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King Arthur
King Arthur
by Steve Haas

The Rise of Constantine
In order to understand Arthur, you have to have a little time-sense. Rome was in the process of decay; Rome fell to Alaric, the Hun in 403, A.D., and this marked the effective end of the Eastern Roman Empire, though it continued on in various forms for a few years after. The story of Arthur is also the story of the fall of the Roman Empire. I shall give a brief history of THAT as it relates to Britain (don't worry, I'm not doing a Gibbons here, re-writing 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.' Just insofar as Britain is concerned)...


The Rise of Vortigern
Skipping ahead a couple of decades, in 382 A.D., another Roman general in Britain, Maximus Magnus, seizing the opportunity of disorder in the Empire, declared himself Ceasar and invaded Gaul, taking with him two Legions in Britain, which never returned. The current Roman Emperor, Theodosius, was willing to accept a join regentship with Maximus, but this was not good enough for Maximus. In 387, Maximus invaded Italy, taking Milan, was defeated by Theodosius in two battles and was beheaded. The memory of Magnus Maximus was retained by the people of Britain, later to become the Welsh, in the Mabinogion, a collection of Celtic stories first written down in 1300. The relevant story is entitled, "The Dream of Macsen Wledig," and is the only one of the Mabinogion which bears any relevance to history...


The Beginning of the End
We are now at 435 A.D., and are getting closer and closer to Arthur. Unfortunately, the closer we get to Arthur, the further we get from facts. In fact, I shall probably not be able to finish this story to anyone’s satisfaction because any answer would be as good a speculation as any other. I’ll give several lines of speculation, but that is probably the best I can do.  Vortigern’s policies had proven successful. He had neutralized the Picts and the Irish, and his treaty Anglo-Saxon troops were successful in keeping the foreign Anglo-Saxons at bay. There were internal problems, however, and these had to do with another player in the field, the Ambrosii...


Who was Arthur?
Now we come to the essential question. Who was Arthur? Did he exist? What do we know about him? What did he accomplish that was so significant? I am appending a text file to this listing all the current scholarly claimants to the identity. It is not necessary to post it here. It is just for your information. First, the question of his existence. There is no independent documentation as to the existence of Arthur. The earliest reference is a Welsh drinking song, known to exist in 630 or so, where there is a line about the hero which says, "he fought like Arthur." After this, we have Gildas, writing about the same time, who writes a panagyric against the British kings, and doesn’t mention Arthur at all, though he does mention Arthur’s final battle at Mount Badon. Gildas’ lack of mention is actually considered a plus for those who favor Arthur’s existence; he was inveighing against the British kings that he thought were sinful, and the lack of mention of Arthur might just mean that Arthur didn’t do anything that pissed Gildas off…


Arthur, King of Britons
Arthur, it seems, is claimed as the King of nearly every Celtic Kingdom known. The 6th century certainly saw many men named Arthur born into the Celtic Royal families of Britain but, despite attempts to identify the great man himself amongst them, there can be little doubt that most of these people were only named in his honour. Princes with other names are also sometimes identified with "Arthwyr" which is thought by some to be a title similar to Vortigern...


Arthur's Twelve Battles
Nennius, the earliest witness to mention Arthur, in his History of the Britains, written somewhere between 700 and 800 A.D, describes Arthur’s twelve Battles this way: "In that time, the Saxons increased in numbers and their strength grew in Britain.  When Hengist was dead, Octha, his son crossed from the left hand side of Britain into the kingdom of the Cantii, and from him descended the Kings of the Cantii.  Then Arthur fought against those people in those days with the Kings of the Britons, but he himself was the dux Bellorum, or General in these battles.  The first battle was on the mouth of the river, which is called Glein. The second, and the third, and the fourth, and the fifth upon another river, which is called Dubglass, and is in the Kingdom of Linnus. TH esixth battle was upon the river which is called Bassas...


King Arthur written by Steve Haas.
Copyright © 2001 Steve Haas

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