King Arthur


By the ninth century people all over were telling the fabulous tales and
romances about Arthur and his kingdom. The common people heard them sung by
bards, while in the court poets wrote different versions. In each retelling
the speaker would select certain details for emphasis and introduce new elements,
so that the story could be adapted to the particular time and audience.
Although most historians believe that there actually did exist an Arthur, they
differ on how major his role was on influencing society during his time.
To understand the most widely accepted view on when and how Arthur
gained fame, one must be aware of the historical time period surrounding Arthur.
The unity that the Roman government imposed on Britain disappeared around 410 AD.
In its place arose small villages whose rulers struggled for political and
military supremacy. Around 540, a Welsh monk and historian named Gildas wrote
in his book Concerning the Ruin and Conquest of Britain that "The disasters
that the British people suffered at the hands of the Anglo-Saxons after the
Roman withdrawal were clear evidence that god was punishing them for their sins."
It was during these disasters that the monk was referring to that Arthur held
up resistance for the Britons against the Saxons, at a time when Britain was
constantly being threatened by invaders. Through being the commander who routed
the battles against the enemy and thereby saving the south of Britain from
distruction of the Saxons, "Arthur became the image of the hero and savior whose
death people refused to believe in and whose return was yearned for."
The opinion that Arthur was a genuine figure in history, though not the
glorious King Arthur that most people know him to be, is largely based on the
writings of Nennius, a Welsh historian, who gave the first and only historical
account of Arthur's military career in Chapter 56. The passage starts with a
date.

"After the death of Hengist, his son Octha came from northern Britain
and settled in Kent, whence come the kings of Kent. Then Arthur fought against
them in those days, with the Kings of the Britons, but he himself was the leader
of the battles."

Here Nennius implies that Arthur was not a king but a general of some sort, who
helped the rulers of small British kingdoms organize themselves, combining
forces to fight against the Saxons. In another section entitled The Marvels of
Britain, Nennius calls Arthur a soldier: Here he tells of Cabal, the dog of
Arthur the Soldier, and of the grave of Anwr, the son of Arthur the Soldier.
The passage then continues describing the twelve battles that Arthur
fought and won. The last battle, the greatest in the history of the country,
was at Badon Hill. It resulted in a total massacre of the Saxons, establishing
fifty years of peace from the Saxon's horrible brutality of slaughtering,
burning and senseless vandalism (Jenkins 30-31).
Nennius's historical account is backed up by a set of Easter Tables.
They were calculating tables as to when Easter would fall out for the next given
number of years and in them were noted events of outstanding importance. In the
annals were two dates regarding Arthur. The first date is disputed: It is put
as either 499 or 518 A.D. The first entry reads: "Battle of Badon, in which
Arthur carried the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ on his shoulders for three
days and three nights and the Britons were victors (Jenkins 28)."

The second entry dated 539 reads: The Battle of Camlann, in which Arthur
and Modred perished. And there was plague in Britain and Ireland (Jenkins 28)."
These accounts of Arthur are not only the basis for his fame, but they
also show us the broad terrain of Arthur's military activity. While the Battle
of Mount Badon was fought in Southern England, the battle of Cat Coit Celidon,
mentioned in the Historia Brittonum, was fought in Scotland. The implications
of Arthur's widespread battles lead to two conclusions of him. One is his
political position as agent of a number of kingdoms, and the other is his easy
mobility of his forces (Alcock 18).
The mobility of Arthur's army makes it nearly impossible to pin Arthur
down to a set region. However, there was an archeological search for Arthur's
castle Camelot in southern Cadbury, Somerset, England attempted by The Camelot
Research Committee in 1966 to 1972. They discovered "markings denoting the
existence of an elaborate hill- fort. Enormous concentric rings of earthen
embankments covering over 18 acres outlined a fortification that only a powerful
warlord would have maintained (Schlesinger 107)." Unearthed artifacts
enabled the searchers to determine that the "castle" was active in the sixth
century. The architectural style resembled the style of