Arthur, Cerdic, and the Formation of Wessex

IX. Riotimus or Cerdic?

   We are well aware of the scholarship and leadership of Geoffrey Ashe in the field of Arthurian studies. This author of numerous books and papers on the Arthurian quest has presented a highly developed theory on the identity of Arthur which is undeniably convincing and must therefore be addressed. (Ashe, 1985) Ashe presents a strong case that the original Arthur was the British king Riotimus or Rigotamos, who led British troops into Gaul against the Visigoths around 470. His theory is based upon the identification of certain Roman officials found in Geoffrey of Monmouth's account with known officials presiding at the time of Riotimus' campaign.
   Ashe's impressive argument undoubtably explains certain elements of the Arthurian legend handed down by Geoffrey of Monmouth. However, it is incomplete in several respects. In giving full faith to Geoffrey of Monmouth's unprecedented version of the Arthurian legend, Ashe inevitably dismisses the early documents which identify Arthur as the victor at Mount Badon. He admits that if Arthur's career ended around 470 then he could not be given credit for the victory at Badon. (1985, p118) He rejects the historical evidence for Arthur's presence at either Badon or Camlann.
   We argue that the most credible source of information to be found is the candid work of the sixth century Gildas. The saint plainly reveals that a real victory at Badon was the event which established a lasting state of peace and security and that the victory occurred close to the year 500. Although Gildas doesn't name the victorious commander, later accounts associate no figure with Badon other than Arthur.
   Ashe has shown that the part of the Arthurian legend involving the expedition to the continent is based on the expedition of Riotimus. However, there are many elements of the Arthurian legend, especially the essential victory at Badon, which the Riotimus theory does not and cannot explain. We have shown that these elements can be explained by identifying Arthur as Cerdic.
   We believe that the deeds attributed to Geoffrey's Arthur may have come from several persons--namely Riotimus, Caradoc Vreichvras, and possibly Ceredig of Dumbarton. Nevertheless, the Arthur of Nennius was a single historical figure and must be defined as such. Nennius's Arthur is compatible with historical events described by Gildas. According to Ashe, Riotimus is not.
   It all comes down to a choice of which historical event--the expedition to Gaul by a king of the Britons in 470, or the decisive victory at Badon by a battle leader in 500--is to define the one original Arthur. Geoffrey of Monmouth's story is apparently composed of events in the lives of at least two people, Riotimus (who may be Rigatomos) and Cerdic, and if Geoffrey's account were all we had to go by, the two would be equal candidates for Arthur. However Nennius' Arthur was the victor at Badon in 500, and is therefore incompatible with Riotimus, who disappeared in 470. Nennius' history IS compatible with Arthur being Cerdic, the Battle of Badon being the event which created Wessex. This version is also compatible with the account of Gildas. Furthermore, if the Battle of Badon resulted in the formation of Wessex, then it is immediately obvious HOW it produced the forty years of peace described by Gildas.
   But more important, Riotimus is too small an Arthur on which to build the legends. Arthur's great achievement was not that he presided over a disastrous defeat which evoked nostalgic memories among the Britons. He was the leader whose memory evoked the pride of military success, and whose victories secured and shaped the future. He was such a man that Aneirin would later write of Gwawrddur "he glutted black ravens on the wall of the fort, though he was not Arthur". (Ashe, 1986, p137). Arthur's significance is not in the killing of Saxons but rather in the decisive deeds and victories which assured the survival of Wales and which created Wessex, uniting both Britons and Saxons in a kingdom that would later survive the Viking onslaughts. Until more discoveries are made, the better choice for the original Arthur is Cerdic.

John C. Rudmin, 864 Chicago Av, Harrisonburg, VA, 22801
Joseph W. Rudmin, Physics Dept., James Madison Univ., Harrisonburg, VA, 22807
(First submitted for publication in Oct 1993)

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