The story of King Arthur is one of the most enduring pieces of culture in Western civilization. The Arthurian legend comes in many different variations and has inspired all sorts of folklore (and terrible films) about divinely chosen leaders fending off the forces of evil using mythical weapons and brave sidekicks. The exact origins of the legend are shrouded in mystery, and very little concrete evidence of such a king is known to exist. Still, the legend persists throughout Western culture and folklore.
The tale of King Arthur dates back many centuries, yet still manages to pop up in current events from time to time, showing how profoundly entrenched the legend is in our cultural consciousness. Earlier this year a replica of Arthur’s famed sword Excalibur was found in its legendary resting place, and historians and archaeologists still debate over which ruins and relics might have once been part of Arthur’s life and which tombs might be his final resting place. Despite having such a profound impact on Anglo-Saxon culture and being studied widely as a real-life figure, however, one historian now claims that Arthur might not have been real at all, but instead some form of a mythical “Celtic superhero.”
That claim was made by Miles Russell, professor of Roman and Prehistoric Archaeology at England’s Bournemouth University. Russell has spent his career poring over Medieval texts and histories which mention the Arthurian legend. After years of careful analysis, Russell says he now believes that Arthur was likely not a true-to-life leader, but rather an amalgamation of historical figures from Roman legends intended to instill pride in and create values for the newly formed Celtic and British lands after their split from the Roman Empire much in the same way superheroes do today:
He’s an echo of all these other individuals – what Geoffrey of Monmouth did was create a Celtic superhero for his times, a character for the Britons to celebrate, taken from all the best bits of those individuals who lived before. The tale of Arthur as it’s originally presented is one whereby he takes an army to Europe in order to forge a great empire. It’s a story of conquest and aggression – in fact, if anything, Arthur as he appears in this original text is a deeply unpleasant and unsympathetic character.
It really makes you wonder what future civilizations will think of all the Batman and Superman memorabilia they’ll dig up from the ruins of Los Angeles after The Big One finally shakes it to rubble and causes it to fall into the sea. Will they believe these amalgamations and mythical figures to be real-life heroes who once protected the people of North America? How much of our current historical knowledge could actually be based on simple misinterpretation of artifacts and texts? Who knows. One thing is for sure: Celtic Superhero Arthur is gonna be the next big cosplay at the 2018 cons. I call dibs.