They inspired many nobles during the Middle Ages to abide by the code of chivalry. However, did the Knights of the Round Table exist, and are they based on historical figures. This article examines if the fabled knights have some basis in fact. It argues that the story of the Round Table probably has no real basis in fact, but that the chivalrous warriors were likely based on stories of elite fighters who fought for early medieval warlords and possibly some historical figures whose memory survived in folklore.
==The Arthurian Legend ====
[[File: Knight 2.jpg|200px|thumb|left|Sir Lancelot slaying a dragon]]
King Arthur was once believed to have lived in the Dark Ages in Britain and had fought the invading pagan Anglo-Saxons, and he brought peace and plenty to the land. It was once widely accepted that he was a historical figure, but later, he came to be regarded as only a myth or a figure out of folklore. Today, many believe that Arthur was a composite figure. He was based on many Romano-Britain warlords that fought against Germanic invaders in the wake of the collapse of the Western Roman Empire.<ref> Littleton, C. Scott, and Linda A. Malcor. From Scythia to Camelot (London, Routledge, 2013), p 134 </ref>
Later poets added details to the Knights and created characters such as Gawain. Chrétien de Troyes is widely credited with weaving the Quest for the Holy Grail's story into the tale of the Knights of the Round Table.<ref> Littleton, p 123</ref> de Troyes had the knights search for the Grail, which was the cup used by Jesus and the Apostles during the Last Supper. Since then, the Knights of the Round Table have become an integral part of the much-loved Arthurian cycle of stories. However, there are practically no other references to the knights and the Round Table in any other medieval sources, other than those associated with the Arthurian legends. Although some place names in Wales and England are called after the Table, all of these are probably later inventions.
==The Knights of the Round Table ====
[[File: Knights Three.jpg|300px|thumb|left|A medieval depiction of the Round Table]]
The Round Table was, according to the sources, a large circular table and was so big that up to 150 knights could be seated at it. Unlike the typical rectangular version, the table was round because there was to be no knight who sat at the head of the table. It was a symbol of equality and represented the fellowship of all the knights. According to the Arthurian cycle, the table was a gift to Arthur and his Queen Guinevere from her father, a monarch.<ref> Sutcliff, Rosemary. The sword and the circle: King Arthur and the knights of the round table (London, Random House, 2013), p 167</ref> There were 100 knights in attendance on Arthur, but there was room at the table for up to fifty more.
Only a handful of knights survived the terrible Battle of Camlann, which left Arthur mortally wounded. The warriors' brotherhood effectively ended after the battle, and the handful of survivors became monks or wanders.<ref> Syr Gawayne; a collection of ancient romance-poems, by Scottish and English authors: relating to that celebrated Knight of the Round Table (London, J. R. and JE Taylor, 1839)</ref> There is no more mention of the Round Table, but it was presumably destroyed when Camelot was sacked and razed to the ground by the treacherous King of Cornwall. The Knights of the Round Table stories have proven enormously influential and helped spread chivalry and courtly love ideas in the Medieval period.
====Winchester Round Table ====
Winchester Castle is one of the greatest castles in England, and it played an essential part in English history. It was originally built by William the Conqueror and later rebuilt by Henry II, the Angevin Empire's ruler. There is around oaken table hanging on the wall in the Great Hall, which is brightly painted. This was reputed to be the original Round Table, of the loyal warriors of Arthur, and around which they agreed to search for the Holy Grail.
In fact, this table is not from the period when the ruler of Camelot reigned. It was probably built as part of one of the many ‘round table’ tournaments in Europe during the Middle Ages. These were tournaments with jousting, ceremonies, and festivities and were based on Arthurian legend. This Round table was probably made on the orders of King Edward I during one such celebration.<ref>Morris, Mark. "Edward I and the Knights of the Round Table." Foundations of Medieval Scholarship: Records edited in Honour of David Crook (2009)</ref>
====The Amphitheater theory ====The Romans had occupied much of modern-day Britain from the 1st to the early 5th century. They transformed British society, and they built roads and cities throughout the island. During their centuries of rule, the local people were often Romanized, especially those who lived in towns and cities. They adopted Roman norms and customs, and one of the most popular of these was the games, especially gladiatorial games.<ref> Zienkiewicz, J. David. Caerleon's legionary fortress baths: The buildings. Vol. 1 (Cardiff, National Museum of Wales, 1986</ref> Many Romano-British cities and towns had amphitheaters and based on the remaining evidence, they hosted Roman-style games. Many of these can still be seen, and there were a great many in Britain at one time. In 2010 a theory emerged that was widely reported in the media and on the internet. A historian claimed that the amphitheaters inspired the legend of the Round Table. He claimed that the circular buildings formed the basis for the round table legend.
His argument was as follows. After the Romans' withdrawal, the local people continued to live in the cities at least in the fifth and sixth centuries. Local Brythonic warlords led the fight against the Anglo-Saxons, and others used these declining urban centers as strongholds. The amphitheaters were perfect assembly points, and presumably, a local leader would gather his fighting men in these buildings for meetings. From this practice, there emerged the story of a group of Christian knights. However, the theory that abandoned Roman amphitheaters inspired the Knights of the Round Table stories is a controversial one. There is no archaeological or documentary evidence that these Roman constructions had been used in the Dark Ages or Romano-British warriors.
====Arthur and his warband ====
The origin of the Arthurian legend is in the Dark Ages, when, as we have seen, warlords carved out their own kingdoms and fought endless wars. An examination of Romano-British and Celtic culture can help us understand the inspiration for the story about the gallant knights. Arthur was based on one or more Brythonic warlords, who would have had an elite group of fighters.<ref>Sutcliffe, p 17</ref>
Furthermore, they were expected to abide by a good of honor. There are definite similarities between these Dark Age warriors and the Knights of the Round Table. The noble swordsmen who fought for Arthur can be considered a Christianised version of an older warrior tradition <ref>Sutcliffe, p 101</ref>.
====Warriors from folklore? ====
Lancelot and the other heroes are all possibly derived from stories about brave companions to the warlords and kings. It seems highly likely that many of the knights who served Arthur were originally based on Folklore figures. One of the best-known characters among the Round Table knights is Sir Lancelot was ultimately derived from a folktale. Many scholars suggest that he was originally based on a Welsh hero. This is also the case with many others who served Arthur. Another example of this is Sir Caradoc, who appears to have been based on the Welsh kings of Gwent's ancestors. Many of the knights mentioned in the Arthurian story-cycle are accepted by many that some knights are based on Celtic heroes. <ref> Frank A. Milne, A. Nutt. “Arthur and Gorlagon,” Folklore 15, no. 1 , 40-67</ref>
It has been suggested that Arthur’s band of loyal men were based on very ancient warrior fellowships from Celtic myths. Some believe that some of the heroes, such as Sir Gawain and his adventures, are based on European myths and lore.</ref>W. P. Ker. “The Roman Dumézilvan Walewein (Gawain),” Folklore 5, no. 2 , 121-8 </ref> It is also entirely possible that the emblematic Round Table was also sourced from a now lost folk tale.
There are so many great legends involving the heroic band who served King Arthur. Modern media has popularized these stories all over the globe. The story of the fellowship of the Round Table was most likely an invention, but it may have been based on some historical precedent, but we do not simply know. The story held in Winchester Castle is a charming fabrication, while the theory that the Round Table was based on a Roman Amphitheatre is not credible. The Knights of the Round Table are not modeled on historical figures but are likely composite figures, drawn from several sources.
The knights' story, heroism, and chivalry are probably based on ancient folktales from the early Medieval period. The French writers who introduced the Round Table into the Arthurian cycle of tales also drew on contemporary notions of a Christian warrior and the emerging chivalrous code to create the world of the Knights of the Round Table. They also added distinctively Christian motifs such as the Holy Grail to the story of Arthur’s companions. This led them to produce the memorable tales of the Knights of the Round Table.
====Further Reading ====
The Legends of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table. Strahan and Company, 1868
Biddle, Martin, and Sally Badham. King Arthur's Round Table: an archaeological investigation. Boydell & Brewer, 2000.
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