Jessica Hodge traces the significance of a settlement that was the largest known military site in King Arthur’s time.
For centuries local superstition has connected the great Iron Age hill-fort at South Cadbury in Somerset with the romantic figure of King Arthur. Henry VIII’s antiquary John Leland, for example, wrote that ‘at South Cadbyri standith Camallate, sumtyme a famous toun or castelle. The people can tell nothing that but that they have hard say that Arthure much resorted to Camalat.’
The fact that ‘Arthur’ did exist in about A.D. 500 is now fairly well established. According to the ninth-century Welsh scholar Nennius in his History of the Britons, Arthur was a war-chief who vanquished the invading Saxons in twelve battles up and down the country.
The last and most important of these, Mount Badon, recorded also by Gildas in the sixth century, was sufficiently conclusive to ensure a peace of forty-four years. The late R. G. Collingwood suggested that Arthur was the commander of a mobile field army; successor, in fact, to the ‘Count of Britain’ who had fulfilled a similar military role towards the end of the Roman administration of Britain.