Around 470, Riothamus, the epithet for Ambrosius Aurelianus, crossed to the continent upon Emperor Anthemius’s request to aid in quelling the onslaught of barbarians in Gaul, but in the end, Anthemius was assassinated, Riothamus was defeated by Euric the Visigoth, and the Western Empire was doomed to fall.
Note: all material from King Arthur: The Pendragon Legacy is copyrighted March 23, 2004. Please give appropriate citations when quoting excerpts, which are in black print.
In The Historic King Arthur I begin Chapter 10 on Riothamus (Rigotamos) by writing
The history of Riothamus is as brief as a shooting star, but in spite of this instantaneous flash, he plays an indispensable role in the Arthurian saga. His niche in history on the continent, spanning only about ten years, lies between the earlier era of Ambrosius Aurelianus and later escapades attributed to Arthur. Of the antiquarians, only Jordanes, Gregory of Tours, and Sidonius record his actions, and each does it very briefly.
As with Vortimer, most modern scholars have nothing to contribute about Riothamus. John Morris makes passing references to him in his history, but he writes nothing of the name being an epithet. Instead, he identifies Riothamus as a commander named John Reith, who was also called “Regula” and “Riatham,” fighting for southwestern Brittany.
Fletcher is another of the few researchers who alludes to Riothamus in a roundabout way. Uriscampum, a chronicler in 1175, interpolated the manuscripts of Sigebert Gembloux, whose genuine work contained no Arthurian material. Uriscampum, who usually wrote summaries related essentially to Geoffrey of Monmouth, often interpolated, altered, and added to the Sigebert material, using a manuscript that had already been slightly interpolated (between 1138 and 1147) by a monk of Beauvais. The value of the Uriscampum manuscript is not that he distorted historical information. But by questioning Geoffrey’s authority rather than blindly accepting the History of the Kings of Britain as fact, this obscure monk, as early as 1175, makes the suggestion that Riothimir (one of the many variants of the name) should be identified with Arthur.
Geoffrey Ashe, however, supplies the most information in contemporary times, and he asserted that "Maybe Riothamus was Arthur." In 1991, when he was a dinner guest in my home, we informally chatted about his theory of Riothamus in The Discovery of King Arthur. I was in the process of writing The Historic King Arthur and mentioned that I was carrying his theory one step further: since I was of the opinion that the term "Arthur" was not a proper name but some kind of a derivative epithet, Riothamus was Arthur, but Arthur was a conflation for Ambrosius Aurelianus. We both agreed that the term Riothamus was indeed an epithet, and that he was a king of the Brittones who came into the state of the Bituriges by way of Ocean.
In structuring my novel King Arthur: The Pendragon Dynasty, the chronology covers a span from 410 to 502, 92 years, and Riothamus fits into the slot when Anthemius becomes Emperor of the West, covering the years from 467 to 472. Euric the Visigoth routed Riothamus’s army in 470, when Ambrosius would have been approximately 49 years old.
Toward the end of the novel, Ambrosius is at dinner with the Grand Druid Ambigat. The Grand Druid tells him that The emblem for your soul’s destiny, the dragon, embodies power and change. Like the snake which sheds it skin and is renewed, you, as dragon, have also changed. Love, hate, and denial are the skins you’ve discarded. Your soul is now ready to acknowledge the spiritual quest it accepted when you returned on the wheel of life and death.
Every soul enters with a purpose which is not always reawakened until one embraces life and its experiences. Most often we come to our chosen path during mid-life, and when the awareness occurs, our spiritual guides assist us while we achieve our destiny.
You are now ready to release your birth name and other titles. You, called Merlinus, Emrys, Uter, Ambrosius, will tonight sing your names to the winds. The moon is vanishing in the west and after you depart this mountain, your agnomen in this land will be Rigotamos.
Merlin’s Tomb, northeast of Paimpont, Brittany, is identified as a “ruined megalithic monument.” But here in Broceliande it is the revered burial site for Merlin. The fissure in the right of the stone is filled with messages and prayers written to the wizard, and on the flat smaller stone to the left are votive candles burning in his honor.
The Fountain of Youth is a short distance south of Merlin’s Tomb. The onsite plaque explains why this spring is so named. For the Celts of this region, this was the location where the tribe celebrated the life of newborn babes at Beltan (June 21). For those babes born after Beltain, the celebration of life was postponed until the following Beltain, a year later, thus making them “younger.”
Geoffrey of Monmouth is the first individual to incorporate the figure of Merlin into Arthuriana. Although it appears as if Monmouth borrowed the expression “Ambrosius Merlinus” from the Historia Brittonum, there is no strong evidence to substantiate the connection. Joseph Stevenson, in his rescript of the Historia, marginalizes the words “Merlin found” for Section 41 which is the segment leading into the “Tale of Emrys,” but there is no evidence that there was an independent entity named Merlin associated with the historic period between 420 C.E. and 500 C.E. There is a Merlin recorded in Entry 573 of the Annales Cambriae, but that would have been seventy-three years after the Ambrosian/Arthurian Age.
In writing the segment about “Arthur of Britain,” Monmouth does something quite puzzling. At the end of a section which has been titled “The House of Constantine,” Geoffrey writes
[Vortigern’s] magicians, who were terrified, said nothing. Merlin, who was also called Ambrosius, then went on: ‘My Lord King, summon your workmen. Order them to dig in the earth, and underneath, you will find a pool. That is what is preventing the tower from standing.’ This was done. A pool was duly found beneath the earth, and it was this which made the ground unsteady.
Ambrosius Merlinus went to up to the magicians a second time and said, ‘Tell me, now, you lying flatterers. What lies beneath the pool?’ They remained silent, unable to utter a single sound. ‘Order the pool to be drained,’ said Merlin, ‘and at the bottom you will observe two hollow stones. Inside the stones you will see two Dragons which are sleeping.’
Monmouth then interrupts the continuity of his narrative to insert what has come to known as “The Prophecies of Merlin.” Thereafter, Merlin becomes a separate character! And strangely, Merlin never associates with Arthur. He is a counselor for Utherpendragon (Arthur’s father) and he becomes advisor, paradoxically, for Ambrosius.
This aberration of logic led me to bestow Merlin’s qualities and characteristics upon Ambrosius Aurelianus, making him a very powerful Druidic King, which is why he was revered and feared.
Barenton Fountain, southwest of Merlin’s Tomb, is sometimes confused withe the Fountain of Youth. Is is here where Viviane extracted Merlin’s secrets and power. Legends have sprung up about violent storms, fiery dragons, or heinous screams which erupted if water from the fountain poured on the flat stone known as the Perron de Merlin, translated as Merlin’s Step or Merlin’s.
Photo by Dominique LeDoare/Daniel Soret
Trecesson Castle is southwest of Paimpont and south of Barenton Fountain. In his zeal to bed Guinevere, Lancelot entered her chamber through the lower window, which was barred, In his attempt, he cut his finger on the bedsheets exposing the lovers’ tryst.