Saturday, 11 June 2011

Who Was The Real Arthur?

Poll Results
For the months of April/May Clas Merdin has been running a poll on the identity of the Real Arthur.
A select list of the most popular candidates was offered with the addition of a final category for those who doubt the King's historical existence.

Poll Results:

Lucius Castus Artorius   5%
Ambrosius  37%
Riothamus  37%
Vortigern  0%
Cerdic  1%
Cunegulasus  0%
Athwrys of Gwent  3%
Creation of Geoffrey of Monmouth  1%
Never existed  11%

Not surprisingly the two most likely candidates for an historical Arthur came joint top of the poll with 37% each:

Ambrosius Aurelius
According to Gildas the Last of the Romans who's family wore the purple, and led the beleaguered Britons to victory at the Battle of Badon Hill, c.495AD. Nennius claims Arthur was the leader of the Britons at Badon making Ambrosius a strong contender for the historical Dux Bellorum. Little is known of the historical Ambrosius outside of Gildas. Right time, right place, right result.

The name Riothamus may actually have been a title meaning "high-king" which would agree with the chronicler Jordanes, who stated he was called "King of the Britons".  He was active in Gaul c.470 AD. In The Origin and Deeds of the Goths, Jordanes states that Riothamus supported the Romans and "came with twelve thousand men into the state of the Bituriges by the way of Ocean" against Euric's Visigoths. A letter from Sidonius Apollinaris implies that Riothamus was betrayed by the Praetorian Prefect of Gaul, Arvandus who told Euric that "the Britons stationed beyond the Loire should be attacked". Consequently the Goths intercepted Riothamus' army and he was heavily defeated fighting against overwhelming odds. He was last seen heading toward Avallon in Burgundy. Could Riothamus have been healed at Avallon and returned to Britain to fight he Battle of Badon some twenty odd years later?

The theory of King Arthur as Riothamus who met his demise in France is not a new one and has been championed in recent years by Geoffrey Ashe in The Discovery of King Arthur, (1985) and more recently by Marilyn Floyde, King Arthur's French Odyssey (2009).

However, Léon Fleuriot has argued that Riothamus is identical to Ambrosius Aurelianus which is compatible with the Poll result.

The only other serious contender to these two most likely candidates was that Arthur never existed coming in at 11%. This is suggestive of a growing number that see Arthur, pre-Geoffrey of Monmouth, as a non-historical character, a mythical figure of early Welsh poetry who journeys to the Otherworld at will, fighting monsters and accompanied by deities from the Celtic pantheon.

* * *