Could Caerleon the Roman Fortress in Wales Once have been Arthur’s Summer Retreat?
One of the delights of Wales is Caerleon, a former Roman fortress close to the mouth of the tidal river Usk that empties into the Severn Sea. Its extensive remains make it one of the most significant and most important Roman Military sites in Europe. It was also a cherished watering hole for King Arthur to give his exhausted Knights of the Round Table a summer break. The fort is well sited above the river’s floodplain on a ridge, and originally flanked by meadows and wooded groves. The Romans, who occupied it from 75AD to 300 AD housed over five thousand tough professional soldiers in its wooden and stone barracks and built excellent facilities for them. The legionnaires could drill inside in specially constructed halls, undress for recreation in heated changing rooms, maintain their fitness in an open-air swimming pool, enjoy games and contests in their amphitheatre and soak in hot and cold baths to relax.
By King Arthur’s time, about 473, Caerleon had partly been stripped bare by the departing soldiers and by the plundering locals but let’s imagine Merlin guiding the young Arthur with his foster brother, Kai, and Arthur’s best friend Bedwyn, as they rode through the fort to assess its suitability for their purposes. Merlin, a former Centurion who fought in Gaul, might remind Arthur of Uther’s advice that you have to be able to hold a fort against all comers, and Arthur might respond with questions: Is this place too big to defend? Would its close access to the Hafren (the Severn) leave them open to attacks from the sea by the Jutes or the Saxons? Would that wooden Roman bridge across the Usk be a risk for attack or a backdoor opportunity to escape? Bedwyn, the cavalry master, might moan: “We would need to rebuild the stables for over 200 horses.” But Kai, the giant quartermaster, might point to the landscape saying: “that Roman built harbour here leads to the river, and the river leads to the Severn, and the Severn leads to the Seven Seas, and that will give us a constant supply of food from the trading ships: olives, grain, wine, and oysters. This is a place where we can relax and feast!” Merlin would smile because he could already see the sumptuous feasts of Arthur’s coronation and his wedding to his Welsh bride Guinevere but what he couldn’t see, shielded by the Dark, was the shapeshifter Morgana.
Legend reveals that shortly after Arthur settled into Caerleon, he received an uninvited and unknown guest, a sorceress named Morgana. She was tall, beautiful, raven-haired with amber eyes and she seduced Arthur and left his bed before the dawn’s light. The last time Arthur had seen his half-sister was when he was four years old. From their union came their son, Modred, who was raised secretly by his mother Morgana for one sole purpose: “to murder Arthur and usurp his throne!”
There are local legends which connect Arthur to Caerleon. One of which the most fanciful is to refer to the amphitheatre as King Arthur’s Round Table. But often those fanciful ideas can refer to a connection with the fabled king who lived fifteen hundred years earlier.