The Otranto mosaic

The mosaic is dated from 1163, at a time when the cathedral was in the Norman Principality of Taranto. One portion of the mosaic depicts King Arthur:

Arthur in the Otranto mosaic. A Caper in Salento (

The mosaic depicts a leopard confronting the rider. Two yellow leopards on a red background is the emblem of Normandy. This was the coat of arms of the Plantagenet king Henry II (1154 to 1189). England’s royal arms, with an extra cat, derives from Henry’s son, Richard the Lionheart. The imagery is one of the Normans defeating the English, hence the leopard mauling the dislodged rider.

Why Arthur? The House of Godwin may well had adopted him. A number of manuscripts, including Harl. 2414 which describes him as “iarll Kernyw”, show Godwin, Earl of Wessex, having Cornish ancestry, see Coliavus. As pointed out in The Bayeux tapestry and the draco standards, it is likely that one of the standards portrayed on the Bayeux tapestry is of Cornish and not Saxon origin.

The writing “Rex Arturus” is referring to the figure hovering to the right of the picture, not the rider as is usually thought. The text is closer to him than the mounted figure. The reason that “Rex” became associated with the rider is because of his crown, but this was a late additon in a repair to the mosaic, see image:

Drawing by Aubin Louis Millin of Otranto mosaic before restoration. A Caper in Salento (

It shows areas of damage and the rider wearing a cap, but not a crown.

It appears that Arthur is in spirit form, long since dead. The figure who is riding the goat is a representation of Harold Godwinson. He is being ridiculed with an imagery showing him going to battle riding a goat and inadequately dressed for the conflict. Arthur has his hands raised to his face, as if in horror, thus suggesting his agreement with the Normans that Harold was a false claimant to the throne.

The whole scheme being placed between the Expulsion from the Garden of Eden and the Cain and Abel story is to suggest the result of Hastings was an act of God, whose hand is depicted above. Harold’s location on the mosaic is significant. Cain and Abel are relevant as a case of treachery. It is claimed that when Harold ended up in Normandy he had taken an oath of fealty to William and then sworn on sacred relics. Likewise, Adam and Eve had broken a covenant with God.

Gwalchmai ap Gwyar

The HRB IX 11 tells us Gwalchmai, referred to as Gualguainus son of Loth, was twelve years old and had been knighted by pope Sulpicius. If this is a reference to the papacy of Simplicius (468-483) then it suggests Gwalchmai was likely of gen. -1. This dating is confirmed by a piece of inforamtion by William of Malmesbury, despite the fact he wrongly believes Gwalchmai was a nephew of Arthur:

“Regnavit in ea parte Britanniæ quae adhuc Walweitha vocatur: miles virtute nominatissimus, sed a fratre et nepote Hengistii … Cæterum, alterius bustum, ut præmisi, tempore Willelmi regis repertum est super oram maris, quatuordecim pedes longum …”[1]

“He [Walwen] reigned in that part of Britain [Ros in the province of Wales] which is still called Walweitha. A warrior most renowned for his valour, he was expelled from his kingdom by the brother and nephew of Hengist … The tomb of the other [that is Walwen], however, as I have said, was found in the time of king William upon the sea-shore, fourteen feet in length …”[2]

This would be compatible with HRB IX 9 which states Loth had married in the time of Aurelius Ambrosius. It follows that Loth would have been of gen. -2. That name appears in the ByB fol. 81 as “lew vab kynvarch”, that is Llew ap Cynfarch.[3]. Bromwich explains:

“Considerable confusion prevails in Welsh sources owing to the fact that Geoffrey of Monmouth gives Arthur’s sister Anna as the mother of Gualguanus. In the fourteenth-century Birth of Arthur (Cy. XXIV, pp. 250 ff.) an attempt is made to reconcile the native tradition with that of Geoffrey by substituting the name Gwyar for that of Anna as Arthur’s sister …”[4]

In its bid to reconcile contradictory traditions, it incorrectly maintains Gwyar was the daughter of Gwrlais and Eigr. However, it correctly says that Gwyar was  first married to Emyr Llydaw and then to Llew ap Cynfarch. This explains the reference to Aurelius Ambrosius in HRB IX 9, mentioned above, as Emyr Llydaw is likely to be a title held by him. Emyr Llydaw was of gen. -2, see table below, as indeed was Llew, see above.

Gen. ByS J 21 Proposed pedigree
-3 Kvnedda wledic Cynfarch
-2 Karedic Emhyr Llydaw Gwyar Llew
-1 Gwenn Petrwn Gwalchmai Medrod
0 Padarn

[1] Hardy, T. D., 1840 vol. 2, 466.
[2] Chambers, E. K., 1927, 17.
[3] Parry, J.J., 1937.
[4] Bromwich, R., 2006, 369.