Sunday, October 28, 2018


Ribchester Roman Parade Helmet

So if Arthur belongs to Ribchester of the 6th century A.D., how is it that the name Artorius found its way to that fort in the sub-Roman period?

Much has been made, of course, concerning the Roman period involvement of Lucius Artorius Castus of York with both Bremetennacum and the Sarmatians.  Alas, such involvement is completely speculative in nature and has not been supported by preferred dates applied to 'LAC' and the arrival of the Sarmatians in Britain.

Still, there is some evidence that York and Ribchester enjoyed an unusually close and even special relationship.  The following is excerpted from I. A. Richmond's THE SARMATAE, BREMETENNACUM VETERANORUM AND THE REGIO BREMETENNACENSIS ("The Journal of Roman Studies", Vol. 35, Parts 1 and 2 (1945):

"The Roman fort at Ribchester is one of the important strategic centres of Northern Britain, where a Roman road from south to north crossed the river Ribble, while another went eastwards to the legionary fortress at York through the Aire Gap...It is of some importance to recall that the cult of Maponus [found at Ribchester] is one patronized by legionary officers of the Sixth Legion, from which Antoninaus came, and, in particular, by so senior an officer as the praefectus castrorum [a rank held by LAC], since this stamps the cult as one centred in York rather than in the auxiliary forts... It is thus particularly significant for official policy that successive commandants of the Ribchester fort and settlement, men of education and social standing, both could and did draw generously upon the resources of craftsmanship and religious allegory available or current at the York headquarters in order to establish the shrine and monuments of the regional centre upon the basis of the best conventions that they knew. Indeed, it must be admitted that the policy can hardly have been without direct official inspiration, since it continued over a period of some forty years or more. It is evident that both during their military service and after their settlement in the regio as veterans, the men of the Sarmatian numeri, soldiers of the lowest standing in the army, were subjected to the stead influence of Roman religious culture, always one of the most powerful media of social education in the ancient world."

In other words, not only was Ribchester geographically close to York, it was subjected to a prolonged and intensive program of assimilation.  This being so, we can well accept the preservation of the name Artorius in the region, as Roman personal names would certainly have been borrowed by the Sarmatians and, presumably, by any Britons or Romano-Britons who had engaged in intermarriage with the former.  We might be justified in going so far as to say that names of prominent military officers who had served at Eboracum would have enjoyed a favored status among the settlers at Bremetennacum.  This would be even more true an said officer - say, LAC, for example - really did have something notable to do with the regio Bremetennacensis.

It is not, of course, necessary to postulate LAC's being in charge of the movement of the 5,500 Sarmatians to Britain, nor should we feel compelled to make him the man responsible for dividing these units up once they were removed from their Scythian home.  To quote from Richmond's paper again:

"The entire draft of 5,500 Sarmatae allocated to Britain cannot have lain at Ribchester, which is of a size to hold an ala [cavalry unit] of 500 strong. They were doubtless distributed throughout the frontier land for training, and the total strength of the contingent might suggest a subdivision into eleven units of 500 men apiece."

Conceivably, one or more such units might well have been stationed at the legionary fort at York, where they would have become well-acquainted with LAC.  And, we can further state with complete confidence that no matter where these Sarmatian troops served in Northern Britain, Ribchester as the settlement designated for Sarmatian veterans awaited them at the conclusion of their military service.  Soldiers who had known LAC at York, in other words, would naturally have retired to the lands around Ribchester - like at the Samlesbury I have shown to preserve the name of Sawyl Benisel.

Again, though, I must stress that some very good scholars now hold that LAC was gone from Britain before the Sarmatians arrived.  Christopher Gwinn has this to say on this problem:

"If Artorius did participate in Verus’ Armenian war, this demolishes the popular speculation (which never had any evidence to support it in the first place) that Artorius commanded Sarmatians – in Britain, or anywhere else – as the Sarmatians were not defeated in Central Europe and forced to send a levy of troops to Britain until 175 AD, more than a decade after Artorius would have (permanently) left Britain."  [see]

Whether LAC had anything to do personally with the Sarmatians is not really important.  Ribchester's strong ties to York are sufficient to explain the adoption of the name Artorius by the elite at sub-Roman Bremetennacum.  The only way we can directly associate the Sarmatians with LAC is to propose that instead of participating in the Armenian campaign, LAC put down a rebellion in Armorica (Brittany).  Unfortunately, the world's best epigraphers do not allow for Armorica being mentioned on one of the LAC stones.  They insist that the fragmentary word referencing this military action can only stand for Armenia.  I've not yet seen any reasonable argument or evidence that would convince me to disagree with them.

NOTE:  I have thought about 'ADVERSUS[S]ARMATOS' or 'ADVERSU SARMATOS', against the Sarmatians.  But this does not seem to work.  Recently, Dr. Linda Malcor (publication pending) suggested a new reading for this portion of the LAC stone.  She is adopting this reading over that of 'Armoricos', which she previously championed. Her solution is simple, but brilliant, and will allow us to have LAC in Britain with the Sarmatians - and to have him involved in a recorded major campaign in the North.  I am not at liberty at this time to reveal her idea, and so must content myself with this brief, tantalizing and, albeit, frustrating statement.  An incidental effect of her new reading is my being able to more seriously propose Arthur son of Sawyl of Ribchester as THE Arthur of sub-Roman Britain.

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