"WERE SARMATIANS THE SOURCE OF THE ARTHURIAN LEGEND? by C. Scott Littleton* In A.D. 175 the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius dispatched some 5,500 Sarmatian cavalry of the Iazgyes tribe from the Danube region to Northern Britain. After their terms of service were up, many of them settled in a "vicus" or veteran's community, at Bremetennacum Veteranaorum on the Ribble River in Lancashire, near what later became the village of Ribchester (latin for "Ribble Camp"). Evidence of Sarmatians found there and nearby includes an inscription of ca. A.D. 238-244 mentioning a "troop of Sarmatian cavalrymen [stationed at] Bremetennacum"; a grave stela from Chester depicting a Sarmatian warrior known as the "Naked Horseman" of Ribchester, first described by the English anitquarian Thomas Braithwaite in 1604 and now lost. The Sarmatians' first commander in Britain was Lucius Artorius Castus, who, according to his grave stela, took his troops to Gaul to put down a rebellion in A.D. 184. Like the legendary King Arthur, he led mounted warriors into battle on the Continent. The first Sarmatian leader of the Ribchester contingent probably took on the title "artorius", borrowing his commander's name. A subsequent leader may have been King Arthur, the "Artorius, 'dux bellorum' [war leader]" who, according to legend, saved Britain by defeating the Saxons at Badon Hill ca. A.D. 510. The Sarmatians spoke a Northeast Iranian Dialect and shared many traits with other ancient Northeast Iranians, including the Scythians and Alans. There are many parallels between Arthurian legend and the folklore of modern Ossetians, descendants of the Alans who live in the Caucasus. A search for a magical cup or cauldron in Ossetic folklore, for example, parallels the Arthurian quest for the Holy Grail, and the Alans, who invaded western Europe in the fifth century A.D., brought legends of a figure we know as Lancelot. Ossetic folklore centers on the Narts, a band of heroes whose chief is named Batraz. On his deathbed, Batraz order the Narts to consign his magical sword to the sea. They are, however, loath to do so and attempt to decieve Batraz into thinking his order has been carried out. In the end the sword is finally thrown into the sea; as the blade enters the water, the sea turns blood red and becomes extremely turbulent. When this legend is juxtaposed with that of Arthur's death, the Sarmatian connection becomes clear. Dying, King Arthur asks Sir Bedevere to throw his sword, Excalibur, into a lake, but the knight does not want to and he tries to trick Arthur into thinking his request has been honored. When Excalibur finally is thrown into the water, a parallel extraordinary event occurs: a hand rises up from the lake, grasps the sword, and pulls it beneath the surface. *C. Scott Littleton is a professor of anthropology at Occidental College in in Los Angeles." -------------------------------------------------------------- This article appeared on page 48 of the Jan./Feb. 1997 Issue of "Archeology"