In search of a legend

King Arthur’s Britain: The Truth Unearthed

by Ben Felsenburg 

King Arthur’s Britain: The Truth Unearthed (Sunday, BBC2, 9pm) sheds a great deal of light on the dark ages. anatomist and all-round multi-purpose telly boffin Professor Alice Roberts is delving deep into a period of British history of which almost nothing is known: the two centuries that followed the end of Roman rule in 410AD. Here is what has been the received version until now: almost as soon as the emperor’s army and aristocrats left, a darkness fell upon our islands, thanks to barbaric German tribes who carved a violent path through the docile folk that had been left behind by Rome. Out of this mire of chaos and slaughter emerged the legend of a messianic king who promised hope and salvation for his people. Now here’s the bad news: Roberts finds exactly zero evidence that this heroic Arthur ever existed. But the good news is the bloodbath is almost equally mythical. Excavations in Tintagel – that magical outcrop on the north Cornish coast – and archaeological remains from across England reveal the presence of a sophisticated society with which the arriving Saxons gradually mingled. Why, the newcomers even swapped designs for fashionable brooches with the natives. and far from being cut off from the continent after the end of the ancient european union, england enjoyed a thriving exchange of goods and visitors with our friends and neighbours across the channel. Is professor Roberts trying to teach us a lesson for the present day?

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