Saturday, March 14, 2020

King Arthur

Most historians dismiss him as unhistorical at this point, but there are those of us who hope he turns out to be a real character.  We have some new help from The History of English podcast, which discusses the possibility from a linguistic point of view in its 30th episode.

The new thought is that Arthur does not appear by name, even though their are references to a great leader defeating the Saxons at Mount Badon not long after the supposed event, because Arthur was actually a title, meaning High King. Arda- Rik. Apparently the Irish and Scots still use Ard-Ri with the same meaning in some contexts.  This is further supported from the name of one of the proposed Arthurs, a "King of the Britons" called Riothamus (c. 440-500) who also fought in Gaul and was important to the Bretons. That name also means "high king," though the elements are reversed, with the "Rik" (related to rex, reich, rich, regal) coming first, Rigo- Tamos.  So the actual Arthur could well have had another name, but in being referred to as the High King, that title stuck as a personal name.

Well, it could be true.  I admit we are bitter clingers at this point, but cling we shall.


Frank de Jonge said...

A fascinating series of articles on Arthur can be found at this blog:

Assistant Village Idiot said...


Grim said...

I believe in Arthur, in part because of the evidence of reverse migration among the Saxons for a short time. (See around footnote 56 here:

Ard-Ri and its variations are Gaelic, though; that is to say Q rather than P Celtic. Arthur is often thought to be of Cymric extraction, and Cymric like modern Welsh is P Celtic. Besides, they used the Latin as far as our usual records. Maybe your source knows of some I don’t. Here’s an article on the subject.

But there are competing claims. Those who hold for a Proto-Scottish Arthur could appeal to the Gaelic. There were definitely Gaels in Dal Riada, which was partly in Ireland and partly the Scottish isles and west.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Someone turned them back, yes. Relatedly, about a third of William the Conqueror's army were Bretons, who felt that they were taking England back from the Saxons who had forced them out centuries before. A slightly different picture than our usual.

As for the Cornish/Welsh/Breton vs the Irish/Manx/Scottish Celtics, I wasn't getting the exact letters from the podcast, but thought Arda-Rik was the offered cognate. Still pretty close.

Grim said...

If you are interested in these things, the novel I’m editing is Arthurian. I’ve had a lifelong interest; so much so that I took “Arthur” as my confirmation name.