The (possible) Roman origin of the mythical king Arthur (part 1)

King Arthur discovers the skeletons of the brothers, Gustave DorèKing Arthur is the central figure in the legends making up the so – called Matter of Britain, where he appears as the model king, both in peace and in war. But was he a real person? Moreover, if he was a true king, how many matters regarding him are really true? And how many are only imaginary?

A lot of modern historians have discussed a long about his exsistence, concluding that he is a legendary figure. Neverthless, as every worth – respecting tales, the legend of king Arthur may have a seed of truth. It can even come from two ancient Roman characters, whose names are Ambrosius Aurelianus and Lucius Artorius Castus.

Some people could argue about the possibile link between the Romans and king Arthur, who is, according to the general belief, the symbol of the Middle Age’s first centuries. Surprisingly, there is much more than a simple connection between these two elements.

In fact, some academics believe that king Arthur can be identified with Ambrosius Aurelianus. According to the British monk Gildas the Wise and his sermon “De excidio et conquestu Britannie” (The Britain’s slaughter and conquest), Ambrosius was a war leader, commanding the Romano – British in the conflict against the Anglo – Saxones, whose army was invading the Great Britain. Ambrosius Aurelianus is described as “a gentleman who, perhaps alone of the Romans, have survived the shock of this notable storm. Certainly his parents, who had worn the purple, were slain by it. His descendants in our day have become greately inferior to their grandfather’s excellence“. This description raises a lot of questions among the historians. Gildas said that Ambrosius’ parents “had worn the purple” and “they were slain by it”. According to some academics’ opinion, Ambrosius came from a Romano – Britain usurper of the Roman empire (perhaps Costantine III), or maybe from the imperial stock of Teodosius. In fact, Roman emperors were used to wear purple clothes as their symbol of power. It is not ruled out that the word “purple” can be linked with a senatorial family, such as the Aureli’s. In fact senators used to wear purple togas. However it can not be excluded that the purple colour could be referred to Roman military tribunes (tribuni militum), who wore a purple band. Interestingly, the purple colour can be a symbol of martyrs’ blood. In this case, wearing the purple could be a reference to martyrdom or a bishop role

In his sermon, Gildas explained that Ambrosius Aurelianus organised Romano – Britain survivors into an army and headed them to a remarkable victory against the Anglo – Saxones invaders in the battle of Mons Badonicus. A lot of questions have been raised about its position and the exact date. Some historians believe that it  took place in Bath (which was called Badon by the Anglo – Saxones), Others near the Salsbury’s hill, where there is an ancient stronghold. But it can not be ruled out that the battle may be located in Scotland. Neverthless academics agree on the time of the clash, which happened between 491 and 516 AD.

To conclude, Ambrosius Aurelianus is one of the possibile historical character who have inspired king Arthur’s figure. In the next post I am going to explain the second likely solution to this issue, whose name is Lucius Artorius Castus.

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