By Matt Schwoebel (an amateur historical Arthur scholar/enthusiast)

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Friday, July 16, 2004

3. Arthur in the North

Arthur did fight battles in the north of Britain, but it was not his home.  The weight of historical, legendary, and archeological evidence places Arthur in southwestern Britain or the old Briton kingdom of Dumnonia.  He was probably raised in Cornwall, possibly at Tintagel or Kelliwic.  The best candidate for the real Camelot was an immense hillfort called South Cadbury located between modern Somerset and Dorset.  It was refortified in a semi-Roman manner at the right time (later fifth century).  The hillfort itself is massive and could easily house a large force of cavalry (slightly more than six, more like hundreds).  It has large amounts of imported Mediterranean pottery, signifying a powerful Romano-Briton leader dwelt at this hillfort during the right time period.  South Cadbury is near the confluence of a few major Roman roads & pre-Roman trails leading to the Anglo-Saxon east and this makes it an ideal base for punishing the invaders.

A list of twelve battles for Arthur places him just about everywhere in Britain.  Arthur’s legend ranges from southern Scotland to Wales to Cornwall to Brittany in France.  In the sixth century the sons of leading nobles were named Arthur (a name previously rarely attested) everywhere from Scotland to Brittany and even including Ireland!  As the Romano-Briton Dux Bellorum (battle leader), Arthur and his equite companions traveled anywhere to fight enemies, whether they were the Anglo-Saxon English in the east, the Irish in the west, the Picts in the north, or even rival Briton factions.  All four Briton groups – those of Strathclyde/Cumbria, Wales/Cymru, Cornwall/Dumnonia, and Brittany/Armorica – have legends about Arthur. 
The battle of Mons Badon is believed by most scholars to be located in the hills near modern Bath.  The movie places it near Hadrian’s Wall in the north of England.  Badon was the Anglo-Saxon attempt to invade along the western Thames River valley with the hope of reaching the sea and splitting Briton territory in two under their Bretwalda Aelle of the South Saxons (Bretwalda means Britain Wielder).  Arthur smashed them at Mons Badon.  It would be another 75 years before the Anglo-Saxons succeeded in driving a wedge between the southern Cornish-Dumnonian Britons and the central Cymru Britons of Wales.  These latter day Britons had no Arthur to unite them.

The legends place Arthur as a son of Uther Pendragon, a southern Briton leader (possibly a son of Vortigern & the same man as Vortimer).  Arthur seems to be linked to Ambrosius Emrys as well (a Roman Briton from southern Britain).  If Arthur came from the north, he would be regarded as a descendant of Coel Hen (Old King Cole of legend) like so many other northern Briton noble notables of this time period.  Welsh genealogies are not the most accurate for this time period (neither are the English), but they usually do claim descent from the correct region.

Note the movie shows Camelot as a small castellum (Roman mini-fort) along Hadrian’s Wall.  There was one such castellum with a similar name and that is why a minority group of scholars places Arthur along Hadrian’s Wall.  Actually, most of this minority would place him in Carlisle just south of the wall, which was a large romanized city for that time in Britain.  Although South Cadbury might be the true Camelot, I believe Arthur’s capital traveled with him.  For instance, he may well have been based out of Carlisle for a few seasons battling Picts and defiant Lot of Gododdin (the battle of Celidon Wood in the uplands of southern Scotland is one of the twelve battles).  Likewise he may have been based in other former Roman towns or fortresses such as Caerwent, Caerleon, Chester, Winchester, York, and Camulodium at times.

Go To 4. Anglo-Saxons


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