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KING ARTHUR (PART IIΙ): Some literary, archaeological and historical evidence

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sutton_hoo_helmet
A replica of the Sutton Hoo helmet which was discovered in an Anglo-Saxon burial. At first, the Anglo-Saxons met large difficulties after their landing on the British shores and some of them had to return to their ancestral home in modern Germany. But after the alleged death of Arthur or the possibly historical military commander of the Britons that he represents (or the fall of the dynasty that he represents), they finally gained military superiority over the latter, conquering the lands that later became England.
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Late Roman helmet2
A Late Roman helmet rather of Persian distant origin, used also by the Briton inheritors of the Roman military tradition.
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By Periklis Deligiannis
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CONTINUED from  PART II
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If Arthur was an historical personality, he probably had his headquarters in contemporary Southwestern England, the land of the Dumnonii and their sub-tribes, where Tintagel and Cadbury are located. It is likely that he was a Dumnonian. However, many researchers believe that he came from other British regions, with the stronger versions being the ones of Wales and modern Northern England or Lowland Scotland (theory of a ‘Northern Arthur’). Concerning the opinions on the origin and the seat of Arthur (which are not as strongly supported by the existing data as that of Dumnonia), I will mention only the following: the legends on Arthur often connect him with Brittany (West Armorica) and the rest of Northern Gaul, while it should also be observed that the main directions of the Anglo-Saxon advance followed the British south coast and the Thames Valley. If Arthur resided in Wales or Northern Britain, it would be difficult for him to have frequent contacts with Gaul or restrain the “spearhead” of the Saxon invasion.
According to Geoffrey, when Arthur campaigned in Gaul, he left Mordred, his nephew, as protector of his throne. Mordred usurped his power together with his queen, Guinevere. Arthur faced the usurper and his forces on the banks of the River Camel. In the bloody battle, all the knights were killed except three. Arthur and Mordred were among the survivors, then clashing themselves in a duel. Arthur surprised Mordred and wounded him mortally. Before he drop dead, he managed to strike Arthur with a crushing blow on his face. After the battle, nine hooded women carried Arthur on a boat to the island of Avalon (Insula Avallonis), where he died. According to the Welsh legend, the king survived and still lives sleeping in a cave near Avalon, waiting for the right moment to return to his people and to evict the barbarians from Britain. Geoffrey seems to adopt the Welsh legend, because he does not mention that Arthur died. However it is recognized that if Arthur was buried somewhere, his grave was in the mythical island of Avalon, of unknown location.

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KING ARTHUR (PART IΙ): Some literary, archaeological and historical evidence

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Spangenhelm Hofbourg Museum
The spangenhelm, of Sarmatian origin, became popular in both Romans and barbarians because of its cheap cost of construction and the effective protection that offered. Its construction was simple, made of metal fragments which were bound tightly together. Especially towards the end of the Western Empire and after that, the spangenhelm variety of helmets became rather the most popular group. This group was also used by some Romano-Britons and their Anglo-Saxon enemies.
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britannia_draco_

A Romano-Briton of the 5th cent. AD with his hound, possibly watching the Anglo-Saxon enemy. He is holding the standard of the Dragon, of Sarmatian origin, and wears a Late Roman helmet of Persian design. The strong Iranian influences on the Late Roman army survived for a long time among the Briton fighting men (reenactment by Britannia)
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By Periklis Deligiannis
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CONTINUED from PART I
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According to legend, when King Arthur needed a new sword, the Lady of the Lake emerged from the water and handed him the sword Excalibur. The sword’s name probably derives from the Roman ‘Caliburnus’ meaning ‘steel’ and indicates the material of the blade. Excalibur’s episode is likely rooted in the known Celtic ritual of dropping the swords of mighty warriors who died, in lakes or rivers to symbolize their passage to the netherworld. Archaeologists have found countless ancient swords at the bottom of lakes and rivers of Britain and other Celtic lands. However, the Sarmatians had also similar traditions. The Sarmatians and the Iranian nomads generally attributed (as the Celts did) “magical properties” in their swords surrounding them with respect, a custom which survived in the tradition of Medieval European Chivalry. Here, the Celtic tradition correlates with the Sarmatian tradition.
Chretien de Troyes quotes that Arthur lived in the strong fortress of Camelot, from where he controlled his territory living a rather luxurious life. Some scholars believe that Camelot was the Roman Camulodunum (modern Colchester) because this toponym is analyzed as ‘Camelot-dun’. The Celtic word dun means the fortress, e.g. Lund-dun i.e. modern London, Lug-dun modern Lyon (Roman Lugdunum) etc. However, perhaps there were some other Briton towns also named Camelot/Camulon (Camulum). The hypothetical Camelot of the 5th-6th centuries would have been a wooden fort on a hilltop, according to the British Celtic stereotype. In 1542, John Lelant, a researcher and collector of archaeological finds, observed in modern Somerset, the existence of the River Cam and two villages known as West Camel and Queen Camel. The three toponyms are originated from the same verbal root ‘Cam’ as “Camelot.” In a distance of 7 km from the Camel villages, Lelant observed the Cadbury hill. In the 16th century, the hill was found surrounded by four rows of defensive ramparts and moats. These were the fortifications of a fortress of impressive size. Lelant thought that he spotted the legendary Camelot at Cadbury hill, but he had no archaeological evidence to prove it. In the 1950s, British archaeologists began excavations at Cadbury hill and confirmed the existence of a large fortress of the Dark Ages. At its southwestern part, they discovered the foundations of the main gate and confirmed the existence of a wooden wall with a very long perimeter. The inner rampart was made of wood and stones, a style unique to Britain, found only in Cadbury. The fortress was dated to the 4th-5th centuries, from the utensils and other items found inside. This is probably the biggest British fort of this age, with a probable area of 7-8,000 square meters. Although only a part of its area is excavated, it is obvious that it was the seat of a powerful commander of the 4th-5th centuries.

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KING ARTHUR, ARTHURIAN LEGEND AND THE SARMATIANS – PART II

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 Sarmatian sword ring pommelssssss

Left:  Sarmatian  sword  with  the  distinctive  ring-type  handle  ending. A  leather strap  was  probably  tied  in  the  ring  and  in  the  hand  of  the  warrior  as  well,  in  order  to  prevent  the  loss  of  the  sword  during  combat.

Right: a spangenhelm, popular to  the  Sarmatians (many  researchers consider  it to be of  Sarmatian  origin), the Later Romans, the Romano-Britons  and  many  barbarian   peoples (Goths, Huns, Saxons  etc.)

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By  Periklis  Deligiannis

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Continued  from  PART  I

Arthur’s  warriors  are  described  as  knightsSome  scholars  believe  that  this  description  is  due  only  to  the  fact  that  in  the  time  of  Geoffrey of  Monmouth,  every  hero  had  to  be  a  knight. But  this  view  is  rather  superficial  and  incorrect  because  there  is  clear  evidence  that  in  the  5th-6th  centuries, the  Romano-Britons  had  a  strong  heavy  cavalry,  which  probably  was  their  main  military  striking  force.  The  cataphract (heavy  armoured)  Sarmatian  cavalrymen  were  in  fact  the  first  knights  of  the  European  history,  the  founders  of  European  Chivalry  according  to  the  most  popular  view.

The  Sarmatian  armies  included  among  other  types  of  combatants,  many  cataphract  cavalrymen  protected (like  their  horses)  with  nearly  full-length  metal  armor  (usually  scale  armor).  They  also  included  many  horse-archers  and  horse-spearmen  without  any  cuirass.  The  cataphracts  fought  mainly  as  lancers  with  a  long  heavy  spear  (like  the  subsequent  European  knights) as  their  main  offensive  weapon.  They  were  also  carrying  a  composite  bow,  a  long  sword  and  a  dagger.  The  familiar  to  us,  figure  of  the  Late  Medieval  European  knight  was  created  when  the  East  Germanics  (Goths,  Vandals,  Burgundians),  the  Suebi  Germanics  (Marcomanni,  Longobards/Lombards,  Quadi)  and  the  Romans  adopted  the  full  Sarmatian  cavalry  equipment.  The  decimation  of  the  Roman  army  by  the  Gotho-Sarmatian  cavalry  at  the  battle  of  Adrianople  in  378  AD,  established  the  dominance  of  the  knight  (cataphract)  during  the  Middle  Ages.  The  Normans  of  Northern  France  were  the  ones  who  shaped  the  final  form  of  chivalry.

At  this  point,  Ι  have  to make  a  remark  on  the  origins  of  the Normans. The  Normans  are usually  described  by  the  modern  historians as  the  descendants  of  Danish  Vikings , but  in  reality  they had  little  to  do  with  them. Danish  ancestry  was  in  fact  very  limited  among  the  Normans. They  were  mainly  the  descendants  of  the  Latinized  Gauls (specifically Aulerci  and  Belgae/Belgians) of  the  mouth of  the  Seine  who  adopted  a  Scandinavian  national  name (Normans,  meaning  the  People  of  the  North) mainly  for  propaganda  purposes  and  also  a  few  Scandinavian  elements  of  culture and  warfare.  The  primary  historical  donation  of  the  Danes  to  the  Normans  was  the  complete  independence  of  Normandy  from  France  and  the subsequent  “making”  of  the  Norman  national  identity.  Another  racial  component  of  the  Norman  people  were  the  Sarmatian  Alans,  as  we  shall  see  below.

Returning  to  the  Arthurian  Era,  in  Britain,  the  “knights”  of  Arthur  probably  consisted  of  Latinized  and  Celtisized  descendants  of  the  Sarmatian  mercenaries,  and  of  Celtic  cavalrymen  who  fought  in  the  Sarmatian  way.  The  Iazyges (Iazygae)  of  Bremetennacum  are  mentioned  in  the  early  5th  century  as  “the  army  of  the  Sarmatian  veterans“.  They  probably  survived  until  then  as  a  national  entity,  even  speaking  Latin  instead  of  their  native  Iranian  language.  Furthermore,  almost  all  of  the  Sarmatians  of  the  Roman  Empire  were  already  Latinized  linguistically.  It  is  also  certain  that  many  Alans  (the  most  populus  Sarmatian  tribe)  settled  in  Britain  as  mercenaries.  Some  modern  scholars  have  theorized  that  the  modern  British  personal  name  Alan  and  the  French  or  generally  Neo-Latin  Alain/Alen  come  from  the  Alans.  When  members  of  this  people  settled  en  masse  in  western  Europe  and  were  assimilated  by  the  natives,  they  turned  their  national  name  to  a  personal  name:  Alanus  in  Latin (modern  Alan, Allen, Alain, Alen).  Large  groups  of  Alans  settled  as  local  aristocracies  in  Northeastern  Spain,  Northern  Africa,  Northern  Gaul  (giving  their  name  also  to  the  region  of  Alencon),  etc.

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KING ARTHUR, ARTHURIAN LEGEND AND THE SARMATIANS – PART I

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Wulfheodenas

 Reenactment  of a Saxon warlord by the Historical association Wulfheodenas.  Until  the  9th  century  AD,  the  marching  Anglo-Saxons  gradually  conquered  the  greatest  part  of  the  former  Roman  territories  in  Britain. 

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By Periklis  Deligiannis

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In  AD  175  ,  the  Roman  emperor  Marcus  Aurelius  settled  thousands  of  Sarmatian  cavalry  mercenaries  in  Britain.  Two  centuries  later,  the  Western  Roman  Empire  withdrew  her  troops  from  the  island.  It  seems  that  the  independent
”British  kingdom”  preserved  its  unity  and  coherence  but  soon  after  it  was  struck  by  the  ruthless  Anglo-Saxon  invasion.  The  Sarmatians  were  now  merged  with  the  Celtic  and  Romano-Briton  population,  taking  the  lead  in  checking  the  barbarians.  This  Sarmatian  presence  in  Britain  consists  probably  the  historical  background  of  the  legend  of  king  Arthur  and  his  Knights  of  the  Round  Table.

The  Romans  conquered  modern  England  and  Wales  during  the  1st  century  A.D.  The  tribes  of  Caledonia  (Caledonii,  Cornavii/Cornovii,  Venicones  etc.)  which  corresponds  to  the  modern  Scottish  Highlands,  remained  independent.  By  the  4th  century,  her  peoples  had  been  incorporated  into  the  tribal  union  of  the  Picts  (Picti,  Pictae).  Their  name  meant  the  “painted  ones”  in  Latin  because  of  the  ancient  Celtic  custom  of   tattooing  which  they  maintained.  In  fact,  they  called  themselves  Cruthni.  The  Romans  held  Britannia  for  more  than  three  centuries,  but  the  Christianization  and  Latinization  of  its  population  were  confined  only  to  the  cities  and  in  a  few  Southeastern  rural  regions.  The  great  majority  of  the  population  remained  Celtic  in  language  and  in  cults.  Especially  the  rural  populations  were  greatly  influenced  by  the  Christian  heresy  of  Pelagianism.  In  the  late  4th  century  AD,  the  original  Roman  province  of  Britannia  was  split  into  four  provinces:  Caesaresia  Magna,  Caesaresia  Flavia,  Britannia  I  and  Britannia  II.  The  tribes  of  Caledonia  and  Ireland  were  raiding  the  Romano-British  territory  for  centuries.

The  Irish  were  crossing  the  Irish  Sea  with  their  light  vessels,  the  Celtic  curraghs.  The  Caledonians-Picts  were  attacking  the  Romano-British  population  by  land  and  sea,  using  the  same  type  of  ships.  Caledonia  and  Britannia  were  separated  by  a  “neutral  zone” (buffer  zone  in  fact)  between  Antoninus’  and  Hadrian’s  Walls,  which  is  almost  equivalent  to  the  modern  Scottish  Lowlands. The  limits  of  Caledonia  (latter  Pictland)  followed  roughly  the  modern  ‘unofficial’  boundaries  between  the  Highlands  and  the  Lowlands  of  Scotland.  The  tribes  of  this  buffer  zone  between  Britannia  and  Caledonia  (the  Damnonii,  the  Selgovae  et. al.)  had  lived  for  two  decades  of  the  2nd  century  AD  under  direct  Roman  control  that  had  reached  Antoninus’  Wall (Vallum  Antonini).  When  they  revolted,  the  Romans  evacuated  this  region  and  restored  the  line  of  their  defense  in  Hadrian’s  Wall (Vallum  Adriani).  Eventually  the  Romans  made  allied  vassals  (foederati)  the  tribes  of   Lowland  Scotland,  using  them  as  a  buffer  zone  against  the  Caledonians/Picts.  However,  their  fidelity  was  always  questionable  and  the  gradual  weakening  of  the  Empire  led  them  to  raiding  the  Romano-British  territory.

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KING ARTHUR: A synoptic study on his Historicity and his Deeds

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By  Periklis    Deligiannisanglosaxon1

British  and  Anglo-Saxons  around  500  AD  (map  copyright:  Ian  Mladjov).

[This  article is in fact a part of my book  ‘The Celts‘, Periscope publ., Athens 2008, unfortunately available only in Greek]


King  Arthur’s  deeds  belong  to  the  major  national  legends  of  Britain.  The  exploits  of  the  Knights  of  the  Round  Table,  the  shining  Camelot,  the  noble  and  benevolent  king  and  his  blessed  reign,  his  queen  Guinevere,  his  knights  Lancelot,  Parsifal,  Bors  and  others,  are  now  a  major  part  of  the  world  cultural  tradition.  Aside  from  the  romantic  late  medieval  atmosphere  that  Geoffrey  of  Monmouth  infused  to  the  Arthurian  Legend  (who  first  narrated  it  in  the  12th  c.  AD  in  his  book  “History  of  the  Kings  of  Britain“),  the  historical  reality  was  very  different.

In  407  AD  the  Western  Roman  Empire  withdrew  its  last  regular  soldiers  from  its  British  provinces.  The  Roman  emperor  advised  the  British  Celts  and  the  Romano-British  to  arrange  themselves  for  their  defense  against  the  Anglo-Saxon,  Pict  (of  Caledonia/modern  Scotland)  and  Irish  raiders  who  ravaged  their  territory.  The  Romano-British  and  British  warlords  followed  his  advice  and  elected  a  Duke  –  a  military  leader  –  possibly  with  the  title  of  the  “Supreme  Ruler”  or  “Supreme  Commander”,  whose  duties  was  to  resolve  their  disputes  and  lead  the  war  effort  against  the  invaders.  Vortigern,  the  warlord  of  the  Ordovices/Pagnenses  (a  Celtic  people  in  Powys,  modern  Central  Wales),  was  a  well  known  Supreme  ruler/commander  of  Britain  during  the  5th  century.  He  relied  mostly  on  Anglo-Saxon  mercenaries  to  repel  the  invaders  (and  their  Anglo-Saxon  compatriots  too)  and  to  impose  its  authority.

The  term  “Anglo-Saxons”  is  the  modern  conventional  name  of  a  major  tribal  union  of  Germanic  (and  a  few  Slav)  invaders  in  Britain,  originating  mostly  from  modern  Northern  Germany,  Netherlands,  Jutland  (Denmark)  and  Norway  (the  latter  not  to  be  confused  with  the  Viking  Norwegian  colonists  of  the  8th-10th    cents  AD  in  the  British  islands).  This  tribal  union  consisted  of  Saxons,  Engles  (in  Germanic:  Engeln,  in  Byzantine  Greek:  Inglini),  Frisians,  Jutes,  Proto-Norwegians  (Northwestern  Scandinavians),   Angrivarii,  Brukteri (Boruktuari),  Westphali (Westphalians),  Ostphali,  Franks,  Thuringians,  Wangrii  and  others.  The  more  numerous  among  them  were  the  Saxons,  thereby  the  Anglo-Saxon  group  is  often  called  only  by  their  own  ethnic  name  (Saxons,  named  by  their  fierce  Germanic  war  knife,  the  ‘Sax’).

Arthur

A  representation  of  Arthur  and  his  Late  Roman/Romano-British  heavy  cavalry  (“Knights”)  by  the  British  Historical  Association Comitatus.. Note  the  ‘Draconarius’ standart-bearer,  bearing the  Sarmatian  standart of  the  Dragon.

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