Ober, Warren U.||Baker, Orville
M.A. (Master of Arts)
Department of English
King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table are familiar to everyone, but an attempt to locate him in history has presented historians with a problem. The annals of history contain no record of Arthur; it is necessary, therefore, first of all to determine whether such a person ever existed. If he did exist, who was he, when did he live, and where did he carry on his activities? Dependable historical records deny his existence prior to A.D. 410 or after 597. It is necessary therefore to search for Arthur during this two-hundred year period which historians call The Gap. Since the Celts were not a literary people, the only sources of information available to modem scholars are the records kept by foreign historians and by churchmen who recorded only what concerned their interests. These records were far from complete or accurate, and historians could not agree on the extent of their reliability. Only recently has a new avenue of research—archaeology—been opened to Arthurian scholars. It is the purpose of this paper to investigate the attempts made by archaeology toward the discovery of the historical Arthur and to evaluate the results insofar as they support or enlarge upon the information supplied by history and the chronicles. To assess the contribution of archaeological research, the investigator must identify the facts already known from existing sources. First, a summary of the history of the Roman occupation of the island and the advancement of the Saxon invaders in Southern Britain establishes the situation of the Britons at the end of the fourth century. Secondly, a review of the information concerning Arthur provided by the early chronicles presents the early literary picture of Arthur. Thirdly, a discussion of the later chronicles shows the beginning of the use of the Arthurian legend for political purposes in the twelfth century. Fourthly, an analysis of archaeological evidence clarifies some of the theories about Arthur and attempts to determine the line between history and legend. History has been verified and supplemented by archaeology in numerous ways. Inscriptions have been unearthed which identify dates and individuals within the years when British history was scantily recorded. Excavations of Roman towns show the manner and extent of Roman occupation and the unique effects which it had on the culture and economy of the native Bin.tons. The failure of the occupation to romanize all the Britons resulted in the development of two distinct classes— the crude Celtic and the Romano-British, from which group Arthur came. Excavation of military forts identifies the number and nature of the Roman military forces. It locates and dates occupation by the Legions, establishes the Romano-British military system, and leads ultimately to the hypothesis that Arthur was the head of a cavalry unit. This supports the identification of Arthur with the widely scattered battles assigned to him in the chronicle of Nennius and also admits of some of the accomplishments which are attributed to Arthur but which would be impossible for an infantry commander. Archaeological evidence has confirmed the patterns of Saxon settlement established by historians except for that of the West Saxons, who formerly were believed to have moved up through Wiltshire from the south. Archaeology indicates movement southward from the upper Thames valley. This discovery solves the puzzle of the lack of archaeological evidence to support northward movement and also establishes a purpose for the strong northern defense lines, which excavations show were built prior to or during The Gap. It further helps to identify the strong fort at Liddington Hill as Mount Badon, the site of Arthur's famous battle around the year 516. Excavations at Glastonbury in 1962 revealed that an exhumation had been made in 1191 at the place where the monks claimed they had discovered the remains of Arthur. The new tomb and the remains disappeared in the destruction of the monastery in 1539. Excavators of traditional sites in Arthurian legend so far support these conclusions: Castle Dore was King Mark's castle; Tintagel was inhabited at the time of Arthur by Celtic monks and apparently has no Arthurian connection; Dimilioc was a Roman fort; Kelliwic and Cardinham were hill-forts during the late Iron Age but have not been identified with Arthur. Since they did exist prior to Arthur's time, their use by him or those who share his legends cannot be entirely discounted until further excavations are made. Arthurian scholars are continuing their search in the soil for evidence of Arthur, and results of past investigations offer a promise of possible success. At this time, evidence indicates that a real Arthur did exist from about A.D. 470 to A.D, 542. He was a romanized Briton, a military leader—not a king—who commanded a cavalry regiment and fought wherever he was needed in conjunction with the kings of Britain. The success of his encounters reassured the Celts with the faith that when Arthur came all would be well. So great was this confidence in the prowess of their great leader and so strong the hope that he would come to their aid that it persisted for centuries in the legends of his people.
Fike, Lola M., "The historical Arthur : revealed by pen and spade" (1965). Graduate Research Theses & Dissertations. 5822.
ix, 80 pages
Northern Illinois University
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