From Britain’s most beloved outlaw to the founder of all Turkic peoples, find out more about three historical figures whose existence remains up for debate.
1 – King Arthur. Knight Of Camelot
We’ve all heard stories about King Arthur of Camelot, who according to medieval legend led British forces (including his trusted Knights of the Round Table) in battle against Saxon invaders in the early sixth century. But was King Arthur actually a real person, or simply a hero of Celtic mythology? Though debate has gone on for centuries, historians have been unable to confirm that Arthur really existed. He doesn’t appear in the only surviving contemporary source about the Saxon invasion, in which the Celtic monk Gildas wrote of a real-life battle at Mons Badonicus (Badon Hills) around 500 A.D. Several hundred years later, Arthur appears for the first time in the writings of a Welsh historian named Nennius, who gave a list of 12 battles the warrior king supposedly fought. All drawn from Welsh poetry, the battles took place in so many different times and places that it would have been impossible for one man to have participated in all of them.
Later Welsh writers drew on Nennius’ work, and Arthur’s fame spread beyond Wales and the Celtic world, particularly after the Norman conquest of 1066 connected England to northern France. In the popular 12th-century book “History of the Kings of Britain,” Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote the first life story of Arthur, describing his magic sword Caliburn (later known as Excalibur), his trusted knight Lancelot, Queen Guinevere and the wizard Merlin. An irresistible blend of myth and fact, the book was supposedly based on a lost Celtic manuscript that only Geoffrey was able to examine.
Evidence from the ground
The second key source of information about Arthur is archaeology. Archaeological evidence for contact between Wales, Cornwall and the Saxon World takes many forms – from metalwork manufactured in an Anglo-Saxon style discovered in south-east Wales, to the distribution of early medieval pottery imported from the Continent and the shores of the Mediterranean.
Excavations at Dinas Powys, a princely hillfort near Cardiff occupied between the 5th and 7th-centuries, has informed us about the nature of a high status site in south Wales at this time. This site is contemporary with others like South Cadbury in Somerset and Tintagel in Cornwall (both with their own Arthurian traditions).
Arthur’s court at Caerleon
A large number of sites in Wales have Arthurian associations, though few have proven medieval origin. In the 12th century, Caerleon was thought by Geoffrey of Monmouth to be the location of Arthur’s court, while the hillfort of Dinas Emrys in north Wales is associated with Ambrosius, Vortigern and Merlin.
Some half dozen Welsh Stone Age megaliths are called ‘Arthur’s Stone’, and his name has also been given to an Iron Age hillfort on the Clwydian Range, Moel Arthur, near Denbigh. According to one tradition, King Arthur and his knights lie sleeping in a cave below Craig y Ddinas, Pontneddfechan, in south Wales.
2 – Ilya Muromets. Mighty Giant Of Russia
In numerous folk tales he is described as strong and fearless, he waves his mace to crush trees or else simply uproots them with his bare hands – all this to help his fellow villagers build a road through the forest. He can defeat terrifying monsters: Zmey Gorynych (the three-headed flying serpent) and Solovey Razboinik (Nightingale the Robber). He boldly challenges Idolishe Poganoe (Tainted Beastgod), a knight corrupted by evil forces who threatens the integrity of Kiev Rus (the medieval name for Russia).
Out of the three Russian folk heroes, the so-called bogatyrs (Ilya Muromets, Dobrynia Nikitich and Alyosha Popvich), Ilya is the most famous one, as well as the group’s leader. More stories are associated with his name and, unlike his mythical counterparts, the stories about him have a distinct chronological structure.
The chronicles suggest the famous Russian hero spent 33 years of his life lying on a stove. The original old Russian stove has a sleeping loft on the top which mainly was used as a resting place. The mysterious illness which kept paralysed Ilya’s body for long years was miraculously cured by three religious wanderers.
Declared a saint
After long years of service to Vladimir the Great, the ruler of Kiev Rus, Ilya Muromets decided to leave his military career and dedicated the rest of his life to God and became a monk. Some historical records suggest he spent last years of his life in Kiev-Pecherski Monastery, where he was buried and declared a saint after his death.
In 1988, the remains that allegedly belong to famous Russian hero were analysed by team of local experts. Their investigation showed that the remains belonged to a man of above average height for that time (177 cm), who suffered from an incurable spine defect and deformities at the extremities. Traces of battle wounds were also discovered, showing that Ilya was probably killed during the siege of Kiev in 1204. How he was cured and how he was able to participate in battles remains a mystery, yet it was obvious from the remains that the life of the factual saint bore many similarities to that of the mythical bogatyr.
3 – Oghuz Khan. Father of Turkic Peoples
There is no definitive source for a history covering this period therefore reports of Oghuz as ancestor of the Turks were handed down by word of mouth. The ‘Oghuz Qaghan Legend’ emerged in Turkestan shortly before the time of Rashid al-Din (1247-1318, historian and physician in Ilkhanate-ruled Iran); it is much more poetic than Rashid al-Din’s dry description, however only a fragment remains.
Oghuz Khan myth
Oghuz was born in Central Asia as the son of Qara (Black) Khan, leader of the Turks. He stopped drinking his mother’s milk after the first time and asked for meat. During the name giving ceremony where the elders are gathered to find the most suitable name for the newborn, he started speaking and said he was choosing his name as Oghuz. After that, he grew up miraculously and only in forty days he became a young adult. At the time of his birth, the lands of the Turks were preyed upon by a dragon named Kıyant. Oghuz armed himself and went to kill the dragon. He set a trap and killed the great dragon with his bronze lance and cut off his head with his iron sword.
He becomes a hero after killing the dragon. He forms a special warrior band from the forty sons of forty Turk beys (clan chiefs) thus gathering the clans together under his rule.
Rashid al-Din locates the origin of the Oghuz in west Turkestan. His description begins with the later Gasnavids (Persianate Muslim dynasty of Turkic mamluk origin) than reaches back of the myths surrounding the birth and early journeys made by Oghuz in the magic north. In the Legend Oghuz is a grandson of Japhet, one of the sons of Noah. Im the pre-Islamic times he is described as monotheist even in early childhood, and rejects the contemporary paganism. With this conflict his life as a warrior begins until finally he becomes conqueror of the world. According to the legend Oghuz wages war in several countries including India, East Turkestan, China, the Volga area and the ‘Land of Darkness’. Other areas probably corresponds to the recorded conquest of the Oghuz in the 11th century. Thus the Oghuz legend merges with great conquest of the Sedshuk period, including, among others, Georgia (1049), Azerbaijan (1054), Baghdad (1055), Jerusalem (1071) etc.
Like Adam Oghuz died at an age of more than a thousand years.
Oghuz Khan is sometimes considered the mythological founder of all Turkic peoples, and ancestor of the Oghuz subbranch. Oguz had 6 sons and these 6 sons had 4 sons . Totally, 24 grandson which we considered the father of 24 Oghuz tribe including Kayı (Ottomans). Oghuz-Turks conquered Palestine in 1070 AD, Iran was ruled by Seljuks, an Oghuz tribe, Iraq, and Anatolian Peninsula were conquered by Oghuz Turks speaking Oguz-Turkish language (Ottomans).
Magic arrows of Oghuz
The elderly wise advisor of Oghuz saw a dream one day where he saw one bow made of gold and three arrows. The bow was extending all the way from sunrise to sunset . In the morning, he told the dream to Oghuz Khagan, saying “Oghuz Khagan, may you have a long and happy life, may all the things the Sky God showed in the dream become true.” Upon hearing the dream, Oghuz Khagan calls his six sons and sends three of them them to the east and three of them to the west. His elder sons find a golden bow in the east. His younger sons find three silver arrows in the west. Oghuz Khan breaks the golden bow into three pieces and gives each to his three older sons Gün (Sun), Ay (Moon) and Yıldız (Star). He says: “My older sons, take this bow and shoot your arrows to the sky like this bow.” He gives three silver arrows to his three younger sons Gök (Sky), Dağ (Mountain) and Deniz (Sea) and says: “My younger sons, take these silver arrows. A bow shoots arrows and may you be like arrows.” Then, he passes his lands onto his sons, Bozoks (Gray Arrows – elder sons) and Üçoks (Three Arrows – younger sons) at a final banquet. Then he says:
“My sons, I walked a lot on the Earth;
I saw many battles;
I threw so many arrows and spears;
I rode many horses;
I made my enemies cry;
I made my friends smile;
I paid my debt to Tengri;
Now I am passing my land over to you.”
‘History of Ogus‘ Eddie Austerlitz
Featured image: Bogatyrs (1898) by Viktor Vasnetsov