Roberts Dublin: Institute for Advanced Studies, , pp. Brewer, , p. Neil Wright Cambridge: D. For a sample of the political and historiographic choices of the authors of the brutiau , see also Brut y Brehninedd , pp. Brut Dingestow , ed. HRB , p. Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People , ed. Bertram Colgrave and R. Mynors Oxford: Clarendon Press, , pp. Geffrei Gaimar, Estoire des Engleis , trans. Brewer, As early as , Tatlock, Legendary History of Britain , p.
For further discussion, see D. Patrick Wormald Oxford: Basil Blackwell, provides a useful overview. Rachel Bromwich, 3rd ed. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, , p. Michelle R. Susan M.
Vision of History in Early Britain: From Gildas to Geoffrey of Monmouth
Carl Zangenmeister Leipzig: B. For a very useful English translation, cf. Seven Books of History against the Pagans , trans. While each theory has committed supporters, none stand up to close examination. It allows three possible sources. However, this was known in the west only as a star-name Arcturus is the brightest star in the northern night sky , never as a personal name. A stronger case can be made for the Roman family name Artorius, which was used from the late Republic through to at least the third century AD, and shows up on inscriptions in various western provinces — though in neither Gaul nor Britain.
The legend provided an ideal space in which to explore such contemporary issues as the source, nature and obligations of royal authority, chivalry and knighthood, and Christian behaviours appropriate to the lay aristocracy. We find Arthurian storytelling in virtually every language spoken in medieval Europe but its focus was French, which was the most important language of the period and the one most closely connected with the crusades and knightly activity more generally.
By the 13th century, his stories were increasingly imbued with Christian meaning, and no longer a narrative account of his supposed reign. There have been numerous attempts to see ancient origins in various aspects of the medieval Arthur, including the sword in the stone, the grail, and the sword in the lake.
But for any of these to be convincing there has to be a credible line of descent from the earlier occurrence to its arrival in French literature around Take the claim that the medieval sword in the stone and grail stories derive from Scythian nomadic people from central Asia practices, which were documented in the works of Herodotus in the fifth century BC. This requires a complex explanation as to how they were carried to western Europe in the Roman period and remained embedded there until reappearing almost a millennium later in France.
In both instances it seems likelier that the medieval stories had more recent origins. The grail arguably derives from depictions of St Mary bearing a dish from which the Holy Ghost rose as flame, an image later combined with the cup of the last supper. That time seems a long way off, and may never come. The Arthurian legend sheds a lot of light on the later periods in which the story was written and rewritten.
For example, it provides an important reservoir of the medieval languages in which it was set down. It also illustrates ways in which ideas were changing. In the midth century we experience Arthur as a king and commander but, by the final decades of the century, the spotlight had fallen on his court. Here is the proposed "historical abstract" by Ashe , upon which Geoffrey supposedly built the second part of Arthur's career, with the addition of sentence numbering to aid in the discussion below:.
Ashe claims that: "Everything here is more or less historical, and based fairly on recognized records.
Sentence i is historical, and supported by many records. The same is true of ii as regards the Germans, and as far as the Britons are concerned, there is certainly indirect evidence for their settlement in Armorica by this time Wiseman , 11— The expedition of Riothamus in c. Sentences iv and v represent a reasonable supposition. While there are no reliable records that necessitate conflicts between Britons in Britain or on the continent and Saxons in the years prior to , many modern historians have inferred from the DEB that the Saxon revolt predated Riothamus's expedition.
Note that sentence v is deliberately ambiguous—in the DEB it is the Britons who are devastated, but here the sentence is intended to be one that could be misread by Geoffrey, hypothetically as involving a devastation of the Saxons, suggesting an association with Arthur the Saxon slayer of the HB. Jordanes and Gregory say that the Britons occupied Bourges, west of Burgundia, which supports sentence vi.go
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However the vagueness of the description is again to be deliberately misleading—Arthur's major Gallic battles in the HRB are fought just north of Burgundia, not west of it. The next two sentences vii, viii are positively Delphic in their ambiguity. Ashe's artifice would, he supposes, have allowed Geoffrey to incorrectly imagine that Riothamus was the Imperator, that the treasonous "deputy" was in Britain, that the reason the Britons' strength in Gaul was brought to naught was that they had withdrawn to face a hostile army raised by the traitor in Britain, and that this was where the final battle was fought.
There is no reference to an exact year in any of the primary sources for Riothamus. The year in sentence ix is given by the system of Victorius, corresponding to the year by the Dionysian or Anno Domini system. Ashe requires Geoffrey, or a predecessor, to confuse the two dating systems—there are certainly many precedents for this, e. Jordanes says that the defeated Riothamus fled to the neighboring Burgundians. Such a retreat might have passed near the small town of Avallon in Burgundy, but there is no reason to identify the region by this obscure place, and it is far more likely that Geoffrey of Monmouth's Insula Avallonis had a mythological origin.
In sentence xi , the growth of Saxon power on the sea is supported by Sidonius's Letter to Namatius. Finally, the situation in Britain here and in sentence xii is a reasonable inference from Gildas and Bede. Ashe's abstract makes sense as a source for Geoffrey, and for the Legenda , only if Riothamus is identified with Arthur. Ashe states that this identification is the only one possible for an historical Arthur, and that it may well be true.
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For instance, Ashe suggests that "Riothamus" may have been a title, or an alternate Celtic name for the Roman Artorius. Elsewhere Ashe , he notes that Riotamus R. Ashe thus posits that the abstract may have ended thus:.
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At this point, it is crucial to take stock of the fact that Ashe's original motivation for reconsidering Arthur of the HRB is to "take seriously" the fact that Geoffrey's Arthur "is more a Gallic conqueror than anything else" Ashe , To what extent does Ashe's abstract succeed by his own terms of being a source for this part of Arthur's career?
To judge this we need to revisit the abstract, as Ashe would have Geoffrey mis understand it:.
As is now apparent, very little of this interpreted abstract concerns Arthur's "Gallic conquests. I have criticized the "Riothamus theory" of Geoffrey Ashe on several grounds. First, the Legenda Sancti Goeznovii , even if it does predate the HRB , provides only weak evidence for an independent tradition of Arthurian conquests in Gaul. Second, the Legenda certainly does not pin down the time for such conquests to the s. Third, the hypothetical "historical abstract," which Ashe postulates as the source for both the Legenda and the HRB , is quite implausible in one place and requires, in several other places, very particular wording to allow for the hypothetical misunderstandings made by Geoffrey of Monmouth.
Fourth, when those misunderstandings are written into the text, one finds that Ashe's abstract fails on his own terms. That is, it does not make Arthur "more a Gallic conqueror than anything else," and in fact makes no mention of victories in Gaul at all unlike the Legenda. To explain the location of Arthur's Gallic war in the HRB , Ashe hypothesizes the following crucial misunderstanding by Geoffrey of Monmouth of his Ashe's hypothetical source: the location of Arthur's army north of Burgundia.
Now Gidlow , — identifies a handful of elements in HRB suggesting that Geoffrey did have a lost Breton source. Chief among them are the locations mentioned with regard to the maneuvering of Arthur and the Romans on the northern border of Burgundy: the river Aube, Langres, Saussy, and Autun. Unfortunately for Ashe, his "historical abstract" does not mention these places, and could not, since the localization to the northern border of Burgundy is, according to Ashe, a misunderstanding.
In this context, there has been an interesting recent development. There is an extant , not hypothetical, source—the Vita Sancti Dalmatii of c. The terminus ante quem here is precisely when Geoffrey of Monmouth places Arthur's battles in this region. Moreover the terminus post quem was the year of the siege of Autun by the Franks Wiseman , n. I am not at all suggesting that the Vita Sancti Dalmatii is Geoffrey's "certain very ancient book.
But if there was, I submit that the hypothetical record just suggested is a more plausible source than Ashe's far more ambitious, hypothetically misunderstood, hypothetical abstract. Apart from the mirabilia of the HB , the most easily identified of these other sources is a list of Arthur's named possessions including his wife as preserved independently in Culhwch ac Olwen. The fact that these conquests are later repeated in the HRB by Geoffrey's Malgo perhaps argues that they should be included as part of Arthur's insular career. It makes no substantial difference to my case whether they are or not.
- Gildas and Bede.
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The case is argued at greater length, but without much greater effect, in his and books. Arthur hears of Modred's rebellion in It should be noted that the earlier part of the preface contains material with no "relation to fact" and it is in this that the most compelling argument for its drawing upon the HRB is to be made Tatlock , — In particular, the presence of Corineus alongside Brutus as the conqueror of Britain is featured in no other extant text predating the HRB.
Some examples are the following: "the [nation of the] Britons … [has] one king over it" Procopius, History of the Wars 8. Ashe, Geoffrey. Speculum —