According to legend, he slew 960 men, defeated the enemies of the Britons (which included the Romans), brought peace and prosperity and instituted an order of knights that would become the model for how chivalry would be defined worldwide.

The real Arthur

The King Arthur we recognize today is a composite of many heroes and legends that were compiled by storytellers and writers over the centuries. The real Arthur is much more difficult to pin down. History tells of a 6th-century Celtic warlord who united the Britons and repelled the invading Saxons at the Battle of Mount Badon. His prowess as a warrior and his wisdom brought a welcome period of peace and prosperity. Perhaps this leader was the real Arthur.

Roman connection

Some historians believe Arthur may have been a Sarmatian.* Sarmatians were among the soldiers sent by Rome to defend their interests in Britain. A commander, Artorius (Latin for Arthur), may have stayed behind when the Romans pulled out in 410 A.D. His knowledge of cavalry tactics had been instrumental in repelling the Saxons.

(*Area of Russian steppes conquered by Rome.)

Sarmatian legend tells of a hero who owns a magical sword that he threw in a lake upon his death.

Other possible Arthurs include Riothamus, a warlord who led an army of Britons against Gaul, and Magnus Maximus, a Roman commander.

Legendary Arthur

Early Latin and French sources tell how King Uther Pendragon fell in love with Igrayne, wife of the Duke of Cornwall. With the aid of his magician Merlin, Uther took on the form of the duke and conceived Arthur. Arthur was raised without knowing who his parents were.He became king after drawing Excalibur from a stone, thus proving he was the rightful ruler of England.

The story of his reign and the deeds of his knights of the Round Table are taken from Celtic myths and a variety of Welsh legends.

After defeating a Roman army under Emperor Lucius, Arthur returned to Camelot. This was the beginning of a period of peace and the quest for the Holy Grail.

Arthur's demise came about after the grail quest was completed. A love affair between Sir Lancelot (Arthur's champion) and Arthur's wife, Guinevere, started the downward spiral. The kingdom's energy was soon sapped by war against Lancelot. Mordred, who was either Arthur's son or nephew, took this opportunity to seize the kingdom. A battle for control left Arthur dead and Mordred mortally wounded.

Excalibur — Hard lightning*

There are two versions as to how King Arthur aquired his legendary sword.

"Merlin," by Robert Boron (1200)

The sword was embedded in a stone and only Arthur, as the rightful king of England, was able to remove it.

The Latin word for stone is saxum.

This is also the root for the word Saxon, the invaders repelled by Arthur.

The legend of the sword in the stone may have mistaken pulling the sword from a Saxon with pulling a sword from a stone.

"Suite du Merlin" (1230)

The sword is acquired from the Lady of the Lake. Its scabbard made the owner impervious to injury. Arthur commanded that the sword be thrown back into the lake upon his death.

Sir Thomas Malory combined both versions in "Morte d'Arthur."

(*Welsh translation of Excalibur)

In literature

The legend of King Arthur and his knights was originally documented by a Welsh monk, Gildas, in 547 A.D. In the 12th century, Geoffrey of Monmouth created a fantasy King Arthur in "History of the Kings of Britain," which had Arthur fighting giants and dragons, invading France and defeating the Roman emperor. In the late 12th century, Chretien de Troyes added Lancelot and the Holy Grail. Sir Thomas Mallory created the Arthur we know today by compiling the legends while in prison in the 15th century.

Most of the characters in the King Arthur legend are products of writers.


Arthur's favorite residence is probably the most famous castle in the world. Locations of the fortress range from Winchester to Caerleon Castle in Wales.

Possible locations:

Cadbury Castle in Sommerset was excavated in 1966. The ramparts were three-quarters of a mile long with living quarters for 800 men.

It is near the River Cam.

Camulodonum was an ancient Roman fortress near Colchester.

The Round Table

The brainchild of Merlin to prevent seating quarrels among Arthur's barons. First mentioned in 1155, it was supposed to be able to seat 1,600 men.

Edward III started the Knights of the Garter and built a round table in an effort to revive Arthurian chivalry.

The knights

The warriors of the 5th century presented a much different image than the knights in shining armor we're used to seeing. Arthur's men-at-arms were probably a grubby, hairy lot. The age of the mounted knight was just beginning.

Chain Mail tunic provided protection against arrows, spears and swords without sacrificing flexibility. Required a padded undergarment to be effective. Weighed 45 to 55 pounds.

Mounted knights didn't become popular until 800 A.D. under Charlemagne, the king of the Franks.

SOURCES:; "King Arthur: A Man for the Ages"; "King Arthur & the Knights of the Round Table"; World Book Encyclopedia; Knight (Eyewitness Book)