One thing we will never be certain of is whether or not King Arthur actually lived. There are literally hundreds of books, TV series, documentaries, movies, papers and journals on the subject and life of King Arthur. There are also hundreds of historical fiction novels about him. There are also a number of secondary sources recorded from various times during the Middle Ages that talk of Arthur, and his time, his battles, his life. But we still don’t know how true any of these documents are, and whether there really was a large-scale Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain.
Guy Halsall is in the minority, and he admits this up front, in his introduction to Worlds of Arthur. He has taught at universities in London and New York, and has specialized in the Merovingian Period (c. 450- c.750), but has also written about a lot of other subjects from the period, including death and burial, age and gender, violence and warfare, and barbarian migrations. He is also not a believer in King Arthur. He believes, from his study of the sources and archaeology, that such a person never existed. He also doesn’t believe that the supposed large-scale Anglo-Saxon migrations of the mid-fifth century were as large-scale as thought, and in fact began much earlier.
Worlds of Arthur is divided into four parts. The first consists of Halsall discussing the various secondary source that mention or reference Arthur and the period. The second part is about the archaeology of the period and what it states. In the third part Halsall goes into detail on these sources and linking with the archaeology to show that they actually tell very little about Arthur and whether he existed or not. Finally, in the fourth section Halsall lays out his theories and researching about how and why Arthur never really existed and the events we have come to think we know about the period that aren’t completely true.
Halsall is thorough and detailed in his discussions, using his experience and knowledge of the Merovingian period and the subjects mentioned above, but he also seems to rely a little too much on this, and not on the history and archaeology of Britain itself, as well as what its peoples left. It is nevertheless a worthy debate in the story of King Arthur that is well worth the read and deserves to be heard and accepted, even if it is in the minority.
Originally written on April 27, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.
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