Wednesday, August 31, 2016

AN ARGUMENT AGAINST LINDA MALCOR’S ARTHURIAN THEORY



                                       A tracing of the Lucius Artorius Castus stone, Croatia.

The world at large first became aware of Dr. Linda Malcor’s Arthurian theory through a product of the entertainment industry, the movie KING ARTHUR of 2004 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Arthur_).  To those unfamiliar with her work, the film seemed a very odd departure from what has come to be expected from Hollywood’s misuse and abuse of the Arthurian Tradition. 

Malcor’s most important and comprehensive presentation of her theory is found in her book FROM SCYTHIA TO CAMELOT.  For those who don’t have access to this title, Malcor has made available two articles in the online THE HEROIC AGE journal:


Dr. Malcor approaches the Arthurian Legend from the perspective of a trained folklorist.  Unfortunately, while her theory is superficially intriguing and has caught the imaginations of many, her methodology as it applies to other fields of study (linguistics, history, archaeology, etc.) is seriously flawed and thus her conclusions are often wild and unsustainable.

The nucleus of her theory revolves around the confirmed existence of a 2nd or 3rd century Roman army officer named Lucius Artorius Castus who for a spell was a camp prefect at York in Britain.  She does not accept the existence of the 5th-6th century Arthur of Nennius or the Welsh Annals, except as this latter Arthur is a folkloristic reflection of the earlier Roman one.  

This position immediately creates insurmountable problems.  Firstly, if the 5th-6th century Arthur is merely “LAC” (as L. Artorius Castus is often referred to) moved forward centuries in time and made into a savior figure during the Saxon invasions, we cannot account for the subsequent Arthurs of the following centuries.  It seems unlikely, if not impossible, for families to have borrowed a name that had not been made famous by a real hero of the time, but was instead a name borrowed to create propagandist fiction.  On the other hand, it is not unrealistic to assume that the name Arthur had been passed down in the North, quite possibly from LAC, and that it was a 5th-6th century warlord who made it famous enough to be assumed by other royal sons in the succeeding generation.  It does not follow, therefore, that is was LAC who made the name famous to begin with. 

Another major problem with Malcor’s theory is its insistence that the heavily armored knights of King Arthur owe their origin to Sarmatian cataphracts stationed at Ribchester at LAC’s time. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that LAC had anything to do with these mounted warriors of the Eurasian steppe.  The medieval depiction of knights in shining armor is not limited to the later Arthurian romances.  Other Dark Age warriors such as Charlemagne and his paladins were also similarly equipped, even though historically their armor and weaponry would have been of a much simpler, more primitive kind.  It is normal in such literature for anachronisms to abound, as it is natural to portray heroes of yore in the trappings of the day. 

Malcor compounds her difficulties by making errors in the field of toponomastics and epigraphy.  In an attempt to prove that Arthur’s conquest of Europe (as first recorded in the fiction of Geoffrey of Monmouth) is based on LAC’s military activity, she draws upon a reading on a LAC stone that she claims refers to him leading Roman troops to quell a rebellion in Armorica.  All the top epigraphers and historians disagree with her.  I myself contacted several of these and other authors critical of Malcor’s theory (see, for example,  http://christophergwinn.com/celticstudies/lac/lac.html)  have since done the same.  The verdict?  The letters in question on the inscription actually designate Armenia, not Armorica.

She makes additional blunders when she tries to identify the Arthurian battles as these are listed in Nennius and ascribes them to LAC.  [As camp prefect, LAC would not have been leading battles away from York.]  Her Ribchester, Roman Bremetennacum, is not Breguoin; this is a linguistically impossible equation.  And Mount Badon cannot, by any stretch of philology or phonology, be Dumbarton Rock.  She also places the Dubglas or Douglas River battle in Lancashire, where there is no Linnuis.  The Tribruit she puts arbitrarily on the Ribble estuary (presumably because this is close to Ribchester).  I have provided good candidates for all of these battle sites in my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY.

Perhaps nowhere does she become more undisciplined than when she proposes supposed parallels between motifs found in the Arthurian Legend and those found in Alano-Sarmatian stories, especially in the Nart Saga.  She does everything from misinterpreting the name of Lancelot of the Lake to suggesting that the thoroughly Celtic Bedwyr owes his origin to the Nart hero Batraz.  This is “sound-alike” etymology at its worst – a classic amateur’s pitfall.  To try and bolster this less than weak case from the standpoint of comparative linguistics, she claims to have proven that certain aspects of Arthurian romance (all late medieval creations) are to be derived from material found in the Nart stories.  I’ve dealt in some detail with the Sword Deposition tale in my book THE MYSTERIES OF AVALON, and there dispense with her explanation.  In the same work I show that the Sword in the Stone episode owes nothing to ancient Alanic ritual practice. 

The same kind of wishful thinking underlies other aspects of her Sarmatian theory.  She makes much of the draco standard of Uther Pendragon, pointing to its origin among the Sarmatian cavalry.  This despite the fact that such standards were in use by the Roman army in general from a fairly early period (see http://www.fectio.org.uk/articles/draco.htm). In ascribing so much significance to the draco standard of the Sarmatians, she neglects to properly analyze the dragon story of Dinas Emrys. 

Even the Holy Grail is not spared a Sarmatian makeover.  Once again she engages in false etymology in order to convince us that key figures in the Grail story – like the Grail King Alain (not ‘Alan’, as in the tribe of that name, but from the thoroughly Celtic deity names Alaunos and Alauna) – were imported from Sarmatian tradition.  She also commits an unpardonable sin, in my estimation:  she relies on the late romance Grail stories to further her agenda.  In doing so she fails to grasp the obvious: the earliest stratum of the Welsh Arthurian tradition has its own prototypical Grail tradition which all point to magical Otherworld cauldrons with Irish associations.  There is simply no connection at all between these Celtic mythological elements and Malcor’s Sarmatians.

Now, had Dr. Malcor as a professional folklorist promoted an Arthurian theory that sought to utilize Jung’s idea of archetypes, I might have been able to get on board with her on this.  I mean, the human mind tends to work much the same from culture to culture.  Thus we always find what appear to be amazing parallels from ethnic group to ethnic group.  But these parallels are not due to diffusion, in the sense that this process is understood by folklorists.  They are present in diverse populations and over great periods of time precisely because people tend to symbolically render the world in accordance with how their brains are wired, which in large part determines how they will experience and react to their environments. 

Are there, then, parallels between the Celtic and Alano-Sarmatian traditions?  Well, yes.  But did the latter inform or influence the former?

No.  There is not a shred of evidence that they did.   

COMING SOON: AN ARGUMENT AGAINST LINDA MALCOR'S ARTHURIAN THEORY

                                    A Sarmatian Tombstone from Chester on Hadrian's Wall

Quite a few years ago I had addressed Dr. Linda Malcor's theory on Lucius Artorius Castus and the Sarmatians in Britain.  The essay had lived at http://stagspirit.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/an-argument-against-dr-linda-malcor%E2%80%99s-arthurian-theory/ for several years before I deleted the site.  Unfortunately, while I believed I had carefully saved all the blog posts, some were lost.  This piece was one of the casualties.

As Malcor's theory still pervades the popular consciousness (although it is not considered a valid theory by her fellow academics), I thought I had better at least try to summarize what I had laid out in my earlier treatment of her work.  I will try to get this "redo by memory" posted within the next few days to a week. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

THE MYTH OF THE MYTHICAL ARTHUR: A CRITIQUE OF THOMAS GREEN’S CONCEPTS OF ARTHUR


As my essay from c. 2010 treating of Thomas Green’s CONCEPTS OF ARTHUR has been lost through a series of computer and human errors, and as the theory of a mythical King Arthur continues to enjoy a fair degree of popularity in both scholarly and non-academic circles, I feel it is necessary to revisit the topic. 

Thomas Green (apparently a pseudonym for Dr. Caitlin Green (http://www.caitlingreen.org/) first made available her study online at http://www.arthuriana.co.uk/historicity/arthur.pdf.  The Web article then appeared in the professional journal Arthuriana as “Arthurian Tradition and the Origins of the Legend” (Lindes, 2009), pp. 3-46.  CONCEPTS OF ARTHUR evolved out of this article, becoming an “up-to-date expansion, development and revision of the views presented” in the original paper.

While it would be far easier to address only Dr. Green’s article, that process would not be fair to her.  Much additional supportive material appears in her book, and doubtless she has sought to strengthen her conclusions. For this reason I will instead tackle CONCEPTS OF ARTHUR entire.  My method will be to address chapter summary statements and whatever final point is made at the end of the work.  Readers of my critique should not restrict themselves to those portions of her book which I quote here, but should seek out those premises utilized by the author to make valid her argument.

CHAPTER 1 THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY: THE EVIDENCE AND ITS CRITICS

P. 43 -  “The weight of the non-Galfridian material (early and late) provides, it has frequently been asserted, a very clear and consistent picture of Arthur as a thoroughly legendary figure of folklore and myth not associated in any way with either the Saxons or Badon, and with this figure resembling in many of its characteristics the Gaelic Fionn who was a mythical figure – originally a god – later historicized with battles against foreign invaders… the nature of Arthur in the earliest sources would indicate that there is really no possible justification for believing there to have been a historical figure of the fifth or sixth century named Arthur who is the basis for all later legends. In the blatant absence of anything even approaching proof of his historicity...there is simply no reason to think that a ‘historical Arthur’ is a serious possibility.”

This is really nothing more than a rehash of Padel, whom I have dealt with elsewhere (http://www.geocities.ws/vortigernstudies/articles/guestdan9.html).  The important thing to recognize in these kinds of deceptive statements is that they confidently assert to be true what is plainly contraindicated in the sources under discussion.  Sure, if you discount the Historia Brittonum and the Welsh Annals (and even later medieval stories such as The Dream of Rhonabwy), Arthur is not associated with the Saxons or with Badon.  Identifying Arthur with a known mythological figure like Fionn serves really only one purpose: to demonstrate the author’s ignorance of how folklore originates, evolves and is transmitted.  We know of any number of examples of DEMONSTRABLY HISTORICAL FIGURES who were subjected to folkloristic development.  Arthur continues to be mythologized today – by those very scholars who have proven unable or unwilling to coax new information from the earliest sources and to bring such into accord with the most recent work being done in related disciplines (e.g. archaeology). 

CHAPTER 2 THE EARLIEST STRATUM OF THE ARTHURIAN LEGEND

P. 86:

“This chapter has taken a similar approach, but focuses specifically on the earliest material, including some literary sources that Padel only briefly touched upon (such as Preideu Annwfyn).  The conclusion from this present survey is clear – in all the sources which seem to be as old as and, in some cases, perhaps up to two centuries older than chapter 56 of the Historia Brittonum, Arthur appears to be conceived of as a figure of myth, legend and folklore, not history.  The focus on these early sources only, along with the very clearly mythical nature of Arthur in many of them, does in many ways make our conclusions even more robust and clear-cut.”

There is a fundamental flaw in Green’s reasoning here.  Her logic runs like this:  as the earliest material we have on Arthur is of a nonhistorical nature, it follows that Arthur himself is not a historical entity.  Well, this view completely misses the fact that what little we have extant on Arthur may well be merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg.  In other words, there may once have been - and almost certainly was – much more historical material on Arthur from the early period.  Some of this might have been oral.  The rest of it was simply lost through the usual processes of destruction and decay arising out of the chaos that was sub-Roman Britain.  Let us propose the following model as a metaphor of what I’m talking about here.  We start out with a dozen eggs.  Eight of them are yellow, while only four are green.  Over time, through sheer chance, or perhaps because people like the color better, three of the green eggs survive, but only one of the yellow eggs.  Someone then comes along and takes a look at the surviving eggs, yellow and green, and naturally concludes that there were probably originally more green eggs than yellow ones.  However, in making this assessment they would be quite wrong.

And once again, until the value of the few historical Arthurian sources are understood and appreciated outside of the relentless and ruthless textual criticism which has produced little of value, it will continue to be all too easy to dismiss these sources as unimportant, or as aberrations, or as a simple example of early medieval euhemerism, akin to what the famous medieval Icelandic author Snorri Sturluson did with some of the Norse gods at the beginning of his Heimskringla.  [The difference between Arthur and, say, Odin, is obvious; while we have a huge amount of evidence for the latter being a god, we have absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Arthur was.  I will return to this point later in this critique.]

CHAPTER 3 THE NATURE OF ARTHUR: ‘A MIGHTY DEFENDER’?

PP. 129-30

“… in addition to Arthur the Hero Protector being a very common and fully folkloric concept of Arthur, it is also clearly attested from the earliest period.  Thus it is found in the Marwnad Cynddylan, probably our earliest datable Arthurian reference which provides more than just the name…. Placed alongside the obviously very widespread nature of this concept and its almost uniformly mythical and folkloric character, it helps confirm that a primary role for Arthur was indeed that of mythical Protector of Britain and a paragon of martial valour.”

To address an error here first:  as Jenny Rowland has shown, the M.C. does not contain the phrase “whelps of Arthur”, but instead “strong-handed whelps.”

Let’s look at this in the opposite way.  Had there been a great war-leader named Arthur who successfully staved off Saxon invasion in the North (something I have written about extensively in my THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY), it would have been an easy matter to cast him in the role of ‘mighty defender’ or ‘hero protector.’  Why?  BECAUSE THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT HE WAS HISTORICALLY.  At least for one region of Britain.

Mythological elements would have formed as accretions around such a great military leader.  Thus Green (and Padel) completely misunderstand the significance of one of their most commonly examined motifs: Arthur’s hunting of the monster boar Twrch Trwyth, the Welsh version of the Irish Torc Triath, which features in the story of Fionn.  In Green’s mind, because Fionn is mythological and hunts the monster boar, and Arthur hunts the same creature, Arthur like Fionn is mythological.  This is just plain bad logic.  Firstly, the Welsh cognate of Fionn is found in the Arthurian version of the hunt – Gwynn son of Nudd.  Because it was the story teller’s goal to make Arthur paramount, Gwynn is simply made one of the hunters who are in the employ of the king.  Thus is does not at all follow that Arthur partakes of the nature of Fionn.  Rather, Gwynn does.  The boar hunt was borrowed from the Irish tale and “co-opted” into native Welsh stories being told of Arthur.

CHAPTER 4 THE NATURE OF ARTHUR’S WAR-BAND AND FAMILY

P. 175-76:

“Taken as a whole the companions of Arthur in the pre-Galfridian legend are mainly non-historical in character, with those few who have historical origins being drawn from a wide range of periods and a great expansion of the court – drawing in many previously unrelated figures, mainly fictional, folkloric or mythical – occurring from the eleventh or twelfth century… many of Arthur’s closest and, most particularly, earliest associations are with figures who are clearly Otherworldly in origin… These occur even in the earliest stratum of the Arthurian tradition and, by their very presence, testify to both Arthur and the Arthurian legend being mythical from its earliest occurrence.”

What can one say about this?  Well, Arthur was of the 5th-6th centuries.  Our earliest sources on him are centuries removed.  If we study other KNOWN historical figures of the period, say Urien of Rheged, we note immediately that very few family members or associates of such figures were remembered.  For Urien we know a few names from the early genealogies and heroic poems.  While we have a fair amount of material on his famous son Owain, we have absolutely nothing about the members of his retinue.  As I mention in my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY, Urien seems to have been a sort of successor to Arthur, at least in so far as he operated in the same region against the Saxons at a slightly later period.  Had Arthur not preceded him, we might easily suppose that instead of a famous Arthur we would have a famous Urien.  And poets and story-tellers and romance writers would have fleshed out his court in a manner similar to what they did for Arthur. 

To claim that because it was thought necessary to fill up Arthur’s court with other famous heroes of the past, as well as with thinly disguised deities, proves that Arthur is himself a mythological figure is nonsense.  Once again, we can go from the Matter of Britain to the Matter of France to see the numerous heroes who were brought into connection with Charlemagne (the so-called Carolingian Cycle).  Because some or many of these paladins are legendary or unhistorical, does it follow that Charlemagne was a god or creation of folkloristic processes?

CHAPTER 5 THE ORIGINS OF ARTHUR

[NOTE:  I’m passing over in near silence the various false etymologies for the name Arthur which are broached by Green in this chapter.  It has been very well established by several notable scholars that the only good etymology for Arthur is the Latin Roman name Artorius.  While opinions vary on an etymology for the latter, trying to concoct a purely British origin for the name or, worse yet, some derivative from Arcturus, making him out to be the Bear Star, are sheer folly.  There were bear gods in Britain, to be sure.  One, called Matunus, was worshipped at Arthur’s Bremenium.  I have discussed the possible significance of this “coincidence” in my book.  The Math of the MABINOGION appears also to have been a bear god.  The Welsh (as evinced by Geoffrey of Monmouth making Arthur into a bear in the dream-sequence where he fights the dragon that is Rome) would have associated the king’s name with their own word for bear, “arth.”  Mythologically speaking, an Artorius/Arthur name could then have drawn to itself characteristics belonging to a bear god or bear hero.  But this does not mean Arthur was in origin a bear god.]

P. 200-201:

“This then is the case for ‘Arthur the God.’ It cannot be said to be in any way conclusive or “proof”.  Rather it takes the comparison of Arthur and Fionn and asks whether it can be extended to the question of divine origins too.  I see no convincing reason why it cannot… His ultimate origins – either as a folkloric Protector from all threats or as, presumably, some benevolent and protective deity (a discussion of some possibilities as to the exact nature of this hypothetical deity will be saved for the final chapter of this study) – obviously belong to a period before we have good records.”

A “hypothetical deity”?  So, because she can find no evidence for a historical Arthur, she would substitute a god for which we also have no evidence.  Or so it would seem.  To properly address this issue, we need to skip ahead and take a look at the last chapter of her book. 

But what about CHAPTER 6 THE HISTORICIZATION OF ARTHUR? There is not really anything in this chapter that merits discussion.  It is a survey, of sorts, of the various historical or pseudo-historical roles Arthur was cast in, beginning with the Historia Brittonum and then devolving into accounts preserved in hagiography. [I would only note in passing that the appearance of ANYONE in a Saint’s Life, or of any role performed by someone in such a source, should automatically be considered more than suspect.  In fact, it should be discounted as history and relegated to the realm of “sacred history”, which was a history invented to indoctrinate the faithful.] 

CHAPTER 7 THE ARTHUR OF THE BRITISH

P. 246:

“Arthur was primarily a folkloric and mythical Protector of Britain, who may have always been such a folkloric hero or who might, just possibly, have developed from a Brittonic protective deity of some sort… Although he was historicized in the ninth century with a role defending Britain against the Anglo-Saxon invaders of the fifth century [correction, Arthur’s two known dates belong to the first half of the 6th century, so 5th-6th centuries is more accurate], this seems to have had little effect on the nature of the ‘Arthurian legend’ proper until Geoffrey of Monmouth took the historicization, combined it with the legendary material circulating at the time (which saw Arthur being granted an increasingly dominant role in legendary Britain by learned authors in particular) and, through the considerable application of his own inventiveness and imagination, popularized this on the international stage.”

There are many things in this chapter I could discuss, but all have a distinctive quality about them.  That is, they are specifically designed to emphasize the folkloristic nature of Arthur.  Green spends a fair amount of space on the Arthurian legend’s imprint on the landscape – the features that have been referred to as Arthur’s this or that.  Such features are found all over Britain, even in the farthest reaches of Scotland.  And, of course, they are found all over Brittany.  Merlin (the later version of the Welsh Myrddin) and other figures with Arthurian associations have likewise left their marks in the geography.  “Migratory” legends contributed largely to this wide dispersal of sites dedicated to the heroes of yore.  Aetiological place-names explain how some giant rock got here, or who built some Neolithic chambered tomb.

But does this in any way impugn Arthur’s historicity?  No, it doesn’t.  When studying ancient Germanic heroic legend, I became aware of the same kind of monuments or natural features being given the names of characters from the Nibelungenlied and the Dietrich Cycle.  In most cases, the characters in question, while legendary by the time they appear in German heroic epic, can be traced to historical personages of the Merovingian period, to the time of the German Invasions of Rome, and to the time of the Huns.  They were not nonexistent “hypothetical” deities. Once upon a time, they were very real people.  And very important ones.

The same must be said about King Arthur. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

A NEW PARADIGM FOR VORTIGERN AND UTHER PENDRAGON AS DERIVED FROM THE DUBIOUS ‘HISTORY’ OF GEOFFREY OF MONMOUTH







The following brief essay is an attempt to “think outside the box” regarding some important legendary (or semi-historical) figures of Dark Age Britain.

I believe some important points have been missed in previous analyses of Vortigern as well as the son of Constantine in British tradition, i.e. Uther Pendragon.

In the past, I have sought to show a connection between the Vortigern of Gildas and Nennius and the various Irish Foirtcherns.  Evidence from the Irish sources strongly suggest Vortigern was half Irish and half British.

But in the pseudo-history of Geoffrey of Monmouth, the Irish element is decidedly absent. Geoffrey tells us two important things: 1) it is Vortigern who kills Constantine III’s son, Constans, and 2) it is Vortigern who is burned to death in his castle. [Never mind the perpetuator of this deed is Ambrosius; I have shown in prior works that he is a reflection of the 4th century prefect of Gaul.  In Geoffrey’s predecessor Nennius, St. Germanus calls fire down from heaven to burn up Vortigern in his palace.]

Why are these two motifs so important?  Because HISTORICALLY SPEAKING, Constans was killed by Gerontius, the British Magister Militum of Constantine III.  Furthermore, Gerontius was burnt to death in his own house by his own mutinous Spanish troops.

While someone at some point must have noticed this direct correlation, I have not been privy to such a treatment of the Vortigern story.  Gerontius became known as Geraint in Dumnonian and Welsh story.  He is probably the basis for Geraint son of Erbin son of Constantine, who lies at the beginning of the Cornish genealogy.

As we all know, Vortigern was blamed for inviting in the Saxons and bringing ruin upon Britain.  This fits to a remarkable degree what we know of Gerontius.  The following passage is from Zosimus:

"Constans was afterwards a second time sent into Spain, and took with him Justus as his general. Gerontius being dissatisfied at this, and having conciliated the favour of the soldiers in that quarter, incited the barbarians who were in Gallia Celtica to revolt against Constantine. Constantine being unable to withstand these, the greater part of his army being in Spain, the barbarians beyond the Rhine made such unbounded incursions over every province, as to reduce not only the Britons, but some of the Celtic nations also to the necessity of revolting from the empire, and living no longer under the Roman laws but as they themselves pleased. The Britons therefore took up arms, and incurred many dangerous enterprises for their own protection, until they had freed their cities from the barbarians who besieged them. In a similar manner, the whole of Armorica, with other provinces of Gaul, delivered themselves by the same means; expelling the Roman magistrates or officers, and erecting a government, such as they pleased, of their own."

This account makes it plain THAT IS WAS THE FAULT OF GERONTIUS that Britain found itself unprotected and at the mercy of an incursion of “barbarians” (read ‘Saxons”, in this particular context).  It also shows us that the Britons not only threw off Roman rule at this time, but that they launched a major defensive action against the invading barbarians and managed, for a time, to repulse them. 

[I've elsewhere shown that the Welsh tradition which places Ambrosius and Vortigern at Dinas Emrys - itself a relocation for Amesbury near Stonehenge - may echo the encounter of St. Ambrose, son of the Ambrosius who was Prefect of Gaul, with the British-proclaimed emperor Magnus Maximus.  Dinas Emrys is in Eryri, from the word for eagle, and Ambrose and Maximus were both present at Aquilea.  Whatever the actual etymology of Aquilea, it may well have been fancifully linked to Latin aquila, eagle.  Thus tradition may have brought Vortigern into connection with yet another famous early figure.  As an aside, I would mention that Gerontius put up a pretender named Maximus, perhaps his own son.] 

Now, according to Gildas, it was under Ambrosius that the Britons rallied to repulse the Saxons.  But, once again, Ambrosius has been displaced chronologically, as can be easily demonstrated (and I have done so in my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY).  He does not belong to the 5th century, but to the 4th.  Many have postulated a descendent of the Gallic prefect.  This is scarcely possible.  It may be that a British chieftain gave the name of the Gallic prefect to one of his sons in the 5th century.  But if he did, we cannot possibly know this.  Evidence in Nennius clearly demonstrates that Ambrosius not only belongs to the 4th century as a historical personage, but that because his name means ‘the divine or immortal one’, he was identified with the god Lleu/Mabon of Gwynedd in the folktale of Dinas Emrys.

In my most recent revision of THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY, I identified Uther Pendragon with Ambrosius.  There were several reasons for my doing so.  First, Vortigern was in dread of Ambrosius, which seemed to account for the Uther (‘Terrible’) name.  Second, in Nennius Ambrosius is called the ‘great king’ among the Britons, and this seemed like it would translate well into the Welsh poetic paraphrasis Pendragon, ‘Chief leader or warrior’.  Finally, Ambrosius is brought into close connection with the worms or dragons of Dinas Emrys.  In other words, Uther Pendragon was merely a title for Ambrosius, a sort of doublet.

Only recently, however, I happened to recall that the second son of Constantine III was named Julian.  This is interesting, for the Emperor Julian the Apostate of the 4th century is referred to in the work of Gregory of Nazianus’s ‘First Invective Against Julian’ as ‘the Dragon’ (of Revelations).  In the same work, we are told:


“Moreover he shows his audacity against the great symbol [the Chi-Ro of Constantine the Great], which marches in procession along with the Cross, and leads the army, elevated on high, being both a solace to toil, and so named in the Roman language, and king (as one may express it) over all the other standards, whatever are adorned with imperial portraits, and expanded webs in divers dyes and pictures, and whatever, breathing through the fearful gaping mouths of dragons, raised on high on the tops of spears, and filled with wind throughout their hollow bodies, spotted over with woven scales, present to the eye a most agreeable and at the same time terrible show.”

In this last, Gregory in speaking out against the Roman draco or ‘dragon’ standard, which according to Geoffrey of Monmouth Uther Pendragon carried in his wars.  The draco is described as “fearful” and “terrible.”

Twice in the historical work of Ammianus Marcellinus Julian the Apostate is associated with the draco standard (passages cited are from http://www.fectio.org.uk/articles/draco.htm#_ednref8):

20.4.18:

Eoque adfirmante primis auspiciis non congruere aptari muliebri mundo, equi phalerae quaerebantur, uti coronatus speciem saltem obscuram superioris praetenderet potestatis sed cum id quoque turpe esse adseveraret, Maurus nomine quidam, postea comes, qui rem male gessit apud Succorum angustias, Petulantium tunc hastatus, abstractum sibi torquem, quo ut draconarius utebatur, capiti Iuliani inposuit confidenter, qui trusus ad necessitatem extremam iamque periculum praesens vitare non posse advertens, si reniti perseverasset, quinos omnibus aureos argentique singula pondo, promisit.

 'But since he insisted that at the time of his first auspices it was not fitting for him to wear a woman's adornment, they looked about for a horse's trapping, so that being crowned with it he might display at least some obscure token of a loftier station. But when he declared that this also was shameful, a man called Maurus, afterwards a count and defeated at the pass of Succi, but then a standard-bearer of the Petulantes, took off the neck-chain which he wore as carrier of the dragon and boldly placed it on Julian's head. He, driven to the extremity of compulsion, and perceiving that he could not avoid imminent danger if he persisted in his resistance, promised each man five gold pieces and a pound of silver.'

16.12.39:

Quo agnito per purpureum signum draconis, summitati hastae longioris aptatum velut senectutis pendentis exuvias, stetit unius turmae tribunus et pallore timoreque perculsus ad aciem integrandam recurrit.           

'On recognising him by the purple ensign of a dragon, fitted to the top of a very long lance and spreading out like the slough of a serpent, the tribune of one of the squadrons stopped, and pale and struck with fear rode back to renew the battle.'

Is it possible, then, that Geoffrey of Monmouth associated Uther Pendragon with Julian, son of Constantine III, a name that had become confused with that of the previous Julian, the emperor who was a “Dragon” and who bore with him the standard of the Draco?

If so, then at least as far as Geoffrey was concerned, Uther Pendragon = Julian son of Constantine III, while Vortigern = Gerontius.

What does this tell us – if anything – about Arthur, son of Uther?

The only thing we know about Julian is that he was executed with his father Constantine III somewhere between Arles and Ravenna in 411 A.D. This means that it is impossible for Arthur to have been Julian’s son.  Arthur fought the Battle of Badon (supposedly) around 516 A.D.  He died at Camlann c. 537 A.D. 

We cannot say, though, that Arthur might not have descended from Julian or that he did not CLAIM descent from Julian.  Constantine III modelled himself after Constantine the Great.  Both had declared themselves emperors while in Britian, and both had sons named Constans.  Emperor Julian the Apostate was the son of Julius Constantius, who was a half-brother of Constantine the Great. Constantine the Great had declared himself emperor while at York, the place where the 2nd or 3rd century Lucius Artorius Castus had been camp prefect.  It is wholly conceivable that Constantine III declared himself emperor in the exact same place.  If so, his son Julian may have taken a British wife and produced a line that eventually yielded the Arthur of the 5th-6th centuries.

Of course, this is all dependent on the ever-unreliable fiction of Geoffrey of Monmouth. The fact that Vortigern in all other early sources would appear to be Irish or at least half-Irish does not lend itself well to seeing him as Gerontius.  And it is much more reasonable to connect Uther the Terrible Dragon with Ambrosius, rather than with a Julian who was wrongly linked to the earlier emperor of that name. Arthur’s direct descent from either Ambrosius or Julian cannot be reconciled chronologically.  My conclusion can only be that Geoffrey utilized early Continental sources to concoct his story, and that motifs belonging properly to these last great Roman figures of the West were “borrowed” so that he could flesh out the “histories” of his own heroes.