Friday, 17 August 2012

Was King Arthur French?


There's one thing we know about King Arthur - he was English, right? Okay, maybe he was Welsh...and then there's a chance he was Romano-Briton fighting against the Saxon invasion. Or perhaps he was a native Briton who fought against the Roman invasion. Frankly, no one can really nail him down, because he's a mythical construct handed down through the ages. He might be one man, he might be a thousand. And by the time the 12th-century French writer Chretien de Troyes added the romantic elements of Lancelot and the Holy Grail to the tale, the traditional origins of the story were at least seven hundred years old...or perhaps even much older. How much older? Well, when Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his King Arthur story in 1136, the king was a native Briton who fended off the Roman invasions of the Emperor Claudius in 43AD...and his name was Arviragus. Now one handy thing about Arviragus, unlike the traditional King Arthur, his name comes to us through Roman sources...Juvenal refers to him in a satirical poem - "you will capture some king or Arviragus will fall from his British Chariot-pole" - which also dates the name to the late 1st-century AD. Of course this doesn't prove Arviragus existed, but it does mean Juvenal had heard the name.
And it's this name...Arvi-ragus. This is where I'm going to have a crack at myth busting. But first a little about my research. I've spent the last decade piecing together the Gallic Wars, particularly the year 52BC, when the Celtics from central Gaul finally got their act together and became a single nation for all of 11-months. The leading tribe in this short-lived federation was the Arverni, led by a 26-old who would become the King of Gaul - Vercingetorix (not his real name by the way, but a title bestowed upon him). And this is where a little bit of geography comes in. Avalon is in France. During the time of Vercingetorix it was called Aballo, and to its south was a city called Cavillonum (now Chalon-s-Saone) which has some phonetic context with Camelot...by now you might be seeing where I'm heading. Should I add by this time the Gauls had been throwing swords into lakes and rivers for the previous 1000-years and worshipped such water goddesses as Boann. Hmmmmm...I feel a wild theory coming on.

And here it is...Arvi-ragus. Arvi is Latin shorthand for Arverni or Arvernian. So Arviragus was the 'Arvernian' or the 'Arvernian King'. And if there was one Arvernian king Juvenal was joking about, it could be Vercingetorix. But why would Juvenal be suggesting an Arvernian King was living in Britain? Well, that's going to be another blog... 

   Find out if Calvus ever met the Lady of the Lake