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THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE FOR ARTHURS RULE IN NORTH BRITAIN
When I wrote my various articles on Arthur and the follow-up book _Shadows in the Mist: The Life and Death of King Arthur_ (Hayloft Publishing), I did not have access to some critical information regarding the sub-Roman (i.e. 5th-6th century A.D.) re-use of Hadrians Wall, as well as forts along the Wall and in the adjacent tribal territory of the ancient Brigantian kingdom.
first step in absorbing this new information came with a
brief investigation into the possible significance of Etterby
hard by Stanwix as Arthurs fort. During
the course of research into Etterbyas a reputed Arthurian
center, I learned of apparent sub-Roman timber structures
at Stanwix. According to the theory I present in my
articles and book, Stanwix (and/or
those not familiar with my work, I have placed Arthur at Stanwix
Collins of the
Stanwix is a tricky one, to be honest. Most of the excavations there have been unpublished, so when a few of us talk about the timber buildings that may be more examples of the timber hall structures (like those from Birdoswald), we are generally relying on word-of-mouth and the brief accounts provided in a few meager sources."
references for Stanwix (which will be referred to as both
Uxellodunumand Petriana) are:
There is always a hope that the Stanwix excavations that revealed the late Roman/sub-Roman timber structures will be published, but it may still be some years yet and I wouldn't hold your breath. In the meantime, you may be interested to know that the Carlisle MilleniumProject excavation report will be available in a few months time (the Carlisle fort being just a stones throw across the river from Stanwix), and they also found very late timber structures there.
is a suggestion of Stanwix fort Uxellodunum
continuing into the post-Roman period. Nothing has
been published about this other than a mention of timber
buildings in the
While brief mention of the timber structures at Stanwixcan be found in some of the publications cited by Robert Collins (and in such sources as Durham University Archaeological Services PDF on Stanwix, English Heritages Investigation History of the same site, etc.), the most valuable contribution to a general discussion of re-use of this fort and others along the Wall, as well as several forts in the Brigantian kingdom, is to be found in two papers by Ken Dark of the University of Reading.
A Sub-Roman Re-defense of Hadrians Wall?
(Britannia, XXIII, 111-20), Dr. Dark begins by saying
is more surprising still is the character of the reuse
found on the line of the Wall. Two sites, Housesteads
and Corbridge, have evidence not only of internal
occupation, but of re-fortification; at Birdoswaldthere
are the well-known halls, while at Chesterholma
Class-I inscribed stone of the late fifth or early sixth
century come from the immediate vicinity of the fort.
the western terminal of the Wall, a town-site,
is interesting that, of the sites at
After setting forth these facts, and discussing them, Dr. Dark offers a rather revolutionary idea:
Although it is difficult, therefore, to ascertain whether the military project which I have described was the work of an alliance or a north British kingdom or over-kingdom, there does seem to be reason to suppose that it may have represented a post-Roman form of the command of the Dux Britanniarum
archaeological pattern, however it is interpreted, is of
the greatest interest not only to the study of the fifth-
and sixth-century north of
and S. P. Darks paper New Archaeological and Palynological
Evidence for Sub-Roman Reoccupation of Hadrians
Wall (ArchaeologiaAeliana 5, XXIV), Dr. Dark
elegantly rebuttsP.J. Caseys argument for a re-interpretation
of the reuse and re-fortification of the Wall and its
associated forts. His conclusion for this paper
reads as follows:
So, the interpretation that the Wall became a series of secular elite settlements, discontinuous from the Late Roman activity at the forts within which they were sited, is compatible with the evidence of pollen analysis, while the alternative interpretations are both rendered unlikely by it. This does not, of course, make the suggestion that this reoccupation represents the sub-Roman reconstruction of the Command of the Dux Britanniarum any more likely, but the pattern on which that interpretation is based has been strengthened, rather than weakened, by the new archaeological data, whilst the evidence also hints at a similar reoccupation with regard to the signal stations of the Yorkshire coast and their headquarters at Malton.
Perhaps, then, at last one is able to see answers to many of the most pressing questions regarding what happened in north Britain, and more specifically on Hadrians Wall, in the fifth and sixth centuries
answer to all of these questions may lie in the rise and
fall of a reconstructed Late Roman military command,
I would add only that it is my belief this king of the sub-Roman Briganteswhom Dr. Dark proposes was none other than the dux bellorum Arthur.
ETTERBY AS ARTHUR'S BURG
in the parish of Stanwix, was called Arthurs burg,
according to Joseph Nicolson and Richard Burns _History
and Antiquities of the County of Westmorland and
Cumberland, Vol. 2, 1977, p. 454 (information courtesy
Stephen White of the Carlisle Library):
passage was discussed by Joseph Ritson in his _The Life
of King Arthur: From Ancient Historians to Authentic
Later on, the various Bulmer directories of the 19th century mention this same tradition of Etterby as Arthurs Fort. I suspect that the tradition is in error only in so much as it identifies Etterby as Arthurs Fort, which in reality that designation should be applied to the neighboring Roman period milliary cavalry fort of Stanwix.
Nicolson and Burn may have been correct in their assessment of Etterby as wholly lacking remains of antiquity: according to Humphrey Welfare, Planning and Development Director, North, English Heritage, the evidence from excavation has been too slender to confirm a tentative suggestion as to what kind of Roman camp if any - may once have existed at Etterby. Durham Universitys Project Manager of Archaeological Services, Richard Annis, confirms this, saying that While it has been suggested that there might be a Roman camp at Etterby, no evidence for this has been found.
Tim Padley, Keeper of Archaeology, Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle, informs me that:
The English Placename Society Place-names of Cumberland Volume 1, page 43, states that Etterby is first seen in 1246 as Etardeby or Etard's land. The name is French of Germanic origin. Etterby Scaur is Etterby Scar in 1794 and refers to the river cliff or scar at Etterby. There is a suggestion of Stanwix Fort - Uxellodunum - continuing into the post-Roman period Thus, if there is a connection with 'Arthur' then it should be attached to Stanwix, rather than to Etterby."
Robert Collins of the Newcastle Upon Tyne Museum of Antiquities states:
The timber features [at Stanwix] are fairly recent discoveries Most of the excavations there have been unpublished, so when a few of us talk about the timber buildings these may be more examples of timber hall-like structures (such as those from Birdoswald) There is always a hope that the Stanwix excavations that revealed the late Roman/sub-Roman timber structures will be published, but in the meantime you may be interested to know that the Carlisle Millenium Project excavation report will be available in a few months time (the Carlisle fort being just a stones throw across the river from Stanwix), and they also found very late timber structures there.
In Book IV, Chapters 20-23 of Sir Thomas Malorys _Morte DArthur_, we are told of a Lady Ettard, who is involved in a tragic love triangle with Pelleas and Nimue, Lady of the Lake. As the lake of the Lady of the Lake was originally the marsh that surrounded the Avalon Roman fort at Burgh-By-Sands under a half-dozen miles west of Etterby, it is tempting to associate this very same Lady Ettard with Etterby or Etardeby (1246). According to Ekwall, Etard is a French name of German origin (OHG Eidhart).
In passing, I would mention one other site associated with King Arthur: the drained lake of Tarn Wadling at Hesket between Penrith (near which is the King Arthurs Round Table henge) and Carlisle. There was once a fort on the edge of this lake called Castelewyne (c. 1272), Castle Hewin (c. 1794), doubtless from a Cumbric Castle Ewain, i.e. Owain. Excavated in 1978-9, this fort was discovered to be of Romano-British date. According to tradition, Castle Ewain was the headquarters of one Eugenius Caesarius, a king of Cumbria who expelled the Angles and Saxons and re-established British rule. While the title Caeser here would suggest a confusion with Owain Finddu son of Macsen Wledig (the usurping emperor Maximus the Tyrant), in all likelihood this is an oblique reference to Owain son of Urien Rheged. The confusion may have come about because Arthurs battle with a giant at Tarn Wadling in a 15th century ballad at Castle Owain may have reminded someone of the Welsh story of Owain Finddus battle against a giant between the fort of Dinas Emrys and Llyn Dinas (Lake of the Fort) in Gwynedd, Wales.
Etterby as Arthur's Burg is Copyright © 2008, August Hunt. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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