THE POWER CENTERS OF ARTHUR
The case has often been made that Camelot is a late French form of the Romano-British Camulodunum place-name. However, archaeological evidence from both the fort on Old Lindley Moor near Slack and from the fort on Almondbury five miles from Slack (either of which may have been the ancient Camulodunum) has not revealed Dark Age occupation of these sites. The other primary candidate for Camelot is the Cadbury hill-fort by the Camel villages in Somerset. While this fort does show Dark Age occupation, its location does not match that provided for Camelot in the romances.
The first clue as to the actual whereabouts of Camelot is found in Chretien de Troyes’ Knight of the Cart, which is the earliest romance to mention this site. According to Chretien, Camelot is ‘in the region near Caerleon’. For some reason, most authorities have seen fit to ignore this statement, insisting that Camelot was placed near Caerleon simply because of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s glorified description of the latter site as a major Arthurian centre. If we do take
Chretien’s statement seriously, we can for the first time arrive at a satisfactory identification of this most magical of royal cities.
The second clue to the location of Camelot is from the later romance The Quest for the Holy
Grail, wherein Arthur escorts the Grail questersfrom Camelot to a point just shy of Castle Vagan.
A third clue, from the prose Tristan, places Camelot either on or very near the sea. The last clue is from the Morte Artu; in this source, the castle of Camelot is on a river. It goes without saying that we need to look for a CASTLE or, at the very least, the site of an earlier hill-fort of some significance.
Castle Vagan is St. Fagan’s Castle (W. Ffagan) four or five miles west of Cardiff. This site lies in the Ely Valley, the supposed location of the Campus Elleti of the boy Ambrosius (not the historical Ambrosius in this context, who was made into Arthur’s uncle, but the ‘Divine or Immortal’ Lleu/Mabon; see Chapter 1 above).
According to the HB, Campus Elleti, the ‘Field or Plain of Elleti’, was said to be in Glywysing, the later Morgannwg/Glamorgan, which is indeed where the Ely Valley lies. Only a dozen miles separate Campus Elleti from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Caerleon.
In my opinion, Campus Elleti, with Latin Campus rendered as French Champ (the p of which is silent), became Camelot:
Cham(p) ellet(i) > Camelot
So can we now be relatively certain that Camelot was a site in the Ely Valley? Yes – although there is disagreement about the relative linguistics of Ely/Elei and Elleti.
According to Welsh place-name expert Professor
Wyn Owen, the derivation of the Ely river-name is uncertain:
“R.J. Thomas (Enwau Afonydd a Nentydd Cymru, [Cardiff 1938] 141) derives 'Elei, Istrat Elei' c.1150 tentatively from *Eleg' + -i but offers no meaning, while Ifor Williams (Enawau Lleoedd [Liverpool 1945] 40) suggests that the root is leg meaning dripping, slow-moving from which we get llaith 'damp', cognate with Eng. to leak, and lake”.
The initial E- of Elei could be explained by an el prefix, ‘much’, would would give us a meaning the ‘very slow-moving’ river. Elleti would have to be, therefore, a form of Elei which displays the terminal of llaith. Yet if so, it is difficult to account for why there is only one /l/ in Elei.
Graham Isaac disagrees that the river-name Ely can be related to Elleti:
“On Elei, it would be from the same root as Aled,
Alun, Eleri, all rivers, < Celt. *al- < PIE *h2el-, 'to shine'. They are all, in different ways, 'shining rivers'. Elleti is not connected with these. The form Elleti is corroborated by the instance of 'palude [Latin for “marsh” or “swamp”] Elleti' in Book of Llan Dav (148). But since both that and HB’s campum Elleti are in Latin contexts, we cannot see whether the name is OW Elleti (= Elledi) or OW Ellet (= Elled) with a Latin genitive ending. Both are possible. My guess would be that OW Elleti is right. As the W suffix -i would motivate affection, so allowing the base to be posited as all-, the same as in W ar -all 'other', all-tud 'exile', Gaulish allo-, etc. Elleti would be 'other-place, place of the other side (of something)'.
There are certainly no grounds for thinking of a connection between Elleti and Elei.”
This may be true, but it seems to me that the /ll/ Professor Owen was seeking is present in Elleti, and the palude or ‘swamp, marsh’ name applied to the place does favor the “very slow-moving’ etymology. Elei would merely represent a truncated form of the name.
Mabon as one of the ‘vultures of Elei’ is called the servant of Uther Pendragon because Uther is the Ambrosius and Ambrosius was situated at Campus Elleti.
It may also be that Campus Elleti, from a presumed Welsh Maes Elei or similar, was a relocation for the Moselle (Latin Mosella/Mosellae) River in Gaul, upon which stood the Roman city of Augusta Treverorum of the Gaulish prefect A.A. and his son, St. Ambrose.
If so, this would once again confirm my identification of A.A. as a personage belonging to the 4th century.
There are two notable monuments in the lower
Ely Valley. One is a Roman villa. The other is a fairly major hillfort now called Caerau. From
“Surrounded by housing and the A4232, Caerau hillfort is one of the largest and best preserved in
South Wales. It occupies the western tip of an extensive ridge-top plateau in the western suburbs of Caerau and Ely, Cardiff, Wales. The old parish church, St Mary’s, and a small ringwork, almost certainly a medieval castle site probably contemporary with the church, stand within the hillfort on the north-eastern side. Caerau Hillfort is the third largest Iron Age hillfort in Glamorgan enclosing 5.1 hectares (about the size of four football pitches). Recent excavations by Channel
Four’s Time Team in April 2012 showed that occupation started about 600BC and lasted, probably not continuously, into the 3rd century
This is certainly the only candidate for Camelot.
More information on the fort can be found at:
Campus Elleti almost certainly refers to the flat lowland plain leading to the banks of the river to the north of the fort.
Etterby as Arthur’s Burg (i.e. Stanwix)
Etterby, in the parish of Stanwix near Carlisle, was called Arthur’s burg, according to Joseph
Nicolson and Richard Burn’s History and Anti uities of the County of Westmorland and Cumberland, Vol. 2:
“Etterby in old writings is called Arthuriburgum, which seems to imply that it had been a considerable village. Some affirm, that it took its name from Arthur king of the Britons, who was in this country about the year 550 pursuing his victories over the Danes and Norwegians. But there are no remains of antiquity at or near this place to justify such a conjecture.”
Nicolson and Burn may have been correct in their assessment of Etterby as wholly lacking ‘remains of antiquity’. The evidence from excavation has been too slender to confirm a tentative suggestion as to what kind of Roman camp – if any - may once have existed at Etterby. While it has been suggested that there might be a Roman camp at Etterby, no evidence for this has been found.
However, there is some evidence for the neighboring Stanwix Roman fort continuing into the post-Roman period. Thus, if there is a connection with 'Arthur', it should be attached to Stanwix, rather than to Etterby.
The timber features at Stanwix are fairly recent discoveries. Most of the excavations there have been unpublished, so when archaeologists talk about the timber buildings these may be more examples of timber hall-like structures (such as those from the Birdoswald Roman fort). There is always a hope that the Stanwix excavations revealing the late Roman/sub-Roman timber structures will be published, but in the meantime it is interesting to know that the Carlisle Millenium Project excavation report will be available in the near future (the Carlisle Roman fort being just a stone’s throw across the river from
Stanwix), and very late timber structures were also found there.
The truly amazing thing about the 9.79 acre fort of Stanwix, whose Romano-British name was Uxellodunum, the ‘High Fort’, is that it is exactly between the forts of Camboglanna, where Arthur died, and Aballava on the western end of the Wall (see Chapter 7 below for my discussion of
Aballava as ‘Avalon’).
This large fort also housed a force of onethousand cavalry, the Ala Petriana, the only milliary ala (‘wing’) in the whole of Britain. The Petriana’s presence at Stanwix accounts for the name of this fort in the late 4th/early 5th century ‘Notitia Dignatatum’ – Petrianis. Titus Pomponius Petra, a distinguished former commander of the unit, gave his name to the ala.
Roman historian Sheppard Frere nicely sums up the strategic importance of this fort:
“The western sector of the Wall was the most dangerous… both on account of the nature of the ground and because of the hostile population beyond it. It is not surprising to find, then, that at Stanwix near Carlisle was stationed the
Ala Petriana… Such regiments are always found on the post of danger; and the prefect of this Ala was the senior officer in the whole of the wall garrison. Here, then, lay Command headquarters, and it has been shown that a signaling system existed along the road from Carlisle to
York, which would enable the prefect at Stanwix to communicate with the legionary legate at York in a matter of minutes.”
The fort lay on a fine natural platform today occupied by Stanwix Church and Stanwix House, a little over 8 miles from Castlesteads (Camboglanna).
To the south lies the steep bank falling to the River Eden, while the land falls somewhat more gently to the north. Little is known about the fort apart from its defences. The south-west angle tower, south wall and east wall were traced in 1940, with the north wall being located in 1984. This was uncovered in the grounds of the Cumbria Park Hotel. A length of wall was subsequently left exposed for public viewing and the line of the wall marked out by setts; the exposed portion of wall lies close to the north-west corner of the fort. This and the south-west corner, a low rise in the churchyard, are the only remains visible today. Brampton Road lies more or less on the line of the south defences, with
Well Lane marking the east defences.
The northern end of Romanby Close lies approximately at the north-east corner of the fort. The northern defences consisted of a stone wall with a clay rampart backing, fronted by two ditches; an interval tower was also found. The north wall was 5 ft 8 in wide with a chambered base course above the footings on the north side; the rampart backing was at least 11 ft 6 in wide.
To the south of the tower lay a feature tentatively identified as an oven. The fort appears to be an addition to the Wall which was located in 1932-4 a little to the south of the north fort wall, with the north lip of its ditch found in 1984 to lie under the interval tower. A few meters further south, a turf deposit, probably a rampart, was recorded in 1997. No other trace has been discovered at Stanwix of a turf-and-timber fort, but the known fort is clearly later than the replacement of the Turf Wall in stone.
The causeway over the south ditch was located beside Brampton Road in 1933. This was placed centrally in the southern defences, but this in itself gives little indication of the internal arrangements, which might have been unusual in such a large fort. Little is known of the interior buildings. A series of four parallel walls, possibly representing two barracks-blocks and lying towards the north fort wall, were examined in the school yard in 1934. A large granary was located further south in 1940.
The Archaeological Evidence for Stanwix as
Arthur’s Power Center
In this section I will be discussing the case that has been recently made by Ken Dark of the University of Reading for the sub-Roman (i.e. 5th-
6th century CE) re-use of Hadrian’s Wall, as well as of forts along the Wall and in the adjacent tribal territory of the ancient Brigantian kingdom.
According to Dark, from whose paper I will liberally quote:
“… eight fourth-century fort sites on, or close to, the line of Hadrian’s Wall have produced, albeit sometimes slight, evidence of fifth -sixth-century use. Nor is this simply a reflection of a pattern found father north; for no Roman fort site in what is now Scotland has any plausible evidence of immediately post-Roman use. Thus the situation to the north of the Wall is similar to that found in Wales.
What is more surprising still is the character of the reuse found on the line of the Wall. Two sites, Housesteads and Corbridge, have evidence not only of internal occupation, but of refortification; at Birdoswald there are the well known ‘halls’, while at Chesterholma Class-I inscribed stone of the late fifth or early sixth century come from the immediate vicinity of the fort. At South Shields there is also evidence of re-fortification, and there is an external inhumation cemetery. Another Class-I stone was identified by C.A.R. Radford at Castlesteads [I have rendered the inscription of this stone above in Chapter 3].
At Binchester immediately to the south of the Wall, and at Carvoran, Benwell and Housesteads on its line, there are early Anglo- Saxon burials or finds, while at Chestersand Chesterholm (perhaps sixth century) Anglo - Saxon annular brooches come from within the forts, although these may be somewhat later in date than the other material so far mentioned.
At the western terminal of the Wall, a town-site,
Carlisle, though not necessarily primarily military in the Late Roman period, has also produced substantial evidence of sub-Roman occupation, with continued use of Roman-period buildings into the fifth, if not sixth, century.
Many scholars accept that Carlisle was part of the late fourth-century Wall-system, perhaps even its headquarters, and at Corbridge, the other town-site intimately connected with the
Wall, fifth -and sixth century material has also been found, including, perhaps, evidence of continuing British and Anglo-Saxon use. In the North as a whole, fifth- or sixth-century evidence from what had been Late Roman towns is not common. York, Aldborough, Malton, and Catterick are our only other examples. Two of these sites (York and Malton) were part of the same Late Roman military command as Hadrian’s Wall: that of the Dux Britanniarum.
It is interesting that, of the sites at Manchester and Ribchester– between the Mersey and Carlislethe only fort-sites known to have possible fifth or sixth -century evidence – Ribchester was not only part of the command of the Dux Britanniarum, but also listed as per lineum ualli in the
Notitia Dignitatum. It is, therefore, remarkable that out of the twelve fourth-century Roman military sites in northern and western Britain to have produced convincingly datable structural, artefactual, or stratigraphic evidence of fifth-or sixth-century occupation, eleven were, almost certainly, part of the Late Roman military command.
Eight of these were probably within the same part of that command, and eight comprise a linear group (the only regional group) which stretches along the whole line of Hadrian’s Wall from east to west. The two more substantial late fourth- century settlements adjacent to the Wall
– Carlisle and Corbridge– have also produced fifth- and sixth-century evidence and two of the other towns with such evidence were also late fourth-century strategic centres under the military command of the Dux.”
After setting forth these facts, and discussing them, Dr. Dark offers a rather revolutionary idea:
“Although it is difficult, therefore, to ascertain whether the military project which I have described was the work of an alliance or a north British kingdom or over-kingdom, there does seem to be reason to suppose that it may have represented a post-Roman form of the command of the Dux Britanniarum…
This archaeological pattern, however it is interpreted, is of the greatest interest not only to the study of the fifth-and sixth- century north of
Britain, but to that of the end of Roman Britain and the end of the Western Roman Empire as a whole. It may provide evidence for the latest functioning military command of Roman derivation in the West, outside the areas of Eastern Imperial control, and could be testimony to the largest Insular Celtic kingdom known to us.”
In another paper, Ken and S.P. Dark rebut P.J.
Casey’s argument for a re -interpretation of the reuse and re-fortification of the Wall and its associated forts. His conclusion for this paper reads as follows:
“If one adopts the interpretation that the Wall forts were reused in the later fifth-early sixth century for a series of sub-Roman secular elite settlements, thenthe associated problems involved in explaining this new evidence of occupation at that time disappear…
So, the interpretation that the Wall became a series of secular elite settlements, discontinuous from the Late Roman activity at the forts within which they were sited, is compatible with the evidence of pollen analysis, while the alternative interpretations are both rendered unlikely by it.
This does not, of course, make the suggestion that this reoccupation represents the sub- Roman reconstruction of the Command of the Dux Britanniarum any more likely, but the pattern on which that interpretation is based has been strengthened, rather than weakened, by the new archaeological data, whilst the evidence also hints at a similar reoccupation with regard to the signal stations of the Yorkshire coast and their headquarters at Malton.
Perhaps, then, at last one is able to see answers to many of the most pressing questions regarding what happened in north Britain, and more specifically on Hadrian’s Wall, in the fifth and sixth centuries…
The answer to all of these questions may lie in the rise and fall of a reconstructed Late Roman military command, unique in Britain, which was organized in a sub-Roman fashion reliant upon the loyal warbands of warrior aristocrats (and Anglo-Saxon mercenaries) rather than paid regular soldiers. The organizing authority of this system, probably a king of the sub-Roman Brigantes, assigned a politico-military role to the defended homesteads of these elites, and (as in the location of churches at disused forts, through land-grants?) positioned these at what had been Roman fort sites, but which were (at least substantially) deserted by the time when they were reused in this way. Thus, the ‘Late Roman’ Wall communities dispersed during the first half of the fifth century, but the Wall – andperhaps the north generally – was redefended inthe later fifth and early-mid sixth century onvery different lines, yet not completely without regard for the Late Roman past.”
I would add only that it is my belief this ‘king’ of the sub-Roman Brigantes whom Dr. Dark proposes was none other than the dux bellorum Arthur.
An Arthur placed at Stanwix makes a great deal of sense when we place these two forts in the context of the Arthurian battles as I have outlined those in Chapter 3 above. These battle site identifications (taken from the list in the HB,
supplemented by the Welsh Annals) shows a range of conflict extending from Buxton in the south to a the Forth in the north, with the majority of the contests against the enemy being fought along or just off the Roman Dere Street from York northwards. The site of Arthur’s death is in a fort only a few miles to the east of Stanwix and we will see in the next chapter that the location of his grave is most likely at a Roman fort just a few miles west of Stanwix.
The battle site identifications were made solely on linguistic grounds, but end up revealing a quite plausible geographical and thus strategic scenario for Arthur’s military activities.
I will consider another candidate for Arthur’s capital in Appendix II below – one that perhaps holds even more promise than Stanwix.