Tintagel Castle - Sarah Woodbury

Tintagel Castle

Was Arthur conceived at Tintagel Castle?  That Geoffrey of Monmouth claimed he was is reason enough to doubt the veracity of the legend, but that’s not to say that the castle doesn’t have a fascinating history.

Geoffrey writes:  “They then went their way toward Tintagel, and at dusk hour arrived, swiftly unmade the doors, and the three were admitted. For what other than Gorlois if Gorlois himself were there? So the king lay that night with Igrene, for as he had beguiled her by the false likeness he had taken upon him, so he beguiled her also by the feigned discourse wherewith he had issued forth of the besieged city for naught save to see the safety of her dear self and the castle wherein she lay, in such a sort that she believed him every word, and had no thought to deny him in aught he might desire. And upon that same night was the most renowned Arthur conceived, that was well worthy of all the fame he did achieve by his surpassing prowess (Monmouth, 148-9).”

Tintagel Castle, as it exists today, was begun in the 12th century by Earl Reginald, brother to Robert of Gloucester.  Geoffrey wrote the History of the Kings of Britain in 1139, which is the approximate time that Earl Reginald began his castle, but it is not clear which was the impetus for the other.  The remains of the castle that exists today was built in the 1230s by Prince Richard, the Earl of Cornwall. http://www.britannia.com/history/arthur/tintcast.html

That there are far, far older remains underneath these later castles is indisputable.  In the 1930s, twenty plus stone buildings were uncovered, dating to the medieval period, but along with these finds were amphora dating to the 5th and 6th centuries.  “There was more pottery than the total haul from all other Dark Age sites in Britain: huge Tunisian oil jars, Carthaginian dishes, Aegean amphorae and distinctive Byzantine jars.”  In the 1980s, a series of bush fires swept across the island, revealing the remains of a total of 50 structures.  http://www.britannia.com/history/arthur/tintcast.html

On top of this, the fires revealed pottery dating to the Roman period, indicating that the island was a trading post.  “No other Roman site is present anywhere in this area with similar architecture or Roman pottery.”  http://www.legendofkingarthur.co.uk/cornwall/tintagel.htm

The most exciting find for Arthurophiles, is the ‘Artognov’ inscription–carving (or graffiti perhaps) on a slate slab.  There are two inscriptions.  The deeper one, in Roman lettering, reads “AXE”.   The fainter one reads:  PATER COLIAVIFICIT: presumably FICIT is the Latin FECIT – ‘made this’. And then, ARTOgNOV which may (or may not) be a form of Arthur.  At the bottom right the words COLI and FICIT are repeated.  http://www.archaeology.co.uk/the-timeline-of-britain/tintagel.htm  In Cornish/Welsh, “Artognou,” is pronounced “Arthnou.”

Another perspective:  “The stone apparently bears two inscriptions. The upper strongly incized letters have been broken off and are sadly indecipherable. The lower inscription, though fainter, clearly reads “Pater Coliavificit Artognov”, which Professor Charles Thomas of Exeter University has carefully translated as “Artognou, father of a descendant of Coll, has had this built”. Possibly written by a Gaulish hand, the style of writing is certainly 6th century, a date confirmed by surrounding fragments of 6th century Mediterranean pottery already well known from the Tintagel site. Also found nearby was the remains of the only Spanish glass flagon known from this period of Britain’s history. Chris Morris, who has been leading the Scottish based excavation team for the past eight years, believes that the dedicatory “Arthur Stone,” as it has already been christened, was placed in the wall of a 6th century stone building which later collapsed soon after it was built. The slate was then reused as drain cover a century later.”

Even without the Arthur link, Morris states that we shouldn’t make too much of the obvious link with King Arthur’s traditional birthplace. He believes the stone’s importance lies in the fact that it is “the first evidence we have that the skills of reading and writing were handed down in a non-religious context”.

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