Britain AD : A Quest for Arthur, England and the Anglo-Saxons Paperback
Leading archaeologist Francis Pryor retells the story of King Arthur, legendary king of the Britons, tracing it back to its Bronze Age origins.
The legend of King Arthur and Camelot is one of the most enduring in Britain's history, spanning centuries and surviving invasions by Angles, Vikings and Normans.
In his latest book Francis Pryor - one of Britain's most celebrated archaeologists and author of the acclaimed 'Britain B.C.' and 'Seahenge' - traces the story of Arthur back to its ancient origins.
Putting forth the compelling idea that most of the key elements of the Arthurian legends are deeply rooted in Bronze and Iron Ages (the sword Excalibur, the Lady of the Lake, the Sword in the Stone and so on), Pryor argues that the legends' survival mirrors a flourishing, indigenous culture that endured through the Roman occupation of Britain, and the subsequent invasions of the so-called Dark Ages.
As in 'Britain B.C.', Pryor roots his story in the very landscape, from Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, to South Cadbury Castle in Somerset and Tintagel in Cornwall. He traces the story back to the 5th-century King Arthur and beyond, all the time testing his ideas with archaeological evidence, and showing how the story was manipulated through the ages for various historical and literary purposes, by Geoffrey of Monmouth and Malory, among others.
Delving into history, literary sources - ancient, medieval and romantic - and archaeological research, Francis Pryor creates an original, lively and illuminating account of this most British of legends.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 320 pages, 16 col plates (16pp), With index
- Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication Date: 05/09/2005
- Category: British & Irish history
- ISBN: 9780007181872
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Review by Speesh
Just when you thought you had the early history of Britain straight:<br/><br/>Celts living peacefully fighting with each other. Romans invade and rule and civilise. Romans go back to Rome, leave some Romanised British and other troops here. Civilisation declines, cities are deserted, fields overgrown, forests cover the land. Angles, Saxons, Jutes and others seize the opportunity to invade and stay. Poor Celts are pushed west and north to the fringes and Britain becomes Angle-Land. (Early) English springs up, the new England enters the Dark Ages and people long for King Arthur to return before Vikings come and Normans conquer again. And especially afterwards.<br/><br/>Just when all the historical novels and films you've seen fitted that 'truth'...along comes Francis Pryor and says 'maybe you should think again.'<br/><br/>I'm not goiing to spoil the book for you, by going into precisely what he does think happened in the first 700 years Anno Domini. But whilst the conclusions he presents are perhaps a little less spectacular - and certainly not as blood-soaked - than the picture we perhaps all have of boatloads of Germans and south Scandinavians sailing over and taking advantage of a vacuum created by the sudden departure of the Romans - proto-Vikings who then set about killing everyone and setting up their own, new country: His are at least conclusions based on the archaeological record and not the few surviving 'histories' we have, surely written at the time to satisfy an audience, who largely wanted to hear what they wanted the documents to say.<br/><br/>However, Francis Pryor is far too respectable an archaeologist to say 'THIS is exactly what happened.' He knows that he is still presenting interpretations of the facts - until we invent time-travel, i guess. He does still point out that these are conclusions and interpretations based on archeological study of what we have available now; evidence- and technology-wise. He points out how interpretations of the archeological facts have themselves changed, throughout the 20th Century, for example, as more and more sophisticated techniques and ways of studying these 'facts', have developed down the years. But he can back up his conclusions with a lifetime of archeological work and an inquisitive ability to think around a problem and say 'what if what we 'know', is wrong? Are we fitting the facts to what we want to believe?' Similarly to what the writers of the first histories tried to do, if you ask me.<br/><br/>Above all, this is a fascinating, engrossing, and extremely readable tour around 'Britain', pre- and post-Roman invasion. If you've read the first of his 'Britain' books; 'Britain A.D.', you'll know how Franics Pryor works and writes and you won't be disappointed. I understand he is now the main archaeologist on 'Time Team', which unfortunately we don't get out here in Denmark, but is an excellent appointment in my book. I felt he writes as if he is explaining things over a long lunch and a coffee in a cafe - warm and friendly and relaxed. Just right.<br/><br/>One thing I was not happy about - but that hadn't influenced my decision to read the book - was that the sales blurb does, mischievously I think, try and sell the book on the promise of an explanation of the Arthurian legends. But the book rarely touches on that. If you read it hoping to find Geoffrey Ashe-like revelations, you're going to be disappointed. The Arthurian legends are investigated and a possible explaination put forward. But no one is named as the 'real' Arthur, no place is pointed to as being the real Camelot or Mount Badon. You'll have to go and visit Cadbury Castle and let your schoolboy/girl imagination wander.<br/><br/>Otherwise, go read this one NOW! And especially before you see another King Arthur or Robin Hood film!