Home   Genealogy   Forums   Search   Contact
Write for MHO
Write for MHO
MHO Home
MHO Home
Brasidas - Spartan Commander
Battle of Kadesh
Battle of Plataea
King Arthur
Roman Invasion of Anglesey
Agricola - The Final Invasion

Recommended Books

The Crusades

Encyclopaedia of the Wars of the Roses

Campaigns of the Norman Conquest

King Arthur
Who was Arthur
by Steve Haas

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…

The 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.

I 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 named already?

Ok, 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.

Another 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 Ambrosius.

Ok, 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.

In 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.

The 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 troops.

Ambroius’s 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.

However, 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.

Arthur’s 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.

< Back Next >

King Arthur written by Steve Haas.
Copyright © 2001 Steve Haas
© 2016, LLC Contact Brian Williams at: