Brown bear

Origins of the legend

Some believe the tales have developed from a Celtic deity whose story eventually evolved to take on a human mantle.

It has been argued that the name Arthur is derived from 'bear', which corresponds with Celtic bear gods Artos or Artio.

Others believe that Arthur has a more solid historical background. It seems most likely that the legend, although having some historical basis, developed over time and took on elements from numerous sources.

If we accept that the figure of Arthur has a historical basis, it is generally acknowledged that he was a warrior against Germanic invaders of Britain from the fifth century onwards.

Where he held power is a matter of conjecture. Some believe him to have controlled much of Wales, Cornwall and the west country; others claim that his power base was the north of England and southern Scotland.

The origins of Arthur's name have been subject to much debate throughout the ages. Some believe it to have derived from Lucius Artorius Castus, a second century Roman officer based in Britain.

Others believe that the name has Welsh origins. The fifth century Welsh word art means 'bear'. One theory is that art and ur, meaning 'man', gives us the name Artur - literally, bear-man. This is supported by late Latin writings which give the name Arturus.

Other variants have been put forward, including Arturius, Arcturus, Arturos and Artursus. The latter name combines the Welsh for bear - art - along with its Latin counterpart - ursus.

Chwedlau Myrddin

Ynys Gudd Morgana

Stori Ynys Gudd Morgana

Ewch ar anturiaethau gyda'r cymeriadau yn ein straeon a gemau.

Wales arts

Catrin Dafydd (Image © Catrin Howells)

Meet the writers

Find out about the writers behind our mythical Merlin tales.

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