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


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.

Late Roman helmet2
A Late Roman helmet rather of Persian distant origin, used also by the Briton inheritors of the Roman military tradition.

By Periklis Deligiannis
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.



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


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.


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)
By Periklis Deligiannis
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.


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


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’).


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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