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A Man Called Arthur

Some have suggested that King Arthur was a Welsh king of the seventh century called Athrwys Ap Meurig (which is a little odd given that ap Meurig effectively translates as "son of a great king"). Some have proposed various other historical figures from Romans and Romano-Brits (such as Magnus Maximus, Lucius Artorius Castus and Ambrosius Aurelianus) to the Scottish king Aedan mac Gabrain and his son Artuir mac Aedain. And still others have looked for physical traces of Arthur, such as the castle called Camelot and the island called Avalon.

The search for the historical Arthur has, in fact, become much like the search for Atlantis—yielding lots of possibilities but no unqualified successes. The failure to find the historical Arthur has led some to abandon all hope of finding him. From their perspective, either the historical evidence for a real Arthur has been forever lost to history, or the man simply never existed. Either way, the best answer for them is to simply deny Arthur a seat at the table.

But is denying Arthur's existence really the right answer?

In a moment I am going to pull out of a stone some evidence that I believe is of the true, historical Arthur. And I am going to wave the evidence in your face and hope that the point of my efforts will be driven home: that the stories of King Arthur were based on real people and real events.

To be honest, I think the reason the historians cannot find evidence of King Arthur is because they are looking in the wrong time period and place. He was not, from what I can tell, a Welsh or Cornish king of the fifth, sixth or seventh century AD, and the enemies he fought were not the Anglo-Saxons or the Picts of that period. Those who wrote about Arthur, whether by accident or intent, simply got their facts wrong. The stories they wrote were written down many hundreds of years after the actual events with few if any historical records available to guarantee a true and accurate accounting of the events.

So now I am going to reveal to you (by the efforts of Merlin no doubt), who the real King Arthur was. Drum roll please…

But rather than begin my case by calling Arthur to the witness stand, I will, instead, call another witness: a woman, who had close personal knowledge of Arthur.

She was called Guinevere. But Guinevere was not her actual name. That was merely a title. The problem is that, over the years, after numerous translations, her title got mangled to the point that those who heard it could not recognize what they were hearing. So let me whisper it to you.

Her title was cwen Arver. She was a queen (cwen in Old English), and her husband Arver was the king we call Arthur.

Now, if you look, you can find historical records for this king called Arver. He is the ancient king known to us as Arvirargus. You see arg is merely a form of eric, which means "king". And the -us at the end of Arvirargus simply indicates that Arvirargus was a name the Romans, who tacked -us onto the end of all names, knew him by. So Arvirargus is, quite literally, King Arvir, or, perhaps more precisely King Arver.

Now, as convincing as my linguistic arguments have been, I am going to share a little more about this Arver fellow that I hope will convince you, beyond any reason of doubt, that he is who I say he is.

Arver and his queen lived in Essex in the town that is now known as Colchester. But Colchester was not what they called it. During their time, it was known by its Celtic name, Camelodunon (or as we know it through the Arthurian stories, Camelot). Interestingly, it was when the Anglo-Saxons arrived en masse, that the town received its new, modern name, Colchester. The name Colchester, in fact, is Anglo-Saxon for "Coel fort". And, if you go to Colchester, you will find the ruins of the pre-Roman fort known as Camelodunum to the Romans and as Camelodunon to the Celts who first built it.

The town of Colchester is also, interestingly—and by no coincidence—the same town where lived the king we know from the nursery rhyme as “Old King Coel”. But, like our friend Guinevere, the king’s name was not Coel. That was the name of the land that he ruled, the land known to the Anglo-Saxons as Coel and which the Romans called Gaul.

Wow, “the king of Gaul?!” you ask. To which I respond “really, really”.

Obviously, this is going to take bit of explaining. So I probably should begin at the very beginning, which is, by no coincidence, also the beginning of our story of King Arver.

Back in 58 BC Julius Caesar began a military campaign into the land called Gaul, but which today, for the most part, we call France. During that campaign, Caesar and his army killed and enslaved thousands, if not millions, of people there. And to make sure that he got proper credit back in Rome for what he did there, Caesar hired a writer to help him author a propaganda piece titled "Commentaries on the Gallic War". And it is in Commentaries that we learn a little about our friend Arver and his origins.

After several years thrashing about in Gaul, General Caesar, in 55 BC, decided to become Christopher Columbus and explore the world known as Britannia. Toward that goal, he sent off one of his men to sail out to the island and see what he could see. After his man returned and reported back what he saw, Caesar then set off for Britain himself accompanied by a few hundred men with the intention of conquering the island. Needless to say, his plans quickly came to an end when he and his men were immediately invited to leave the island. And he did so post haste.

Of course, Caesar never could take “No” for an answer. So, the following year, he set sail again for the island of Britain, this time with a few thousand of his best soldiers at his side. And, per Caesar, it was during this second visit to Britain in 54 BC that he finally succeeded at convincing the Brits to become good citizens and to make regular contributions to the general welfare. And then Caesar and his men, as they had done the first trip, quickly climbed back into their ships and returned to the pleasant shores of Gaul for a few more years of campaigning.

The travelogue that Caesar provides in his Commentaries of his little foray into Britain is rather interesting. He describes, for example, the people of Kent, saying “The most civilized of all these nations are they who inhabit Kent, which is entirely a maritime district, nor do they differ much from the Gallic customs.” Caesar also mentions the names of a few places and people he met or heard about, including a man named Cassivellaunus and four kings of Kent, one of whom was named Cingetorix. Caesar also points out that he was able to defeat the Brits because he was told the location of their main fort.

The fort or town that Caesar came upon was supposedly called Verlamion. It lay along the river Ver, near the location now know as Wheathampstead (part of St. Albans). Consequently, it appears rather likely that the tribe of people living there (which most historians today call the Catuvellauni) were actally called Ver and that both the town and river were named after the tribe.

After Caesar trashed the original town, the people of Verlamion moved the town northeast to the location they called Camelodunon, which would eventually become the home of the man Caesar knew as Cassivellaunus, as well as our good friend King Arver.

At this point, it is a good idea to look at the names of the people and places I just mentioned.

If one looks closely at the names Catuvellauni, Verlamion and Cassivellaunus, they all appear to be based on the same root: Verlauni or Vellauni or even Verleoni. The prefix cassi- is said to mean “lover”, suggesting possibly that Cassivellaunus was a great ally of a people known as the Vellauni. The name Vellauni appears very similar and likely related to another name given by Geoffrey of Monmouth much earlier in his Historia Regum Britanniae, that of a great king named Belinus.

According to Geoffrey, Belinus and his brother Brennius were kings of all of Britain. Eventually, per Geoffrey, Belinus and Brennius combined forces and conquered all of Gaul. Then the two brothers supposedly went on to sack Rome.

While much of what Geoffrey said in Historia is believed to be somewhat fictional, the sacking of Rome by Brennius did in fact take place around 387 or 390 BC. The Celts throughout Britain and Gaul were also known to supposedly worship a god known as Belenus (or Belinus), whose name could have derived from the great king’s name, through exaggeration and misunderstanding (much like Arthur’s stories), rather than the other way around.

Geoffrey also mentions our friend Cassivellaunus, but Geoffrey spells his name a little differently. He spells it Cassibelanus, which appears to tie the name possibly to King Belinus. And that connection is made even clearer by the spelling Geoffrey gives for Cassivellaunus’ grandson’s name: Cunobelinus.

And then there’s the name of Belinus’ dad. Geoffrey calls him Dunvallo Molmutius. Here, one can hopefully see a connection between vallo and vallau-ni. And the prefix dun, which, like caer, means “fort”. So his name appears to translate possibly as “Molmuti of Fort Vallo”.

Geoffrey tells us that Dunvallo was the king of Cornwall. He defeated the king of Loegria, and then the kings of Cambria and Albany. And then, once he had conquered all the lands, Dunvallo enacted a set of laws (the Molmutine laws) that reads much like a code of chivalry.

What we have then is a king of the fifth century BC who conquered all of Britain and then enacted a series of laws that brought peace to the land. He was followed by two sons who went out and conquered all of Gaul and waged war against the Romans as well as in Germany. And, if that were not enough, one of his sons, Belinus, built a fort in southeast Wales called Caerusc (Caer Usk), but which would later be rechristened Caerleon, and which, according to Geoffrey, was the location of King Arthur’s court.

Could Caer Leon be a variant of Caer Vallaun? Perhaps. But at this point I have wandered far afield from our friend Arver. So I would like to get back to our story of King Arver and his connection to King Arthur.

Caesar also tells us in his Commentaries that, in 52 BC, two years after the revolt of a Belgian king named Ambiorix, the Guals also revolt. They were led by a man named Vercingetorix, who employed a scorched earth tactic identical to the one our friend Cassivellaunus used against Caesar in Britain.

When the Gauls revolted, the first thing Caesar did was march to a place called Vellaundunum in the land of the Senones. One should note that the name Vellaundunum translates as "fort of the Vellaun".

Now, to the south of the Senones, we find another tribe, the tribe of our good friend Vercingetorix. They were called the Arverni. And this is where it gets really fascinating, because Arverni means “those related to Arver”.

Prior to the Roman invasion, the Arverni had been the dominant tribe of Gaul. And even to this day, the region and its people are proudly known as the Auvergne.

One should also take a look at the name Cingetorix. In the Celt language, his name is said to mean “marching king”. That is rather interesting, because the name Ambiorix, the name of the “Belgian” king who had started a rebellion two years earlier than our friend Vercingetorix (whose name means “marching King of the Ver), can be seen to break down as Ambi orix, also meaning “marching king”.

So, getting back to the Gallic war, after several bouts between Caesar and Vercingetorix, Caesar sacked the town of Avaricum (the name of which appears to decompose into Arver Ric Um, meaning “location of King Arver”). The two then faced off at a place called Gergovia, the main city of the Arverni tribe.

According to Caesar, Vercingetorix and his band of merry men “attacked” Gergovia first. That supposedly forced Caesar to lay siege to the hilltop city. Tragically, according to Caesar, as the siege wore on, he decided to order a strategic retreat in order to fool Vercingetorix into leaving the stronghold. Unfortunately, according to Caesar, not all of his troops got his message and, instead of retreating, they attempted to storm the stronghold. That little booboo resulted in the loss of no less that 46 centurians and 700 legionaires, and over 6000 wounded.

Of course, we can trust that Caesar gave a full and accurate accounting of the defeat in his puff piece Commentaries (wink wink, nudge nudge). After all, it was not his fault that things went badly; it was the failure of his own men to follow his orders that led to their own deaths. But then it really wasn’t even his men’s fault either, as he suggests, because they were spread out so far apart, they probably just didn’t get his order to retreat strategically in order to fool Vercingetorix. Right, that all sounds reasonable. Great strategy, bad communication, bad stuff happens.

So anyway, after that little setback, Caesar claims that he and Vercingetorix’s cavalry had a few more run ins. And then, Vercingetorix (the marching king of the Ver) decided to regroup his band of merry men (totaling over 80,000 soldiers) at a hilltop fort called Alesia. Caesar then decided to employ once more his standard siege strategy.

Unfortunately, according to Caesar, some of the enemy cavalry escaped the siege, leading Caesar to correctly anticipate that a Gallic relief force would soon be on its way to break the siege. So Caesar then did what any good general would have done in such a situation: he built an outer wall to barricade himself and his army in between 140,000 or so enemy soldiers.

Then, as Caesar expected, a relief force of 60,000 soldiers did arrive, led by a cousin of Vercingetorix named Vercassivellaunus. Now, I hope it should be painfully obvious at this point that this cousin Vercassivellaunus is no less than Cassivellaunus of the Ver, the very same Cassivellaunus Caesar knew from Britain. Caesar then goes on to claim that he managed to get some of his own cavalry units out from the siege now being mounted against him, and that these cavalry units managed to cause the barbarians to flee into the woods, leaving poor Vercingetorix and his men trapped within the fort. So, in the end, Caesar's siege succeeded and Vercingetorix was forced to surrender himself and his army, leading ultimately to the collapse of the Gallic opposition to Rome.

Again, we need to take another look at the name Vellaun.

It seems likely that the name Vellaun is very possibly a mixture of two other words, Ver and Leon. And the name Ver Leon can be seen to translate as “Leon of the Ver”, or possibly even “the Lion of the Ver”. Or, since ver can mean "strong, it may translate as "strong lion" or "Lion of the Strong".1

Now our friend Arvirargus was, according to Geoffrey, not of the same generation as our friends Cassivellaunus and Cingetorix.2 He was supposedly of several generations after them. And, per Geoffrey, he too fought off unsuccessfully a Roman invasion. But the invasion he fought against was that of the Roman emperor Claudius, and his defense was limited to Britain, Gaul having been conquered previously by the Romans.

Most scholars believe Geoffrey's Arvirargus was the same person known as either Caratacus or Caradog. So it seems like it would be worthwhile to learn what we can about this Caratacus fellow.

1Another possibility is that the Olin translation for Ver is "v out of water movement", possibly refering to the fact that the river Ver eventually merges with the river Colne. Note also that the word river incorporates the word ver, so it is also quite possible that ver simply means "river". Finally, note that the name Colne translates in Olin as "col related out of", which suggests that the "Coel" (or people from Gaul) lived nearby.

2The date associated with Arvirargus was possibly based on numismatic evidence. A common assumption, I think, is that kings, out of vanity, had coins stamped with their own names and images on them; however, I believe that it is more likely that, as is commonly the practice today, coins were typically stamped with the names and images of former kings who were well respected by the people. Putting one's own image and name on a coin has the potential of alienating one's subjects; however, placing the image and name of a popular king of the past would almost surely serve instead as an appeal to a common, great heritage.

The story we are told by the Roman historian Dio Cassius is that Caratacus’ father, Cunobelinus, conquered the lands of the Atrebates, which was ruled by a son of Commius named Verica (whose name translates as “prior king of the Ver”). This Verica then fled Britain and supposedly sought Emperor Claudius’ assistance to reclaim his thrown. But Claudius instead saw the request as an invitation to invade the island and subdue it, which he did soon after.3

Initially, Caratacus’ brother, Togodumnus, led the defense of Britain. But after his brother was eventually killed, Caratacus4, using guerrilla tactics much like his ancestors, made his own valiant, though unsuccessful, attempt to defend Britain from the Roman invaders.

In the end, Caratacus, after his family was captured by the Romans, ultimately sought refuge with the tribe known as the Brigantes. But their queen, Cartimandua5, betrayed Caratacus and handed him over to the Romans. The Romans, as they had done with Vercingetorix before him, took Caratacus back to Rome as a prisoner. However, after Caratacus gave a speech before the Roman senate, it is said that the senators were so impressed with his speech that they agreed, rather than have Caratacus strangled like Vercingetorix, to free Caratacus and his family and allowed them to live as citizens of Rome.

3 Julius Caesar had used the exact same excuse to invade Britain, a fact that calls into question the validity of the story.

4 The name Caratacus is usually understood to be a Latinized form of Caradoc. The doc portion of the name also appears likely to have derived from the Latin title dux, which later evolved into the English word duke. Thus, Caratacus was more likely a rebellious Roman duke than a British king.

5Michelle Ziegler, in her article titled Brigantia, Cartimandua and Gwenhwyfar, suggests a corellation exists between Cartimandua and Arthur's Guinevere. The name Cartimandua in Olin can be seen to translate as "change prior movement that within, produced in front related body location below", which appears to accurately describe her actions.

What Geoffrey of Monmouth apparently did, and those like him, whether intentionally or not, was to transform a truly great, druid king into a Christian king. They blended the fame and real life events of a man known as Arver (AKA Cingetorix) with the events of a man known as Caratacus. Those events were then recast into the time of yet another invasion of Britain, the invasion that would ultimately transform the Celtic lands forever. And tragically, through their artistry, Geoffrey and those other authors also nearly cast the real Arthur into oblivion.6

But it was also prophesied, long ago, that the true Arthur was not really dead (confusion regarding the fate of Caratacus/Cingetorix, perhaps?) and that he would return one day. If I am right, if I have truly found the historical Arthur, then it can be said that Arver has in fact finally returned to reclaim his place in history, the place that he had been denied for over 2000 years.7

6 Perhaps supporting these conclusions, is the fact that Merlin was himself at times seen as a time traveler.

7 As a final summary, it appears likely that the people of Kent encountered by Caesar had originally migrated from Gaul, very possibly having been driven out of their homeland by the Roman invasion of Gaul. If so, King Arver may perhaps therefore be more accurately called a Gaulish king and was perhaps originally the king of the Arverni.