By the ninth century people all over were telling the fabulous tales and romances about Arthur and his kingdom. The common people heard them sung by bards, while in the court poets wrote different versions. In each retelling the speaker would select certain details for emphasis and introduce new elements, so that the story could be adapted to the particular time and audience. Although most historians believe that there actually did exist an Arthur, they differ on how major his role was on influencing society during his time.
To understand the most widely accepted view on when and how Arthur gained fame, one must be aware of the historical time period surrounding Arthur. The unity that the Roman government imposed on Britain disappeared around 410 AD. In its place arose small villages whose rulers struggled for political and military supremacy. Around 540, a Welsh monk and historian named Gildas wrote in his book Concerning the Ruin and Conquest of Britain that "The disasters that the British people suffered at the hands of the Anglo-Saxons after the Roman withdrawal were clear evidence that god was punishing them for their sins." It was during these disasters that the monk was referring to that Arthur held up resistance for the Britons against the Saxons, at a time when Britain was constantly being threatened by invaders. Through being the commander who routed the battles against the enemy and thereby saving the south of Britain from distruction of the Saxons, "Arthur became the image of the hero and savior whose death people refused to believe in and whose return was yearned for."
The opinion that Arthur was a genuine figure in history, though not the glorious King Arthur that most people know him to be, is largely based on the writings of Nennius, a Welsh historian, who gave the first and only historical account of Arthur's military career in Chapter 56. The passage starts with a date.
"After the death of Hengist, his son Octha came from northern Britain and settled in Kent, whence come the kings of Kent. Then Arthur fought against them in those days, with the Kings of the Britons, but he himself was the leader of the battles."
Here Nennius implies that Arthur was not a king but a general of some sort, who helped the rulers of small British kingdoms organize themselves, combining forces to fight against the Saxons. In another section entitled The Marvels of Britain, Nennius calls Arthur a soldier: Here he tells of Cabal, the dog of Arthur the Soldier, and of the grave of Anwr, the son of Arthur the Soldier.
The passage then continues describing the twelve battles that Arthur fought and won. The last battle, the greatest in the history of the country, was at Badon Hill. It resulted in a total massacre of the Saxons, establishing fifty years of peace from the Saxon's horrible brutality of slaughtering, burning and senseless vandalism (Jenkins 30-31).
Nennius's historical account is backed up by a set of Easter Tables. They were calculating tables as to when Easter would fall out for the next given number of years and in them were noted events of outstanding importance. In the annals were two dates regarding Arthur. The first date is disputed: It is put as either 499 or 518 A.D. The first entry reads: "Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ on his shoulders for three days and three nights and the Britons were victors (Jenkins 28)."
The second entry dated 539 reads: The Battle of Camlann, in which Arthur and Modred perished. And there was plague in Britain and Ireland (Jenkins 28)." These accounts of Arthur are not only the basis for his fame, but they also show us the broad terrain of Arthur's military activity. While the Battle of Mount Badon was fought in Southern England, the battle of Cat Coit Celidon, mentioned in the Historia Brittonum, was fought in Scotland. The implications of Arthur's widespread battles lead to two...