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Ratty Translates: Andrzej Sapkowski, The World of King Arthur (1/8)

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This is something I had talked about here two or so years ago, that people really wanted to see – if I recall correctly, Polly even promised me sex for it. It's also something that should have been translated by Sapkowski's fans overseas a very long time ago, and I am only doing it on a whim. Poles are lazy, a weeaboo Czech has to do their work, this is what you get.

Disclaimer: The translation is meant to provide people who have no access to the original work with it. It is, in particular, meant to be read by people who spend months on the end arguing whether King Arthur being female is a subversive spin on the legend, or just a way of appealing to the spoiled reader. Some could exclaim, that this sets the bar for the degree of quality that target audience expects rather low, and they would be right. It's also unlikely to be a very good translation job to begin with, considering it's lazily being translated from Czech instead of the actual Polish – this matters, despite the Czech translation being superb. I also suck at instinctively being able to tell what sounds how in English, and have zero formal education in it, so I may be making basic mistakes all the time. Oh well.

It's definitely not meant for commercial use, you greedy fuck in the back line.

For notes, scroll all the way down in each part. There are so many that Sir Terry would recoil in horror, hence the many parts. Some of the TLNs are mine (the less formal ones), some belong to Stanislav Komárek & Jiří Pilch.


Only few myths can boast of career as successful as the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. The myth, which originates somewhere in sixth to seventh century on the British Isles, literally on the periphery of Europe at the time, rang the bell of European and worldly culture with such might, that the bell is still ringing to this day – for a thousand and four hundred years.

We have already forgotten, how did thunderous Zeus rule Olympus, yet, we remember how Arthur ruled on the Camelot. We don't know what made the prophets Elijah or Jeremy famous, but we know of Merlin's deeds. Few of us can recall the story of the love of Aeneas and the Carthaginian queen – and that she was named Dido – however, if Tristan is named, anyone can automatically fill in his loved one's name. Who knows, what was called the sword of Siegfried from Nibelungs, or Roland, the most famous of Charlemagne's paladins? Excalibur, I can guarantee, everyone will remember right away.

Why is it, then, that after fourteen centuries, the acts of a king of distant Britain and his valiant knights are so known and intimate to us? Why did the legend become a treasury of literary inspiration, as rich as, clearly closer to us, Greek mythology, the Iliad and Odyssey?

Not only Anglo-Saxon authors have drawn plenty from the Arthurian Myth: Chaucer, Drayton, Warton, Holinshed, Spenser, Milton, Shakespeare, Dryden, Jonson, Pope, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Rosetti, Morris, Tennyson, Yeats, Swinburne, Eliot, Scott, Blake, Longfellow, Lowell, Twain, Joyce and C. S. Lewis, but also Pulci, Boiardo, Ariosto, Tasso, Petrarca and Dante, Brantôme and Cervantes, Calderón, Goethe, Schiller and Uhland. And also Sigrid Undset, Jean Cocteau, Italo Calvino, or Umberto Eco. From Polish authors Zofia Kossak-Szczucka, Maria Kuncewiczowa, and Teodor Parnicki. It's not even possible to name them all.

Why Arthur, why his legend?

The answer can be found in many literary and scientific essays. The following work, its author doesn't mean to pass off as scientific, as he never was a scientist, and does not intend to be one in the future. 1)

Since, however, the above mentioned bell rings the soundest and clearest under the arch of current fantasy literature, let King Arthur be spoken about by a fantasy writer, which the author does consider himself to be.

Let us begin with the basic question – did King Arthur really exist? Perhaps it is not basic at all, since none of the possible answers, positive or negative, can affect the fable in any way. Yet, at least, an attempt to answer may help understanding the myth. Its sources. And its meaning.

History and legend

The islands, which we know today as British, had unique luck when it came to inhabitants. Since ancient times, raids of various tribes and nations to be2) were directed at them. But every time, it so happened that the raider had become an aborigin – that, just in order to be, after some time, defeated and ruled by a new raider, who quickly turned into a native, and so on. Thanks to that, we don't know who in there was a true „born native“. Or, we wouldn't, if not for the fables and myths. Out of them, we know that the original inhabitant of Britain was the giant Albion, son of Poseidon. From him, the island had inherited its oldest known name.

Yet, soon the first raider had come. It was no one other than the famed Héraklés, who, after many adventures on the south of Europe, headed off to the Hyperboreans as well. After he had crossed Gibraltar, and built the famous pillars there, the hérós reached the white Doverian cliffs. Unhospitable Albion plunged at him with a roar, but Héraklés struck him down with his club. And then he went home. It is necessary to pronounce, that he was the only conqueror in history to ever behave this way. All of his followers either stayed there forever, or were muscled out.

The next colonizers were, according to the tales, the offspring of Noah. The biblical seafarer had the son Jafet, who had his son Histion, who fathered four sons, who were allegedly named Francus, Romanus, Alemannus, and Britto. Each of them had settled himself in a different part of Europe, and became the forefather of a different nation, named after him. Britto, as everyone had of course already guessed, settled on the island that was, after Albion's death, apparently uninhabited. From brother Frank, he was separated by a channel, called much later La Manche.

An English poet, John Milton, leaning on Geoffrey from Monmouth(who will be talked about later), negates the versions mentioned above. According to Milton and Geoffrey, it went like this:

After the fall of Troy, a bunch of Troyans had saved themselves, led by Aeneas. His fates are known from Vergil's recounting. After a long journey, Aeneas settled in Italy, and became the progenitor of Romans. His son Askanius, or Iulus, had his son Silvius, who had son Brutus. Said Brutus, in a tragic accident, had killed his father on the hunt, and for that he was banished from Italy. He left for Greece, where he had met the descendants of another group of Troyans, surviving from the conquered city. They were miserable. Greeks were badly oppressing them. Brutus, giving his great grandfather Aeneas for an example, appealed to his compatriots: „Let us venture onto the sea, brothers, let us find our own country. The men of Aeneas have managed, and we aren't worse. Is there but one Italy in the world? Somewhere, our new country expects us, and if we are lucky, there will also be some Sabine women there, to have fun with.“

Troyans listened to him, and lifted the anchors. They are sailing for a long time, and the entire journey, they weren't in favor of the gods. Luckily, at the last moment, goddess Diana showed herself to Brutus, and advised him to aim for the big island north of Gaul, that is inhabited by giants. There, they should build the new Troy.

The goddess didn't jest. The outcasts, keeping the given course, had after some time reached the shores of land, which they have named after their leader: Britain. Their advisoress was also right about the giants, those bastards really did live there. „Damned!“, Brutus had cursed, „Great grandpa was lucky, the Rutuli were kind of shorter!“. Still, the fresh Britons had bravely tackled the giants, and one of Brutus's men, strong Corineus, had traveled far west, where he had faced the greatest of the giants Gogmagog, overwhelmed him in a fight, and killed him. The hero settled on the conquered territory, which had been later named after him, Cornovia, which is Cornwall.

Brutus had meanwhile established the city Troia-nova. Its name was, as time passed, bastardized into Trinovantum – and that's current London.

After the death of Brutus, his land had been divided by his three sons. The oldest Lokrinus had gotten the biggest part of the island, today's England, back then it was by the name called Logres. The second-born Kambreus got the western part, named Kambria or Kymria, today Wales and Cumberland3). The third son, Albanactus, ended up with the country on the north, called Alba since then, Scotland today.

As we can see, all would be simple and clear, except for the little catch, that, as it were, nobody wants to believe in fables and myths. On the other hand, everyone will believe anthropologists and archaeologists. So, let's learn what do scientists say about the ancient inhabitants of British Islands.

The oldest identified folk living on the Islands belonged to the same ethnic as Greek Pelasgs, or Italian Etrusks. Anglo-Saxon historians call these old settlers Ibers, since they suppose that these came from the Iberian Peninsula, known better as Pyrenean today. When did they come on Iberian Peninsula, when did they really come on British Islands and whether they have conquered some other, older tribe in there, that we don't know. 4)

Iberians did not leave significant marks on the Islands (of course, save for the megalithic structures such as Stonehenge or New Grange), by which it is assumed, that they did not develop culture on the level of Etruscs, instead they have stayed at a relatively low level of development up until the arrival of the next ethnic group, which we will pursue more elaborately – Celts.

This folk had left its original settlements, be it the ones on upper Danube, or, as other researchers say, in the foothils of Alps, went on a long journey, and populated wide areas of the european continent. From historical sources, we know the most about the Celts who settled down in Gaul, and inevitably came into contact with the roman empire. As Gaius Julius Caesar writes in his The Gallic Wars, the Gaul is divided into three parts (Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres). Caesar calls them Aquitania, Gallia Lugdumensis a Gallia Belgica. These partes tres were regions populated by tribes differing by faces, just as much as tongues. In the sixth century b.c., the Gauls(identified with Goidels or Gaels) have realized an invasion on the British Islands. They have colonized current Ireland, the Isle of Man, and Britain up to Cornwall, Cumberland, Devon, and north Wales. Initially, they have fought the natives, and pushed them out of the fertile regions, later, they have however joined up with them against new conquerors, which were, in the fourth century b.C. their Celtic relatives, Belgae.

A part of the Iberian denizens of the Islands didn't let themselves get conquered, though, they didn't merge with the Celts. They were tribes from the wilds and unhospitable mountains of the north, from Alba, current Scotland. We will return to these northerners eventually, as they have repelled the onslaught of foreigners for a long time, and very fiercely.
However, on the south, everything was happening according to the established scheme. Raid, war, occupation, integration. Belgae have soon ruled the southeast lowlands, and eventually have reached the base of Grampians, the river Tweed. The Goidelian(Gaels) Celts kept Ireland and Man, their enclaves have stayed on Cornwall and in Wales. The common Celtic roots have eased understanding and integration in border regions. As time had passed, the Belgae meshed with Goidels divided into more breeds – Romans have called one of them the Brigants5).

And just after these Brigants, not after the fabled Brutus or Britto, shall the people of the island soon gain the name Brits, and the island itself, Britain.

The Romans have expressed an interest in the island well before the milenium broke. In the year 55-54 b.C., Gaius Julius Caesar moved against them personally. He had carried out(according to Robert Graves, not according to the historians, since I am, as it comes to it, a writer, not a historian) two invasions. Against the first did the Britons, under king Kassiwellaun's lead, put up such resistance, that Caesar had barely managed to fight his way ten miles inland. In the second, he had strengthened his troops to twenty thousand men, broke through the coastal defenses, and occupied today's Kent. The war expedition had ended with coercion to pay tribute, which the islanders have welshed on after mere two years.

During the rule of emperors Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula (about 30 b.C. to 40 A.D), the empire left Britain at peace, and didn't demand tributes, either. It was clear, that to force the barbarians into obedience and paying tribute would mean a lengthy war, with losses uncomparable to the expected gains. Still, not even then did Rome stop maintaining trade relations with the island.

The situation began to change with the rule of Cunobelinus, king of the Trinovants, in south Britain. His sons apparently weren't on very good terms with him, since they have fled away into Rome to plead for military help against daddy. In return, they have promised to acknowledge roman superiority – and pay the tribute again. Caligula had, wholly unexpectedly, fallen for this project. „I'll conquer“ stated he boastfully „the entire Britain from Scilly to Orkney!“. Then he had embarked. But when he reached Boulogne, he didn't even try to transport himself over the channel. Instead, he ordered the legionaries to slash with their swords into the sea waves, and gather shells, which he then declared to be a victory over Neptune, and seizing the spoils of war. With that, the entire expedition had ended, and the imperator had gloriously returned to Rome, where Cassius Cherea had been already honing his knife.

Cymbelin had died in the same year Caligula was assassinated (41 A.D.). After the death of the Briton's king, his family had immediately commenced the power struggle. First of his sons, Caradawg6), had declared himself the king of Trinovants, the second son Verica, in line with familial tradition, had fled into Rome, and pleaded emperor Claudius for help in his fight against his brother.

Claudius studied Caesar's memoirs in detail, planned out the campaign with precision, and qualifiedly formed the expeditional force. In the year 43, he had crossed the Caledonian Creek, and went right for Caradawg's capital city Colchester. Caradawg, along with his son-in-law Kattigern, stood in his way at the front of their warriors by Brentwood, but they were crushed in the battle. In the conquered part of the isle (Kent, Sussex, and Essex), the emperor would create a base of the new province. He had left a military contingent led by Ostorius in there, and himself had made a triumphal return to Rome.

Yet already by A.D. 45, Caradawg had regained strength, and struck again at the roman troops. He had some success at first, but soon he had been betrayed by his own compatriots, taken hostage, and given out to the enemy.

When he got taken to Rome in chains, and brought before Claudius, he spoke with impressively good Latin himself, and on his own made such good case in his defense, that the taken aback Emperor granted him his life. When the prisoner had been shown the eternal city, he supposedly said in astonishment: “I don't understand how can rulers of such an opulent city long for our poor shacks in their hearts.“

The naive Caradawg. He didn't understand that the invaders can never have enough of what they can squeeze from his subjugated country: Gold, silver, iron, tin, lead, pelts, wheat, livestock, and slaves. The Romans had planned to conquer all of Britain, and kept sending additional troops over the Channel.

However, the natives would not give up, the bravery and perseverance with which they defended their homeland made the attackers amazed. Pax Romana was only effective in Britain formally, as the Britons and the Celts had not yet laid down their arms. In the years 60-69, when almost the entire island was conquered, they stood up against the occupants in service of the queen of Iceni, Boudica (Boadice). The warrior queen had defeated several legions, conquered several towns, and killed seventy thousand Romans and their allies. She would have the captive legionnaires be impaled on sharpened stakes, which significantly hurt the enemy morale.

The fight had ended in a defeat, though, the rebellion was drowned in blood. Boudica would not have taken the shame that met Caradawg, and took her own life. Her memorial in the present day stands in a city she had burned to the ground in her uprising – in London, by the Westminster Bridge.

Soon after, in 78, the Roman general Julius Agricola had basically finished the taking of Britain.

But careful here: The north had once again defended itself against the raiders. The unhospitable areas of Caed Celyddon, the peaks and the valleys of Caledonia along with the passes of the Grampians, defended by the wild mountain clans, had proved an impenetrable fortress. Like Goidels and Britons in the times past, even the Roman legions, the eagles of which soared over half the known world, had to step back before the valor and resolution of these barbarians. The highlanders of the north used war paint, and so the Roman legions had started calling them Picti (the painted ones). The cohorts have withdrawn, the north remained free, and its residents had not stayed in defense. They went in for an attack, and roasted the Romans so profusely, that the former conquerors had to start defending themselves.

As was the roman custom, they built a limes – a frontier fortification wall, which was supposed to keep the Picts in their land, and prevent their plundering raids. In the years 122 – 127 was made the first one, Hadrian's Wall, dividing the northern parts of the Isle on the line of today's cities Carlisle and Newcastle, in the years 140-142 the Wall of Antoninus on the height of today's Edinburgh. To the north of the border reigned the Picts, to the south Pax Romana.


Alas, as in all the provinces, the roman peace did not mean only occupation, terror, and exploitation, but mainly development and progress: civilizational, cultural, economical. Britain had been divided into four administrative units: Maxima Caesariensis, Flavia Caesariensis, Britannia Prima, and Britannia Secunda, the capitals of which were: Londinium (London), Lindum (Lincoln), Corinium (Cirencester), and Eburacum (York). At the front of each province stood a vice prefect, and all of them were administred by the prefect, the governor. The military leadership was in the hands of two praetors, one had the title Dux Britannianum, lived in Eburacum, and was in charge of the north border, the second one was Comes Littoris Saxonici, who cared for the defense of the shores (from Portsmounth to Wash), endangered by the naval raids of the Jutes and Saxons.

At the sites of the old celtish caers, or strongholds, had been built roman encampments, forts, and eventually cities: Camulondunum, the former abode of Cymbelin and Caradawg's (Colchester), Dubris (Dover), Venta Belgarum (Winchester), Isca (Caerlon on Usk), Isca Dumnoniorum (Exeter), Glevum (Glouchester), Aquae Sulis (Bath), Corstopitum (Corbridge), Deva (Chester), Segontium (Caernarvon), Venta (Caerwent), Luguvalium (Carlisle) and many others.

The Romans had remained in Britain for four hundred years. A very long time. But they did have to leave eventually. The reason was simple: For centuries they have occupied and colonized foreign lands, for hundreds of years they have brought Pax Romana to other nations, and forced it upon them with power. And so it happened in the end, that someone knocked on their own door with a sword pommel, the Visigoths have arrived under the walls of Roma Aeterna.

The exodus of Romans from Britain did not happen at once, they left bit by bit. And although the last legion had left in A.D. 407, many Romans had stayed in Britain. Retired legionnaires, who had received land in here for their long service, the ones who have bound themselves to the natives with the bonds of marriage, merchants, who had their living in here. Assimilated representatives of the provincial Roman aristocracy married with the aristocracy of the Celts had birthed a new ruling class – nobility, which, as we know, had from the times of Caradawg spoken Latin as well as the Celtic language.

Understandably there were those, who gladly accepted departure of the outsiders. The fires of anti-Roman resistance had smouldered throughout the four centuries of occupation. The clan leaders, following the example of legendary Boudica, would again and again create revolts and uprisings. Although the legions had been stationed on Antonine Wall, right under the nose of Duxe Britanniarum, in the mountainous areas of Wales, Dyfed and Gwynedd, in Rheged and Cornwall, the rule of Rome did not apply in practice – the clans ruled here. And as soon as the Romans had left, the clans had immediately started in-fighting, a war for power had began.

The departure of the Roman armies and the following collapse did not escape the attention of the neighbors, of course. Ships of the Irish pirates had appeared on the western shores, who were called Scots back then. And from the north, over the deserted walls, have rushed the indestructible Picts...

Rome's adherents had turned to it several times, asking for help, just to find out that Britain is not a concern of the empire any longer. The former province is now de facto independent and self-sufficient, therefore it must take care of its problems alone. The help from Rome is not realistic, Rome has different, more important trouble. We can easily figure out that these trouble were caused to the Romans by Alaric's Goths, readying themselves to plunder their city. And those were the death throes of the empire, which until then had ruled half the world. In the year 476, the West Roman Empire fell, never to rise again.

Well, let's go back to Britain. In the war of the tribes and the clans here, a half legendary, half historical character appears. A warrior, a clan leader, who undoubtedly had seized the rule by subjugating or murdering all the other pretenders. His name was Vortigern. Undoubtedly a Briton (it's easy enough to notice the similarity of his name with Caradawg's son-in-law Kattigern), but supposedly married to a pureblood Roman woman, apparently even an aristocrat of the imperial family. Vortigern had reached success after success: He got the British and the Roman circles on his side, he had defeated the Irish pirates, and he had even managed, for a time, to push the Picts back beyond the wall. Clearly a chosen ruler, whom the country had needed. Vortigern will bring law, Vortigern will ascend Britain.

Yet, Vortigern loses Britain – the Britain of Britons. As the history shows, forever. Vortigern has become the British Konrad Mazovsky, or rather Konrad Mazovsky7) could not learn from Vortigern's mistake.

Vortigern had realized, that he cannot keep the Picts behind the wall for long, as the Roman legions no longer stand on it, that he must find a weapon against the eternal raiders. And Vortigern found one. Around A.D. 403, new allies had landed on the Isle, brave warriors, who were supposed to battle for Britain and for Vortigern, sort the savages out. They were the Germanic nations: Anglos, Jutes, Frisians, and Saxons from Moldau's mouth. Eventually, that entire mesh will just be called the Sassen, or the Saxons 8).

In their front stood the chieftains Hengist and Horsa, and their sign was a white horse.

The new alliance had been confirmed by Vortigern's marriage (did he poison the Romaness?) with the daughter of Hengist. The Saxons were given right to settle on the isle Thanet, and the shore of Kent. They were promised any land they would seize from the Picts as well, basically everything north of Antonine Wall. The Saxons joined the fight, and really raised hell upon the Picts. They did not only attack over the limes, but made landing on the Orkney islands, so that they could strike into the enemy's rear as well. And still more ships kept arriving in Britain, with new warriors - and new settlers. The settlers looked around. Land in the north, in the wild Caledonia? Why so far? There is so much beautiful and plentiful land around here, in Kent and Sussex, it's enough to set up right after we land. It's a rich country, not like our infertile Jutland, the sandy Friesland, or the greedy mouth of Moldau. There is enough of everything here. And if something is missing, we can take it from those dumb and incompetent Britons, those wannabe Romans. Why, Picts have been doing so for centuries, let's learn from their example.

And so forts and Roman villas had burned alike, Saxons rolled forward, Britons fled in confusion. They understood already, that they themselves have invited an enemies, next to which the painted Picts seemed docile like lambs. The desperate Vortigern had attempted to strike a deal, to talk it out with the attackers, to set a demarcation line and a border. A hundred of Briton leaders had met on a peace conference with a hundred of Hengist's thanes. As a gesture of peace, everyone came unarmed. The beer foamed, lambs and pigs turned on the spit-roast. Let us rejoice, let us have fun, bless friendship between nations!

And what was the place of this splendor? Why, on the plain of Salisbury, in the stone circle Stonehenge, called also the Giant's Dance.

Suddenly, blades flashed at Hengist's sign, until then stealthily hidden in the tall booths of the rural thanes. Before Vortigern's terrified eyes, the bloody massacre had occurred, that would go down in history as Treachery of Long Knives. The first night of the Long Knives – mankind, inspired by historical example, will go on to carry out several more.

Vortigern had survived by miracle, fled, and hid in the mountains of Cambridge. That was the end of his career in politics. And, as it seemed, the end of the Celtic Britain. Away with the pretense of peace and alliance, it was just a new large raid! Soon Britain shrunk to just Somerset, Devon, Cornwall, and Wales. The whole east part of the island belonged to the Saxons, there ruled Wotan and the White Horse.

Then the divine power chose another man, the last true Roman (although he was definitely a Briton just like Vortigern), who had entered history as Ambrosius Aurelianus, bearing the title Dux Bellorum. He had defeated and gotten rid of Vortigern (doubtless, with an energical slice of a knife over the throat), stood up to the Saxons, and had managed to partially push them back to the east. Then he had started repairing the abandoned roman forts, and fortifying the Celt castles in the Roman way. He reconstructed the roads, developed and strengthened the country's economy, and traded with the continent. Despite that, the Saxons, even though they didn't manage to take the Celtic castles anymore, had further practically unpunished laid waste the country with their marauding raids. As if they could not be defeated.

And here the legend begins.

The old Dux Bellorum Ambrosius Aurelianus is choosing his successor among the clan leaders. It ends up being Uther Pendragon, although not all acknowledge him. For example Gorlois, the duke of Cornwall, the lord of the Tintagel castle, openly refuses to serve the new ruler. But gossip is, that their enmity was not caused by political rivalry, Uther's eye had laid on Gorlois's fair wife Igraine. And so a war ignited over a beautiful woman.

Uther's advisor is a wise and powerful sorcerer (druid) Merlin. His spells lend Uther the looks of Gorlois, so that no one can see through the camouflage when Uther enters the castle of Gorlois in his absence. Igraine cannot tell even in the bed.

Uther gains a wife and rule, defeats his enemies. Gorlois dies in a battle, others give tribute to their new ruler. Pendragon becomes the Dux Bellorum and marries the fair widow. She births a son – the one made in the night on Tintagel. But the scene is entered by Merlin, who reminds Uther that the spell, through which he had gained Igraine, must be paid for. The cost is the child conceived back then, which must be given over to the wizard.

Little Arthur – that is the name of Uther's and Igraine's son – is given over to the knight Ectorius for upgringing. The boy grows up together with the son of Ectorius, Kay. Years pass by. Uther Pendragon, Dux Bellorum and Comes Brittanorum, dies (in one version, chokes on a chicken bone). Who shall rule Britain now? Who will take over the work of Ambrosius and Uther, who will hold back the Picts and the Saxons?

The last day of winter, on the holy day Imbolc, the clan chieftains had traditionally met in Londinium, on a place, where a large boulder stood. In it was struck an iron anvil, and it it was struck a sword. The inscription on the boulder proclaimed:

Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born of all England.“

So, younglings, start up! Who can manage? Some don't even try, likely because they can't read to begin with – devils know what's written on that damn rock? Others, proud of their muscles, take on the challenge: „Ufff... Shit! Next, please!“

Many strong men try it, none can. Until the sword's handle is seized by the fifteen year old ward of the knight Ector. And the loosened weapon shines in the boy's hand.

„Behold, Britons!“ proclaims Merlin, „This is the rightful heir of Uther pendragon! This is your king! King Arthur!“

The prophecy fulfilling itself before the eyes of all the land's clans moves the country. Whoever can, hurries into the ranks of the juvenile ruler. Arthur strikes at the Saxons and fights eleven victorious battles with them. Eleven times, he defeats the successors of Hengist and Horsa, because the core of his army is made by cavalry, in an attack, an unstoppable force of mounted warriors. Saxons, although they have the white horse as their crest, fight the old way – as infantry. And they lose.

The twelfth, decisive clash, occurs under the Badon mountain. The battle ends in total annihilation of the enemy army, moral and military strength of the Germanic raiders is broken. Albion, Britain, the Logres realm, can finally have rest from the endless menace, the country has a perspective of many years of peace and prosperity under the rule of a wise and just king. Arthur makes his seat at the castle Camelot, and makes his cavalry into the elite group of Knights of the Round Table.

A legend?

We'll yet return to the records of Arthur and his deeds in the annals. A certain fact, regarding the said time and basically confirming the authenticity of Arthur's character, had also been pointed out by the archaeologists. In the years 443-505, the Saxon expansion proceeded very fast and dynamically, but around 505-516, it suddenly stopped. Something had happened. Something occurred, which pacified the Saxons for such a long time, that they turned from conquerors into farmers, working earth in the east part of the Isle. Settlers, who had eventually accustomed themselves to the progeny of Celts, and gave birth to the nation of Anglo-Saxons (who were, in turn, eventually subjugated by the French Normans brought by William the Conqueror). Let's ask the question, what mighty incentive had managed to make thieves and raiders change into peaceful peasants? The answer offers itself: A terrible beating, that the aggressors had gotten. Someone stronger delivered such a lesson upon them, that they did not recover for many long years. In that relatively long period of 505 – 550, no piece of a typically Saxon relic had been found beyond the supposed demarcation line, where the victor had cast out the defeated enemy. This line had ran approximately by the east side of Salisbury Plain (Hampshire today) to the north, over the Hiltern9) hills to the rivers Trent and Humber.

Who, then, had stopped the Saxons in the east, halted their expansion? It must have been a gifted leader, a true Dux Bellorum, a popular and charismatic enough leader to unite and control the outfallen Briton tribes and made an army out of them. And how did he defeat the numerous, battle-hardened and yet undefeated Saxons? Naturally, it was by using strategy and tactics, which they could not have resisted. The strategy and tactics of Romans. The sources and research actually confirm to us, that although the core and striking fist of the Roman war formation was formed by tight rows of the footmen, the garrisons on the British territory were manned by elsewhere uncommon amount of riders called cataphracti, who have well proved themselves against the Celtic war chariots, as well as against the Picts, who used the tactics of modern day special forces, hit and run. According to some historians, the Hardian's Wall stationed up to two thousand riders coming from Sarmatia. As was the custom, the soldiers would after long servitude gain right to settle in the region where they had served prior, thus it's not unthinkable that the later Knights of the Round Table would learn mounted combat from the successors of riders from the east-Europan steppes, schooled in the Roman way of war-waging.

What did this talented leader use against the Saxon infantry hordes? A fast maneuver and a crushing cavalry attack, similar to Roman cataphracts, but perhaps even perfected, more accustomed to the land's circumstances. A rider armed with the Celtic sword, which according to the experts had a significantly longer blade than the Roman gladius, and was thus more suitable for combat from the horseback. With the short German saxes, it wasn't possible to properly defend oneself against its weighty strikes. The armor may have been according to the Roman pattern, the rider was thus protected by a shield (scutum) and a plate (lorica segmentata), possibly a mail of iron rings (lorica hamata), which in turn is considered by most experts and historians to be a Celtic invention. The riders have also undoubtedly appreciated the advantages of a spear, not a throwable one like the Roman pilum , but a heavy weapon usable when fighting on a horse – a weapon, which yet a thousand years later would decide the battles of Kirchholm and Wien. 10)

We therefore have indirect, but logical proof of an existence of this competent leader and his heavy cavalry, we have logical proof of his victory in the final batte. Given that, why not believe the chroniclers, who placed the battle under Mount Badon, named the prevailing leader Arthur, and his riders the Knights of the Round Table.

Let's now speak of the chroniclers, what and how they wrote of Arthur, and in what ways did they influence the final version of the myth.


The first accounts, which may relate to Arthur, appear in work of the Welsh monk Gildas (516? - 570) De excidio et conquestu Britanniae, where he writes of a battle under the Badon mountain. He claims, that the battle occurred around the date of his birth - meaning around 516. But wait, Gildas does not mention with even a word who – personally – has been the victor. The name Arthur doesn't appear anywhere.

Another Welshman, a monk as well under the name Nennius, had written, around y. 796 the work Historia Brittonum, in which Arthur's person does appear – even with the titles Dux Bellorum and Comes Britanniarum. Nennius names out the places of each twelve of Arthur's war accomplishments, including the decisive victory under Mons Badonicus, where Arthur had „By his own hand struck down nine hundred sixty (!) foes“. Let us silently move over that unlikely feat of chivalry, aside of it it's necessary to recall, that the scientists even today aren't clear on the places where the twelve battles mentioned by Nennius took place. There are many theories, the mountain Badon alone gets put in six different spots: Bath, Avon, Badbury, Brentwood, Berkshire, and Bathampton.

The other eleven battles, according to Nennius (chronologically):

1) on the river Glein
2-5) on the river Dubglass
6) on the river Bassas
7) in Cait Celyddon, meaning Caledonian Wood (clearly with Picts, then)
8) by Caer Guinnion
9) by City of the Legions
10) on the river Tribruit
11) under the mountain Agned

Around y. 956, an unknown author places the battle under Mount Badon directly into the year 516. He also specifies the circumastances and year of Arthur's death – he had died in the Battle of Camlann y. 537.

The period, in which the Arthurian Legend was being born in folk tradition, and had started to enter the chronicles (550 – 950), Joseph Campbell calls „the mythogenic moment“ (Joseph Campbell; Creative Mythology – The Masks of Gods, New York 1968). Then followed a period of oral tradition development (950 – 1066), in which Arthur's character became “the hope of Britain“, defender of the nation, who did not truly die, but remains at the isle Avalon (in a cave in Wales, by the antipodeans, among elves, in Etna's crater, and so on). 11)

The next period begins after the conquering of the isle by William the Conqueror, in a time of exceptional bloom and favor of bardic poetry. The Franknormanic nobility adored bards, no celebration at the castle could have done without their performance. At that time, many Celtic myths and heroic tales have entered the Arthurian myth. Normanic lords wished to always hear new stories of the Round Table knights, which, however, did not exist yet. The singers thus started honoring Arthur's knights with the deeds of Cuchulain, Fion mac Cumhail, Diarmuid, Taliesin, Gwydion, Peredur, Lleu Llaw Gyffes, Pwyll, Manawyddan ap Llyr and other gods and hérons, heroes of the native Welsh and Irish myths, which had then already been collected, and put into Mabinogi – the Welsh „guidebook“ for young bards.

We'll come back to that. Right now, let's pay attention to the chronicles again, since at the same time, the legend had developed in written form too. From said time come Gesta Regum Anglorum of the educated monk William of Malmesbury (1080 – 1143). Brother Villie traditionally describes Arthur's bravery, but wait – his book contains the first scientific criticism of the myth. The author points out the mountain of fabrications and nonsense that drowned the serious and praiseworthy character of King Arthur, and sharply condemns all the fabulators and fairy-tellers. In a blink, though, the erudite with deathly seriousness repeats how under Mons Badonicus, Arthur had single-handedly slain more than nine hundred Saxons. 12)

The most important Arthurian document of the age is however Historia Regum Britanniae, written by Galfridus Monumetensis, meaning Geoffrey of Monmouth (1100 – 1154). The book celebrates the oldest history of Britain (from Brutus the Troyan) and in Arthur's person, finds the culmination of the glorious past. Right after its creation in y. 1139, it had caused much ado. The scholars have called it an apocryph and a tall tale, simply fraud. Geoffrey ensured everyone, that in writing it, he took from an original document in the Briton language, gifted to him by the archdeacon of Oxford. Said „original“ document got unanimously labeled a fake, as well as most of Geoffrey's „facts“ fables, bogus, and fantasmagories. This critical opinion, however, did nothing to prevent Geoffreys undoubtedly apocryphal work from becoming a bestseller. As if there was no court in the civilized Europe, where Historia wasn't read, and where it wasn't disputed. Because it was an interesting work on the literary part. Geoffrey had definitely wanted to give his work a serious and scientific character, but he didn't limit himself to the dry, lifeless data. He told a fable: the circumastances of future king's birth, the overtaking of power, the accquisition of the sword Caliburn, the marriage with Guanhamara (Guinnevere) and her betrayal with Medrawt (Arthur's nephew, not a son), the war between Arthur and Medrawt ended in death of both the rivals in battle by Cambula (Camlann), asylum of Guanhamara in a monastery, and finally the last journey of King Arthur into Avalon, Anno Domini 542. In all that, he had woven countless elements from fairy tales and fables into Arthur's legend. Namely, he introduced the most important, later canonical comrades of the king: Walgan (Gawain), Kay, and Bedivere – and Merlin. The wizard's tales, including the one where magically moved the stone circle Stonehenge from Ireland onto the Salisbury plain, he had described in an individual book Vita Merlini.

As can be seen, it was Geoffrey of Monmouth, who laid the base stone under the future building of a myth, and whom the copyright should be admitted. Not one of the later authors had deviated too much from Geoffrey's conception. The influence of Historia on the English literature was colossal, it's possible, that if not for Geoffrey from Monmouth, we wouldn't have had Chaucer and Elizabethan drama. And if not for Elizabethan drama...

1) My humility is in part caused by bloody simple fear: I remember well, what met the knowledge-bragging “famous historian” in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

2) TLN: I seriously hope that this is what he means by „pronárod“. See, the etymology of the word in czech comes from Hebrew in the Bible, to be specific, „hamon goyim“, which basically means „faggot nation“ in an emotional sort of a way. The problem is that it's really more associated with „almost a nation“ these days, and emotion clearly doesn't belong here. The nuance represents the author's opinion, and as it's said, you can't teach history without having one.

3) This is where Robert E. Howard's Conan the Cimmerian should come from. The name Conan was used by many legendary welsh and kymrian heroes.

4) Quite recently, a certain bulgarian filologist had claimed, based on the research of the languages of Etruscs and Chetites, that these two languages belong into the same branch. Etruscs, the bulgarian says, came into Italy from Small Asia. They are essentially Homer's and Vergil's Troyans. And since Etruscs and Ibers were related, the legend of Brutus, descendant of Aeneas, may not appear as fantastical anymore.

5) Other Briton tribes were, in latin, called Carvetii, Votadini, Deceangli, Cornovii, Dobunni Catuvellauni, Trinovantes, Durotriges, Atrebates, Cantiaci, Silures, Ordovici, Iceni, Parisii, Dumnonii. From the Siluri tribe, which had inhabited southern Wales, the historical Arthur supposedly descends.

6) TLN: That would be this guy There's quite a few versions of how that story went, but where he came up with 'Kattigern' I just don't know. It sounds like a made up name as well. This is kind of important later, not to mention Caradoc is one of the knights. I am glad I didn't become a historian.

7) TLN:

8) In further text (the original one), I use the word Sasove, even though the english term Saxon may be more fitting. There is actually a theory that the english name of said nation did not come from the land of its origin Sachsen, but from their weapon of choice – a short, single-bladed sword named seax or sax. While different theories claim that Saxons do indeed arrive into Britain from Sachsen after already moving near Moldau's mouth, it would ease us the differentiation of Saxons from the Sasses behind the Ore Mountains.

9) TLN: This is Chiltern Hills I guess, the internet has no idea what Hiltern is.

10) Two famed battles of Polish history. In the battle of Kirchholm in Estonia (1604), an eight thousand polish army, mostly mounted, had defeated with a crushing attack the army of Swedish king Karl IX., with fourteen thousand men.
The Polish king Jan Sobiesky helped Wien being sieged by Ossman Turks, and stood at the front of united, but outnumbered Christian armies (1683). The infantry combat was not decisive, until Polish cavalry made a sharp push against the main enemy command tent. The Turkish army fled in panic. It was the end of the last great offensive of Islam in Europe.

11) King Arthur's Cave is accessable to a tourist in Wales, near the city Monmouth, or Trefynwy in Welsh. Other places of the legendary king's final rest are by native tradition: Arthur's barrow – Carnedd Arthur in Snowdonia, valley Meath in south Wales, Cadbury village in Somerset, or the mountain Eildon in Scotland.

12) The poet Michael Drayton (1563 – 1631) verificates this inaccurate figure. He states that Arthur had killed merely (!) three hundred Saxons. I quote:

Pendragon's worthie son, who waded there in blood
Threes hundred Saxons slew with his owne valiant hand
As for me, I am inclined to the opinion of Jan Gondowicz (Uniwersalna historia nikczemnosti), who suggests to, in biblical and legendary numbers, substract the last two zeroes. Once we do so, Arthur had stabbed, according to Nennius, nine and six tenths of an enemy, according to Drayton exactly three.

Updated December 1st, 2015 at 01:15 AM by Ratman



  1. aldeayeah's Avatar
  2. Elthanes's Avatar
    Thanks for the translation
  3. Huitante's Avatar
    This was a great read, thanks for translating it.

    Looking forward to continuation.
  4. LJ3's Avatar
    Thanks a bunch, I appreciate it.