Worlds of Arthur: Facts and Fictions of the Dark Ages

ISBN : 9780199658176

Guy Halsall
384 Pages
161 x 235 mm
Pub date
Feb 2013
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King Arthur is probably the most famous and certainly the most legendary medieval king. From the early ninth century through the middle ages, to the Arthurian romances of Victorian times, the tales of this legendary figure have blossomed and multiplied. And in more recent times, there has been a continuous stream of books claiming to have discovered the 'facts' about, or to unlock the secret or truth behind, the 'once and future king'. Broadly speaking, there are two Arthurs. On the one hand is the traditional 'historical' Arthur, waging a doomed struggle to save Roman civilization against the relentless Anglo-Saxon tide during the darkest years of the Dark Ages. On the other is the Arthur of myth and legend - accompanied by a host of equally legendary people, places, and stories: Lancelot, Guinevere, Galahad and Gawain, Merlin, Excalibur, the Lady in the Lake, the Sword in the Stone, Camelot, the Round Table. The big problem with all this is that 'King Arthur' might well never have existed. And if he did exist, it is next to impossible to say anything at all about him. As this challenging new look at the Arthur legend makes clear, all books claiming to reveal 'the truth' behind King Arthur can safely be ignored. Not only the 'red herrings' in the abundant pseudo-historical accounts, even the 'historical' Arthur is largely a figment of the imagination: the evidence that we have - whether written or archaeological - is simply incapable of telling us anything detailed about the Britain in which he is supposed to have lived, fought, and died. The truth, as Guy Halsall reveals in this fascinating investigation, is both radically different - and also a good deal more intriguing.


1. The Story of 'King Arthur'
2. The Matter of Arthur: the Traditional Narrative
3. Swords in the Stones: the Archaeology of Post-Imperial Britain
4. The Antimatter of Arthur: Reassessing the Written Sources
5. Continuity or Collapse? The End of Roman Britain
6. Beyond Brooches and Brochs: Rethinking Early Medieval British Archaeology
7. Red Herrings and Old Chestnuts
8. The Matter of Arthur: Changing the Framework
9. Rethinking the Anglo-Saxon Migration and Setttlement (1): When Did the Anglo-Saxons Come to Britain?
10. Rethinking the Anglo-Saxon Migration and Setttlement (2): The Nature and Scale of the Migration
11. Fifth and Sixth Century Politics in Britannia
12. The End of the 'World of Arthur'
Further Reading

About the author: 

Guy Halsall has taught at the universities of London and York, where he has been a professor of history since 2003. His early specialism was in the history and archaeology of the Merovingian period (c.450-c.750), and he has since published widely on a broad range of subjects: death and burial, age and gender, violence and warfare, barbarian migrations, and humour. This investigation into the 'worlds of Arthur' brings him back to the study of early medieval British history and archaeology with which his scholarly training began.

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