A gathering near the Tintagel fortress

According to medieval historians as well as more recent scholarly inquiry, the historical basis of the legendary King Arthur lies sometime in post-Roman Britain. To truly appreciate the Romance tradition of Arthur it helps to understand the more ancient tradition from which it is derived. This tradition is that of Britain in the 5th and 6th centuries, when the Roman withdrawal from the island left the British to defend themselves against several invasions. The most significant of these invaders were the marauding Angles and Saxons.


In the year 43 CE, Roman emperor Claudius Caesar invaded Britain. Roman feet had trod British soil before, during a brief sojourn by Julius Caesar in 55 BCE, but the Claudian conquest would begin a Roman occupation of Britain that would last almost four hundred years. Eventually, Rome was faced with invading barbarian tribes on the continent, and Roman occupation of Britain would cease. Without Roman presence, tribes such as the Picts, Saxons, and Scots would fight the Roman Britains for control of the island. It is during this struggle that the historical King Arthur is placed.



The warriors of the true Arthurian period were very different from the"knight in shining armor" of romance. The main weapon was a spear instead of a sword, and the suit of armor was rarely seen. Looting raids were common, and battles were also fought to gain territory. Such battles were fought back and forth with no resolution until Badon, where a British defeat of the Saxons resulted in a generation of peace.



Life for the people in Arthur's time was agrarian with a barter-based economy. There was limited trade with continental Europe, but most common items, such as clothing, were manufactured on the island. The typical dress was a simple tunic and trousers. Domestic construction was wood and thatch and there was usually a central hall that was the social hub of the community.