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  Vortigern Studies > Faces of Arthur > Arthurian Articles > August Hunt (3)

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August HuntVisit August Hunt's website: The Quest for Arthur's Grave

August Hunt, (1960), published his first short stories in his high school newspaper, THE WILDCAT WIRES. These were followed by stories and poems in THE PHOENIX literary magazine of Clark Community College, where he received a writing scholarship. Transferring to THE EVERGREEN STATE COLLEGE in Olympia, WA, he continued to publish pieces in local publications and was awarded the Edith K. Draham literary prize. A few years after graduating in 1985 with a degree in Celtic and Germanic Studies, he published "The Road of the Sun: Travels of the Zodiac Twins in Near Eastern and European Myth". Magazine contributions include a cover article on the ancient Sinaguan culture of the American Southwest for Arizona Highways. His first novel, "Doomstone", and the anthology "From Within the Mist" are being offered by Double Dragon (ebook and paperback). August, a member of the International Arthurian Society, North American Branch, has most recently had his book "Shadows in the Mist: The Life and Death of King Arthur" accepted for publication by Hayloft Publishing. Now being written are "The Cloak of Caswallon", the first in a series of Arthurian novels that will go under the general heading of "The Thirteen Treasures of Britain", and a work of Celtic Reconstructionism called "The Secrets of Avalon: A Dialogue with Merlin". 

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Camelot and other Arthurian Centres

August Hunt


THE case has often been made that Camelot is a late French form of the Romano-British Camulodunum place-name. But before we allow ourselves to get excited about the fact that there was a Camulodunum at Slack, Yorkshire, in what will be shown to be the area controlled by Arthur, we need to determine the actual location of the Camelot of the romances. We also need to acknowledge the fact that archaeological evidence from both the fort on Old Lindley Moor near Slack and from the fort on Almondbury five miles from Slack (either of which may have been the ancient Camulodunum) has not revealed Dark Age occupation of the sites.

The first clue as to the whereabouts of Camelot is found in Chretien de Troyes’ Knight of the Cart, which is the earliest romance to mention this site. According to Chretien, Camelot is ‘in the region near Caerleon’. For some reason, most authorities have seen fit to ignore this statement, insisting that Camelot was placed near Caerleon simply because of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s glorified description of the latter site as a major Arthurian center. If we do take Chretien’s statement seriously, we can for the first time arrive at a satisfactory identification of this most magical of royal cities.

The second clue to the location of Camelot is from the later romance The Quest for the Holy Grail, wherein Arthur escorts the Grail questers from Camelot to a point just shy of Castle Vagan. A third clue, from the prose Tristan, places Camelot either on or very near the sea. The last clue is from the Morte Artu; in this source, the castle of Camelot is on a river.

Castle Vagan is St. Fagan’s Castle (Welsh Ffagan) four or five miles west of Cardiff. This site lies in the Ely Valley, the supposed location of the Campus Elleti of Ambrosius (see Chapter One). According to the Historia Brittonum, Campus Elleti, the “Field or Plain of Elleti”, was said to be in Glywysing, the later Morgannwg/Glamorgan. Only a dozen miles separate Campus Elleti from Caerleon.

In my opinion, Campus Elleti, with Latin Campus rendered as French Champ (the p of which is silent), became Camelot:

Cham(p) ellet(i) > Camelot

In Chapter One I suggested that the transfer of the Ambrosius/Emrys who was the god Mabon from Campus Elleti to Stonehenge was paralleled by the Irish story of Mac Og being taken from Bri Leith to Uisneach. Mabon originally belonged not in Wales, but in Northern Britain. There is thus no reason, based upon the identification of Camelot with Campus Elleti, to identify Arthur and the historical Aurelius Ambrosius. The latter was never at Campus Elleti.

It is interesting that Geoffrey of Monmouth substitutes Carmarthen, wrongly thought to be the Fort of Myrddin/Merlin (see Appendix A), for Campus Elleti. This makes one wonder whether there had been some confusion over Elleti and Myrddin’s Northern Liddel, Old English Hlydan-dael, “valley of the [river] Hlyde”. Hlyde, meaning “the Loud One”, derives from OE hlud, “loud”. According to the 12th century Life of St. Kentigern by Jocelyn of Furness, Myrddin’s Battle of Arfderydd occurred “on the plain between Lidel [= Liddel] and Carwannock [= Carwhinley].”

A better candidate for an actual Northern Campus Elleti or Camelot can be found at the Corbridge Roman fort, where three altars to Maponus/Mabon were found, as well as a possible deity named Allitio.  Arthur fought several battles at the Dubglas or Devil's Water at Linnels very near this fort.

Dr. Graham Isaac, now with the National University of Ireland, Galway, commented as follows on the place-name Elei:

“On Elei, it would be from the same root as Aled, Alun, Eleri, all rivers, < Celt. *al- < PIE *h2el-, 'to shine'. They are all, in different ways, 'shining rivers'. The Ravenna Cosmography’s Alitacenon could be corrupt beyond redemption, but if it is accurate, then both elements are unproblematically found elsewhere: alita- 'shining [river]' gives W Aled (RN), and -cenon is a common toponym element, of admittedly uncertain meaning. [I asked Dr. Isaac about –cenon in the context of Alitacenon. If Alita- meant originally the "Shining" (-river), could not -cenon be from Proto-Celtic *cen-je/o, "rise (from)"? In other words, Alitocenon was at the headwaters of a stream called Alito, the place where th waters of the river rose from. To which he responded, “This is not impossible.”]

Elleti is probably not connected with these. The form of the name is corroborated by the instance of 'palude [Latin for “marsh” or “swamp”] Elleti' in Book of Llan Dav (148). But since both that and HB’s campum Elleti are in Latin contexts, we cannot see whether the name is OW Elleti (= Elledi) or OW Ellet (= Elled) with a Latin genitive ending. Both are possible. My guess would be that OW Elleti is right. As the W suffix -i would motivate affection, so allowing the base to be posited as all-, the same as in W ar-all 'other', all-tud 'exile', Gaulish allo-, etc. Elleti would be 'other-place, place of the other side (of something)'.

There are certainly no grounds for thinking of a connection between Elleti and Elei.

For Elei, Williams is implying < *Elu-legi-. 1) I am not aware of any other instance in which the prefix El- , *Elu- is used in Welsh with a river-name. It is otherwise exclusively used with personal names. This is not damning, but it is suspicious. 2) I am not sure that the British *Elu-legi- would not in fact end up as **Ellei. I know of no precisely parallel examples offhand. But the old feminine personal name Ellylw is suggestive. This looks as though it must be < *Elu-selwi: 'Having many possessions', with the cognate of OI selb 'possession' (the exact cognate OI shelb is extant, though not as a name).

The name will have gone through the following developments *Elu-selwi:> *Elu-silwi: > *Elu-hilwi: > *El-hilw > *Ellilw (with just a long, or double,-l-) > Ellylw (now with the characteristic W -ll-). This suggests that an early Welsh double -ll- resulting from syncope becomes the later W -ll-. That is the difficulty with Williams's explanation of Elei: *Elu-legi- > *El-legi- should give > **Ellei, not Elei. At least this is how it seems to me.

The problems are different with Elleti = Elleith. The name is rare, but we have it independently in HB and in Book of Llan Dav. The spellings -e- for /ei/ and -t- for /th/ are both possible in Old Welsh, but it would be very surprising indeed if BOTH HB (and its recensions) and BLlD had spelled **Elleith as Ellet. Which makes me think that they did not, and that, in fact, they are both spelling what would be written in Modern Welsh as Elledi. And note that the HB reference to 'campum Elleti' implies a W place-name 'Maes Elledi'. I would not expect a river-name to follow 'maes'.”

I would add that the Alitocenon Dr. Isaac alludes to appears to be in the Scottish Lowlands and that it is listed in the Ravenna Cosmography immediately after a Maporiton or Maporitum, the “Son’s Ford”. It has been suggested that this “Son’s Ford” should be sought near ‘locus Maponi’, the “place of Maponus/Mabon [the Divine Son]”, which is properly identified either with Lochmaben or the Clochmabenstane. While Alitacenon’s exact location is unknown, there is no reason for amending it to read Alaunacelum, as is done by A.L.F. Rivet and Colin Smith in their The Place-Names of Roman Britain.

Still, Alita- and Elleti, as just demonstrated by Dr. Isaac, have different etymologies. Thus we cannot equate Campus or Palude Elleti with Alitacenon.

We are fortunate in that the place-name Elleti may be found in the form of a personal name at the Corbridge Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall. A fragment of a large grey urn was found there bearing the name ‘ALLIITIO’ (Fascicule 8, RIB 2502.9; information courtesy Georgina Plowright, Curator, English Heritage Hadrian’s Wall Museums). This could be the potter’s name, perhaps a form of the nomen Alletius, or the name of the god portrayed on the fragment. J. Leach (in “The Smith God in Roman Britain”, Archaeologia Aeliana, 40, 1962, pp. 171-184) made a case for the god in question being a divine smith, primarily due to the presence on the urn fragment of what appears to be an anvil in relief, although there were also metal workings in the neighborhood of Corbridge. Anne Ross (in her Pagan Celtic Britain, p. 253) associates the name Allitio with the same all-, “other”, root Dr. Isaac linked to Elleti. She thinks Allitio may have been a warrior/smith-god and very tentatively offers “God of the Otherworld” for this theonym.

On the name ‘ALLIITIO’, Dr. Isaac agrees with Ross:

“Taking the double -ll- at face value, as I would be inclined to do as a working hypothesis,that would not be connected with Aled, but rather with the W all- that I have mentioned before.”

Treating more fully of ‘ALLIITIO’ in a private communication, Georgina Plowright, Curator, English Heritage Hadrian’s Wall Museums, says that the name

“…occurs twice on one piece of pottery showing feet and a base. This is always assumed to be the base of an anvil, with the feet being those of a smith god. There are a number of sherds of grey pottery from Corbridge with very distinctive applied decoration, with two recognisable themes, the smith god shown with hammer and anvil, and a wheel god who is shown with wheel and club. The fact that the wheel god is depicted by a mould suggests that this type of pottery was being made at Corbridge, though it appears on a number of other sites. The reading occurs twice on this piece of pottery, once in the frame created by the anvil base, and then on the pot below the feet of the standing figure.  Another sherd showing the smith god does not have any inscription.  John Dore and Stephen Johnson, who did the captions for the Corbridge gallery, have assumed that the name might be that of a potter, though RIB seems to go for either god or potter.  I haven’t got a copy of the Leach reference easily to hand, but my memory tells me the item should be illustrated there.”

Astonishingly, of the six inscriptions for Maponus/Mabon in Roman Britain, three belong to Corbridge. These inscriptions are in the form of dedicatory altars, something not found elsewhere in Britain for Maponus.

I would propose that the Campus Elleti of Emrys in the Historia Brittonum is a relocation of an Allitio site at Corbridge. The Elei of Mabon, which derives from the root *al-, “to shine”, represents the actual name of the Ely River, to which the Northern Campus or Palude Elleti was transferred during the usual development of myth and legend.

In passing, it may be worth noting that the ( ? ) divine name Allitio, again according to Dr. Isaac, can be associated with Myrddin's/Merlin's Welsh nickname, Llallogan or Llallawc.  This last derives from Proto-Celtic *alal( I )yo- 'another, other', cf. Old Irish arail, Middle Welsh arall (OW and MW), Middle Breton al( l )all, arall, Cornish arall.  This is a reduplicated, intensive variant of Proto-Celtic *al( I )yo- 'other', cf.

Old Irish aile [io], Middle Welsh eil, all-, Middle Breton eil, Cornish yl, Gaulish Allo-broges, allos, Proto-Indo-European *h2elyo- 'other', Latin alius, Go. aljis.  Celtic-Iberian ailam, which has been interpreted as the Acc. of this pronoun, has also been taken to mean something like 'place, abode'.

I cannot say that Myrddin as Llallogan/Llallawc = Allitio, only that the derivation and meanings of the two names are the same.

While a construction Campus Allitio may be doubted, we can point to the Heaven-field of Bede, said to be close to Hexham, and thus quite possibly near Corbridge.  Bede has this as Hefenfelth or 'caelistis campus'.  The name is unlikely to be of Christain origin.  Instead, we should look to the Roman period dedication (RIB 1131) at Corbridge to Caelistis Brigantia, the 'Heavenly Brigantia'.  Caelistis campus would then be a field sacred to the pagan goddess of the Brigantes.  In this light, a field sacred to Allitios at or near Corbridge is more plausible. 


In one of the Continuations to Chretien's Perceval, we are told by the hero himself that "At Sinadon I was born." Sinadon (Sinaudon, Senaudon, etc.) has been identified as Snowdon in Gwynedd, although some have followed the 15th century William of Worcester who identified Sinadon with Stirling in Scotland because an earthwork "Round Table" was located at the latter site. Snowdon itself has been thought to be a reference to the Segontium fort, but I do not think this is correct.

Beroul says that Iseut's squire Perinis travels from Caerleon to Sinadon, where the Round Table is to be found. The clue to the real location of this site is the "stone slab" Beroul describes as being at the entrance to the Round Table. For this "Round Table" is said to turn like the world, very much as the hills and mounds of gods and fairies are said to turn in myth and folklore (e.g. the Irish Cu Roi's fort, which revolves as swiftly as a millstone).

The stone at the entrance is a mistake for Dorstone, interpreted as "Door-stone" instead of D'or, "Golden", itself perhaps an error for W. Dwr, "Water". Just across the Wye from Dorstone in Herefordshire is a Neolithic long barrow called "Arthur's Stone". This barrow's passage leads into a large oval chamber walled by nine upright slabs which support an enormous capstone. But better yet, Arthur's Stone is only a mile and a half or so from Snodhill and its ruinous castle.

According to Ekwall (Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names; information courtesy Janet Ruskin of the English Place-Name Society), Snodhill is found in the early forms Snauthil (1195), Snathil (1195), Snodehill (c. 1225),Snodhull (1243) and probably means "snowy" hill (fr. OE *snawede). Snod- + ME doun, "hill", = Sinadon.

Perceval's placement at Sinadon may be due to a relocation of Beroul's Sinadon to the Sinadun Camp near Little Wittenham in Oxfordshire. I say this because of the presence 1 km to the east of the Sinadun fort of the Brightwell Barrow. Perceval's name could well have been associated with the name Brightwell. However, according to Chris Chandler, citing the Place Names of Berkshire, the Sinadon fort takes its name from the surrounding hills, which are not mentioned in writing before 1542.

Besides Camelot, Chretien mentions several other Arthurian residences or courts. Of these, most are easily recognized sites, e.g. Cardigan, Winchester (perhaps Caerwent and not Winchester/Caerwynt), Windsor, Caerleon, Tintagel. But four residences have never been satisfactorily identified: Disnadaron, Carduel, Quarrois and Orcanie. Carduel and Quarrois are mentioned together in Erec and Enide in a context which suggests they may lie near each other.

Disnadaron has usually been rendered Dinas d'Aaron and identified with Caerleon because of that city's association with Geoffrey's St. Aaron. We will see in a moment that this appears to be correct.

Carduel is said to be in Wales (Gales). However, it has long been customary to identify this site with Carlisle, the Roman Luguvalium, in Cumbria. The "d" of Carduel is said to be due to dissimilation of the first "l" of Carlisle (Welsh Caerliwelydd). I have always thought this linguistic argument to be highly questionable.

Carduel is also hard by the Red Knight's Forest of Quinqueroy and not far from the castle of Gornemont of Goort. Goort is here definitely Gower. Quinqueroy is Welsh gwyn plus caer, a slight error for Caerwent.

While Kerduel in Brittany is derived from Caer + Tudwall (information courtesy Jean-Yves le Moing, personal correspondence; cf. Caer Dathyl in Arfon, from Irish Tuathal = Welsh Tudwall, possibly Caer-fawr or Caernarfon, information courtesy Brian Lile of The National Library of Wales, citing Ifor Williams' Pedair Keinc Ymabinogi, 1951), I think Carduel (Car-dyou-EL) probably derives from Caer +d'iwl, Iwl (pronounced similar to English 'yule', according to Dr. David Thorne of the Welsh Department at Lampeter) being the Welsh form of Julius, the name Geoffrey used for Aaron's partner, St. Julian.

When Perceval first comes to Arthur's court, it is at Carduel; but when Arthur sets off after Perceval when the latter sends the Haughty Knight of the Moor to the court, the king leaves Caerleon. In between the king's placement at Carduel and Caerleon, Anguingueron and Clamadeu find Arthur at Dinas d'Aaron, the Fort of Aaron/Caerleon. In other words, Caerleon and Carduel are the same. Indeed, Anguingueron and the Haughty Knight are sent to Arthur's court by Perceval, who knows only that Arthur is at Carduel. This means that Dinas d'Aaron and Carduel have to be Caerleon.

And Arthur's Quarrois? When Erec of Erec and Enide says he will not loiter anywhere until he has "come to the court of King Arthur, whom I wish to see either at Quarrois or Carduel", he seems to be implying that Carduel and Quarrois are near each other. Because Quarrois is mentioned only in conjunction with Carduel, it is more than likely the -queroy of Quinqueroy, i.e. Quarrois = the Caer that is Caerwent.

Orcanie is popularly believed to be Orkney, but its true location is revealed by discovering the whereabouts of the Orqueneless of Guiromelant. This latter site, in turn, must be related to 1) the Rock of Champguin, Igerne's castle on a cliff above a broad river, on the other side of which is the knight who defends the "passes into Galloway [Galvoie]", and 2) the Perilous Ford negotiated by Gawain.

Goodrich identified the Rock of the White Field with Caerlaverock in Dumfries, but there is no linguistic or geographical argument which will support this notion. In fact, one may search in vain for these sites in the north. Galvoie is a mistake for Wales proper. How can we be so sure of this?

Because the Rock of the White Field is Chepstow Castle on the right bank of the Wye in Gwent. This Norman fortress towers over the river on limestone cliffs, just as Chretien's description insists is the case with the Rock. Chepstow's Welsh name is Cas Gwent or Castle Gwent. Chretien, being a Frenchman, did not pronounce the -s of Cas or the -t of Gwent. As a result, he mistook cas for W. cae, "field", and so substituted Fr. champ. It is also possible he conflated Chepstow with Guinchamp in Brittany. The name Chepstow means "market place" and this is what Chretien has to say about Champguin: "There are many a fine cloth and bolt of scarlet is dyed green or red, and much material is bought and sold there."

The broad water over which Gawain travels by boat is, of course, the border river Wye itself; Chepstow was the lowest crossing of the Wye. The Stone at the Narrow Way, where the Haughty Knight defends the "passes" into Wales, is Offa's Dyke, which ends at the mouth of the Wye opposite Chepstow. The Perilous Ford with its deep water and bank "too steep all around for one to go down" is on the same river Gawain had crossed already a number of times by boat; it is a crossing of the Wye near Chepstow. The "sheer vertical banks" of this ford of "deep water" are the limestone cliffs. It is said "in many places that the knight who could cross over the deep waters of the Perilous Ford would be reckoned the best in the world."

[The Latin form of Gawain and the Fr. Gauvain is Gualganus or Walganus, which is a slightly corrupt or perhaps "Welshified" form of Volcanus, theRoman god Vulcan, who was identified with the Greek smith-god Hephaistos. Gawain, then, is Gofannon, the Welsh divine smith, counterpart of the Irish Goibniu (cf. Gaelic gobann or gobhainn). The form Govan, "Smith", is actually found in Culhwch and Olwen. "Walwen's" grave is said by William of Malmesbury to be in the cantref of Rhos in Dyfed, which refers to St. Govan's Head.

Geoffrey of Monmouth makes Gawain and Medraut the sons of Lot of Lothian. In an early account of St. Patrick, three gods appear: Nuadu, Mathu and Goibhniu. Since Nuada is the Welsh Nudd/Lludd, Mathu is Math and Goibhniu is Gofannon, it is tempting to equate these three gods with Geoffrey's Loth, Medraut and Gawain. The Welsh Gwalchmai or "Hawk of May" was probably corrupted into Volcanus/Gualganus and then identified with Gofannon.]

Orqueneless, since the -les (pronounced "lay") is -ley or "field", is quite obviously Archenfield, the old region of Ercing which lay just north of Gwent between the Monnow-Honddu river system and that of the Wye. In northwestern Archenfield at Dorstone is Arthur's Stone, a neolithic long-barrow, and the grave of Arthur's son, Anir/Amir, is at Gamber Head. Orcanie must be Ross-on-Wye, the Roman Ariconium which gave its name to the Archenfield/Ercing region.

Camelot and other Arthurian Centres is Copyright 2000, August Hunt. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Comments to: August Hunt


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