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King Arthur

Introducing the locations connected with King Arthur, but also looking at if he existed.

Few could not be aware of the stories of King Arthur, originally placed at around the 6th or 7th century in what many call the dark ages, largely because we are are in the dark about what went on in the time from when the Romans left and the Norman conquest in 1066.

As the AD dating system was not developed until 525AD, it started being introduced into western Europe in the 8th century and it took many more centuries before it was used completely. Bede the Venerable is said to be the first to use it and the first work he completed, that used it, was in 731. Dating anything in this black hole of history is near impossible and we don't know how many of the backdated dates were arrived at. We may talk about the Romans leaving in 410, but this was a staged pull out, and we have no concrete facts on how long it took. We don't know how many real years passed before the made up year of 525 came about, and we don't know if, when they got around to implementing it, they managed to accurately work back in some way to the year 525 let alone before, I suspect they could not, meaning that anything before 700 is suspect date wise.

Like many parts of old history we have more snippets of information than hard facts, and while around the 13th century everyone was totally convinced King Arthur was a real part of history, today many are less convinced, feeling perhaps its a composite character, or more legend than fact. This is not helped by in this time having a large number of kings, not only over time but different kingdoms, and a poor understanding of what alliances existed and what qualified as a king in those times. 

We have an in depth article on  King Arthur, did he exist, and who was he, this explores records, looks at historic characters and tries to pull together the facts, plus gives you links to look up more.

The Locations

Exploring the locations connected with King Arthur we come up with Caerleon, Camelot, Avalon, Glastonbury, Camlan and Tintagel, some of which we can identify and others we can look at possibilities.

Tintagel, where he is said to have been born, is a castle by the sea in Cornwall, located high up and an impossible site to launch any mass attack on. Some say this is the castle of Old King Cole mentioned in nursery rhymes. The village of Tintagel today was originally known as Trevena. The castle remains, we see today, date from the 12th century. Before this there was a high status Celtic monastery and some say a princely fortress and trading post in the 5th and 6th century. We have a feature guide on Tintagel Castle.

Caerleon  is a small Welsh town beside the River Usk, just outside Newport. It's name is Welsh for "City" or Fort of the Legion." Geoffrey of Monmouth calls it the City of Legions, detailing the lavish court that Arthur holds there foreshadowing the Camelot to come.

    For it was located in a delightful spot in Glamorgan, on the River Usk, not far from the Severn Sea. Abounding in wealth more than other cities, it was suited for such a ceremony. For the noble river I have named flows along it on one side, upon which the kings and princes who would be coming from overseas could be carried by ship. But on the other side, protected by meadow and woods, it was remarkable for royal palaces, so that it imitated Rome in the golden roofs of its buildings ...Famous for so may pleasant features, Caerleon was made ready for the announced feast.

from The History of the Kings of Britain, Geoffrey of Monmouth

That charming place was laid out with groves, abounding in animals, rich in treasures, pleasant for its green meadows, and watered by the Usk River...Here was the metropolitan city of the province of Demetia; here the legions of Rome used to spend the winters; here King Arthur celebrated the high feasts, wore the crown, and convened all the barons of Britannia for his assembly.

From the rise of Gawain, Nephew of Arthur by Mildred Leake Day.

It was the base of one of the major roman legions in Britain, and said to be the base of a 'Bishipree' greater than Canterbury or York until it was moved to St David's.  In early versions, including all by Geoffrey on Monmouth this was clearly stated as Arthur's base, Camelot was not mentioned, nor was the round table. Today there is a lot to see in Caerleon including the Museum of Wales (all free entry), sections of the Roman Fortress Wall still survive, an amphitheatre that could once seat a whole legion - up to six thousand spectators, finest remains of Roman Barrack buildings in Europe, The National Roman Legion Museum houses a superb display of artefacts found in the region, as well as having demonstration rooms and the reconstruction of legionaries' quarters. The Roman Baths Museum nearby uses modern technology to give the visitor a vivid image of its former grandeur. The museum is run by CADW, so opening times are not exactly the same as the Legionary Museum, also there is an entry charge. A heritage trail takes you around a larger selection of local sites as well as calling on the main sites. Find out more on visiting Caerleon.

Camelot, was supposed to have been the special place where the knights of the round table met, so what do we know: Cam could also reflect the Celtic word meaning "crooked" which may not be a lot of help.

  • It was NOT Caerleon according to Chrétien de Troyes' poem Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, dating to the 1170s,

    • A un jor d'une Acenssion / Fu venuz de vers Carlion / Li rois Artus et tenu ot / Cort molt riche a Camaalot / Si riche com au jor estut.

    • Upon a certain Ascension Day King Arthur had come from Caerleon, and had held a very magnificent court at Camelot as was fitting on such a day.

  • Cadbury Castle Somerset, by the River Cam, is said by many to be the site of Camelot. Today its a huge earthworks castle, one of the finest, with enough room on top to build a sizable village or small town. From the castle you can see Glastonbury. There are remains on the top of a stone fortification around it and of stone buildings on at least part. See featured location guide, Cadbury Castle.

  • Lodge Hill Fort, Caerleon. Not large enough and not in use in the right period. See location guide, Lodge Hill Fort.

  • Other major hill forts, these have histories going back far before Arthur's time but most were in use in this period.

    • Old Sarum, Wiltshire  - the site of the castle of the Kings of England at the point William the Conqueror came over, it is here that the nobles of England came to swear allegiance and where the instruction originated for the creation of the Doomsday Book. Strategically an important point for the King of England. There is a hole in the history of Old Sarum for the time concerned, but stone defences don't appear to have been added until far later. See Old Sarum featured location guide.

    • Maiden Castle, near Dorchester, Dorset, the largest earth works castle in Europe. There is no history or claim that links this with Arthur. At the time of the Roman invasion in 43AD, Maiden Castle was inhabited by the Durotriges tribe. The battle to take the castle was a bloody one: A Roman temple was built at Maiden Castle in the 4th century, the foundations of which can still be seen today. The fort was abandoned shortly after this time. It does not appear to have been further developed in the relevant time frame. Being open all year, free entry. See featured location guide,

      Maiden Castle.

  • Identification by some of the Arthurian Camelot with the Roman town of Venta.

    • Winchester (previously Winton) Roman Venta Belgarum. Winchester was formerly the capital of England, during the 10th and early 11th centuries, and before that the capital of Wessex. The ancient Pilgrims' Way travelling to Canterbury begins at Winchester. Burial place of Alfred the Great, died 899, born in Wantage, now Oxfordshire previously Berkshire.

    • Carwent, the welsh Winchester. Roman Venta Silurum, old walled town, history back to at least 300 it is said the Romans set it up in 75AD, castle, within easy travelling of Caerleon. Remains of the town wall can be seen today.

  • Camulodunum, written "CAMVLODVNVM", named by the Romans  when setting up their first town, meaning the Fortress of Camulos. In Celtic mythology, Camulus or Camulos was the God of War of the Remi, a Celtic tribe, who lived in the area of today's Belgium, but other followers were across Britain. It was a Celtic settlement before this. The capital and spiritual centre of the ancient Celtic tribe called the Trinovantes, who built an impressive system of earthwork defences to the west and south of the town. Today we know this as Colchester in Essex.

If Camelot existed then in my view the most likely location was Cadbury Castle.

Glastonbury, we are going to explore another time. It was where the grave of Arthur was said to have been found, but by monks who were the best spin merchants in history, having the grail, the remains of many saints and much more. Glastonbury is a special place and has a complex and special history with loads of legends.

Avalon, an island maybe, maybe an island in a swamp like the pre drained Somerset wetlands where old board walks have been found. Some suggest one of many islands including Bardsey in South Wales and Lundy off the Somerset coast well as St Michel's Mount in Cornwall, reached by a causeway at low tide. Quite a few islands are occupied or have been by monasteries. I think an island as such is unlikely, as it was said to be near a lake, for the day in the lake bit. The name Avalon is thought to derive from a connection with apples, and in the legends it was said to be famous for its beautiful apples. Aval is today both Breton and Cornish for apple and welsh is Afal, but the f is pronounced v. Somerset today still has many apple orchards, but Bardsey and some other islands also feature apples as well. Other stories/legends from other places have magical or special islands and apples are often a feature connected with these.

Camlann (battle of) King Arthur's last battle where he ether dies in battle or was mortally wounded and died shortly after. Camlann can be translated as  "crooked bank", so the name is not necessarily of help in locating it. The earliest known reference to this battle, is the entry in the Annales Cambriae (annals of Wales) for the year 537, written before the 10th century. It does not say where it is or mention Arthur and covers battles throughout the UK not only in Wales. Some say it means, where the River Cam flows beneath Camel Hill and Annis Hill, at or near Queen Camel in Somerset not far from South Cadbury. There are a range of other locations, but little to go on.

See Also:

King Arthur, did he exist, and who was he. 

The Magic of Merlin


By: Keith Park Section: Heritage Section Key:
Page Ref: king_arthur Topic: Heritage  Last Updated: 02/2011

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