Western civilization has been entranced by the legend of King Arthur and his knights of the round table for almost a thousand years. Medieval and Victorian people alike were enthralled by the tale of a king and his men who fought for justice and created a golden period of peace and chivalry. An age that was destroyed by the personal betrayal of his wife, his best friend, and his illegitimate son. And yet the legend says he was borne away to Avalon, with the unspoken, but clearly implied promise that one day he would return, hence "the once and future king."
Searching for the truth behind the myth, one finds very few hard facts to tell the story. In searching through reliable records of the time, historians have found scarcely more than the bare bones of a story. By carefully arranging these bones and fleshing them out with what is known about the period, a slightly fuller picture can be created, though it is not one that resembles the Broadway production of Camelot.
Numerous scholars have culled the scanty records available, supported additionally in some cases by archaeological excavation, and they seem to agree on the basic facts. During the second half of the fourth century Roman forces gradually withdrew from Britain, and by 410 the Britons were told that Rome would no longer offer aid against the invading Saxon barbarians. By the middle of the fifth century the Roman superstructure had disappeared and small factions were fighting with one another and unable to offer any significant resistance to the invaders.
The most significant source for historians researching the Dark Ages is Gildas' The Loss and Conquest of Britain, written about 540. Gildas recounts that Ambrosius Aurelianus had some success with organizing resistance against the Saxons, although it seems that he was no longer the leader at the siege of Badon, a decisive battle fought around 495. Gildas does not mention Arthur's name in connection with ...