Archaeologists excavating at Tintagel in Cornwall have recently announced the discovery of a "Dark Age palace". This discovery has ignited a frenzy of press reports associating the palace with King Arthur, who according to the 12th century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth was born at Tintagel. An example of one of the more reasonable articles can be found here:
More sensational approaches abound, of course:
Unfortunately, while Tintagel as Arthur's birthplace is well-established in popular tradition, there is absolutely no evidence that the tradition has any basis in fact. No respectable archaeologist would ever make such an outlandish claim. Archaeologists, no matter how capable they may be in their own discipline, in all likelihood do not possess knowledge of the textual criticism levied against the works of Geoffrey of Monmouth ever since medieval times (e.g. William of Newburgh, Gerald of Wales, etc.). Modern scholars have been even harsher towards Geoffrey - and rightly so. His "History of the Kings of Britain" is now universally considered a work of fiction by the Arthurian academic community.
Yet Tintagel, like Glastonbury (scene of the fraudulent grave of Arthur), has been hard to dislodge from the common imagination. In the past I wrote rather extensively on the Tintagel Fallacy, as one might call it. There is, in reality, a great deal of information available to us which suggests rather strongly that the entire Tintagel birth story is a product of Geoffrey's creative genius. While some might claim that just because fictional elements predominate in the story does not prove that the birth of Arthur at Tintagel did not happen, the combined effect of these elements with the evidence for Arthur in the North of Britain instead of the South should serve, once and for all, to dispel the Fallacy.
The following email was sent to me by the director of the dig at Tintagel. It very nicely states the position of archaeologists in relationship to the Tintagel discovery - as opposed to the hysterical and ill-informed reaction of the media:
Thanks for getting in touch – Francis has passed your email on to me.
We have only just finished the excavation at Tintagel for this year and a report will not appear for some time. Before that, analysis work will be carried out on the finds, soil samples and detailed stratigraphic records that we made during the project. We will undertake a second phase of excavation in summer 2017 and the work is part of a five year programme of analysis and research.
The news reports have been pretty wild, as you suggest. However, any archaeologists connected with the project have only alluded to the fact that walls have been found which suggest high status buildings dating to the post-Roman period. The early press reports made the connection that these could be part of a “Royal palace” , perhaps associated with the early kings of Dumnonia. There is, as yet, no direct evidence for this - we can only say that the walls are of a more impressive scale than any of the other post-Roman (Dark Age in old money) structures previously identified at Tintagel, and that they are associated with amphorae and fine wares imported from the Mediterranean.
But at no point have archaeologists involved in the project (ie those from either English Heritage or Cornwall Archaeological Unit) suggested an Arthurian connection – in fact they have said the opposite. Here, for instance, is a quote from the National Geographic: “Archaeologist Susan Greaney, a senior property historian with English Heritage, is quick to dismiss any connection between Arthurian legend and the new finds at Tintagel. "The Arthurian connection is a purely literary, legendary connection," says Greaney. "There's absolutely no way we would start a research project [with the goal of] looking for Arthur." Elsewhere, predictably perhaps, the National Geographic and others have flogged the Arthurian connection, but none of this has been endorsed by archaeologists.
So if the press suggests anyone has mentioned a connection with Arthur, it is pure invention.
Over the coming months myself and my colleague Jacky Nowakowski (project manager for the Tintagel Castle Archaeological Research Project ) will be concentrating on the archaeological evidence and what that can tell us, and help us focus on where we will be investigating next year.
Hope this helps.
James Gossip MCIFA (Excavation Director, Tintagel Castle Archaeological Research Project)"
The following selections from my book THE MYTERIES OF AVALON (see http://secretsavalon.blogspot.com/) discuss the probable or possible sources and methods utilized by Geoffrey of Monmouth in concocting his story of Arthur's birth at Tintagel. I have omitted my discussion of the identity of Uther Pendragon, which is covered in detail in THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY, Chapter 1 (posted to this blog page).
"Only in the past few years, excavations carried out at Tintagel by Kevin Brady of Glasgow University have uncovered evidence which provides a very good reason why Arthur was linked to this site. A broken piece of Cornish slate was uncovered bearing the 6th century inscription ‘Pater Coliavificit Artognov’, which Professor Charles Thomas of Exeter University has rendered ‘Artognov, father of a descendent of Coll.’ While the name Arthur cannot be identified with that of Artognov, it is quite possible that Geoffrey of Monmouth or his source knew that Tintagel was once owned by someone whose name began with Arto-."
POLITICS AND ANACHRONISMS
"Why, then, do we find Igerna/Eigr at Tintagel? To begin with, we know that Geoffrey’s placement of Arthur’s birth at the site was done for political reasons. The man who planned and built the castle of Tintagel was none other than the brother of Reginald Earl of Cornwall, Geoffrey’s patron.
His story of Igerna at Tintagel is unconcerned with history. Indeed, he does not even bother to use period proper names when listing the main characters of the drama!
According to his account, in order to gain secret access to Tintagel – and thus to Igerna – Merlin transforms himself into Britaelis, Uther into Gorlois and Ulfin of Rhydcaradoc into Jordan ‘of Tintagel’.
Britaelis is a known Norman period name. It means, literally, ‘the Breton’, and its earliest attestation is that of Godwine Brytael, referred to as a minister in Dorset in 1035. The Brytael name (Bretel, Bretellus, Britellus, etc.) came into England with William the Conquerer and is of French origin, so it could not have predated the Conquest. There were Brytaels all over England, including one listed as an owner of Trevelyan in Cornwall during the reign of Edward the Confessor (1043-1066).
Perhaps more exciting is the 9th century Breton Brithael, cousin of Lalocan, mentioned in the Cartulaire de l’Abbaye de Redon (125). Myrddin’s real name was Llallogan and it is possible that somone concocting these tales knew of the close relationship existing between Lalocan and Brithael.
Jordan is another Breton name. Geoffrey undoubtedly intended to model this man after Jordan of Trecarrel near Launceston, not far east of Tintagel. In a collection of miracle stories compiled by his son Peter of Cornwall, this Jordan is associated with Earl Reginald of Cornwall, Geoffrey’s patron.
Ulfin is for Alwin, and the Rhyddcaradoc or Charford in Hampshire (the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s Ceredicesford) is an error for Crantock in Cornwall, named for St. Carantoc. The Domesday Book for Cornwall and other documents list an Alwin who holds Winnianton from Mortain. This is the same Mortain who controlled Crantock, so this Alwin is doubtless our man.
So if Arthur’s birth at Tintagel was a fabrication on Geoffrey’s part, is there still reason to place Eigr there? Before we can answer this question, we should take a look at the story of the birth of Arthur.
ON THE CONCEPTION OF ARTHUR
It is well known that the story of Arthur’s conception has a clear parallel in that of the Irish Mongan, a 7th century king of the Dal nAraide in Co. Antrim. Instead of Merlin transforming Uther into a semblance of Gorlais so that the king may sleep with Igerna, in the Mongan tale it is the sea god Manannan mac Lir who transforms himself into Fiachna, the husband of Mongan’s mother Caintigern.
There are two versions of the story, recorded in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology and by Kuno Meyer, and I will supply both here:
“Fiachna Lurga, the father of Mongan, was sole king of the province. He had a friend in Scotland, to wit, Aedan, the son of Gabran. A message went from him to Aedan. A message went from Aedan asking him to come to his aid. He was in warfare against the Saxons. A terrible warrior was brought by them to accomplish the death of Aedan in the battle. Then Fiachna went across, leaving his queen at home.
While the hosts were fighting in Scotland, a noble-looking man came to his wife in his stronghold in Rathmore of Moylinny. At the time he went, there were not many in the stronghold. The stranger asked the woman to arrange a place of meeting. The woman said there were not in the world possessions or treasures, for which she would do anything to disgrace her husband’s honor. He asked her whether she would do it to save her husband’s life. She said that if she were to see him in danger and difficulty, she would help him with all that lay in her might. He said she should do it then, ‘for thy husband is in great danger. A terrible man has been brought against him, and he will die by his hand. If we, thou and I, make love, thou wilt bear a son thereof. That son will be famous; he will be Mongan. I shall go to the battle which will be fought to-morrow at the third hour, so that I shall save Fiachna, and I shall vanquish the warrior before the eyes of the men of Scotland. And I shall tell thy husband our adventures, and that it is thou that hast sent me to his help.’ It was done thus. When army was drawn up against army, the boats saw a noble-looking man before the army of Aedan and Fiachna. He went towards Fiachna in particular, and told him the conversation with his wife the day before, and that he had promised to come to his help at that hour. Thereupon he went before the army towards the other, and vanquished the warriors, so that Aedan and Fiachna won the battle.
And Fiachna returned to his country, and the woman was pregnant and bore a son, even Mongan son of Fiachna. And he thanked his wife for what she had done for him, and she confessed all her adventures. So that this Mongan is a son of Manannan mac Lir, though he is called Mongan son of Fiachna. For when the stranger went from her in the morning he left a quatrain with Mongan’s mother, saying:
‘I go home,
The pale pure morning draws near: Manannan son of Lir
Is the name of him who came to thee.’”
Meyer’s version goes into more detail and emphasises the shapeshifting aspect of the tale:
“3. Then Fiachna assembled the nobles of Ulster until he had ten equally large battalions, and went and announced battle to the men of Lochlann. And they were three days a-gathering unto the battle. And combat was made by the king of Lochlann on the men of Ireland. And three hundred warriors fell by Fiachna in the fight. And venomous sheep were let out of the king of Lochlann’s tent against them, and on that day three hundred warriors fell by the sheep, and three hundred warriors fell on the second day, and three hundred on the third day. That was grievous to Fiachna, and he said: ‘Sad is the journey on which we have come, for the purpose of having our people killed by the sheep. For if they had fallen in battle or in combat by the host of Lochlann, we should not deem their fall a disgrace, for they would avenge themselves. Give me,’ saith he, ‘my arms and my dress that I may myself go to fight against the sheep.’ ‘Do not say that, O King,’ said they, ‘for it is not meet that thou shouldst go to fight against them.’ ‘By my word,’ said Fiachna, ‘no more of the men of Ireland shall fall by them, till I myself go to fight against the sheep; and if I am destined to find death there, I shall find it, for it is impossible to avoid fate; and if not, the sheep will fall by me.’
4. As they were thus conversing, they saw a single tall war-like man coming towards them… And the warrior said: ‘What reward wouldst thou give to him who would keep the sheep from thee?’ ‘By my word,’ said Fiachna, ‘[whatever thou ask], provided I have it, I should give it.’ ‘Thou shalt have it (to give),’ said the warrior, ‘and I will tell thee the reward.’ ‘Say the sentence,’ said Fiachna. ‘I shall say it,’ said he; ‘give me that ring of gold on thy finger as a token for me, when I go to Ireland to thy wife to sleep with her.’ ‘By my word,’ said Fiachna, ‘I would not let one man of the men of Ireland fall on account of that condition.’ ‘It shall be none the worse for thee; for a glorious child shall be begotten by me there, and from thee he shall be named, even Mongan the Fair (Finn), son of Fiachna the Fair. And I shall go there in thy shape, so that thy wife shall not be defiled by it. And I am Manannan, son of Ler, and thou shalt seize the kingship of Lochlann and of the Saxons and Britons.’ Then the warrior took a venomous hound out of his cloak, and a chain upon it, and said: ‘By my word, not a single sheep shall carry its head from her to the fortress of the king of Lochlann, and she will kill three hundred of the hosts of Lochlann, and thou shalt have what will come of it.’ The warrior went to Ireland, and in the shape of Fiachna himself he slept with Fiachna’s wife, and in that night she became pregnant. On that day the sheep and three hundred of the nobles of Lochlann fell by the dog, and Fiachna seized the kingship of Lochlann and of the Saxons and Britons.
5. … And then he [Fiachna] went into Ireland and found his wife big-bellied and pregnant, and when her time came, she bore a son. Now Fiachna the Fair had an attendant, whose name was An Damh, and in that (same) night his wife brought forth a son, and they were christened together, and the son of Fiachna was named Mongan.”
The most important detail to notice is in the first account of Mongan’s conception. This is the mention of the ‘terrible warrior’ or ‘terrible man’ sent against Fiachna and Aedan (variously father or grandather of an Arthur). The word used in the Gaelic text is ‘h-uathmar’. The Irish uath is cognate with the Welsh root of Uther. However, as the whole tale is a heroic version of the Battle of Degasastan, we know from the historical sources that it was Hering son of Hussa who led the English forces against Aedan and his Irish fian.
The name of Fiachna’s wife, Caintigern, is given in The Voyage of Bran (Imram Brain):
“49. This shape, he on whom thou lookest,
Will come to thy parts;
Tis mine to journey to her house,
To the woman in Line-Mag.
For it is Manannan, the son of Lír,
From the chariot in the shape of a man,
Of his progeny will be a very short while
A fair man in a body of white clay.
Manannan, the descendant of Lír, will be
A vigorous bed-fellow to Caintigern [Caointigirn in the Gaelic text]:
He shall be called to his son in the beautiful world,
Fiachna will acknowledge him as his son.
He will delight the company of every fairy-knoll,
He will be the darling of every goodly land,
He will make known secrets-a course of wisdom-
In the world, without being feared.
He will be in the shape of every beast,
Both on the azure sea and on land,
He will be a dragon before hosts at the onset,
He will be a wolf of every great forest.
He will be a stag with horns of silver
In the land where chariots are driven,
He will be a speckled salmon in a full pool,
He will be a seal, he will be a fair-white swan.
He will be throughout long ages
An hundred years in fair kingship,
He will cut down battalions, -a lasting grave-
He will redden fields, a wheel around the track.
It will be about kings with a champion
That he will be known as a valiant hero,
Into the strongholds of a land on a height
I shall send an appointed end from Islay.
High shall I place him with princes,
He will be overcome by a son of error;
Manannan, the son of Lír,
Will be his father, his tutor.
He will be-his time will be short—
Fifty years in this world:
A dragonstone from the sea will kill him
In the fight at Senlabor.
Not only do we have a ‘terrible warrior/terrible man’ present in the conception of Mongan story, but Mongan himself is referred to as a dragon (Gaelic drauc) and is killed by a dragon stone (ail dracoin)!
‘Dragon stone’ was a name for a precious stone in Irish. It is derived from Latin dracontia (also called draconite, dentrites draconius, or obsianus, girn-rodor in Old English), a mystical black gem with special powers that was believed in the Middle Ages to have been found in the heads of dragons. In the Middle Ages, ammonites (a type of horn-shaped fossil) were frequently called draconites, but the name obsianus seems to imply that it is the volcanic glass obsidian (there were allegedly nine different types of dragon stones, so maybe both of these stones could be dragon stones). It was a jewel that adorned a cup in Fled Bricrend; Cuchulainn is given a cup of red-gold by Ailill and Medb which had embedded on its bottom a decoration of a bird made out of ’dragon stone, the size of his two eyes’. The stone must have had some sort of special significance to the Irish, because its presence on Cuchulainn's cup helps mark him as the champion deserving of the Champion's Portion. If the dragon stone was obsidian, it was a very hard stone that, when it fractured, had extremely sharp edges, thus making a deadly weapon when used as a sling-stone. Obsidian was used for arrow and spear tips in the Stone Age. Dragon-stones (dracoin) are mentioned elsewhere in Imram Brain (sect. 12), where they are paired with glain or ‘crystals’:
"Then if Airchthech (Bountiful Land) is seen,
On which dragon-stones and crystals drop
The sea washes the wave against the land
Hair of crystals [glano] drops from its mane.”
Even more important than the presence of the terrible warrior, the dragon and the dragon-stones in the story of Mongan’s conception for showing its relationship to Geoffrey’s story of Arthur’s conception is the identity of the slayer of Mongan, i.e. the warrior who uses the dragon-stone to slay the king. His name is revealed in the Irish Annals of Tigernach (Year Entry 625):
“Mongan mac Fiachna Lurgan, ab Artuir filio Bicoir Britone lapide percussus interit. Unde Bec Boirche dixit:
“Mongan son of Fiachna Lurgan was struck with a stone by Artuir son of Bicoir the Briton and died...”
“Is uar in gáeth dar Ile, do fuil oca i Cínd Tire, do-genat gnim amnus de,
mairbfit Mongan mac Fiachnae.”
“Cold is the wind over Islay; there are warriors in Kintyre,
they will commit a cruel deed therefore, they will kill Mongan, son of Fiachna.”
There are thus several reasons why a storyteller such as Geoffrey of Monmouth (or his ultimate source) might have borrowed the Mongan conception story and grafted it onto that of Arthur:
There is a terrible warrior who reminds us of Uther Pendragon
Dragons are present, in the form of Mongan and dragon-stones
Mongan is slain by an Arthur with a dragon-stone
Bicoir, father of Artuir, is none other than Petuir/Retheoir or ‘Petrus’, father of Arthur of Dyfed. B and P easily substitute for each other and in some MSS., c looks identical to t. Bicoir in Kintyre or ‘Land’s End’ is duplicated by Petuir in Pembro, also ‘Land’s End’.
The real question is still how Igerna fits into this picture. Technically, her role is the same as that as Caintigern. And, indeed, Arthurian scholar John Matthews has very cleverly proposed (private communication) that Igerna may be a truncated form of the name Caintigern. But Caintigern is from Cain, ‘beautiful’, plus tigern, ‘lady’. While it would not be difficult to allow for the dropping of Cain- and the retention of -tigern, it is all but impossible to account for the subsequent loss of the t- of tigern. And, as we have already seen, we cannot go by Geoffrey’s form of the name of Arthur’s mother, but must rely instead on the Welsh form, Eigr.
Eigr’s name is a perfectly regular reflex of *akri (with a Long i), feminine derivative of the familiar *akro- ‘sharp, pointed; point, promontory’.
Just a little North-NorthEast of Igerna’s Tintagel is Hartland Point, which is one of the candidates for the Herakleous akron or ‘Promontory of Hercules’ of Ptolemy’s Geography. According to Ptolemy, writing c. 150 CE in his Geography 2.3.3, the cape of Hercules lies between Bridgewater Bay and Land’s End on the north coast of the Cornwall Peninsula. An identification with Tintagel Head, which meets the same conditions, would be, according to Ptolemy, quite possible. The coordinates given by him are to be understood as only highly approximate.
The possibility that Tintagel could be the Promontory of Hercules is astonishing, given the story of the conception of Hercules – a story which bears a striking resemblance to that of Arthur’s own birth! I quote the account presented in Robert Graves’ The Greek Myths:
“Meanwhile, Zeus, taking advantage of Amphitryon’s absence [in battle], impersonated him and, assuring Alcmene [Amphitryon’s wife] that her brothers were now avenged – since Amphitryon had indeed gained the required victory that very morning – lay with her all one night, to which he gave the length of three… Alcmene, wholly deceived, listened delightedly to Zeus’s account of the crushing defeat inflicted on Pteralaus at Oechalia, and sported innocently with her supposed husband for the whole thirty-six hours. On the next day, when Amphitryon returned, eloquent of victory and of his passion for her, Alcmene did not welcome him to the marriage couch so rapturously as he had hoped. Amphitryon… consulted the seer Teiresias, who told him that he had been cuckolded by Zeus…”
Greek akron is 'highest or farthest point, mountain top, peak, headland, cape, end, extremity', akra, 'headland, foreland', akraios, 'dwelling on heights or promontories'. None of the meanings suggest or demand 'sharpness', even though the word would seem ultimately to come from a root meaning pointed or sharp. Thus the round shape of the Tintagel headland could still have been referred to as akron or akra. Akraios was also an epithet of Hera, mother of Herakles. Hence Hera Akraea or Acraia was Hera ‘of the Height or Promontory’.
I would propose, therefore, that Tintagel’s promontory is the ancient Herakleous akron and that beneath the Dark Age buildings lurks a shrine to Herakles or to his Celtic equivalent. The folk memory of Hera Akraea is preserved in the name Akri or Eigr, who may later have come to be seen merely as a personification of the headland, rather than as the goddess of the place.
Needless to say, Hera Akraea was not the real mother of Arthur! Although we may never know the real name of Arthur’s mother, we may be able to pinpoint her actual place of origin."
"Geoffrey got his Gorlois from Taliesin’s poem XLVIII, The Death-Song of Uther Ben. In this poem Uther is referred to as Gorlasar. Noted Celticist John Koch recently pointed out the similarity between Geoffrey's Gorlois and Gorlasar. Hence it appears that Geoffrey of Monmouth took the title gorlassar and converted it into a separate person whose form Uther assumes.
The full stanza containing the name Gorlasar (from Death Song of Uther Ben) runs like this:
“I was called Gorlasar ['bright blue'],
My belt was a rainbow to [or 'about'] my enemies. I was a prince in the dark,
[He] who enchanted me placed me in the basket.”
According to the Geiriadur Prifsygol Cymru, gorlasar is from gor + glassar, in Old Irish forlas(s)ar, ‘fire, conflagration’ or, as an adjective, ‘shining, fiery’. In Welsh the meaning is ‘bright blue, having glinting weapons’. Gorlas (gor + glas), in OI forglas, means ‘with a blue face, very blue’ or, as an adjective in Welsh, ‘bright or deep blue’.
Gorlasar may actually be a name the poet Taliesin gave himself. I say this only because of line 4 of the quoted strophe, which has Gorlasar placed in a basket. This sounds suspiciously like what was done to Taliesin, who was placed in a ‘coracle or hide-covered basket’ by the goddess Ceridwen. The coracle/basket ends up in a fish-weir. Some obscure lines in Welsh sources hint that the pole upon which Myrddin (as Llallogan) was impaled had a fish-weir attached to it."