One of the contenders for the historical King Arthur is a virtually unknown Roman soldier by the name of Lucius Artorius Castus. First advanced as a candidate for this illustrious role by Kemp Malone (1924-1925), Castus has gained in popularity over the years as more has been deduced about him and the period in which he lived. The primary evidence that Castus even existed is slim: one, extremely extensive, autobiographical resume on three fragments from a sarcophagus, which were found in a fence/wall near Epetium (modern Strobrez in Podstrana) and one corroborating memorial plaque found near the chapel of St. Martin (Sveti Martin) of Podstrana on the Adriatic Highway. The reconstruction of the main inscription can be translated as:
|To the spirits of the departed: Lucius Artorius Castus, centurion of the III legion Gallica, also centurion of the VI legion Ferrata, also centurion of the II legion Adiutrix, also centurion of the V legion Macedonica, also primus pilus of the same [the V legion Macedonica], praepositus of the classis Misenatium (the fleet on the Bay of Naples), praefectus of the VI legion Victrix, dux of the legions of cohorts of cavalry from Britain against the Armoricans, procurator centenarius of the province of Liburnia, with the power to issue death sentences. In his lifetime he himself [possibly: "fecit," "had this made"] for himself and his family . . . ["possibly H. s. est," "lies buried here".|
In addition to the Castus inscriptions, there are what I believe to be other references to him in some of the "nameless" figures that appear in the histories of Cassius Dio and Herodian.
When Malone wrote his article, the stones bearing the Castus inscriptions had not, to his knowledge, been dated. Scholars now believe that the pieces of Castus's sarcophagus date to no later than 200 (Kirigin and Marin 1989:143), which means that Lucius Artorius Castus most likely died prior to that date. There is precisely one military action known to have been lead by a dux in the late second century, and that is a military expedition to Armorica in 185, which is documented by Herodian (10.1-7; Whittaker 1969:61-67). The dux for this expedition is not named in the text, but, given the inscriptions from Liburnia, the officer had to be Lucius Artorius Castus. Given the known date for the Armorica campaign and the fact that the Artorii were of the equestrian class, it becomes possible to reconstruct the life of this obscure individual in rather surprising detail.
The Artorii were an equestrian class gens, "family," who, based on the evidence from ancient inscriptions, had a very specific geographic distribution. Whatever the clan's origins, the family developed a proud tradition of military and civil service within the Roman Empire. The core branch of the family, the one that left dozens of inscriptions all over the city of Rome itself -- and one at Pompeii -- dwelt in Campania. It is this branch into which Lucius Artorius Castus was born.
A male equestrian needed to maintain a net wealth of 400,000 sesterces and be of exemplary moral character in order to keep his rank (Nagle 1979:285). Since there is nothing to indicate that Castus was ever a slave or suffered any moral lapses that were serious enough to remove him from the equestrian rolls, the fact that he went into the military points to him being a younger son who did not stand to inherit and who could not meet the base wealth requirement for the rank. This left him only one real option: join the army as a centurion.
Since this path would have been predetermined for him from the time he was very young, he would have received as complete a formal education as possible. His eldest brother, the heir, would have had the most schooling. How much Castus actually got in the way of a formal education, given that his family was not wealthy enough to provide an adequate inheritance for him, is debatable. Certainly he had nothing approaching the opportunities enjoyed by Dio, who was of senatorial rank and the son of a governor. But Castus, who was guaranteed to be a centurion because of his social rank and who could be expected to eventually land in a magisterial position of some sort, would have been expected to be proficient in the art of public speaking (Nagle 1979:355). As a result, he would have had at least a grounding in the basics of geography, grammar, history, philosophy, rhetoric and science (Nagel 1979:355). Given that he was destined for a military career followed by a civil post, his training likely included geography, grammar, history, math, philosophy, rhetoric, and science were probably emphasized as much as the family finances allowed. The end result is that by the time he entered the army, he would have been a rather cultured individual for his class, and he would have been an expert in the art of persuasion.
Roman army careers were divided into "tours." The group of tours frequently cited as the "equestrian cursus" (that is, the path taken by equestrians in a military career) consisted of the ranks of praefectus cohortis, tribunus militum (angusticlavius), and praefectus alae" (Parker 1971:189, 204). The equestrian who took these ranks always had a prior career. Usually it was as a magistrate of a small town or some other civil office. There was, however, a second way to enter the equestrian cursus. The soldier could enter the army as a centurion and advance in rank until he became primus pilus. Yet to become a centurion, the equestrian needed to resign his social status Parker 1971:200-201, 204). Only if he survived to earn the rank of primus pilus would he recover his social standing upon leaving his legion (Parker 1971:204). In exchange for this resignation, the former-equestrian received a commission as a decimus hastus posterior, the lowest ranking centurion of a legion. This was Castus's original rank.
We know that Castus posted first to the III Gallica. This legion traditionally recruited from Italy and Southern Gaul (Parker 1971:175), so this is once again confirmation that the Italian branch of the family was the one to which Castus belonged. Given that the rank of dux was the culmination of Castus's military career, and given that he probably served six tours (five of which are detailed in the primary inscription) at roughly four years per tour (essentially twenty-five years or twenty-six years) and one year as dux, to have been dux ca. 185, he would have enlisted ca. 158 C.E. Since he would have been eighteen at the time he enlisted, he was born sometime in 140 or 141 C.E. in the reign of Antoninus Pius. Castus would have entered the legions under the same emperor, three years before Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus were named co-emperors.
At the time Castus enlisted, the III Gallica was posted to Syria (Parker 1971:163). The legion's primary duty was to keep the peace, with special attention paid to Jewish and Christian movements within the province (Grant 1985:86). They did this by posting centurions to various villages (Burnham and Wacher 1990:34-35; Harper 1928:117-121). This gave Castus his initial training, which would influence his command decisions throughout his career.
To go up in rank Castus had to wait -- and stay alive -- while the officers above him (1) completed their tours and returned to civilian life, (2) transferred to another legion, or (3) died. With fifty-eight ranks between Castus and primus pilus, that could -- and did -- take a considerable amount of time.
Around 162 Castus probably switched to the VI Ferrata in Judea (Parker 1971:163). Promotions frequently involved a centurion changing legions (Parker 1971:202), so Castus likely increased his rank -- as well as his chances of staying alive -- with the move. Armenia was invaded by the Parthians at this time. The III Gallica, IV Scythica and XVI Flavia firma responded (Parker 1971: 163). It is impossible to say, however, whether Castus's promotion was in response to something he did in connection with the invasion or whether his was a routine promotion that just happened to carry him away from the fighting. Once in the VI Ferrata, he would have again been responsible for keeping the peace in a designated city or village, with possible rotation to Jerusalem for guard duty.
The Romans reclaimed Armenia and installed Gaius Avidius Cassius as governor (165 C.E.; Grant 1985:94). Several of the Gallica's centurions were lost in the war. They were most likely replaced by high-ranking centurions from the Ferrata and neighboring centuries, given their proximity, which would have resulted in the Ferrata's lower-ranking centurions, including Castus, advancing without actually engaging in combat.
As action in the Middle East cooled down, action on the Danube heated up. Castus either received another promotion that required him to jump legions or perhaps he wanted a more prestigious post. Whatever the case, ca. 166, he transferred to the II Adiutrix, which was present at full strength on the Danube (Parker 1971:166).
The II Adiutrix, one of Marcus Aurelius's legions, was stationed in Lower Pannonia at Aquincum (Budapest; Wilkes 1969:328-329). The higher up Castus climbed within the legion, the more he would have had to entertain any visiting diplomats, and in Aquincum the diplomats came from -- among other tribes -- the Iazyges, a tribe of Sarmatians allied with the Quadi and the Marcomanni. Out of necessity, Castus would have become familiar with the Sarmatian culture, language and fighting techniques. But given his later successful connection with these same horsemen, it is likely that he attained a deep understanding of the Iazyges that few other officers of his time possessed. That special knowledge was about to make him one of the empire's most valuable resources.
In about 170, Castus's third tour would normally have been up. But he had not made primus pilus, and so had not regained his equestrian status. Rather than returning to civilian life at a lower social status, he stayed in the army, transferring to the V Macedonica, which was stationed at Potaissa in Dacia (modern Turda in Transylvania; Wilkes 1969:328-329; Parker 1971:167-168). Here, ca. 172 or 173, Castus finally earned the rank of primus pilus. During those years Dio (72.7-13, Cary 1932:23-25) recorded a unique battle between the Romans and the Iazyges. Procedure for the Danube legions was to send out detachments, led by centurions, from the legions' bases to patrol the Danube itself (Parker 1971:165). To reach the Danube from the bases of the V Macedonica and the XIII Gemina, soldiers marched west along the Mures river from the Transylvanian Plain. This routinely put units on the Danube at the Tisza reentry, precisely where the battle described by Dio took place. The fighting began with the infamous steppe maneuver, the feigned retreat. The Romans pursued the apparently fleeing Iazyges onto the frozen Danube, and the Iazyges turned and charged, with the flanks sweeping around to encircle the Romans. Normally this attack resulted in lots of dead Romans and barely scathed Iazyges. Not so on this encounter. The officer in charge had apparently drilled his century in a modified version of a fighting technique known as the infantry square, which the Romans had employed successfuly against cavalry in the war with the Parthians in Armenia (Goldsworthy 1996:102, 229). Instead of facing the Iazyges in parallel lines, the Romans stood back-to-back in a square, pili pointed outward. They planted their shields in the ice and braced against the shields with one foot to prevent slipping. The Romans then simply took the charge. As soon as the Iazyges had closed with the soldiers, the Romans grabbed the reins of the horses and pulled the animals off balance. The battle might have been more even, but the centurion had also drilled his men in a modified from of Graeco-Roman wrestling as a combat technique. The end result was that the small unit of Romans killed all but a handful of the larger force of Iazyges, and the Iazyges's king promptly sent envoys to Marcus Aurelius to sue for peace. Even if Castus were not the ingenious centurion who concocted this strange set of battle tactics, he certainly would have known the man who did. But given that it is Castus whom the Romans later assign to deal with the Iazyges at Bremetennacum, that Castus finally advances to primus pilus around the time of this battle, that Castus was a senior centurion in one of the two legions who had to supply the detachment detailed in Dio's account, and that Castus would eventually serve as an underling to Dio's father (providing for the opportunity for Dio to have heard the tale from Castus himself), there is at least the chance that the clever officer who annihilated the Iazyges on the frozen Danube was indeed Castus.
Obtaining the rank of primus pilus gave Castus back his equestrian rank, and he could have gone into civil service, if he had amassed enough wealth to maintain his social status. Perhaps he had not yet achieved this goal, or perhaps he simply enjoyed the army life. In any case, he chose to stay in the army and followed the equestrian cursus: three to four years for each rank as a praefectus cohortis, a tribunus militum or tribunus legionis and, finally, a praefectus alae (Parker 1971:204). The majority of equestrians who took this path had no prior military training. Castus, with his prior service, was an extremely rare officer. That might account for why his career suddenly took an unusual turn.
At the same time Castus re-enlisted, he became eligible to do something else that the average Roman soldier could not do: He could legally marry. He probably entered into an arranged marriage, preferably with a father-in-law who needed a male heir. Such a marriage would eventually give him the income he needed to leave the military, if he did not earn a high enough post on his own. But Castus need not have worried. Already rare, he was about to distinguish himself far above most of the equestrians of his day.
Castus was primus pilus of the V Macedonica in 175. The date alone says it all. As primus pilus of one of the three Danubian legions, Castus played a major role in the Roman victory when they conquered the Iazyges and "fifty-five hundred of [the eight thousand Sarmatian cavalry conscripted by Marcus Aurelius] . . . [were] sent to Britain" (Dio, 72.16, Cary 1932:37). Given the date that Castus became dux and the two posts he held prior to that, he re-enlisted sometime in 175 and was assigned a post that is not detailed in the surviving portion of his main inscription. Upon re-enlisting, Castus, as an equestrian, should have become a praefectus cohortis of either auxilia (foreign/non-Roman, yet allied troops, who did not have citizenship) or numeri (foreign troops, who were conscripted into the legions and who did not have citizenship).
In 175 C.E., there were two known major movements of non-citizen troops, which would have necessitated praefecti to command them yet that would not have been attached to legions: the aforementioned 8,000 Sarmatian warriors, 5,500 of whom were sent to Britain and 2,500 of whom were sent somewhere else. Because Castus later became the commander of the Iazyges in Britain, it is likely that this larger group is the one to which he was assigned upon his re-enlistment.
This troop movement was neither a simple nor a speedy undertaking. 5,500 warriors, with at least two horses each, attendant equipment, wives, children, support personnel, herds to feed them -- The sheer bulk of equipment, livestock and humanity that needed to be moved to the westernmost regions of the empire, including a channel crossing, and turned over to the VI Victrix boggles the mind. If Castus stayed with the Iazyges until they were settled in at Bremetennacum, learned enough Latin to understand orders from the decurions and other officers who were assigned to them, and became familiar enough with Roman military structure and tactics to be an effective addition to the legion, he could well have spent one or two years at the task.
In any event, by 176 or 177, a permanent commander was apparently assigned to the Iazyges because Castus reported back to Rome and was posted as praepositus to the classis Missenatium, the second step in the traditional military cursus for an equestrian. In part, this was a cushy reward post for some job well done. When in port at Naples, he was near his immediate relatives in Campania, and he was in an extremely quiet and civilized area of the world compared to where he had been serving. He had to do something spectacular to get this post. Otherwise, he would have wound up as a tribune somewhere, most likely on the Danube or in the Middle East. The position at Naples, where the fleet was responsible for running supplies to Marcus Aurelius, points to a special assignment for the emperor that was completed in an exemplary fashion. Once again, this makes it possible for him to have been the praefectus who moved the Iazyges to Britain.
Victory over the Marcomanni came in 178, but military action on the Danube continued through the time of Marcus Aurelius's death on March 17, 180. Commodus became emperor and instructed his generals to cut the same deal with the Marcomanni, Quadi and remaining Iazyges that Marcus Aurelius had crafted in 175 (Dio 72.16 and 73.2 73; Cary 1932:73). Whether this was the cause, or whether there was some other reason, in 181 Lucius Artorius Castus was sent back to Britain -- and into legend.
Some scholars have speculated that the post Castus took in the VI Victrix was that of praefectus castrorum (Salway 1991:213, n. 1). This is impossible. Praefectus castrorum was a civilian post, the end of a military career (Parker 1971:191), and Castus was still most definitely in the military since he goes on to be named dux. Nor would Castus have confused the rank of praefectus with that of primus pilus on his sarcophagus, the carving of which he commissioned and oversaw in his lifetime. Nor would the memorial plaque have misidentified his rank. As an equestrian, his next expected rank was praefectus alae, and that's exactly what he got.
The standard tour of duty for soldiers in the Roman army was twenty-five years (Parker 1979:212). At the end of that time, the soldiers who were numeri became Roman citizens. When they did so, they took the name of the emperor under whom they were conquered and added a cognomen of their choice. Ca. 200 in Britain, twenty-five years after Marcus Aurelius conquered the Iazyges, there is a proliferation of inscriptions, some with pictures of warriors in steppe garb, bearing names such as Marcus Aurelius Castus and Aurelius Lucius (Collingwood and Wright 1965:409, no. 1242 and 174, no. 522). Though the title of the ranking officer at Bremetennacum in later years was "praepositus numeri et regionis" (e.g., Collingwood and Wright 1965:196, no. 587), there is no reason to assume that the commander's rank started out as anything unusual. Yes, the commander of a cohort was a praefectus. So was the commander of conscripted or foreign alae. But so, too, was the commander of a fort that was not the main headquarters for a legion. I submit that Castus's rank as praefectus was "fort commander," and that the fort he commanded was Bremetennacum.*
Britain was a complete mess militarily during Castus's time there. While the II Augusta kept peace in southern Britain (from its base at Isca -- Caerleon; Ordnance Survey 1978), and while the XX Valeria Victrix handled conflicts in Wales (from Deva -- Chester; Ordnance Survey 1978), the VI Victrix manned Hadrian's Wall from its headquarters at Eboracum (York; Ordnance Survey 1978). The portion of the Wall supplied with troops by Bremetennacum included Camboglanna (Castlesteads; Ordnance Survey 1978) and Avallana** (Burgh-By-Sands; Ordnance Survey 1978).
Most scholars agree that something very strange happened at Bremetennacum during this period (e.g., Salway 1965:29). While Sarmatian stelae show Roman names characteristic of having obtained citizenship ca. 200, the vicus next to the fort became a veterans' settlement -- Bremetennacum Veteranorum, with offspring of the serving soldiers supplying new recruits to the fort (Parker 1971:214). The model for the Sarmatian enclave in Britain is very close to what Castus would have become familiar with in Syria during his initial years as a centurion, namely, an officer in charge of a village or city and the surrounding territory. He would also have known the benefits of encouraging the Sarmatians to maintain their cultural identity. Given the abandonment of other forts in the same region, Castus would have become "commander of the region" even though he did not bear the title. In any case, during the next 250 years, the Sarmatians remained as a more tightly knit enclave and in closer association with the fort than was typical for numeri.
In 180-185, the Romans suffered heavy losses north and south of the Wall, and the Picts invaded, striking deeply enough into Roman territory to slay the governor of Britain and the legate of the VI Victrix at Eboracum (Dio, 73.2, Cary 1932:87; Salway 1991:210-211). The Victrix fell to pieces and revolted, attempting to elevate one of Castus's fellow praefecti, Priscus, to the position of emperor. Through this all, there was one island of peace: the territory controlled by Bremetennacum. While everything east of the Pennines disintegrated, everything west stayed calm. The western portion of the Wall held against the invasion. And when the officers of the Victrix were executed by Pertinax (185 C.E.; Dio 73.2a, Cary 1932:89; Salway 1991:213) or transferred to remote locations, Castus, in contrast, was promoted to dux and sent to Armorica to put down an uprising.
For the Armorican expedition (ca. 185 or 186), Castus commanded two legions' worth of troops. Given the facts that the M. Aurelii inscriptions of Britain occur in both the XX Valeria Victrix and in the VI Victrix, that a Sarmatian officer is buried near the XX Valeria Victrix's headquarters at Deva (Chester), and that both the XX Valeria Victrix and VI Victrix seem to have had a hand in building Bremetennacum, and the VI Victrix had just mutinied after suffering heavy losses, the auxilia and numeri that made up Castus's force were probably drawn from both the XX Valeria Victrix and the VI Victrix. The troops were also exclusively cavalry, according to Castus's inscription. This is to be expected, since the troops on the western Wall as well as the troops under Castus's direct command were mostly cavalry.
Castus was victorious in Armorica, and he may simply have returned his troops to Britain and gone on to assume his next post at this point. He was, however, in a position to do something that both Dio and Herodian mention in their histories: send 1500 "javelin men" to Rome to warn Commodus of an assassination attempt by Perennis. This force was sent by the "lieutenants of Britain" (Dio 73.9; Cary 1932:89; Salway 1991:231). "Javelin men" is an extremely strange term. If the fifteen hundred soldiers had come from the core troops of the legion, why not call them "legionnaires" or "miles"? What we have for the word "javelin" is what an eleventh-century Byzantine monk, Xiphilinis, wrote in a summary of Dio's history. Since Xiphilinis gets "pilum" right elsewhere, the javelin referred to in this passage was either the kontus, a lance (Nickel in Lacy et al. 1986:13), or a iaculor, the preferred weapon of light-armed cavalry (Dixon and Southern 1992: 51, 128) -- the later of which gives iaculator, "javelin-man" in Latin (Simpson 1958:s.v.) -- both of which were used by the Iazygan cavalry. The speed with which the warning gets from Britain to Rome also argues for mounted troops rather than foot soldiers. The "lieutenant"/praefectus who sent the message was probably Castus, and he may have done so from Armorica before returning to Britain (cf. Frere 1967:150). Herodian does not identify the "soldiers" as British, but he does say that they intercepted coins bearing Perennis's image (Herodian I.9.5-8, Whittaker 1969, 1:56-57). Whittaker (1969, 1:57, n. 3) interprets this cryptic detail to mean that the coins bore the image of Perennis's son. Whittaker goes on to speculate that the coins were issued by Perennis in response to his son's victory against Sarmatians in Pannonia. Since Sarmatians in Pannonia would have been blood relatives of the Sarmatians in Britain who were with Castus's troops in Armorica. Personal revenge against Perennis and his family could have easily played a part in the motivation to warn Commodus of the plot. This once again suggests that the "1500 javelin men" who were dispatched to warn Commodus were indeed Sarmatians, and if they were, then Castus was the officer who sent them.
Following these events, Castus's tour of duty in the army ended. He had served for twenty-five years, and he likely had a wife and children, who were probably nearing their teens. Typically, he would have become a local tax collector or the equivalent somewhere, but his stellar service bought him something else: a position as procurator centenarius of Liburnia.
The rank of procurator frequently gets translated as "governor," but procurators could do any of a number of things. Some ran mines. Some inventoried weaving-houses, dye-houses or linen-houses. Some were in charge of mints. Still others ran imperial estates. In Castus's case, because of the addition of iure gladii to his title, he was a high-level magistrate in charge of a portion of a province. His compensation for this position was 100,000 sesterces per year, a salary that, added to what wealth he had already amassed, enabled him to maintain the financial requirement for his equestrian rank, provide for his growing family, purchase a villa, and commission his own sarcophagus and a tomb for his entire immediate family. Such magistrates had to supply their own staff, so they regularly took friends and family members with them to their posts. Given the presence of a woman who may be Castus's daughter, a boy who could have been his grandson and another woman who could be his niece in Dalmatia near where his own sarcophagus was found, he probably did precisely this.
At this time, Liburnia was a division of Dalmatia, and the governor of Dalmatia was Dio's father, Marcus Cassius Apronianus (185 C.E.; Dio 49.36.4, Cary 1917:415). It is likely that Dio knew Castus. In fact, Castus himself may have served as the source for the message from Britain story.
Castus's years as procurator centenarius passed relatively peacefully. His northern neighbor, Pannonia, was unusually quiet, thanks to the presence of the future-emperor Severus as governor in Upper Pannonia (Grant 1985:108). Dalmatia was at peace, and Liburnia flourished.
In 193 Commodus was assassinated. Pertinax, Castus's colleague from Pannonia and Britain, was named emperor -- and slain only eighty-seven days into his reign (Grant 1985:104). Didius Julianus bought the Imperial throne, which was auctioned off by the army (Grant 1985:105-108), and sixty-six days later, he, too, was executed by Septimius Severus on the orders of the Senate.
When Severus ascended to the Imperial throne, he held a state funeral for Pertinax, which equestrians were commanded to attend (Dio 75.4-5, Cary 1932:167-173). Unless Castus was seriously ill or injured, he attended, since there was no war in Liburnia or anything else going on that would have prevented him from making the journey to Rome. He then returned to Liburnia, where he expected to complete his term as procurator centenarius and retire (Kirigin and Marin 1989:143).
Castus probably never made it to retirement. If he were still alive in 196, which is not impossible since he would have only been fifty-four years old, historical events suggest that he would have been called back to active duty. In that year Albinus, the governor of Britain, was proclaimed emperor by his soldiers and invaded Gaul from Britain. Instead of marching directly to Gaul, Severus went north through Pannonia, Noricum, Raetia, Upper Germany and into Gaul. Given this route and that Severus was purposefully calling up soldiers and troops along the way, he could hardly have resisted sending a summons to neighboring Liburnia, ordering Castus to join him. Castus not only knew the British troops, particularly the Iazyges, but he had also fought and won a campaign in Gaul. Such knowledge would have rendered Castus invaluable and Severus was not a man to overlook or fail to use such a resource.
Severus's forces first engaged Albinus at Tinurtium (ca. 197), where heavy damages were reported to the British cavalry. This interesting detail tells us that Albinus brought a significant number of British horsemen with him. At the time, the only significant group of British cavalry that seems to suffer a loss in numbers was the Sarmatians of Bremetennacum. Severus, having served as governor of Pannonia, might have had the knowledge necessary to defeat steppe cavalry, but Dio makes a point of saying that Severus was not present at any of the battles except the final one (Dio 76.6; Cary 1932:207). Then again, the actual brains behind the initial defeat of Albinus's forces may well have belonged to the former commander of the Iazyges, Castus.
Albinus pulled south. Severus pursued and engaged Albinus a second -- and final -- time at Lugdunum (Lyon). Again, Dio (76.7; Cary 1932:211-213) gives graphic details of the battlefield was "covered with the bodies of men and horses" (Dio 76.6-7, Cary 1932:209-211). If Castus fell in this battle, that would explain his death prior to the year 200. Castus's body would have been shipped back to Liburnia, perhaps from Marseilles to Spalato, courtesy of the classis Misenatium, and buried in the tomb he had prepared. Sometime soon afterward, the plaque, which was found at the chapel of St. Martin, was carved in his honor.
Several Artorii grave stelae appear in Dalmatia and neighboring regions, and the name "Lucius Artorius" is attested during Diocletian's reign (Mommsen 1973:no. 14195.27; "Lucius Artorius Pius Maximus"), which suggests that his line continued for a while after his death.
The text of the two inscriptions that mention Castus may be brief, but in context they describe a fascinating career of a brilliant cavalry officer. In Part II of this essay, which is not yet published, I will explore the parallels between the details that can be gleaned from these inscriptions and the legends of Britain's "King Arthur," whose stories may very well include a distant reflection of a once-famous Roman soldier named Lucius Artorius Castus.
So machen einzelne Funde ganze Bibliotheken zur Makulatur, und so lösen sich manche sagenhafte "Rätsel der Geschichte" relativ einfach auf. So einfach, daß man in diesem Fall schon die Frage stellen muß, warum es ein Dreivierteljahrhundert gedauert hat, bis sich die offenbar schon 1925 gefundene richtige Lösung durchsetzte. Die Antwort lautet: Man hat - so wie man bei Atlantis stets an falschen Orten gesucht hat - stets in falschen Jahrhunderten gesucht, meist im 5. oder 6. n.C. Schuld daran sind neben Geoffrey of Monmouth vor allem Chrétien de Troyes u.a. mittelalterliche Crétins, die aus dem Römer, der mit sarmatischen und alanischen Hilfstruppen gegen die Kelten kämpfte, einen Kelten machten, der mit seinen Landsleuten gegen die bösen Germanen kämpfte. Ist es damit nun endlich vorbei? Fast, liebe Leser, fast. Denn kaum war das eine Märchen ad acta gelegt, als Hollywood das nächste schrieb: Antoine Fuqua drehte 2004 den Spielfilm "King Arthur", ganz im reißerischen Stile von Mel Gibsons "Braveheart". Der ging zwar schon von den neuesten Forschungsergebnissen aus, bog sie dann aber doch so um, daß sie irgendwie in das obligatorische anti-deutsche Cliché erfolgreicher US-Filme paßten: Artorius wird zu einem römisch-keltischen Mischling (seine verstorbene Mutter sei Keltin gewesen), der zwar auch ein paar sarmatische Kavalleristen, pardon Ritter bei sich hat, aber nicht annähernd die vielen tausend des historischen Artorius. Und er bekämpft nicht etwa die Kelten, sondern böse germanische (sächsische) Eindringlinge; und da es die zur Zeit des historichen Artorius Castus noch nicht gab (jedenfalls wissen die römischen Quellen nicht davon :-) verlegt der Film die Handlung 200 Jahre nach vorne, auf den Beginn des 5. Jahrhunderts n.C. Am Ende siegt der Filmheld mit Hilfe von Excalibur - nach dem Wallace-Schwert aus "Braveheart" hätte sich ein simples römisches Gladium, wie es der historische Artorius benutzt haben dürfte, halt nicht so gut gemacht. (Aber es gibt auch die Theorie, daß jenes Schwert tatsächlich so groß war, zu zeremoniellen Zwecken, denn die Sarmaten hatten ebenfalls eine Sage, wonach derjenige ihr König sein sollte, der es aus dem Boden zu ziehen vermochte. Und mittlerweile hat sich eine weitere Theorie entwickelt, wonach auch der berühmte Merowinger-König Chlodwig, ganz ähnlich wie Artorius, kein "Eingeborener", sondern vielmehr ein Anführer sarmatischer Söldner war, der freilich ein dauerhafteres Herrschaftsgebilde errichte als sein Kollege, nämlich das Frankenreich.) Bleibt abzuwarten, was sich auf lange Sicht im öffentlichen Bewußtsein verankern wird: die nach so langer Zeit aufgedeckten historischen Fakten oder das neue Bild von der Leinwand.
*heute Ribchester, ein interessantes kleines Städtchen in Lancashire.
**heute Burgh-by-Sands, ein Dorf in der Nähe von Carlisle [Luguvallum]. Malcor widersteht der Versuchung, sich über die Namensähnlichkeit von "Avallana" und "Avalon" auszulassen, dem legendären "Castle" (das man vielleicht besser mit "Kastell" als mit "Schloß" übersetzen sollte) von König Arthur. Die herrschende Meinung schreibt heute "Aballava" oder gar "Aballaba", um beim Laien erst gar keinen diesbezüglichen Verdacht aufkommen zu lassen - aber das ist irreführend. Die alten Römer kannten das "b" nur in Fremdwörtern, besonders Eigennamen; und wahrscheinlich wurde es im fraglichen Zeitraum längst - wie das griechische "beta" - als "w" gesprochen, also wie das römische "v", war folglich mit diesem austauschbar. Auch die meist genannte Etymologie als "Obstgarten" ist wenig überzeugend; Dikigoros hegt einen ganz anderen Verdacht, dem Malcor freilich nicht nachgehen kann, da sie - anders als Malone - alles in einen Topf wirft, was unter Artorius an Hilfstruppen diente. Aber das waren nicht nur Sarmaten, sondern auch - vielleicht sogar überwiegend - Alanen. "Avalon" könnte also "Burg der Alanen" bedeuten. Aber Dikigoros wäre auch nicht überrascht, wenn sich Arthurs "Castle" in Ribchester finden würde - wohlgemerkt abseits des bereits ausgebuddelten Forts. Wo er suchen würde? An beiden Orten beim ältesten Bauwerk, nämlich der Kirche: St. Michael in Burgh-by-Sands und St. Wilfrid in Ribchester - und er schreibt bewußt nicht, wo er graben würde, denn... aber schaut sie Euch selber an:
Dikigoros' persönlicher Tip? Burgh-by-Sands. Warum? Nein, nicht nur wegen der Namensähnlichkeit. Habt Ihr mal von Edward I gehört oder gelesen? Wenn nicht, dann könnt Ihr es hier tun. (Anderswo ist es schwierig, etwas Unzensiertes auf Deutsch über ihn in Erfahrung zu bringen, denn Edward war ein großer Anti-Semit, der die Juden aus England vertrieb - was ihn dort zum beliebtesten König des Mittelalters machte; aber das dürft Ihr, liebe Leser in der BRDDR, heute auf keinen Fall mehr wissen.) Was Dikigoros dort allerdings nicht schreibt (sondern nur an anderer Stelle kurz erwähnt) ist, daß sich Edward für eine Reïnkarnation Arthurs hielt. Ein Spleen? Gewiß. Aber er hatte sich mit dem Thema offenbar intensiv beschäftigt. Und wo ließ er sich begraben? Nein, nicht in Westminster - dorthin überführte man seine Gebeine erst später und gegen seinen ausdrücklichen letzten Willen. Dikigoros will es Euch verraten: Auf dem Kirchhof von St. Michael in Burgh-by-Sands. Haltet Ihr das für einen Zufall? Wenn ja, dann dürft Ihr selbstverständlich weiterhin glauben, daß "Avalon" irgendwo anders lag, wo es Euch das jeweils zuständige Fremdenverkehrsbüro aufschwatzen will - aber dann habt Ihr viel zu bereisen...
Ach so - Dikigoros will nicht verschweigen, daß Malcors Forschungsergebnisse keineswegs auf ungeteilte Zustimmung gestoßen sind. In Kollegenkreisen hat sie sich keine Freunde damit gemacht, daß sie sich als "wissenschaftliche Beraterin" für den o.g. Spielfilm hergab (wohl nicht nur, weil er "unwissenschaftlich" und ihre Tätigkeit somit in gewisser Weise unseriös war, sondern auch, weil sie dafür wahrscheinlich mehr Geld bekommen hat als die meisten ihrer Kollegen in ihrer gesamten akademischen Karriere verdienen werden :-) Insbesondere ein gewisser Christopher Gwinn bezeichnet ihre Rekonstruktion von Artorius Castus' Lebenslauf anhand des Gedenksteins als "wilde Spekulation", die ihren Gelehrtenstatus "beflecke" und nicht als "glaubwürdige Quelle" angesehen werden könne. Nun, abgesehen davon, daß er selber nicht mal "Quelle" richtig schreiben kann (er schreibt "souce" statt "source" :-) und daß es sich gar nicht um eine Quelle, sondern um die Interpretation einer Quelle (des Steins bzw. der Inschrift darauf) handelt, ist es halt so, daß man die leider vorhandenen Lücken irgendwie ergänzen muß, und da kommt man ohne etwas Fantasie nicht aus. (Aber das Wort "Spekulation" ist hier fehl am Platze - spekulieren tut man an der Börse :-) Mag sein, daß Malcor in einzelnen Punkten übers Ziel hinaus schießt; doch ihr Gesamtkonzept ist durchaus schlüssig, vor allem, was die Datierung anbelangt. Sie führt das - mitsamt den Parallelen zwischen dem literarischen "King Arthur" und dem römischen Artorius Castus - in der Fortsetzung weiter aus, deren Lektüre Dikigoros nur wärmstens empfehlen kann.
weiter zur Fortsetzung (Part 2)
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heim zu Reisen durch die Vergangenheit