HomeQ and AHistory of WiganContactsNewslettersProjectsMeetingsLinks


[Home] [Newsletters] [Next] [Previous] [Index]

No 16 September 1998

Monthly Newsletter

King Arthur - New Evidence

The perennial question as to whether King Arthur really existed has again come to the fore with the discovery of a stone at Tinatagel, his traditional birthplace.  I knew Adrian Morris is currently studying this period at Manchester University, so I asked him to look into it.

The Evidence

The stone has two inscriptions, one of which reads, "PATER COLI AVI FICIT ARTOGNOV" which has been translated as meaning "Artognov, father of a descendant of Coll, has had this made".  Some newspapers suggest that the word "Artognov" is a reference to the legendary King Arthur.  English Heritage, the owners of the site, are naturally delighted with the publicity gained from this discovery but what are the thoughts of the archaeologists involved?  The director of the dig, Professor Chris Morris (no relation) from the University of Glasgow, appears less than enthusiastic with the Arthurian link and states, "... we must dismiss any idea that the name on this stone is in any way to be associated with the legendary and literary figure of Arthur".  The first element of the name, "Art", is used in several other Celtic names such as "Arthmail" and "Arthien" and so cannot be directly associated with the name "Arthur", much less the legendary king of that name. Tintagel was not associated with Arthur until Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his dubious "History of the Kings of Britain" in about 1140, six hundred years after the alleged events. 

Professor Morris is, however, very enthusiastic about the stone and other recent finds at Tintagel.  Amphorae and glassware confirm both the high, even royal, status of the site and indicate trade with Mediterranean countries.  A particularly unique cache of glass fragments suggest direct trading links between Tintagel and Malaga and Cadiz in the sixth or seventh century. The stone inscription itself is of importance as it provides further evidence of a romanised way of life and the continued use of writing after the collapse of the Roman Empire.

The question remains. Did Arthur exist?  And if he did, who was he?  Forget "king":  forget the round table:  forget Camelot:  forget knights in medieval armour.  If Arthur existed he was a Romano-Celtic battle leader, who lived probably around the year 500 AD (although the date is much disputed).  He may have been involved in a series of desperate battles against the Anglo-Saxon invaders.  The only contemporary chronicler was Gildas, a monk who wrote "De Excideo Britanniae".  This was a diatribe against the way of life of his fellow Britons and was prefaced by a brief history of the British people.  Gildas mentions that he was born in the year of the Siege of Badon, a battle associated with Arthur and yet he does not mention him by name - but then he refers directly only to very few people.

The best evidence for Arthur's existence is in Neiren's poem "Y Gododdin" usually dated at about 600 AD.  This chronicles the battle of Catreath (probably Catterick).  It is typical of many oral ballads composed and performed by the Celtic bards of the time in praise of their heroes.  One stanza praises the heroic exploits of Gwawrddur and casually mentions that, great though this hero was, he was not as great as Arthur.  Some historians, however, argue that, as the poem was not put in writing until several hundred years after its original conception, the reference to Arthur may have been a later insertion.  - AM

The Trip

Last month’s trip to Castle Bolton and Middleham Castles went down very well despite the long journey.  Castle Bolton was particularly interesting with its re-enactments and demonstrations.  Getting lost and feeling sick on the coach was well compensated by the wonderful views of the Yorkshire Dales.


Once again John Johnson is running his 10-week course on basic Egyptology.  The course starts in the autumn at Abraham Guest school in Orrell.  For further details contact John on 01942 741954.

Next Meeting

The Wednesday 2nd September at the history shop at 7.30 pm as usual.  This month, as there is no speaker, we will be showing a video about the Vikings kindly lent to us by Mark Tyldesley and using Dave Thomas’s projector.

Hope to see you at the meeting - BA.