons personally [ancient records often claim to have killed or beaten about 10 times what modern scholars think]. The archaeological record also shows that the Saxon kingdom of Sussex was essentially destroyed then, not being reformed for nearly a century. Looking at a map you will see that had they controlled Badon/Bath they would have been within a few miles of the Severn and isolated the remaining British tribes between Cornwall and Wales.

   There is no archaeological evidence of the battle site, not unexpected, but everything fits there. This is from the book's timeline:

460 AD - Ambrosius becomes leader of the British forces British defences are reorganised. There is an imperialist revival in Britain


470 A British contingent fights for Emperor Anthemius in northern France.


476 Odovacer defeats Emperor Romulus Augustubulus and proclaims himself king of Italy. The final collapse of the Western Roman empire occurs.


480 There is a military stalemate between the Britons and the Saxons in the south of England. The Angles Suffer defeat in the nothr. Cunorix is buried in Virconium.


485 Aelle defeats the British at Mearcredesburna.


485-8 Arthur fights for Ambrosius against the Angles.


488 Hengist dies and is succeeded by Octha. Arthur succeeds Ambrosius.


488-93 The Arthurian campaigns.


491 Aelle beseiges the fort at Anderida (Pevensey) and establishes the kingdom of Susse.


493 Arthur defeats Aelle and Octha at the Battle of Badon. The Anglo-Saxons retreat into south-east England.


495 Cerdic [Saxon} lands in Hampshire, possibly as a mercenary.


508 Cerdic achieves victory over a [local] British king named Natanleod, and establishes control over an area roughly the size of modern |Hampshire. An alliance is made between Cerdic and Cunomorus [Cunomourus is certainly also called Mark and there is evidence that Mark was the historical Modred - the alliance includes Cerdic marrying a Briton, assumed to be Modred's daughter].


519 The battle of Certicesford [safely identified as modern Charford near Salisbury].The Battle of Camlann {Arthur's final battle and presumably they are the same battle]. The death of Arthur [this being the book's position, assuming Arthur was a Briton king - I am assuming he was either wounded or that after 34 years and the British alliance falling apart as Britons and Saxons intermarried, decided to go home].


520 Virconium is abandoned [the book takes Virconium in Powys as Arthur's Camelot



    The book names Arthur as an alternate name for a Welsh king of Powys and Gwynedd recorded as Owain Ddantgwyn, whose capital was probably Viroconium, dismissing the alternative that he was a Brito-Roman named Artorius and assuming that the name derives from the celtic word for Bear used as a title {in the same way that Pendragon is certainly a title meaning chief dragon", the dragon being the symbol of Gwynedd which they had taken from the Romans).

     I like Artorius and want to put what I think is a credible variant.

    There is evidence that though the Romans had left Britain in the 470s the British tribes sent some auxiliaries to help the Roman army. Considering they were being exterminated by the Saxon invaders at the time this either indicates an enormous degree of loyalty to the Rome that had deserted them or that they wanted some Roman help in return. With the Empire being officially dissolved in 476 this is quite a good time for some remaining elements of the Roman army to leave for Britain as loyal Romans carrying Roman traditions into exile/The Roman army honourably sending aid to loyal savages begging for help/unemployed soldiers taking a job as mercenaries, according to taste. There are quite a few such examples in history.

      The British chiefs wanted a Roman general, tactically more sophisticated than them, and some elite troops (cavalry or trained and armoured infantry of which  both Britons and Saxons were short).

        A young officer called Artorius and a unit of auxiliary cavalry drawn from the Sarmatian tribes go, at the invitation of the British king Ambrosius to help stop the Saxon advance. [The Sarmatian horsemen, of whom the Ossetians are the descendants, definitely had the concept of drawing a sword from the ground as their symbol of leadership. They also had a particular story of a dying warrior who demands that his best friend destroy his sword by throwing it in the water, but the friend, not wishing to destroy a beautiful weapon, twice, doesn't but the friend twigs and on the 3rd occasion the sword is caught by a woman's hand]  Now here is what I believe is an original connection - "Artorius" is not merely a Roman name it is an ancient Etruscan one and there is a reference to Arthur, in a scene carved on the Cathedral of Modena in Italy which slightly predates the medieval knowledge of the character. Modena is nowhere close to Britain but it is in Etruscan territory. Just as somebody called Neil, living in the UK, is more likely than not to be Scots, or Northern Irish even though we have been part of Britain for centuries it is more than likely that a man named Artorius was a local of the Etruscan lands, of which Modena is the heart.
Modena Archivolt
ARTUS for Modena cathedral

    So Artorius landed in Britain in 485 in command of a cohort of Sarmatian auxiliaries. Rome's army could spare them particularly since the Britons would be paying and nobody else was paying Romans. It would not be the first time an Empire sent a tribe whose loyalty was not primarily to Rome well away from where they might meet some fellow tribesmen.

     Arthur is recorded as having fought 11 victorious battles. These battles were all across the country as far away as Scotland which fits with commanding a cavalry force in combination with whatever local tribal leaders/kings could raise [One telling argument against him being a Celtic king is that, despite the title given him later, the early records quite specifically refer to him not as a King but as the "war leader" of "the British kings" not even "other British kings". One can see why the British "kings" would vote to accept a Roman officer, tactically far more sophisticated than them and in command of cavalry forces that could put more fear into the Saxons at least as happily as they would accept a "king" who was another tribal leader. Just as the Phillipinos accepted MacArthur as their leader in WW2.

     King Arthur's Round Table, enters the written record shortly after Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his book, in a follow up written by a poet called Wace. However his writing was done near Cornwall, at a time we know the common people there still revered Arthur, so it is credible that he did not invent this but took a local legend. That doesn't necessarily mean to me that there was a physical Round Table but that there was a consensus that there was no order of precedence in the war council, not even for Arthur. That suggests Arthur as "dux bellorum" (literally war leader) was not the most powerful king and, at least until he won, considered almost a hired hand.

     History is replete with national heroes who actually come from an adjoining culture, usually a more sophisticated one and unite the nation they are founders, but not members of . Moses is an Egyptian name; Napoleon was Corsican; Hitler - Austrian; Stalin - Georgian; Alexander - Macedonian rather than true Greek; El Cid at least part Islamic; Herman from a family that had served the Romans; Che - Argentinian not Cuban;  Skanderbeg - Serb not Albanian; Bruce - as Norman as Scots. For Arthur to have been been just the most powerful British king is historically less likely.

     The other thing all the early records agree on is that they don't know where Arthur was buried. It is a major part of his mythic status. Arthur, having established a golden age of peace after decades of Saxon massacres, is, we are often told, going to return when the country needs him. The burial location of a king is an important thing at the time in the opposite way. It adds to the status of his successors, being able to provide physical proof of their right to rule as lawful descendants of such a king. Surely if Arthur had been Owain his descendants would made a big thing of where he was buried?

       The book suggests that Camlann, Arthur's final battle credibly placed in 519 and something close to a draw, was against an alliance of new Saxon invaders in Wessex in marriage coalition with Modred the king of Devon/Cornwall and a genuine historic figure. I suppose that he was wounded then and decided it was time to retire, back to Modena. In which case he did indeed depart with the Britons hoping for a return. Shortly thereafter archaeology suggests the British chiefs did fall to fighting each other. 70 years later the "Anglo Saxons" did renew their advance but the history of the Wessex Saxons family whose leader Cerdic was followed by a son whose name was part Saxon, part Briton and a grandson with a wholly Briton name suggests it was a melding rather than the genocide it had been.

      Though there is a lack of historical record of him there is a lack of historical record of  EVERYBODY at the beginning of the British Dark Ages. However there is record of a number of different British kings calling their children Arthur - a name previously unknown.  This means there must have been a real Arthur.

      I am not certain on this but it appears these subsequent Arthurs appear in several different royal families which, in another point I have not seen suggested elsewhere, suggests the original Arthur was not the king of any local dynasty, with whom each of the others were competing. That means not a dominant Briton tribal king. There is no question that the time Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote of him and he entered literary recognition Arthur was still a popular heroic figure to the entire population not just, or even particularly, of the people of Powys.

      Is all of this correct - unlikely. However I would stand by most of it being and certainly of arthur being a genuine historical figure and I think every single fact here is more likely than anmy single alternative.

       A cocktail party theory I would not stand by is of Camelot not being Viroconium but Colchester in Essex. The big thing in favour of it is that in the Roman era its name was Camulodunum which would clrearly have been spoken commonly as Camelot. The big thing against is that its location is in Essex, the heart of the main apparently undefeated Saxon kingdom, which I grant is a big "against". However if we assume Badon was such a great victory that the Arthurian forces did indeed defeat and occupy all the Saxon lands then Colchester would have been a good place for a Roman Arthur to set up his military headquarters, though if he was king of Powys then such a relocation becomes unlikely. Certainly Arthur's court has more the feel of a military order than a civil capital city. Some support for this is given by the fact that, despite Camelot now being the magnificent capital city out of myth it was not Arthur's capital in the original story by Geoffrey of Monmouth. "The castle is mentioned for the first time in Chrétien de Troyes' poem Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, dating to the 1170s ...Nothing in Chrétien's poem suggests the level of importance Camelot would have in later romances. For Chrétien, Arthur's chief court was in Caerleon in Wales; this was the king's primary base in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae and subsequent literature." Geoffrey was native to Caerleon so his identification of it as Camelot looks more like local pride than reality but nonetheless for anywhere other than Camelot to have been seen as the capital is at least consistent with it being a forward military base.
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     I once visited Tintagel Castle [according to legend Arthur's birthplace, his father being "both" the king of Devon/Cornwall and Uther Pendragon king of Gwyned/Powys. Possibly both kings, or rather their successors, had agreed to "adopt" him as their sons, a practise common with Roman Emperors too]. The castle ruins there were medieval and put there so that the local lord could bask in the association. But there are late Roman remains and it is defensible. And on the highest rock there is the carved image of a foot - a common Celtic symbol that the true king's foot will fit that footprint. {there is one on Dumbarton Rock capital of ancient Strathclyde in Scotland too and the idea of the Stone of destiny is clearly a development of that].

    So Arthur did, in a few short years bring a last, post Roman, golden age of peace, did decisively win a battle which, if lost would have put the Britons beyond hope of recovery and ensured that the country that eventually  developed was a culture of mixtures rather than extermination.

    I hope Arthur got back to the sunshine and grape juice of Modena. The fact that 6 centuries later he was recorded, in a frieze in Modena Cathedral and nowhere else so remote strongly suggests that he, or at least his friends did and the story became famous there. I have no idea what if the records there, if any, compare with those of Britain of the time, but it might be a fruitful area of research.

Solsbury/Badon Hill - overlooking Bath/Bathon/Badon and site of an iron age fort

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Comments:
Arthur was from Kelso: everyone knows that. Merlin was perhaps the last druid - he's stamping grounds were the woods of Dumfriesshire.

In other words, they were both Men of the North.
 
I beg your pardon: "his".
 
Now you've solved the question of Arthur, surely you could take a stab at finding Atlantis?
 
Atlantis was Minoan Crete. Plato got the distance wtrong by a factor of 10 but this is not unusual in ancient times (as referred to above). |The eruption credited, possibly wrongly, with destroying it was on Thera about 1600BC. This is not exactly original to me. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minoan_eruption
 
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