Arturius - A Quest For Camelot - The Legend of King Arthur
 

The Irrefutable Historical Evidence Of The Existence Of Arthur

The Origin * Adomnan's "Life Of Columba" * The Annals of Tighernac * Legendary Sources * Comparisons * Summary

Before examining the evidence, it is first necessary to consider the origin of the name Arthur.

The Origin

Arturius - A Quest for CamelotThe name Arthur is suggested by some to be derived from the Celtic "Artu" or "Artos", a bear, or the Irish "art", a stone.
It is more probably of Latin origin.
There seems to have been a Roman gens named Artorius.
Tacitus mentions an Artoria Flacilla, and Juvenal an Artorius.

The Earliest Recorded Example in Britain - Arturius

The earliest recorded example of the name Arthur in British records occurs as Arturius in Adomnan's "Life of Columba", written in the 7th century AD, where it is the name of a 6th century prince of the Scots, Arturius, who was the son of Aidan. Aidan was a king of the Scots from 574 AD.

Later Examples - Arthur, Artor, Artur, Artur(us)

Centuries later the name Arthur is spelled Artuir in the "Annals of Tighernac", compiled in the 11th century from earlier records.

Artor and Artur are the names of tenants found in the Doomsday Book (1086 AD).

In the 13th century and thereafter, it is usually Artur(us), until the 16th century, when Arthur and Arther are usual.

So there is clearly no need to search for obscure origins of the name Arthur, when there is evidence of it in extant literature, dating from the 7th century AD and before.

Remember before going further, that there is no historical evidence to support the belief that Arthur was a king. His fame may rest on the fact that he was the "Dux Bellorum", or battle leader of the Britons and Scots.

In fact the Arthur you will find in the evidence here was in a position to be the "Dux Bellorum" by virtue of the fact that his father was the most powerful king amongst the Britons of the North, in what we now know as Scotland.

We know also from historical accounts that his father, King Aidan, was a great ally of the Britons, and that he and his sons, including Arthur, led the Britons in the wars conducted in the North against the Saxons and the Picts.

King Aidan almost certainly set himself up as the "Dux Brittanorum", or leader of the Britons.

 

Adomnan's "Life Of Columba"

The earliest reliable evidence of the existence of Arthur (Arturius) is found in a 7th century AD manuscript, known as the 'Vita Columba', written on the remote island of Iona on the west coast of Scotland by a monk called Adomnan.

Today the oldest surviving copy, a photograph of which is shown below, can be found in the archives of the town library of Schauffhausen, Switzerland. This document was copied from the original and taken to mainland Europe in the early 8th century, centuries before Geoffrey of Monmouth linked Arthur with Cornwall and England.

The manuscript clearly states Arthur (Arturius) was the son of king Aidan and tells of Arthur's last battle against the Picts (Maithi). There can be no doubt that Arturius was the inspiration for the legendary Arthur since the two figures are identical.

The 'Vita Columba' was written in the 7th century and is older than any other account of Arthur to be found in England or Wales. It is at least a century earlier than the famous Welsh 'Nennius' manuscript, which mentions Arthur, but fails to say who he was.

So the 'Vita Columba' from Scotland is clearly the oldest manuscript in the world which mentions Arthur and the only historical account which actually identifies him - as the son of king Aidan. Aidan was a king of the Scots from 574 A.D.

It seems clear that Arthur only entered Cornish and therefore English legend through the 12th cent. tales of Geoffrey of Monmouth. It is no surprise that Arthur entered Welsh legend since Arturius and his father Aidan were at the head of a coalition of British (Welsh) kings who fought the Saxons (Angles) of Bernicia (Northumbria) and the Picts. The Britons (Welsh) in the 6th century inhabited most of what we now call Southern Scotland.

Vita Columba Manuscript The earliest historical account of Arthur in the world - the Vita Columba in Schauffhausen, Switzerland.

It is centuries older than the legendary accounts of England and Wales.

Adomnan's work was an attempt to prove his predecessor Columba was a saint. However, throughout the work, he mentioned historical figures of the 6th century AD.

It is in this account by Adomnan that we find the first reliable mention of Arthur (Arturius), son of Aidan, king of Dalriada (Argyll), which lay on the west coast of Scotland, and of his death in battle at the hand of the Miathi Picts, who inhabited the Ochill Hills on the north bank of the River Forth in Scotland. Their name is retained in the hill called "Dumyat", meaning "fort of the Miathi".

Adomnan's manuscript is an almost contemporary account, written as it was just one hundred years after the death of Arthur. It predates any evidence anywhere else in the British Isles. Furthermore, it is accepted beyond doubt by historians as genuine.

Why then you may ask has it not been considered as evidence before? The answer is simply that researchers have, while searching for Arthur in Wales and Cornwall, neglected, or refused to consider that Arthur - if he existed - could possibly have been anything other than an ancient Briton.

The evidence of Adomnan proves that he was in fact a Prince, son of Aidan, King of the Scots, who, though not a Briton, did in fact fight on the side of the Britons against the Picts and Saxons.

The following is an extract from Adomnan's "Life of Columba".

A prophecy of Saint Columba regarding King Aidan's sons.

At another time, before the above-mentioned battle, the saint questioned king Aidan about a successor to the kingdom. When he answered that he did not know which of his three sons should reign, Arthur, or Echoid Find, or Domingart, the saint then spoke in this manner: "None of these three will be king; for they will fall in battles, slain by enemies. But now, if you have others that are younger, let them come to me, and the one whom the Lord has chosen from among them to be king will run at once to my knee".

They were called, according to the saint's word; and when Echoid Buide came in, he leaned on Columba's bosom. Immediately the saint kissed and blessed him, and said to the father: "This is the survivor, and he will reign after you as king; and his sons will reign after him".

All these things were completely fulfilled afterwards, in their time. For Arthur and Echoid Find were slain a little while later, in the battle of the Miathi mentioned above. Domingart was killed in a rout of battle in Northumbria. And Echoid Buide succeeded to the kingdom after his father.

Adomnan gives no date for the death of Arthur in the battle of the Miathi. However, "The Annals of Ulster", reliable Irish annals which fortunately record the early history of the Scots, record the battle of Manann for the year 582 AD.

This could quite possibly be the same battle as the battle of the Miathi mentioned in Adomnan's account, because the Miathi Picts lived in the Ochill Hills, directly opposite Manann, which lay across the River Forth.

Manann was also the name for the Isle of Man, and this has led some to believe that the battle of Manann was actually fought there.

Whatever the actual date of the battle, the important point is that we have a reference to Arthur, son of Aidan.

Arthur son of Aidan was not a king. However, Arthur of legend was not called a king by anyone until the 12th century AD, when a cleric called Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote a false and fabled account called "The History of the Kings of Britain", in which he called Arthur a king, placing him in the first half of the 6th century AD in an attempt to fill a void in known history. Before the 12th Century, then, Arthur was never referred to as a king.

 

The Annals of Tighernac

The second source of historical evidence which mentions Arthur, son of Aidan, is the "Annals of Tighernac", where his name is spelt "Artuir". These Annals were copied from earlier sources in the 11th century AD by an Irish monk called Tigernac.

As the Scots had migrated from Ireland to what we now call Scotland, their early history was recorded by the Irish/Scottish monks. Therefore, when Aidan became king of the Scots in the year 574 AD, many accounts of him - and by association his sons, including Arthur - were recorded by these monks.

In the extract from the Annals for the year 596 AD (reproduced below), note the mention of Arthur (Artuir). Whether or not Arthur really died at this date is of secondary importance. What is of paramount importance is that we have further evidence of the existence of Arthur, son of Aidan.

596 K. vi. [594] Cath Ratha in druadh cath Ardsendoim. Jugulacio filiorum Aedan, .i Bran Domangort, Eochach find Artuir i cath Chirchind in quo victus est Aedhan cath Coraind.

Translation: "Death of the sons of Aidan. Bran, Domingart, Eochach find, Arthur at the battle of Chirchind, in which Aidan was victorious".

Both "The Annals of Tighernac" and "The Life Of Columba" are historical sources, as opposed to legendary sources, which mention Arthur, and one corroborates the other.

Both call Arthur the son of Aidan, and the fact that they are reliable historical sources separates them from the unreliable legends, myths and poems which abound in Wales and Cornwall, and which have previously been quoted as evidence of Arthur.

Despite having found no trace of historical evidence to support the belief that Arthur was connected with Wales or Cornwall, researchers have continued to look there for evidence.

The only reliable historical sources are those mentioned here, and both call Arthur the son of Aidan. Aidan was crowned king of the Scots in 574 AD, and he and his sons, including Arthur, fought on the side of the Britons against the Picts and Saxons. So Arthur was connected with what we now call Scotland, and never with Wales or Cornwall.

Some writers have suggested in recent years that Arthur came from the land we know as Scotland. However, they invariably claim that he was a Briton, or sometimes a Strathclyde-Cumbrian (Ancient Britons who inhabited north-west England and south-west Scotland).

There is however no historical evidence to support this belief. Their assumptions are based entirely on the unreliable legendary accounts from Wales. They also use the date given for the death of Arthur and Medraut in the Annals of Wales, that being 539 AD.

This account is again unreliable and has almost certainly been inserted in the Annals of Wales centuries after the time of Arthur. The spelling of the name Arthur with an "h" would suggest this.

As previously stated, the only reliable historical accounts of Arthur are those in Adomnan's "Life Of Columba" and "The Annals of Tighernac".

The Origin * Adomnan's "Life Of Columba" * The Annals of Tighernac * Legendary Sources * Comparisons * Summary

 

Legendary Sources (as opposed to historical sources)

The two most important legendary sources which mention Arthur are "The Goddodin" and "The Annals of Wales".

The Goddodin

A poem preserved in Welsh literature, but which originates in the land we now call Scotland, which tells of an expedition by the "Goddodin" - a British people who lived on the south bank of the River Forth - against the Angles/Saxons.

It supposedly dates from the early 7th century AD. Arthur is mentioned in one line of the poem, however it is quite possible that his name was added to the poem after he had become a legend. The spelling of the name with a "h" suggests that it may have been a later addition.

Whatever the case may be, a poem cannot be accepted as historical evidence, although it is interesting to note that Arthur is connected here with the Goddodin who came from what we now call Scotland, and who lived not in Wales or Cornwall, but in fact lived on the south bank of the River Forth, around the modern day towns of Stirling and Falkirk, the very region where Adomnan in his "Life of Columba" stated that Arturius died in battle against the Miathi Picts who lived on the north bank of the River Forth, opposite the modern day town of Stirling.

The Annals of Wales

These Annals were composed centuries after the time of Arthur, and were compiled from other, earlier sources.

A great deal of these Annals seem to have been copied from Irish Annals.

A battle between Arthur and Medraut (Modred) is recorded for the year 539 AD.

It is almost certain that this entry was made after Arthur had already become a legendary figure, and the spelling of the name with an "h" would again suggest this, as we know the evidence from the earliest reliable sources spells the name without an "h". So it is reasonable to believe that this is a very late and unreliable entry indeed.

Even if the entry was genuine, the fact that Arthur appears in the "Annals of Wales' does not suggest that he was Welsh - in fact many of the people mentioned in the Annals at this period are definitely not Welsh.

Here we find Columba, Saint of the Scots, Bridget, Saint of the Irish, and Aidan, King of the Scots.

However, an appearance in the Annals of Wales does not mean that they are in fact Welsh. Far from it. These Annals are for the most part copies of earlier Irish Annals, and in any case the entry for Arthur cannot be regarded as historically accurate.

Also, unlike the 'Annals of Tighernac' and Adomnan's 'Life of Columba', which tell us who Arthur's father was, so we can be certain of his place in history, the 'Annals of Wales' simply record a battle between Arthur and Medraut, resulting in their deaths, but no mention of their pedigree.

In addition to these two legendary sources, there are countless myths and poems which abound in Wales and elsewhere. None can be regarded as evidence as they almost certainly all originate after the 12th century AD, and Geoffrey of Monmouth's "History of the Kings of Britain" - which established the "Legend of King Arthur" throughout western Europe and the British Isles.

Before Geoffrey's account, Arthur was not called a king. In fact there are no references to a King Arthur in historical records - only references to a Prince Arthur - that is Arthur the son of Aidan, King of the Scots of Dalriada.

 

Comparisons

How can we be certain that Arthur (Arturius) of history is the Arthur who inspired the "Legends of King Arthur?"

There is only one way to prove that they are one and the same, and that is by comparing one with the other to see if they are identical in any respect, because there is no point searching for an account of the legendary Arthur in historical records, simply because he was not a legend at the time when they were written - the man became a legend only after many centuries had elapsed.

So, in a genuine account from the 7th century AD, you will only find the briefest reference to a warrior called Arthur (Arturius).

On the other hand, legendary accounts written centuries after the man's death will go into great detail regarding his battles and conquests, and elaborate even to the point where they can almost tell you the colour of his hair. So except where you can find the few references to real contemporary historical figures in the legends, as evidence they are worthless.

How do Arthur (Arturius) of history, and Arthur of legend compare?

Firstly, both had sisters called Morgan (Le Fey).

By what can only be described as a stroke of good fortune, while researching a translation of an 8th century AD manuscript, "The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee", I found a reference to Morgan, daughter of King Aidan, the sister or half-sister of Arthur (Arturius).

Secondly, both were leaders of the Britons.

We know from historical documents such as the "Annals of Ulster" and other records that Aidan, the father of Arthur (Arturius). almost certainly set himself up as the "Dux Brittanorum", or leader of the Britons of the North, and that his armies led by his sons, including Arthur, fought on the side of the Britons against the Picts and Saxons.

Thirdly, both died in battle against a Pictish foe.

In legend, Modred or Medraut was the son or supposed son of Lot, King of the Picts, and therefore there was definitely a Pictish connection.

In history Arthur (Arturius) died in battle against the Miathi Picts. (Incidentally the Picts only lived in what we now call Scotland, so the last battle of Arthur, if real, would definitely have been fought in Scotland).

Also to be considered are the facts that:

This Arthur (Arturius) is the only Arthur found in a genuine historical account of the 7th century AD.
This Arthur (Arturius) is the only Arthur who died in battle against the Picts.
This Arthur (Arturius) is the only Arthur who died while leading and fighting on the side of the Britons.

To return to the first point of comparison, however, it is almost impossible to emphasise the importance of finding that Arthur (Arturius) had a sister called Morgan ("The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee").

Finding a genuine reference to a genuine Arthur is difficult enough, and to find another with a sister called Morgan, I believe would be impossible. If there was no other evidence than this, I believe it would be enough to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Arthur of legend and Arthur (Arturius) of history are one and the same.

 

Summary

So to sum up:

Proof of Arthur (Arturius) is found in two sources, one corroborating the other:
Adomnan's "Life Of Columba"
The Annals of Tighernac
Proof of Arthur's last battle and death while leading the Britons is found in:
Adomnan's "Life Of Columba", "The Battle of the Miathi Picts".
Proof that King Aidan and his sons, including Arthur, were allies of the Britons is found in:
The Annals of Ulster
The Annals of Tighernac
Proof that Arthur (Arturius) had a sister called Morgan is found in:
The Martyrology of Oengus the Culdee

The Origin * Adomnan's "Life Of Columba" * The Annals of Tighernac * Legendary Sources * Comparisons * Summary

 
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