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King Arthur in history and legend


The name King Arthur conjures up fantastical tales of magic, romance, and Knights of the Round Table. But how do we separate the fiction from historical fact, when much of what remains is legend? Author Bronwen Hosie unravels the mysterious real life of Britain’s most famous king… 

Before you read this article I feel it only fair to warn you that many historians and academics will regard it as nonsense. Why? Many of them have their own theories; my results, using a particular method carefully worked out over almost thirty years, will upset the proverbial apple-cart. Many articles on King Arthur ponder whether he was a real person or a fictional hero. They never reach a positive conclusion. Most material is regurgitated in the ‘same old, same old’, fashion; however, nothing new is ever really decided.

So how do my results differ? I can tell you that King Arthur definitely was a real person in history; what is more, I can tell you his name and also name some of his family and contemporaries. I can tell you who he really was.

Let me explain simply how this is done. I have discovered that many people mentioned in legend actually have a number of synonymous names. A person in one story can be the same person in another story under a different name. Sometimes, this person can be called by three or four different names. The point is that the different names have the same meaning. The mistake that has misled many is to accept unknowingly that each name represents a different person. This has led to a tangle of people and dates that is almost impossible to straighten out. Almost - but not quite.

It is not too late to recover the truth using the clues these synonymous names offer. I can give you one name in history and three in legend for King Arthur. His name in history has already been suggested correctly; however this suggestion is based on supposition and, therefore, has no real proof behind it. It is Riothamus. This name is recorded as a Romano-British military leader who allied himself with the Romans during the declining years of the Roman Empire. Jordanes, a historian who lived during the 6th century, called him ‘King of the Britons’; however, it is not established whether he meant Britain, or Armorica, which later became known as Brittany. Jordanes describes the situation:

‘Now Euric, king of the Visigoths, perceived the frequent change of Roman Emperors and strove to hold Gaul by his own right. The Emperor Anthemius heard of it and asked the Brittones for aid. Their king Riotimus came with twelve thousand men into the state of the Bituriges by the way of Ocean, and was received as he disembarked from his ships. Euric, King of the Visigoths, came against them with an innumerable army, and after a long fight he routed Riotimus, King of the Britons, before the Romans could join him. So when he had lost a great part of his army, he fled with all the men he could gather together, and came to the Burgundians, a neighbouring tribe then allied to the Romans.’

Riothamus seems to disappear from historical records after approximately 470 AD, when this battle is said to have taken place. By giving four seemingly different names for this same person, which all mean the same, and extending this by giving seemingly different names for his son, grandfather and uncles, which also are synonymous, a table can be laid out showing that this method is not just coincidence but a means of interpreting these name clues in order to re-align and correct past errors.

In history, King Arthur was Riothamus. In Welsh legend, he is known, not just as King Arthur, but also as Owain Dantwyn and Brochwel Ysgithrog. The names all mean the same: ‘Hero King’. Some, studying Anthroponymy (the study of names), will disagree with my interpretations. However,  many names in my tables match up correctly through several generations. King Arthur’s son, named as Mordrud in one legend, is the same person as the son of Arthur called Amr in another legend. Other synonymous names are found as Cynlas Goch, the son of Owain Dantwyn, and Cynan Garwyn, the son of Brochwel Ysgithrog. This son really existed and was a real person. In history, this son was called Arvandus. How do I know this? The names all lead to the same meaning.

Incidentally, Cynlas Goch was said, by Gildas, a 6th century historian and monk, to have ‘driven a chariot of the Bear’s den.’ Cynan Garwyn’s name implies that he, also, drove a chariot, as Garwyn is Welsh for white chariot. Amr, named as a son of Arthur, was killed by his father as was Mordrud, a son of Arthur.

Cai Hir, or Sir Kay, has also been found in history using this method. Historically, he was Flavius Asellus, a friend and companion of Arvandus. In recorded history the jailer and friend of Arvandus was Flavius Asellus who was in charge of the Imperial Largesse and distributed gifts at special occasions, such as silver platters, cups, cutlery etc. In legend Cai was the dapifer of King Arthur. This is a Latin word that translates as a role involving the handing out of cups and plates at special feasts or banquets. Geoffrey of Monmouth also calls Cai the dapifer of King Arthur; the position of chief steward which was an esteemed post. Riothamus was linked with Brittany as was Cai Hir who was said to be a Count of Anjou and fought with King Arthur in France. In addition, he is traditionally connected with the town of Chinon (formerly called Caino), which is some 30 miles south-west of Tours. A man called Flavius Eugenius Asellus is mentioned as an urban prefect in 470-471 AD.

The paternal grandfather of King Arthur also has many synonymous names in legend. In history, he was Exuperantius, a Praetorian Prefect of Gaul, who was killed in an uprising in 424 AD. In legend, he is called, among other names, Constantinus, Custennin Gorneu, Cunedda Wledig and Cynon Meriadoc. The names all mean the same.

One of the sons of Exuperantius, and therefore an uncle of King Arthur, was Palladius, a renowned man of the church. His other names include Ambrosius Aurelianus, Einion Yrth and Ninian. He was also known as Patricius. There is much confusion over the possibility of there being two Saint Patricks; one is known as Old Patrick, or Patraic Sen, the other is Saint Patrick of Ireland. Ambrosius Aurelianus, Einion Yrth, Ninian and Palladius - all the same person - was the Patrick known as Old Patrick, or Patraic Sen. Incidentally, Ambrosius Aurelianus was said to have been poisoned. It is related in an ancient poem, concerning Einion Yrth, that ‘his slaughter in Prydain was an outrage’.

Saint Ninian was said to have been martyred and there is also mention of the same fate for Saint Palladius. The father of Ambrosius Aurelianus, according to Gildas, ‘undoubtedly wore the purple’ and was also killed. Exuperantius, as a Praetorian prefect, undoubtedly wore the purple garb which signified his high position and was killed in an uprising in 424 AD.

So was King Arthur a real person? Of course he was.

His name in history is Riothamus, his grandfather was a Praetorian Prefect called Exuperantius, one of his renowned uncles was Saint Palladius and his treacherous son was Arvandus who was cared for by Flavius Asellus, his companion.

And there is more - much more!

By Bronwen Hosie

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