Locating Arthur

The Demetian pedigree according to Bartrum.

The Demetian pedigree according to Bartrum.

After fixing Arthur in time to the late 5th/ early 6th century we need to locate him geographically. That so much folklore attached to him suggests it is certain he was regarded as an exceptional leader and if he was the ruler of one of the British kingdoms he is likely to appear in one of the surviving king lists. This narrows the search down to just two individuals: Artur mac Aedan of Dalriada and Arthur map Pedr of Dyfed. However, neither men supposedly lived in the right time frame. According to the AT the former individual died in battle in 596 and, therefore, could not have been also fighting at Badon. Bartrum, the genealogist of the Welsh medieval period, dated the latter ruler to around 560. It would seem this individual too may need to be eliminated from our search. Unless, of course, this dating can be shown to be incorrect, see Why Bartrum’s dating … .

Dating the Arthurian age

The entries for Badon and Camlan are in the right-hand column.

The entries for Badon and Camlan are in the right-hand column.

If we are to place Arthur in a historical context the first task needs be to identify the period in which he lived. This is given in the AC by the dates of his two most significant battles: the victory at Badon in the year 518 and the defeat at Camlan in 539.

Is it possible to verify this time period? The chronicle of his enemy, the ASC, makes no mention of these battles. This is not surprising as far as Badon is concerned since the Saxons would have preferred their defeats to be forgotten but it is surprising that Camlan is not mentioned, unless this was an internecine battle between the Britons.

Nennius, in his HB provides a clue. Prior to listing 12 of Arthur’s battles, culminating with Badon, he mentions Octa taking up the kingship of Kent following the death of his father Hengist. However, Bede in his HE when giving Ethelbert’s genealogy indicates Octa was a son of Oisc and a grandson of Hengist. This contradiction with the HB may be explained by an earlier reference in that document which says that Hengist sends for his son Octa and Octa’s brother Ebissa. I believe the latter person may have been Oisc who was in reality, as Bede states, Octa’s father.

The ASC tells us Oisc ascended the throne in the year 488 and the GRA states he reigned for 24 years. We may, therefore, conclude Octa succeeded him in the year 512. It follows that Arthur’s 12 battles occurred between the years 512 and 518. The Saxons’ catastrophic defeat in the latter year may explain Octa’s absence from the ASC.