King Arthur and his famed stronghold of Camelot – both of these entities tread the fine line between legend and actual history. And while Arthur himself might be a concoction based on actual historical characters, the ‘history’ of Camelot possibly alludes to a more singular inspiration. At least that is what a retired Bangor University English Literature professor believes. Prof Peter Field, who is also a renowned expert in Arthurian literature, has hypothesized that the famed Camelot possibly equated to a relatively small Roman fort at Slack, outside Huddersfield.
Now if we take the tantalizing etymological route, the fort during Roman times was known as Camulodunum, which basically translates to ‘the fort of (god) Camul’. And other than just the name’s similarity to Camelot, there is historicity to consider. To that end, while Camulodunum was probably dilapidated circa 500 AD – the credible timeline of ‘Dark Age’ hero King Arthur meant that the fort was still a strategic stronghold in early 6th century Britain.
In fact, considering the geo-political situation of the region during this epoch, we must understand that the Romano-British factions (mostly comprising the Celtic-speaking Britons) held on to the north and the west coast of the island, while the continental Anglo-Saxons were gaining their ground by controlling much of the east and south coasts of Britain. So according to Prof Peter Field, the strategic point where the Britons could muster their forces would have pertained to Chester. At the same time, they also held on to York, as the last ‘refuge’ along the east coast.
Now from the geographical perspective, Slack is actually located on the Roman road linking Chester and York, which possibly justifies its strategic value. And beyond real historical scenarios, we should also consider the fact that the mention of Camelot Field was originally made only in 12th century AD. As Field said –
If there was a real King Arthur, he will have lived around AD 500, although the first mention of him in Camelot is in a French poem from the Champagne region of France from 1180. There is no mention of Camelot in the period between those dates, known as the Dark Ages, when the country was at war, and very little was recorded. In this gap, people passed on information, much got lost in transmission, and people may have made up facts or just messed up known information.
So after researching for 18 months, the retired professor has come to the conclusion that only one place in Britain meets all the criteria, covering the strategic as well as historical fronts, while also being bolstered by the possible etymological connection. As he said –
I love doing this stuff, but it was quite by chance, I was looking at some maps, and suddenly all the ducks lined up. I believe I may have solved a 1400 year old mystery.
But of course, since we are talking about history, the hypothesis still needs to be proven for a conclusive theory – and that pertains to finding actual archaeological evidence from the Slack site. In any case, interestingly enough, this is not first time this year that historians have dabbled with the ambit of Arthur’s legend and historicity. To that end, in the middle of 2016, archaeologists from the Cornwall Archaeological Unit (funded by English Heritage) had unearthed the structural remnants of what was probably quite an imposing Dark Age royal palace. The discovery was made at the Tintagel Castle site – the fabled birthplace of King Arthur, as mentioned in the pseudo-historical chronicle of Historia Regum Britanniae (‘The History of the Kings of Britain’) by 12th-century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth.