The story of King Arthur first came to light with Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of Kings” in 1138. Later, Camelot was introduced in Chrétien de Troyes’ “Lancelot” in 1180. King Arthur and Camelot was viewed as the Golden Age when Arthur was able to unite the island by defeating the Saxons, the Picts, the Scots, the Irish and even the Icelanders. However, his triumph did not last when a gravely wounded King Arthur was carried off to the Isle of Avalon leaving the Anglo Saxons to conquer King Arthur’s Briton. Since that time, historians have been trying to look past the legend to see if a King Arthur really did exist.
One interesting find was a book written by Welsh Monk named Gildas who documented in a book titled “The Ruin of Briton” that a great victory was won by the Britons in 500 AD at a place called Mount Badon. Following this victory, there was two generations of peace and prosperity. The book was written only fifty years after this great battle.
However, Ambrosius Aurelianus, A Roman British general was also credited with this victory, leading British forces in defeat of the Anglo-Saxon incursions (interestingly, Monmouth identified Aurelianus as King Arthur’s uncle). But he was not the only Roman warrior identified as the “real” King Arthur. Riothamus, a late 5th century British leader, crossed the channel to wage war in support of the western Roman Empire, then only to retreat to Avallon (just like King Arthur). Finally, there is Magnus Maximianus, a self proclaimed emperor of Roman Britain whose late 4th century exploits in Armorica matched much of what the mythical King Arthur accomplished in his military battles in Gaul.
Another interesting discovery was a book written by another Welsh cleric in 900 AD titled “History of the Britons”, in which “the warrior Arthur” overcame the Saxons in 12 battles. Other Welsh writers eventually credited this Arthur in the aforementioned Battle of Mount Badon.
So was this Arthur really a King or was he something else? Could he have been a Roman Emperor of Britain, a Romano-Celtic war leader, a tribal chieftain, a general in command of another King’s army?
And where was King Arthur’s Camelot? Tintagel in Cornwall may very well have been it’s location. Geoffrey of Monmouth claims Arthur was born there and evidence exists of a castle constructed there during Arthur’s reign.
In 1998, archaeologists discovered a 6th century stone inscribed in latin stating “Pater Coli Avi Ficit Artognou”, which transcribes to Artognou, father of a descendant of Coll, has had this constructed”. Artognou would have been pronounced as Arthnou and means descendant of Arthur, while Col could very well be Coel Hen, the legendary Romano-British king named by Monmouth as the Ancestor of Arthur.
The mystery still remains; was there a King Arthur and Camelot? What we do know is that Britain was led to a victory at Mount Badon that lasted two generations and Welsh documentation regarding this event closest to that time period named this leader Arthur.
Image Information: Top: King Arthur from the “Christian Heroes Tapestry” dated c. 1385. Right: Tintagel Inscription