Unique among the territories of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century, Britain succeeded in holding back and even reversing the tide of Germanic conquest for nearly two centuries. This was an age of heroes… It was the Age of Arthur!
This is the Sixteenth-part of our discussion of Britain in the 5th though the mid-6th Century A.D. It is a fascinating period, with the Classical civilization of Greece and Rome giving way to the Germanic “Dark Ages”; the sunset of Celtic-Roman culture in Britain.
As we attempt to reconstruct the life of an “historical” King Arthur, it is important to bear in mind that all of this is highly speculative. We know little of Arthur beyond the legends; and that little we do have in way of “historical” data come from sources centuries later. However, unlike many modern historians who use this paucity of contemporary material as excuse to dismiss an historic Arthur as mere invention; we are here attempting to build a plausible narrative based upon what is available.
Certainly the historical facts support the possibility, even the likelihood of a British national leader in the late 5th/early 6th century; who defended the remnants of Roman civilization in Britain; and led the resistance to Anglo-Saxon expansion on the island. We see evidence in the archeological record, including the locations of Anglo-Saxon burial sites, that in the early 6th century the seemingly inexorable advance of the Anglo-Saxons across Britain was arrested and thrown back to the eastern fringes of the island.
Procopius, the Byzantine historian of the mid-6th century, noted that there was an ongoing exodus of Saxons from Britain to the continent during his lifetime. Something (or someone) caused this to happen; almost certainly by making successful war upon the hitherto triumphant Anglo-Saxons. It goes without saying that successful warfare is impossible without good leadership; so such an achievement must be attributed to a otherwise unknown British leader.
Why would not that leader be the basis for the later stories and legends of “Arthur”?