The Hard Evidence
The existence of Arthur as an historical figure can be traced back to only three written texts/books;
1. 'The History of the Britons' Written in Latin, but unfortunately written approximately three hundred years after the death of Arthur, in c.AD537, is supposed to have occurred:
'Then the warrior Arthur, with the soldiers and kings of Britain used to fight against the Saxons, and though there were many of more noble birth than he, he was twelve times leader of war and victor of the battles.'
This book also refers to the 'Battle of Badon':
'The twelfth battle was on Badon Hill and in it 960 men fell in one day from a single charge of Arthur's, and no one laid them low 'cept for he alone, and he was victorious in all his campaigns.'
(Extracts from - History of the Britons)
2. 'De excido et conqeustu Britannae', The Ruin and Conquest of Britain
Written by 'Gildas' (See Gildas, & Mystical-WWW Mystical Time : Dates, 29 January), (c.AD500-570), of the early Celtic Church. It is suggested that this book may possibly have been written during Arthur's own lifetime, but it does not mention Arthur at all, the reason for which is a subject of much debate. It does however mention the victorious 'Battle of Badon' referred to in The History of the Britons.
There are many reasons given for Gildas omitting Arthur but it is one sentence alone that links the two books together:
'From then on victory went now to our countrymen, now to their enemies. This lasted right up to the siege of Badon Hill.'
The reason for Arthur by name being excluded from the writings of Gildas could be explained by further analysis of who was responsible for compiling the book, if Gildas sought favour of any particular person, and whether there were any patrons involved who might have influenced the content, either Saxon or Norman. To the independent Celtic Church, of which Gildas was seen to be part of, the relationship of Arthur to the Norman's can be considered to have been a threat. 'Cadoc' (See Cadoc, & Mystical-WWW Mystical Time : Dates, 25 September), of the Celtic Church, writes very unfavourably of Arthur, in 'The Life of Cadoc', where Arthur is subject to a critical character analysis resulting in the image of a man of flawed stature and heritage.
3. 'Annales Cambriae', The Annals of Wales
The existence of the 'Battle of Badon', mentioned in both the previous books is confirmed by the third book, written during the so-called 'Dark Ages'. Here it is written:
'AD516, Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for three days and three nights on his shield, and the Britons were victorious'.
Here Arthur is seen to have been successful in battle and to be a defender of the Britons, and the Christian faith. This is the first explicit reference to Arthur's alignment with Christianity and an implied leader of men. The Annals of Wales account mentions that the battle takes place near a 'Mount Badon', which is believed by some to be located not in Wales but near 'Salisbury Hill', near the city of Bath (UK).
There are many places that have claimed to be the location of Arthur's last battle, known as the 'Battle of Camlan', the
most well-known being 'Slaughter Bridge', Cornwall, England. This is believed to have taken place some twenty years later after the Battle of Badon, at 'Camlan', Dorset (See Camlan), 'Liddington Castle', Wiltshire (UK), and 'Badbury Rings', Dorset (UK). Here history and legend are hinted at becoming blurred.
It has been suggested that the historical figure Arthur was also known as 'Atorius', also referred to as 'Artor' ('ploughman'). In the 'Historia Britonum', The History of Britain, (or as has been also translated The Marvels of Britain), written in AD810, by the Welsh monk known as 'Nynniaw', Artorius is a reference to the same Arthur described in history, a war-chief perhaps one embodying qualities of a personage of the Goidelic and Brythonic myths, but nonetheless the same Arthur who is prepared to lead men against the Saxons. The Historia Britonum is thought to have been edited in the ninth-century, this new work being associated with the monk 'Nennius', a name also given to his work. Nennius is known to have worked using the 'Cymric', or 'Kymric Chronicles' when re-editing the work, and when Arthur indicates the potential to become a semi-legend.
The name Artorius / Arthur is believed to come from the same root as 'Airem' in Goidelic (Irish) Kelt mythology, in which many of the principle personages can be seen to have very close similarities to those portrayed in Arthurian legend, as earlier known in Brythonic (British) Kelt mythology. For example, Airem had a brother called 'Emer', and were the sons of 'Golam' (or Mil). Airem and Emer are seen to be the equivalent of 'Romulus' and 'Remus', sons of the 'Mars the God'. Emer was slain by Airem, and married 'Etain' (Guinevere), daughter of 'King of the Echraidi'. Following their wedding, Etain was spirited away by 'Mider' (Mordred). Both the Goidelic and Brythonic myths clearly contain evidence of Druid tradition and practice, which is drawn on as inspiration in many of the later romanticised Arthurian legends. Indeed the strange circumstances surrounding the conception of Arthur are similar to the myths of 'Fionn' and 'Mongan', who create a child possessing mysterious powers who finally disappears to a land where no mortal dwells (Avalon/Annwn). It has been suggested that 'Artor', referred to by Nennius as 'Artorius', may be an equivalent to the Gaulish God known as 'Artaius', who is also associated with the 'God Mercury'. These ancient associations whilst perhaps serving to direct us towards viewing Artorius as a mythical person should be seen alongside the three books known to possess evidence of an Arthur as an historical figure, and the Battle of Badon as an historical event.
In his ninth-century, (possibly eighth-century) edited work Nennius presents the historical Arthur, 'Count of Britain', who is said to have led the Britons against the Saxons in a victorious progress of twelve battles, the last being at 'Mons Badonicus', 'Mount Badon'. Nennius is not clear as to the date of the battle itself, given as occurring between AD493-516. Perhaps this span of twenty-three years refers to the period when the twelve battles may have occurred culminating in the Battle of Badon. Nennius also makes reference to Illytd of the fourth-century Celtic Church, who was thought to be one of Arthur's cousins, (in legend one of his Knights and guardian, with Cadoc, of the Holy Grail).
Geoffrey of Monmouth (See Geoffrey of Monmouth) writing the 'Historia Regum Britanniae', the History of the Kings of Britain, in AD1147, indicates that the Battle of Badon took place in Bath, when the same Arthur in the same location described by Nennius was victorious over the Saxons. Geoffrey could be drawing on the Annals of Wales and the work of Nennius together to locate the battle at Bath, this decision being influenced by his Norman patronage. Yet Geoffrey describes the historical Arthur in new terms developing his personage even closer to that of a semi-legend, an Arthur having achieved victory with the use of 'a magical sword' named as 'Caliburn' (See Caliburn) which was said to have been 'forged in the Isle of Avalon' (See Avalon). We will see that this is not the first reference to a sword or to Avalon (See Taliesin), but the context has altered.
Of some dispute still is the exact date of the battle as early Welsh records indicate that it may have taken place not in AD516, but in AD518, but what we do know is that the battle took place. Evidence appears to suggest that Arthur was a leader of the Britons at this battle before a number of revised and edited works begin to appear.
It is now known that many of the books written or translated during the sixth-twelfth centuries were undertaken by people who could be traced to a Welsh, Norman and Saxon heritage or background, and that the Saxon Cycles may have purposefully ignored any reference to Arthur. It has been suggested that this may explain why the chronicler of the early Celtic Church, known as 'Bede' (See Bede : Mystical-WWW Mystical Time : Dates, 27 May), makes no reference to Arthur in his work 'Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum', a History of the English Church and People of AD730. This may also be the reason why there is no mention of the historical Arthur made in the 'Anglo-Saxon Chronicles'. It is now believed that it was in the interest of the Welsh, the Cornish and the Britons to maintain and build the legend of Arthur as a defence against Saxon domination, and a demonstration of their power. What is clear is that from the ninth-century the legends and the Arthurian Cycles begin to develop and excel.
Arthur's ability in battle is also briefly mentioned in the works of 'Aneurin'(See Aneurin), a northern bard, of around AD600.
What we begin to see is a military leader, the 'dux bellorum', an historical Arthur presented in early accounts as man worthy to be a King and Emperor of the Britons, and therefore a defender of the common man, laying the foundation for the development of the Arthur of legend.
READ CHAPTER 2