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 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
Last months 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.
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 Thomass projector.
Hope to see you at the meeting - BA.