Top 10 clues to the real King Arthur

The King Arthur we know is one of romance, ephemera and myth. But is he real? Arthur has been in and out of fashion more than denim: one year his veracity is being argued by every archaeologist in Britain, the next he's ignored or derided.

In Revealing King Arthur: Swords, Stones and Digging for Camelot, Christopher Gidlow shows how archaeologists over the last 50 years have interpreted the evidence from Dark Age Britain. At first they were happy to link their discoveries to legendary names. Then came a backlash, when Arthurian links were ignored or derided. Now, new discoveries have raised again the possibility of a real King Arthur. He recalls ten sites that suggest Arthur was much more than an old wives' tale.

1. Tintagel

The legendary site of King Arthur’s conception is Tintagel Castle. Excavations demonstrated that, as the legends said, this was a fortified home of the ruler of Cornwall in about 500AD. The largest fortified site of the ‘Arthurian’ period, it contained unprecedented remains of luxury goods from the Eastern Roman Empire. In 1998, a slate engraved with the name ‘Artognou’ and other names from the legends was discovered there.

2. The London Basilica

The earliest historical accounts of Arthur see him as a leader of the kings of the Britons against the invading Saxons. Medieval legends showed him uniting them by a combination of force and magical displays. Most famous is his drawing the sword from the stone, "outside the greatest church of London, whether it were Paul's or not", writes Sir Thomas Malory. In fact the largest Church in Roman London discovered, probably the seat of its Bishop, was at Tower Hill. Christianity was an important part of British identity, versus Saxon paganism.

3. Silchester

Said to be the site of King Arthur’s coronation, the Roman town of Silchester was heavily fortified in the Arthurian period. Road blocks were set up on approach roads, and the perimeter was made more defensible. Resistance to the Saxons was so successful, Silchester never became a Saxon town. Could there be a connection between Arthur’s sword, Excalibur and the late Roman name for Silchester, Calleba?

4. South Cadbury Castle

There are numerous contenders for the site of Arthur’s Camelot, with Colchester (Camulodunum) probably the forerunner. However, Henry VIII’s librarian, John Leland, identified the Iron Age hill fort of South Cadbury as the original Camelot. This inspired the famous Cadbury/Camelot excavations by Leslie Alcock in the 1960s which showed it had been heavily refortified in the 5th/6th century. Further work revealed it as one of the centres of a West Country kingdom characterised by large-scale defensive works like the Wansdyke from Bath to the Savernake Forest. This so impressed invading Saxons they attributed it to the god Woden.

5. Wroxeter

Was Arthur a Celtic warrior, harking back to the warlike days of his ancestors? Other writers see him as a ‘last of the Romans’, struggling to uphold the values of civilisation against a barbarian storm. Some sources describe him as a Roman general, others even as ‘Emperor’. Dramatic evidence of sub-Roman culture was discovered by Philip Barker in the 1960s at Wroxeter. Wooden buildings tried to keep up the functions of the forum as well as the defences. Tradition put the home of his wife, Queen Guinevere, at nearby Old Oswestry. Wroxeter, too, never became a Saxon town.

6. Chester Amphitheatre

One of Arthur’s celebrated '12 battles' against the Saxons was fought at the City of the Legion, the name given to Chester in the Dark Ages. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of a

Dark Age battle at nearby Heronbridge, and recent excavations show the amphitheatre was fortified in the period, with a shrine to a Christian martyr at its centre. Is it a coincidence Arthur’s Round Table was originally described as a very large structure, seating 1,600 of his warriors?

7. Birdoswald

A brief 10th century account records the death of Arthur and Medraut at the battle of Camlann. This was spun out by later writers into a tragic encounter between Arthur and his rebellious son Mordred. Many scholars believe Camlann was ‘Camboglanna’, a now-vanished fort on Hadrian’s Wall. The next fort, Birdoswald, was excavated in 1987- 92. With the end of Roman rule in the 5th century, the local garrison commander had set himself up as a tribal-style warlord. A Celtic feasting hall was added to the military buildings. Other forts along the wall were similarly refortified – the work of King Arthur and a potential power base for rebellious lieutenants?

8. Slaughterbridge

Medieval writers opted for a West Country site for Arthur’s last battle. Slaughterbridge on the River Camel has proved popular, for obvious reasons. There are numerous reports of finds of Dark Age weaponry from the site. It is now the location for an ongoing archaeological project intended to get a clearer picture of life in the Dark Ages there, and near neighbouring Tintagel. A 6th century memorial stone, inscribed in Latin and Irish Ogham, is still visible here, bearing an enigmatic inscription, probably to a Romano-British warrior named Latinus.

9. Glastonbury Tor

Excavations by Philip Rahtz in the 60s showed someone had been living on top of Glastonbury Tor in the Arthurian period. But who? Medieval legends provided several candidates. King Meluas of the Summer Country had abducted Queen Guinevere to his castle at Glastonbury, a story which formed the basis of romances about her rescue by Sir Lancelot. The demonic Gwynn ap Nudd, one of Arthur’s legendary warriors, was said to have been banished from his Palace on the Tor by St Collen. Gerald of Wales reported that Arthur’s kinswoman, Morgan, had owned land near the abbey and arranged for his burial there. He berated writers who made her the fabulous enchantress 'Morgan le Fay'.

10. King Arthur’s burial at Glastonbury

In 1191 the monks of Glastonbury Abbey uncovered the body of a gigantic man. Wounded several times in the head, he had succumbed to one last fatal blow. The bones of his wife, along with a tress of her beautiful golden hair, shared his oak coffin. Ralegh Radford recovered the site in 1962, showing how two slab-lined tombs of the very earliest stratum of the ancient church had indeed been disturbed at the time. The monks displayed an ancient lead cross found with the burial, inscribed ‘Here lies buried the famous king Arthur with Guinevere his second wife, in the Isle of Avalon’. Where the cross and bones are now, nobody knows.

Read a free excerpt from 'Revealing King Arthur: Swords, Stones and Digging for Camelot'

Interview with Dr Ray Howell on King Arthur, the Silures and, Just Possibly, Stonehenge

Video: King Arthur's Real Round Table Revealed

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

    £35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

    £47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker