The (possible) Roman origin of the mythical king Arthur (part 2)

Lucius Artorius Castus is, according to some historians, the Roman man who ispired the legendary figure of king Arthur.

What we know about him is contained in an epigraf in Podstrana, on the Dalmatian coast in Croatia. Although it does not exactly point a date, he probably lived between the mid – late 2nd century AD or early to mid – 3rd century AD.

The inscription describes his military career. At the beginning he was a centurion in the legion III Gallica, which stood in Syria for most of the 2nd and 3rd century. It is hard to understand if he previously achieved other military offices. Later he practised his centurion role in other places, for instance Judea (legion VI Ferrata) and Budapest (legion V Macedonica), where he became a primus pilus, the chief of all the centurions in a legion. After he gained the title of prepositus (provost) of the Misenum fleet in Italy, he was sent in Britain as a praefectus (officer) of the legion VI Victrix in Britain. Here he became a dux (commander), due to some great uncertain feats and then he retired from his military career. The last charge he was given was procurator centenarius. It means governor, that is what he performed in Liburnia, in the north part of Dalmatia, where he actually died.

According to some academics, such as Kemp Malone, Lucius Artorius Castus could be identified with king Arthur.

The inscription of Polstrana explains that he stood in Britain as a praefectus (officer). If Artorius had lived during the 2nd century AD, he could probably be the person who was sent by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius in order to fight the Caledonians, who had crossed the Hadrian’s Wall and killed the Roman commander in Eboracum (York) somewhere about in 181 AD.

The historical documents hand down that the Roman emperor sent 5500 Sarmatian riders in order to face the Caledonian invaders. The Sarmatians came from the current Ukraine, and they were a nomadic people. Their riding skills help them serve as mercenaries of the Roman empire. They are the key point of Malone’s thesys about king Arthur.

According to him, Artorius, from 181 AD to 185 AD, warded off the Caledonians using the Sarmatian cavalry. But why is it possible to consider Artorius as a source of inspiration for king Arthur’s figure?

Firstly, their names are similar (Arthur, Artorius). But this is not the main argument supporting the statement. In fact, both Arthur and Artorius were followed by strong riders. Moreover, the standard of the Sarmatian cavalry was a large red dragon pennant, which is similar to king Arthur’s one. But there is another ethimological aspect. The older documents about king Arthur point him as a dux, not as a monarch. And what title did Artorius gained in Britain, thanks to his great feats? Dux.

Neverthless the key feature of Malone’s thesys is the cultural affinity between the Sarmatians and the legend of king Arthur. In fact they had a close- religios fondness for their swords. For example, tribal cult were addressed to a sword sticking up from the ground. It sounds familiar to the sword in the stone. Moreover, they have similar mythological tales. For instance, according to the Sarmatian traditions, Nart the Warrior, who was very tied to his sword, before his death he asked to the last comrade – in – arms survivor to throw his sword into the sea. His friend cheated him twice before he did his last will. In the same manner king Arthur was fooled twice by his companion knight Bedivere before his sword was brought to the Lady of the Lake.

There is also another element which Sarmatians and the king Arthur’s tales have in common. In fact, the two of them have characters who tricked up their cloaks by using the enemies’ beards. In both these stories they are missing the last beard to finish their work.

This interesting theory could be confirmed by a historical document called “Notitia Dignitatum“, which explains that in 428 AD there was a colony of Sarmatians’ descendants in Ribchester, in the English Lancashire.

The legend of king Arthur could be likely developed from the tales about Lucius Artorius Castus and his Sarmatian cavalry. These stories could be transmitted from generation to generation, until they became the king Arthur’s saga, thanks to the contributions of local myths.

I believe that the Malone’s hypothesis is not only interesting, but also well – argued and almost exact and that is why I find it more reliable than the Ambrosius Aurelianus’ one.


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