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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Historian: King Arthur Was From Russia

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The quests of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table have held a far-reaching grip on imaginations for more than a millennium.

Some claim he was Welsh, others Scottish or Roman — while others say he never even existed — but a new book adds another twist by saying that much of the legend of King Arthur may come from a band of nomadic tribes whose descendants now live in southern Russia.

In "Arthur the Dragon King: the Barbarian Roots of Britain's Greatest Legend," published last month, popular historian Howard Reid draws parallels between the myths of ancient nomads who moved into Europe from Central Asia and those that grew up around the court of King Arthur.

Reid believes there may be a link between the Sarmatians and their close cousins the Alans, ancient nomadic people who rampaged through Europe, whose horse skills and sword worship echo those of the knights of King Arthur.

Arthur supposedly lived around the sixth century but the legends and tales of Merlin, Sir Lancelot and Guinevere and the Sword in the Stone only appeared centuries later in a series of medieval romances. Indeed, there is very little evidence as to his existence.

In the legends, Arthur, inspired by the magician Merlin, was guided in battle by a magic sword called Excalibur, which he received from the Lady of the Lake. The romances tell of the adventures of Arthur and his fellowship of knights, including their search for the Holy Grail, which they believed was the vessel used by Jesus at the Last Supper.

The lack of any concrete evidence proving his existence has provided room for a large number of theories.

Reid himself is not certain that there was actually a king called Arthur but says that the stories of chivalry and sword imagery did not come from Britain and had to have come from outside — namely the barbarian invaders who were, well, not really that barbarian.

"The nomad tribes were very sophisticated," said Reid in a telephone interview from London.

"They were a threat from the East," said Reid, 'But they brought great myths."

Reid says that his theory is not original.

A documentary filmmaker, Reid says he is merely trying to popularize the theory of other historians. The book may be made into a television series for Britain's Channel Four

Research for the book has included looking at the large stock of jewelry and swords made by nomadic warrior tribes stored in the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

The barbarians, in this case the Sarmatians, may have reached Britain after being defeated by the Romans in the second century. Many of the defeated soldiers were sent to Britain to guard Hadrian's Wall in the second century.

Reid believes that these Barbarians brought not only their fighting skills but their myths and beliefs in magic swords, fire rituals and the dragon.

Two Arthurian historians, C. Scott Littleton and Linda Malcor, whose work Reid draws on, have claimed that a Roman general Lucius Artorius Castus, who commanded a group of Sarmatian cavalrymen was the real King Arthur.

The distant descendants of the Sarmatians and the Alans are the Ossetian people.

Reid compares the mythology of the Ossetians with the Arthurian tale, finding "striking parallels between the two."

The Ossetians' ancient tales, known as the Nart Sagas, tell of a king called Batraz who had a magic sword.

Other parallels, in these ancient yarns, which were only written down in the 19th century according to Reid, are a "Chalice of Truth" which hovers in the air like the Holy Grail in Arthurian legend and as a code of conduct which ruled the lives of the Ossetian knights.

Although the tales of Batraz are far more supernatural than the Arthurian — Batraz's mother is a frog by day, a woman by night — "there is so much overlap of content that it is hard to imagine that the two traditions are unconnected," wrote Reid.

As another slice of proof Reid points to Excalibur. The word Excalibur, he writes, is derived from the Latin for steel, chalybs, which itself comes from the Greek word for a group of famous blacksmiths, the Kalybes.

The Kalybes once lived in the same area where Ossetians now live.

The book has had a harsh reception in England with a review in The Observer scorning Reid's evidence and his prose while a leading Arthurian expert, Geoffrey Ashe, spluttered his indignation in an interview with The Express.

"It is so dispiriting to see this kind of hogwash disseminated among scholarly circles. There are dragon symbols everywhere, from Welsh mythology and Beowulf to the Old Testament," Ashe said.

But one person who is not pooh poohing Reid's theory is the head of the descendants of the nomadic tribes, Alexander Dzasokhov, president of the North Ossetian republic.

That area was under the influence of the Sarmatians from the seventh century B.C. to the first century A.D., followed by the Alans, who are believed to be the direct ancestors of the Ossetians.

"Without a doubt this evokes the warmest feelings," wrote Dzasokhov in a faxed response to questions from The Moscow Times about Reid's book. "I'm sure that this news will resound throughout the population."

Dzasokhov wrote that the news was not exactly unknown in the republic.

"There is much in common with King Arthur and the Ossetian war hero of the Batraz era," he wrote, suggesting that the historians of England and his republic could work together on the subject.

"There are many parallels," said Felix Gutpov, a historian who was asked by Dzasokhov's office to research the links.