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Valentyn Stetsyuk (Lviv, Ukraine)

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Eastern European Traces in the Fate of King Arthur

In recent years, interest in the personality of King Arthur has increased significantly in Russia, which is largely due to the translation of the book of the British historian H. Reid into Russian (REID HOWARD D. 2001). The content of this book gives grounds for readers to see in the image of the legendary king a "Russian prince". The basis for such a fantasy is the "Sarmatian trace" considered in the book, which can be found in the legends about this king. This idea, according to Reid, dates back to the eleventh century but has been seriously analyzed by American historians quite recently (LITTLETON C. SCOTT, MALCOR LINDA A. 2000). Their work prompted H. Reid to his own interpretation of the personality of King Arthur, looking for the roots of his image no longer in Eastern Europe, but in Central Asia and somewhere even in China.

The interest in King Arthur in Russia is understandable, but the interpretation of the hypotheses of historians in the spirit of the imperial ideology, which is popular in this country and feeds aggressive moods there, causes concern. This fact shows how responsibly historians should approach their work and not use dubious or outdated theories. In this sense, this article is presented as an alternative to the works mentioned above.

Common in the conclusions of the authors of these works is the widespread belief that the Alans were Iranian-lingual, who brought to Britain a culture with which the birth of chivalry is associated. One can generally agree with this vision of the role of the Alans in the history of Britain, but there is evidence that, long before them, other newcomers also brought cultural influence that reflected the worldview of their ancestors, which was formed in Eastern Europe. We are talking about the Cimbri, about whose origin and their adventures in Western Europe there is a special discussion (see the section Cimbri-Cymry), but here it should be noted that the consonance of the ethnonyms Cimbri and Cimmerians is not accidental. Both of them had Iranian-speaking ancestors, whose descendants are modern Kurds. On the contrary, the Alans were a Germanic tribe, as the Romans considered them, but their ancestral home was also in Eastern Europe (see Alans – Angles – Saxons).

The use of the graphic-analytical method made it possible to determine the ancestral home of the Anglo-Saxons in the area bounded by the Pripyat, Teterev, and Sluch rivers what is confirmed by local place names and archaeological data [STETSYUK VALENTYN. 1998: 76-82]. The Anglo-Saxons were the northern neighbors of the Scythians and called them scytta “archers”. From this word came the Greek Σκύθαι and under this name, the Scythians became known in history. They were the ancestors of the modern Chuvash, whose language retained the features of the ancient Turkic and later changed to a very small extent. Over time, the Anglo-Saxons, under the name Alans, led a tribal union in the Northern Black Sea region and, after the Hun invasion, moved west and then some part of them crossed over to Britain and it was they who were the ancestors of King Arthur.

The other neighbors of the Scythians were the Cimmerians. It was part of these Cimmerians who moved to Western Europe, where they were called Cimbri. The Cimbri stood at a higher level of development than the local population, treated them downwardly, and gave them the pejorative name "cross-eyed" (cf. Kurd. kelte "cross-eyed"). Their superiority was reflected in the borrowings of socio-cultural vocabulary into Celtic which have good matches in the Kurdish language. In particular, the Celtic name of the priest druid corresponds to the Kurdish word dirūd "blessed". Attempts to decipher the Celtic word have been going on since the time of Pliny, but there is no generally accepted explanation for it [BOTHEROYD SYLVIA and PAUL F. 1999: 118-119]. It is logical to assume that in accordance with the meaning of the word, the name of God may be present in its first part. The closest is the common name of the god among the Bulgars and Germans Tur/Tor. The Kurds populating Podolia were neighbors of both. For the second part of the word, nothing better than Chuv. yit "dog" was found. In Chuvash mythology, wolves are called tură yitti "God’s dogs" and are represented as servants of the prophet Pikhampar [SKVORTSOV M.I., 1995: 129]. Perhaps people have long called clergymen this way when understanding a dog as a faithful servant or a reliable sentry. This assumption finds confirmation in the interpretation of the Dominican order as "dogs of the Lord" (Lat. Domini canes). That is, there is nothing unusual in the name of the priest’s «God’s dogs». The Bulgar proto-form of such a name could be *turyt, the derivative of which was Kurd. dirūd and this word was borrowed by the Celts, transforming it into Welsh derwydd, Breton drouiz, Old Irish druí, Scottish Gaelic draoidh. Developing this theme, we can also decipher the name of Merlin, who served as an adviser to King Arthur’s court, using the Kurdish language. This name goes back to Welsh Myrddin and means "man of faith" (cf. Kurd. mēr "man", dīn "faith").

Thus, we go directly to the consideration of the figure of King Arthur and start with his name, which does not have a generally accepted interpretation.

The origin of his name is still a mystery, although many suggestions have been made (ZIMMER STEFAN. 2015: 131).

The German linguist believes that the name may be native Latin, epichoric from Dalmatia, or Celtic [ibid: 132]. I wrote to Herr Zimmer with an offer of my explanation, but he resolutely rejected it in a kind reply. Now I present it to the public.

The existence of a connection between the cycle of legends about King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and the Holy Grail with the Scythian-Sarmatian world was noticed long ago. Dumézil recalled one such fact. In the multinational epic of the peoples of the Caucasus about the Narts, the described episode of the death of one of the heroes named Batraz has a parallel with the death of King Arthur. Both die from the fact that their swords are thrown into the water. S. Littleton and L. Malkor write about this in their book which caused controversy in the scientific world, as evidence of the authors is based on analogies which can be not so convincing. They believe that East European cultural influences were brought by Sarmatians, who, according to one of the Roman historians, arrived in Britain:

As Cassius Dio reminds us in 175 AD 5,500 Sarmatian/Iazyges knights were sent to Britain as retribution for the defeat suffered by Marcus Aurelius' troops in the Marcomannic wars in Pannonia (NICOLINI GIUSEPPE. 2020: 4).

According to archaeological data in the Ribchester area, a small Sarmatian community existed there for several centuries (ZIMMER STEFAN. 2015: 19), which implies that the Iazyges were not assimilated among the local population and therefore did not have a great cultural influence on it without having close contacts with them. The found artifacts of the Sarmatian type, such as the swords reported by Nicolini, cannot say anything about such contacts.

In addition, the Iazyges have never been to Sarmatia. They dwelled on both banks of the Tisza and place names indicate that they were the ancestors of modern Kurds, and part of the Kurds who profess their own religion has a similar name Yezidis. Also, using the Kurdish language, you can decipher the names of some Iazyg leaders:

Bandaspos (Βαναδασπος) – Kurd. wanî "similar", -da – locative postposition,hesp "horse".

Zantikos (Ζαντικος) – Kurd. zan "mage", tîk "high", "direct".

Zizaĭs – Kurd. zîz "soniferous, strong".

The Sarmatian cultural influence could have been made by new numerous migrants, namely by the Alans, who undoubtedly had common cultural elements with the Iranian-speaking population of the Northern Black Sea Coast, but historical data on the relocation of the Alans to Britain before 1066 are absent. Although Linda Malcor explains the name of Lancelot, one of the knights of King Arthur as “(A)lan(u)s à Lot” (Alan of Lot, the area in Southern Gaul, where at one time massed Alans). One would assume that other Alans came to Britain with Lancelot. If the Alans arrived in Britain from Southern Gaul, the more they could do it from Northern Gaul. It is known that Flavius Aetius, the honored leader, the actual governor of Gaul, is known for his victory over the Huns on the Catalaunian Plains in 451 near the city of Châlons-en-Champagne, gave Armorica area (north-west France) into the possession to Alanian King Eochar (otherwise Goar). It is known that Eochar with a part of the Alans did not follow the king Respendial to Spain and stayed in central France.

The Knights of the Round Table could also have names common in Eastern Europe of various origins. For example, to decipher the name Percival, you can use Chuv. pĕr "whole, full", syvă "healthy", which together with the affix – can form the word meaning "husky, sturdy”.

About Arthur’s children, an independent researcher reports the following:

Before Mordred made his appearance in the Matter of Britain and began to dominate it as the only son of King Arthur, just as he had tried to dominate Arthur’s kingdom, the Welsh may have had the tradition that King Arthur had three sons… Only one son, Llacheu, has any clear lines drawn as to where he may rightfully be integrated into the Arthurian legends. Another son, Amr, may have been the original of Mordred, while Gwydre’s story comes down to us as faint as his ending is grim…

Furthermore, tradition says all three sons died before Arthur’s passing, so none of them inherited his kingdom, and therefore, they have been considered of little importance [TICHELAAR TYLER R. 2011: 1]

If you wish, you can consider the following interpretation of the names of the sons of the king:

Mordor – Kurd. mor "seal“, dor “ring”.

Gwydre -Kurd. guhdar "obedient", "attentive", guhdari “obedience”, “vigilance”, “mindfulness”.

Amr – Chuv. ămăr “cloudy”, “quiet and warm” (weather, rain).

Thus, one might think that Eastern European cultural influences came to Britain in different ways. Their specific manifestations in the fate of King Arthur can be read in the books of G. Reid and S. Littleton and L. Malkor. If new data appears, it will be added to this text. In conclusion, one can only emphasize that King Arthur had no relation to the Russians.


BOTHEROYD SYLVIA und PAUL F. 1999. Lexikon der keltischen Mythologie. München. – (In German) – The Lexicon of the Celtic Mythology. Munich.

LITTLETON C. SCOTT, MALCOR LINDA A. 2000. From Scythia to Camelot: A Radical Reassessment of the Legends of King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table, and the Holy Grail (Arthurian Characters and Themes). Garland Publishing, Inc. New York & London.

NICOLINI GIUSEPPE. 2020. Rinventimento di una Spada Sarmata nella Nella Antica Britannia? – (In Italian) – Rediscovery of a Sarmatian sword in Ancient Britain? Ricercatore indipendente. Rev. 8

REID HOWARD D. 2001. Arthur, the Dragon King: The Barbaric Roots of Britain's Greatest Legend. Headline Book Publishing.

SKVORTSOV M.I. 1995 Kultura chuvashskogo kraya – (In Russian) – The Culture of Chuvash Land. Cheboksary.

STETSYUK VALENTYN. 1998. Doslidzhennya peredistorichnikh etnogenetichnikh procesiv u Skhidniy Yevropi. Persha knyga – (In Ukrainian) – The Research of Prehistoric Ethnogenetic Processes in Eastern Europe. Volume 1. Lviv-Kyiv.

TICHELAAR TYLER R., Ph. D.2011. King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition. Modern History Press.

ZIMMER STEFAN. 2010. The name of Arthur – a new etymology// Journal of Celtic Linguistics vol. 13.