Is Round Table claim the stuff of legend?

Reporter:

Laura Jones

HISTORIANS are locked in fierce debate following speculation that King Arthur built his Camelot stronghold in Chester.

The city’s famous Roman amphitheatre is the focus of attention following research to be outlined in a TV documentary.

During the show, historian and author Christopher Gidlow will claim that Arthur once held court at the site.

And Mr Gidlow, live interpretation manager of historic royal palaces, also believes the legendary Round Table took its name from the shape of the amphitheatre bowl.

His theory is based on information provided on the City of Legions in early writings, details of Arthur’s battles against the Saxons – one of which is said to have taken place at Chester – and the discovery of an execution stone at the amphitheatre.

But Professor Dai Morgan Evans, visiting lecturer in archaeology at the University of Chester, is sceptical.

He said: “I am afraid it is another case of the old Arthurian equation, 2 + 2 = 5.

“King Edward I, who conquered North Wales, was a King Arthur ‘anorak’. He reburied Arthur’s supposed body at Glastonbury, created the wooden Round Table at Winchester, held a Round Table at Nefyn and built Caernarfon castle to look like Constantinople.

“If he had heard even a passing breeze whisper that the Round Table could be at Chester he would have been on to it like a shot. But the silence is almost deafening. Whatever this programme is, this theory is not reality TV.”

Mr Gidlow says he has not named Chester as the probable Camelot but remains convinced his theory has a real pedigree.

City archaeologist Mike Morris, who has looked after the amphitheatre since 1990, concedes the site could have provided a stronghold for a Dark Ages warlord.

He said: “There is evidence the amphitheatre survived as a massive stone structure for hundreds of years after the Romans departed.

“The building would have obvious benefits to any local warlord looking for a secure base.

“There was occupation around this time but sadly there is no direct evidence that points to Arthur. It’s certainly an exciting speculation – but that it probably as far as it goes.”

Cllr Richard Short, executive member for culture and recreation, said: “Arguments over Arthur are as old as time. We may never know the truth. But the debate can only increase Chester’s lure as a world-class tourist centre.”

English Heritage, which has conducted joint excavations at the amphitheatre with the council, has distanced itself from any “speculative conclusions” about Arthur and the site.

But local Roman historian and author, Adrian Waddelove, said he expected the TV show to be compelling viewing.

He added: “It has been thought for a long time that the myths and legends of Arthur probably have their origins in historical facts.”

l King Arthur’s Round Table Revealed is on Sky’s History Channel on Monday, July 19, at 9pm.

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