Arthur's age at death

Jan 2015
968
England
I read somewhere once that there are several 12th century tales of King Arthur that give his age at death as 76. Try as I might, I cannot identify these tales. Does anyone know of these, or any other sources that explicitly give Arthur's age at death?

Thanks in advance.
 

M9Powell

Ad Honorem
Oct 2014
4,457
appalacian Mtns
Well he was young enough to fight & kill a young warrior in combat so say less than 50. Old enough to have a full grown son capable of killing him in combat so say a minimum of 35.
 

MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
3,071
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
The date of Arthur is uncertain.

Gildas doesn't name Arthur but mentions the battle of Badon either a generation or 2 earlier or 43 years earlier than his own uncertain period in the 5th or 6th century AD. There is internal evidence that The Ruin of Britain should have been written early in that period and conflicting internal evidence that it should have been written late in that period and other evidence it was all written at one time.

The Historia Brittonum puts the 12 battles (including Badon) of Arthur some time vaguely between about 450 and 550 AD.

The Annales Cambriae dates Arthur's Battle of Badon about 516 to 518 and the Battle of Camlann and Arthur's death about 21 years later about 537 to 539.

Geoffrey of Monmouth in the History of the Kings of Britain gives some clues that Arthur flourished in the late fifth century but then states that Arthur died in 542 AD.

There is a 20th century theory that Arthur was Riothamous, a British king who fought in Gaul about 470 AD.

Medieval Arthurian romances were historical fiction, set in dark age Britain as accurately or otherwise as the medieval writers pictured it, and usually imagining a high or late medieval instead of a late Roman or early medieval society. And that is for the social background of the romances. The plots were loosely based on earlier history or fiction and were often very imaginative.

The section History in Films and Television

History in Films and on Television - Historum - History Forums

and Historical Fiction

Historical Fiction - Historum - History Forums

Should have many evaluations of the degree of accuracy in various works of historical fiction.

Think of Arthurian romances as being on the low accuracy side of the scale even according to the information available to the medieval writers.

I have wondered if some medieval romance writers may have learned contradictory date information about Arthur, statements he was active in the 5th century as well was statements he was active in the 6th century. Some romances say that Arthur lived to be almost a hundred, which might possibly be based on the impression that he was active over a period of many decades.

Thus they might think Arthur had a very long historical career, vaguely like Emperor Anastasius I (c.431-518) reigned 491-518, Petrus Marcellinus Felix Liberius (c. 465-c. 554), Narses (c. 478-573) imperial official, general, and governor, and Emperor Justinian (c. 482-565) emperor 527-565. Though I doubt if they were aware of the ages of those more or less contemporary to Arthur examples.

The only evidence from vaguely historical sources about Arthur's age or length of career is that in the Historia Brittonum Arthur should have been old enough to command in his first battle and young enough to still command in his last victory over the Saxons at Badon - but it doesn't give much indication of the time between the first and the last battles. And the Annales Cambriae say there were 21 years between Arthur's battles at Badon and Camlann where he was killed.

Geoffrey of Monmouth said that Arthur became king aged 15 and began his first campaign soon after. Thus we might expect that Geoffrey's version of Arthur lived to be about 35 to 50.

People have often speculated about the possible relationship between Arthur and Maelgwn Gwynedd who might have been contemporary with Arthur and thus his friend or enemy. It is common to assume that Maelgwn Gwynedd was the same person as Maglocunnus the Dragon of the Island, accused by his contemporary Gildas of many crimes, included overthrowing his first king and usurping his first kingdom of many in a bloody civil war while in earliest adolescence.

An age similar to Geoffrey's account of Arthur's age in his first campaign. So such a young warlord would not be totally impossible in the real Britain of Arthur's era. And we might wonder if Geoffrey's Arthur was in any way based upon Maglocunnus.

What is the absolute minimum age for someone to be in real or merely nominal command of an army? Medieval leaders in at least nominal and possible real command include Prince Sancho of Castile (c. 1093-1108) at the battle of Ucles in 1108 and co-king Henry Berenger (1136/37-1150) at the battle of Flochberg in 1150.

Thus we might guess that 12 would be the absolute minimum age to have any nominal or real command authority over an army, though of course younger rulers have accompanied their armies without commanding them.

So if all the 12 battles of Arthur happened in one year which we can assume to be 517, and Arthur was killed 21 years later at Camlann which we can assume to be in 538, Arthur's minimum possible lifespan would seem to be from 505 to 538 or 33 years.

Austrian general Michael Baron von Melas (1729-1806) was 71 years, 1 month and 2 days old when he fought Napoleon at the Battle of Marengo 14 June 1800, and almost won. There are exaggerated stories he was 89.

Mael Sechnaill mac Domnail (949-1022) King of Mide 976-1022, and High King of Ireland
979-1002, commanded in battles as late as the Battle of Clontarf in 1014 age 65. Brian Boru (c. 941-1014) king of Munster and High King of Ireland 1002-1014, was 73 at the battle of Clontarf.

Austrian General Joseph Radetzky von Radetz (1766-1858) commanded his last battle at Novara 22-23 March 1859, aged 82 years, 4 months, and 20 days, and retired after 71 years in 1856 aged 90.

Arbitrarily assuming that the maximum age to command an army would be 80 and the maximum age for a king to accompany his army would be 90, Arthur could have been as old as 90 in 538, arbitrarily assumed to be the year of Camlann, and thus born in 448 or later. And age 69 or younger at the Battle of Badon.

Thus in the arbitrarily assumed year of 538 for the Battle of Camlann, Arthur could have been aged about 33 to about 90, and thus born about 448 to 505. And if the Battle of Camlann is assumed to have been in some other year his birth range can be adjusted.

Of course this the Arthur of more or less historical sources. The Arthur of medieval romances and the Arthur of modern works of fiction is a lot more free of the constraints of being consistent with the little bit of more or less historical, semi-historical, and "historical" statements about him.
 
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kazeuma

Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
2,423
We must first determine when Arthur was born, if I were to guess Christmas morning (25 December) Year AD 479 -

My reasoning is that between the years 478-480 a comet was seen in the skies (as recorded by Chinese Astrologers), this would play well with Gildas' hatred of Arthur - since anyone born under a comet is potential for the anti-Christ.
 
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Sep 2015
351
ireland
The Arthurian references in the Welsh Annals are late interpolations, later than Historia Britonum imo and are influenced by Gildas mentioning Badon and HB associating Arthur with the victory. Camlan is more interesting as this mention in the annals is its first appearance in any surviving record. I think Camlan was older than Badon, and that Arthur may have genuinely died there but that the scribe responsible for the interpolation was led by HB`s account of Arthur and Badon and assumed Camlan must have occurred in the early sixth century.

A possible indication of the true date of Camlan might be the fact that Bishop Ebur [who the Welsh Annals say died in 501 aged 350] couldn`t really have lived for three and a half centuries. So is it his age or alternatively the true date of his death that is the error? Perhaps it`s both. I suppose what I`m suggesting is that there might have been an earlier source which recorded Eburs death 36 years before Camlan and when the interpolator mistakenly placed Camlan in 537 based on HB`s erroneous account of Arthur, that forced him to put Eburs death in 501 which in turn may have meant he must have lived for 350 years.
 
Jan 2015
1,309
meo
Well he was young enough to fight & kill a young warrior in combat so say less than 50. Old enough to have a full grown son capable of killing him in combat so say a minimum of 35.
He also had a wizard as sidekick. Merlin can easily create an ancient steroid for him to kick ass at the age of 90.
 

Moros

Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
3,101
Geoffrey of Monmouth said that Arthur became king aged 15 and began his first campaign soon after. Thus we might expect that Geoffrey's version of Arthur lived to be about 35 to 50.
Geoffrey's Arthur was 15 when he became king. Arthur then defeated the Saxons, Scots and Picts, and the year after defeated the Irish. There was then 12 years of peace before Arthur took battle against Norway and Gaul, which battles lasted 9 years. There was then a period of 5 years of peace, and then Rome challenged Arthur's kingdom, leading to his final battle with Mordred and abdication in 542 AD.

Geoffrey's Arthur would thus have been in his early 40s when he abdicated and disappeared.
 

MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
3,071
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
Geoffrey's Arthur was 15 when he became king. Arthur then defeated the Saxons, Scots and Picts, and the year after defeated the Irish. There was then 12 years of peace before Arthur took battle against Norway and Gaul, which battles lasted 9 years. There was then a period of 5 years of peace, and then Rome challenged Arthur's kingdom, leading to his final battle with Mordred and abdication in 542 AD.

Geoffrey's Arthur would thus have been in his early 40s when he abdicated and disappeared.
If Arthur fought Mordred in 542, the Roman war the previous year should have been in 541, 5 years of peace should have begun about 535 to 536, 9 years of war in Norway and Gaul should have begun about 525 to 527, 12 years of peace should have begun about 512 to 515, the Irish war should have been about 511 to 514, and the Saxon campaign should have been about 510 to 513. If Arthur was 15 sometime in the period 510 to 513 he would have been born about 494 to 498, and thus aged 44 to 48 in 542.

But possibly it took Arthur months or years to gather warriors and prepare for the Saxon campaign. Thus I considered the possibility that he could have been as old as 50 in 542.
 

MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
3,071
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
The Arthurian references in the Welsh Annals are late interpolations, later than Historia Britonum imo and are influenced by Gildas mentioning Badon and HB associating Arthur with the victory. Camlan is more interesting as this mention in the annals is its first appearance in any surviving record. I think Camlan was older than Badon, and that Arthur may have genuinely died there but that the scribe responsible for the interpolation was led by HB`s account of Arthur and Badon and assumed Camlan must have occurred in the early sixth century.

A possible indication of the true date of Camlan might be the fact that Bishop Ebur [who the Welsh Annals say died in 501 aged 350] couldn`t really have lived for three and a half centuries. So is it his age or alternatively the true date of his death that is the error? Perhaps it`s both. I suppose what I`m suggesting is that there might have been an earlier source which recorded Eburs death 36 years before Camlan and when the interpolator mistakenly placed Camlan in 537 based on HB`s erroneous account of Arthur, that forced him to put Eburs death in 501 which in turn may have meant he must have lived for 350 years.
Why would dying in 501 make Bishop Eber 350 years old? Do you suppose that he was born in 151 AD and thus dying in 501 would make him 350 years old, or that he was recorded becoming Bishop in 201 and thus dying in 501 300 years later would make him an estimated 350 years old?

If Bishop Ebur was born about 151 AD and died about 201 to 251 AD the Battle of Camlan 36 years after his death would be about 237 to 287 AD.

Is it your theory that an Arthur fought a battle of Camlan about 237 AD? Or do you claim that an Arthur fought a battle of Camlan about 437 or 497 AD?

"Bishop Ebur rests in Christ, he was 350 years old."

And what was the name of York, a very important Roman town? Eboracum.

Possibly there was a record of the death of Bishop Ebur, and a record of the Saxon capture of Eboracum, slaying the Bishop of Eboracum, and abolishing the position of bishop and all Christian religion in the region after 350 years since about 151. And possibly the two records were confused into the death of Bishop Ebur at the age of 350.

Or possibly Bishop Ebur's age was written as LXXXX, or 50 years plus four times ten years, or 90 years total, and a copyists copied it as LCCCC, and that was later interpreted and copied as 50 years less than 400 years, or CCCL in more usual form.
 
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kazeuma

Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
2,423
The other way to date the death of Arthur is the dating Mordred.

Mordred was married to Cwyllog - having two children by him. Cwyllog was the daughter of Lord Caw of Cwm Cawlywd (she would also be Saint Gildas' sister). Caw was likely born AD 485 and died 535. Let us say Caw was 14-to-16 when his wife gave birth to Cwyllog. Then, let us say that Cwyllog was 14-to-16 when she married Mordred - we can set the date of Arthur's death sometime in the late 530's or early 540's.
 
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