SACRED and Ancient Celtic SITES


The old town of Caerleon has long been associated with the story of King Arthur. Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote his History of the Kings of Britain around 1140 and this became one of the most important books of the middle ages. The book, supposed to have been based on an earlier history, is the main source of all the later Arthurian legends. King Arthur ranges far and wide over Britain but for several years he is supposed to have held court at Caerleon.

The story of King Arthur's Round Table appeared in a work by the chronicler Wace dating from 1155. It is tempting to see the remains of the Roman amphitheatre in Caerleon as a prototype Round Table. In the sixth century, Caerleon would still have been one of the wonders of Britain. The amphitheatre (built to hold an audience of up to 6,000 people) would have been a very impressive ruin and a tangible link with the dimly remembered, comparative security of Roman times. (See a plan of the amphitheatre in its final form.) If you are interested in early Welsh references to Arthur, check the note on the Welsh bards.

The amphitheatre was excavated in in 1926/7 with support from Britain's Daily Mail newspaper and the Loyal Knights of the Round Table of America. Little of the structure remains above ground level but the arena and various entrances are well defined and very evocative.

Visitors to South Wales should try to find time to visit Caerleon. The foundations of the Legionary barrack blocks, the excellent Legionary museum and the pleasant ambience of the present small town combine to offer a worthwhile experience.



"is it Camelot?"



Cadbury Castle, Somerset, is an impressively large hillfort, originally built in the Celtic Iron Age and briefly overrun by the Roman army in the first century AD. It has the longest record of occupation of any hillfort in Britain, for its defences were repaired in two later periods. The first of these periods, the late fifth century, has traditionally been associated with the legendary King Arthur, and the second, the eleventh century, is firmly attributed to King Ethelred the Unready.

The rich and complex archaeological evidence for these `Arthurian' and Ethelredan phases was revealed by excavations in 1966-70 under the direction of the author, Leslie Alcock, and is now definitively published here. In the `Arthurian' phase, the scale of the refurbished rampart and its gate tower, the building of a lordly hall and the evidence for importation of Mediterranean wine all reveal that Cadbury Castle was a major seat of power and provide testimony to the emergence of kingship in Britain out of the ruins of the Roman political system. In the eleventh century, in the face of great danger from Viking invasion, the Cadbury hilltop was refortified by King Ethelred as a town with a coin-mint. This account of the defensive walls and one of the gates, and of the plan of an unusual church, makes a major contribution to our understanding of the achievements of Ethelred's reign.

We are first introduced to Camelot as the central location of Arthurian legend in the work of 'Lancelot' by 'Chrétien de Troyes' (See Chrétien de Troyes), and then in the thirteenth-century in the 'Vulgate Cycle'. In the nineteenth-century the associations with 'Winchester' (See Winchester) began to be popular. Tennyson described a 'many-tower'd Camelot' in the 'Lady of Shallot' constructed to the sound of music.

'Merlin' (See Merlin) was believed to have built Camelot, an idyllic ideal city, in one night in some of the medieval Arthurian romances, it being the capital of 'Logres' (See Logres) the location of 'Arthur's' court, believed be about three miles north-east of Newport, South Wales. This was also the location of the 'Isca Silurum' (Roman).

Camelot was also said to have been located at 'Cadbury Castle' by 'John Leland', and there is some evidence to suggest a sixth-century fortification and community existed at this location. Work undertaken at this site in the late 1960's and early 1970's supports such a settlement actually existing here akin to that described in legend.

Some of the places that have or are believed to be the location of Camelot:- Cadbury Castle (England UK); Caerleon (Wales UK); Tintagel (England UK) is confused by many as 'Camelot'; Winchester (UK) is identified by 'Malory' but there is no evidence to support this.

The first time the actual name Camelot was used was by Chrétien de Troyes' in the work entitled 'Lancelot' (line 34), although the name does not appear in manuscripts of that poem. It was in Vulgate Cycle written during the thirteenth-century that it was mentioned by name as 'Camelot' and home of King Arthur.

'Tintagel Castle' (Cornwall UK) is now maintained by 'English Heritage' who thankfully have not commercialised the site. It is believed that this location was first a Roman settlement / military outpost, it then became a Celtic stronghold and the home of a Celtic King (5-6th century). It was as a result of the work of 'Geoffrey of Monmouth' (See Geoffrey of Monmouth), who wrote 'History of the Kings of Britain' (c.AD1139). Tintagel was to become synonymous with the home of Camelot.

Subsequent legends and stories, together with the works by 'Richard, Earl of Cornwall' of building a castle here, are amongst some of the reasons why Tintagel has been linked to the Arthurian legend. The central reason remains Geoffrey of Monmouth's book. When we are told Arthur's father is 'Uther Pendragon' (See Uther Pendragon) who fell in love with 'Igerna' (See Igraine), the wife of 'Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall' (See Gerlois) who was said to have lived at Tintagel the association becomes clear. When the Duke later died in a battle Uther and Igerna married. Tintagel was actually built by 'Reginald of Cornwall', illegitimate son of Henry I in AD1140 which was years after the believed life of Arthur (sixth-century). Tintagel was a ruin by AD1540.

There are many legends and folk tales that talk of the location of Camelot, the home of 'King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table'. Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote that Arthur held court at Caerleon (Gwent, Wales UK) which was based on many Celtic legends. The town of Caerleon was the location of a Roman fortress built around AD74 and the headquarters of the Second Augustan Legion. Its location on the borders of Wales and England made it a place often fought over by the Saxons, Vikings and Welsh. It was when the Norman's invaded into Wales that a castle was built here. Unfortunately all that remains is a mound.

Another very plausible place is called 'Cadbury Castle' (it is free to explore and accessible by foot and commands an excellent view across the surrounding countryside). The castle is located roughly 12 miles from Glastonbury town (See Glastonbury). Although it can not be historically proven to be the home of Camelot, archaeologists can confirm that during the sixth-century (some Arthurian researchers suggest this to be the period when King Arthur lived), the hill was turned into a reinforced earth defence with stone and timber, making it a very secure stronghold. Not to the romantic scale that Hollywood movie industry (USA) would have us believe though. The warrior chieftain's name that was behind all the fortification work will probably never now be known, but the folklore tells us some interesting information.

The hill was according to legend said to be hollow, where King Arthur and his Knights sleep waiting to be called upon by Britain again. It was also said that on Midsummer's Eve a hole appears in the hillside and the Knights ride their horses down to drink the water from a spring near the church in Sutton Montis although this event according to others actually happens only every seven years. This date is significant in the story of 'Lancelot' (See Lancelot) a medieval creation but perhaps noted as being knighted on Midsummer Day in legend for an associated reason.

Another village near Cadbury Castle Hill is 'Queen Camel' and it has been suggested that this may have been the location of the 'Battle of Camlan' (See also Avalon). Stories have over the centuries drawn together folklore, legend and history all of which are now so intertwined.

Camelot appears in many famous texts including Shakespeare's 'King Lear', Act II, Scene 2, and in Tennyson's 'The Lady of Shallot':-

'On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And through the field the road runs by
To many-tower'd Camelot.



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