Could Arthur have been a Welsh leader?

Much of the search for historical evidence supporting the existence of King Arthur has focused on finding references to him in contemporaneous historical records and discovering ruins of his legendary castles.

ARCHEOLOGICAL FOCUS:

Tintagel: Arthur’s Birthplace:  Much of the archeological search for evidence of Arthur has focused on Tintagel Island, where legend says he was conceived and born.  Tintagel Island is just off the coast of Cornwall, England.

There is an ancient ruin on Tintagel Island.

Ruins on Tintagel Island

Until the summer of 1983, archeologists had believed that the ruins were of a monastery, not a castle.  But that summer, a fire uncovered “a pattern of completely unsuspected foundations”, which were rectangular, not circular, as was typical of monasteries in the early middle ages.  Further, as evidenced by the artifacts uncovered, the ruins had been continuously occupied by different cultures from the arrival of Roman forces in the area to the Anglo-Saxon conquest in the seventh century.  Had the site been a monastery, there would probably have been more continuity with respect to the artifacts unearthed.  (Thomas, 425).

Cadbury Hill Fort: A Possible Site for Camelot: Oral history and folklore maintained that Cadbury Hill was the site of Arthur’s legendary castle and the round table.  Of interest is that this legend persisted and was recorded by King Henry VIII, despite the fact that no archeological ruins were visible to the naked eye (Ogden-Korus).

Cadbury Hill Ruin

Later archeological expeditions have discovered the ruins of a heavily fortified stronghold which had likely been constructed in the 5th or 6 century (Ogden-Korus).

Map of the Archeological Site at Cadbury Hill.

HISTORICAL RECORDS:

The documentary evidence pointing to a real-life Arthur who led the Welsh is not definitive.  Welsh medieval texts mention Arthur as a warrior who led the people who lived in what is now modern day Wales to several victories.

According to the Welsh texts, Arthur won a decisive victory against the advancing Saxons at Mons Badonicus around 496 AD.  The victory halted the Saxon advance.

Medieval Depiction of the Battle of Badonicus

The actual site of the battle is unknown, but scholars guess it may have been in Sussex or possibly near Bath (BBC).

The Welsh Medieval texts never refer to Arthur as a king, and instead called him ameraudur (emperor or war leader).  Based on those records, some scholars maintain that Arthur was a Romano-British warrior leader defending Britain against Anglo Saxon invaders in the late fifth or early sixth century (BBC).

LITERARY FOCUS:

The earliest references to King Arthur are in the Welsh poems.  Therefore, some argue that the inspiration for the tales must have been Welsh.  However, while dating the poems can prove that the legend of King Arthur originated with the Welsh, it cannot prove that there was any historical basis to the stories.

Works Cited:

Ogden-Korus, Erin. “An Archeological Quest for the Real King Arthur.”  Last updated 1998. http://www.uiweb.uidaho.edu/student_orgs/arthurian_legend/england/arch/

Thomas, A. C. 1988. “Tintagel Castle”. Antiquity. 62: 421-34.

“Wales History.” BBC.com. last updated 2012.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/history/sites/themes/figures/king_arthur.shtml

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