Who was Arthur
by Steve Haas
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.
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…
first, real, documented mention of Arthur was Nennius and Bede, writing in the
700’s. This is almost 200 years after Arthur lived and died, and there is
question about their veracity. Nennius mentions twelve battles that Arthur was
supposed to have fought. Unfortunately, he gives names for the battles that are
virtually impossible to place in Britain. Again, this might be a plus; he was
using local names that are not in existence anymore, which gives some claim to
his veracity…but we just don’t know.
believe that Arthur did exist. SOMEONE at the time did what Arthur was supposed
to have done. After 530 A.D., the supposed date of the Battle of Mount Badon,
the Anglo Saxon Chronicle does not list a single Anglo-Saxon victory in Britain
for close to 50 years. Someone defeated the Anglo-Saxons decisively. Maybe it
was someone other than Arthur…but why go someplace else, when we have a person
so, assuming Arthur existed, who was he? Again, there are many claimants for the
identity, but I don’t see a need to go any further than the narrative I have
given here. Ambrosius Ambrosii fought the Saxons for close to 20 years, and then
died fighting the Saxons. Does it make more sense to look for someone else, or
someone who was closely associated with Ambrosius? To me, it makes a lot more
sense that Arthur was either a close associate of Ambrosius, a trusted
lieutenant or, most likely, a son of Ambrosius. This would place Arthur in the
Ambroii family, and give him a name and a pedigree.
question is why Arthur became so prominent, and not Ambrosius…this is an
important question because it reflects on another conflict that was going on in
Britain. Arthur was a Christian, and was pushing the Christian cause. Nennius
says that Arthur went into battle ‘Wearing the image of the Holy Virgin Mary
on his shield.” Ambrosius was a Roman, and sought Roman values and Roman gods.
Vortigern was a pagan, and sought to restore Pagan values to Britain. Arthur was
the Christian champion; his victory was seen as a victory of the Christian god
over godless heathens, and helped spread the cause of Christianity in Britain.
He possibly recognized that if Roman qualities were to survive in Europse, they
had to be identified with the Christian cause; and that the barbarians had to be
conquered no only because they were seizing the island from the citizens, but
quite simply because they were heathens. He was fighting not only for the land
of Britain, but for civilization. His motives and greatness could thus be
recognized by Christian elements throughout Europse. The ages that succeeded
were Christian, and the acts of Arthur the Christian champion acquired a
significance and permanence that were denied to the more ancient virtues of
now, about the other of the Arthur legend….Merlin, Guinivere, Lancelot, Ban,
etc…who were they? I don’t know. There is plenty of speculation. You take
your pick. To me, they aren’t important….though there is one thought that
Merlin was actually Ambrosius. As the story goes, Vortigern was seeking to build
a castle in Wales, and it kept falling down. The Druid priests suggesting
sacrificing a young child in order to placate the gods. They brought a young
child, Merlin, to be sacrificed but, instead, he told them that underneath the
site of the castle were two dragons fighting each other, a red dragon and a
white dragon. Until one or the other won, they couldn’t build the castle. This
story is possibly an allegory for the victory of the Britains over the Saxons,
and Merlin was telling Vortigern that he couldn’t build the castle until he
triumphed…but that is all speculation.
the next post I shall give a reasonable time line and location for Arthur’s
battles, but first I want to say something about his form of combat. Every
account of Arthur has he and his soldiers on horses; they were always knights,
fighting on horseback. That is a very significant fact.
Saxon style of combat was something that had little real discipline. If you saw
the film Braveheart, the Saxons would usually line up against an enemy, build
their courage, and then charge like madmen. There were few troops, even trained
troops, that could withstand this kind of maniac charge. They were excellent
warriors, with excellent war leaders, but did not have the discipline of trained
victories most likely occurred because of the Roman training of his troops; they
would form a solid wall of shields, each shield locked to the next one by
special grips. Each soldier carried a short spear, which was thrown just before
the two sides met in combat, and a short thrusting sword. It was the discipline
of these troops which overcame the Saxons; if one man fell, another took his
place in the line of battle, thus maintaining the shield wall.
with the Saxon break-out at Pevensy, this was no longer effective. The Saxons
were everywhere, and foot soldiers simply did not have the mobility to go where
they had to go and strike hard.
innovation, probably, was mounted cavalry. No Saxon line could withstand a
charge by lightly armored cavalry , and the Saxons would have had no experience
with this. The knights would charge the line, break it up into segments, and
either mop up on horseback, or get off the horses and fight on the ground. The
horse gave Arthur the mobility to be where the Saxons were, wherever they were.
It was a true innovation in warfare at the time.
King Arthur written by
Copyright © 2001 Steve Haas