Camelot is only introduced as Arthur’s castle in later medieval romances, but there would seem to be a grain of truth in the name – and that grain comes from the fact that Camulod or variations of it were used for at least two sites by Roman legions – the most documented being Camulodonum (Colchester) home of the Catuvellauni tribe at the time of the Roman conquest. But Colchester is a long way from York.
Arthur’s father Mar was the King of York (Ebrauc) – he even took the name Uther (Iubher) meaning York. Therefore we should not be surprised to find Arthur’s legendary castle nearby.
For years scholars have suggested that Camelot was originally called Camulodonum – but the only snag is that Camulodonum was the old Roman name for Colchester, a place never associated with Arthur.
But consider the name Colchester (Coel’s castle) – where else would you expect the legendary Coel, Arthur’s great grandfather to have a castle but in the north. And sure enough, there was another place called Camulodonum by the Romans.
The settlement at Slack, near Huddersfield, may have its origins in the impressive Iron Age hillfort of Almondbury, only five miles away. Like modern Colchester, the Romans established a small military fort there and named it Camulodunum after the ancient Celtic War-God, Camulos.
So let’s go back to our premise. Geoffrey of Monmouth tells us that Uther Pendragon who succeeded his brother defended York and then his son Arthur was crowned in a ceremony attended by Pabo and Ceneu. We later learn from the likes of Chretien de Troyes that Arthur’s base was Camelot.
In reality we have Mar (Uther/Iubher) succeeding his brother and defending York, and then his son Arthwys being crowned in a ceremony attended by his uncle Pabo and grandfather Ceneu. And in his very kingdom was Camulod.
In the early second century AD, Ptolemy, in his famed treatise on Geographia listed as the last of his nine poleis attributed to the Brigantes tribe of northern Britain, following the base of the Sixth Legion at Eboracum/York, a place named Camulodunum, evidently somewhere in northern England.
The Antonine Itinerary, produced in the mid-second century, contains within the second road route in Britain, Iter II, a place named Camboduno somewhere in the West Riding of Yorkshire, some 9 miles from Calcaria (Tadcaster, North Yorkshire) and 20 miles from Mamucio (Manchester).
The next major geographical work is the 7th century Ravenna Cosmology, where appears a place named Camulodono, listed between the entries for Alunna (Watercrook, Lancashire) and Calunio (Lancaster, Lancashire).
This fort measures 256 feet square (78 m2) within the defences giving an occupation area of just 11⁄2 acres (0.6 ha). It was defended by a 20 foot wide turf rampart, the outer wall of which was laid upon foundations of stone.
The fort was built during the Flavian period, probably c.AD80, the first buildings, including the gates, were of timber construction. The buildings were later part-replaced by stone, but the fort appears to have been abandoned before the work was complete, possibly because the auxiliary garrison had been moved to the northern frontier.
The fort was partially reconstructed during the first quarter of the second century, when its internal buildings were replaced in stone.
The original Flavian fort was occupied until the late-second or early-third centuries, as attested by pottery from the times of Hadrian and Antonine.
Within the real King Arthur’s kingdom was a fortress called Camulodunum – surely proof that we have identified King Arthur of Camelot.
Until recently Slack was thought to be a fairly minor Roman fort abandoned in the third century but new evidence has come to light that it was once a magnificent fortress, with giant amphitheatre and water spring, and was occupied until Arthur’s times.
Arthur’s Camulod really was as grand as the legends say. Archaelogists in nearby Huddersfield believe crowds of up to 2,000 would pack into the amphitheatre to watch horsemanship displays by the Roman cavalry.
Huddersfield and District Archaeological Society now believe that there was an active military and civilian settlement at Slack for at least another 200 years.
In other words, the Romans were in Huddersfield for most of the 400 years of their British occupation – right up until Arthur’s reign as he, like his father, grandfather and great grandfather defended the land from York to Hadrian’s Wall.
Very simply, when Arthwys was crowned, his kingdom included a grand palace called Camulod, the grandest in the country. How could this not be Arthur’s Camelot?
Artefacts uncovered during the Archaeological Society’s digs at Slack and the original Roman road have challenge the accepted theories of the Romans’ short occupation in the area.
And just as Mar’s name was remembered in Westmorland near the famous Pendragon Castle of Uther, so too is Arthur’s name remembered as Arthuriburgum – nearby Etterby.
Pennine Dragon (ISBN 978-1-910705-32-2) will be published on May 20. Price £12.99. Available at Waterstones.