Friday, May 12, 2006
Having just returned from England, I have renewed my interest in the complex history of Roman Britain and find myself resesarching more an more about the various cultures that inhabited that land. I think, despite the criticism levied about the film, the movie "King Arthur" starring Clive Owen is probably closer to the truth surrounding the possible existence of a real King Arthur than any medieval legends.
I know the programs I watched about the foundations of the King Arthur legend did mention the existence of a Roman officer named "Lucius Artorius Castus" who led a documented campaign against the Armoricans in the second century C.E. and some scholars speculate a descendant of his could have been the Arthur of the early Dark Ages.
"Castus has gained in popularity over the years as more has been deduced about him and the period in which he lived. The primary evidence that Castus even existed is slim: one, extremely extensive, autobiographical resume on three fragments from a sarcophagus, which were found in a fence/wall near Epetium (modern Strobrez in Podstrana) and one corroborating memorial plaque found near the chapel of St. Martin (Sveti Martin) of Podstrana on the Adriatic Highway.3 The reconstruction of the main inscription can be translated as:
To the spirits of the departed: Lucius Artorius Castus, centurion of the III legion Gallica, also centurion of the VI legion Ferrata, also centurion of the II legion Adiutrix, also centurion of the V legion Macedonica, also primus pilus of the same [the V legion Macedonica], praepositus of the classis Misenatium (the fleet on the Bay of Naples), praefectus of the VI legion Victrix, dux of the legions of cohorts of cavalry from Britain against the Armoricans, procurator centenarius of the province of Liburnia, with the power to issue death sentences. In his lifetime he himself [possibly: "fecit," "had this made"] for himself and his family . . . ["possibly H. s. est," "lies buried here".4
In addition to the Castus inscriptions, there are what I believe to be other references to him in some of the "nameless" figures that appear in the histories of Cassius Dio and Herodian.
When Malone wrote his article, the stones bearing the Castus inscriptions had not, to his knowledge, been dated. Scholars now believe that the pieces of Castus's sarcophagus date to no later than 200 (Kirigin and Marin 1989:143),5 which means that Lucius Artorius Castus most likely died prior to that date. There is precisely one military action known to have been lead by a dux in the late second century, and that is a military expedition to Armorica in 185, which is documented by Herodian (10.1-7; Whittaker 1969:61-67).6 The dux for this expedition is not named in the text, but, given the inscriptions from Liburnia, the officer had to be Lucius Artorius Castus.7 Given the known date for the Armorica campaign and the fact that the Artorii were of the equestrian class, it becomes possible to reconstruct the life of this obscure individual in rather surprising detail." - Linda A. Malcor, "The Heroic Age: Lucius Artorius Castus, An Officer and An Equestrian
Ms. Malcor goes on to describe the various tours of duty this outstanding cavalry officer had, correlating them to other historical events occurring during his service and reflects her extensive research. If he wasn't the ancestor of "King Arthur" he definitely should have been. His relationships with conquered Sarmatians is paralelled in the Hollywood film. If you saw the film in the theater, try renting or buying the DVD. It contains more background material and is far superior to the theatrical release.
I just finished listening to Valerio Manfredi's "The Last Legion". It is a work of fiction but takes place during the takeover of Italy by Odacer. In it, Manfredi postulates that the last boy emperor Romulus is wrested from confinement on Capri and is spirited away to Britannia where he fulfills an ancient legend of a boy from the east who will lead the Britons in a victorious battle for freedom at a place called Mount Baden under the banner of a dragon. Romulus does so and his followers dub him "Pendragon". He marries the daughter of a local chieftain and they have a son they name "Arthur" - an entertaining piece of alternative history!