The world at large first became aware of Dr. Linda Malcor’s Arthurian theory through a product of the entertainment industry, the movie KING ARTHUR of 2004 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Arthur_). To those unfamiliar with her work, the film seemed a very odd departure from what has come to be expected from Hollywood’s misuse and abuse of the Arthurian Tradition.
Malcor’s most important and comprehensive presentation of her theory is found in her book FROM SCYTHIA TO CAMELOT. For those who don’t have access to this title, Malcor has made available two articles in the online THE HEROIC AGE journal:
Dr. Malcor approaches the Arthurian Legend from the perspective of a trained folklorist. Unfortunately, while her theory is superficially intriguing and has caught the imaginations of many, her methodology as it applies to other fields of study (linguistics, history, archaeology, etc.) is seriously flawed and thus her conclusions are often wild and unsustainable.
The nucleus of her theory revolves around the confirmed existence of a 2nd or 3rd century Roman army officer named Lucius Artorius Castus who for a spell was a camp prefect at York in Britain. She does not accept the existence of the 5th-6th century Arthur of Nennius or the Welsh Annals, except as this latter Arthur is a folkloristic reflection of the earlier Roman one.
This position immediately creates insurmountable problems. Firstly, if the 5th-6th century Arthur is merely “LAC” (as L. Artorius Castus is often referred to) moved forward centuries in time and made into a savior figure during the Saxon invasions, we cannot account for the subsequent Arthurs of the following centuries. It seems unlikely, if not impossible, for families to have borrowed a name that had not been made famous by a real hero of the time, but was instead a name borrowed to create propagandist fiction. On the other hand, it is not unrealistic to assume that the name Arthur had been passed down in the North, quite possibly from LAC, and that it was a 5th-6th century warlord who made it famous enough to be assumed by other royal sons in the succeeding generation. It does not follow, therefore, that is was LAC who made the name famous to begin with.
Another major problem with Malcor’s theory is its insistence that the heavily armored knights of King Arthur owe their origin to Sarmatian cataphracts stationed at Ribchester at LAC’s time. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that LAC had anything to do with these mounted warriors of the Eurasian steppe. The medieval depiction of knights in shining armor is not limited to the later Arthurian romances. Other Dark Age warriors such as Charlemagne and his paladins were also similarly equipped, even though historically their armor and weaponry would have been of a much simpler, more primitive kind. It is normal in such literature for anachronisms to abound, as it is natural to portray heroes of yore in the trappings of the day.
Malcor compounds her difficulties by making errors in the field of toponomastics and epigraphy. In an attempt to prove that Arthur’s conquest of Europe (as first recorded in the fiction of Geoffrey of Monmouth) is based on LAC’s military activity, she draws upon a reading on a LAC stone that she claims refers to him leading Roman troops to quell a rebellion in Armorica. All the top epigraphers and historians disagree with her. I myself contacted several of these and other authors critical of Malcor’s theory (see, for example, http://christophergwinn.com/celticstudies/lac/lac.html) have since done the same. The verdict? The letters in question on the inscription actually designate Armenia, not Armorica.
She makes additional blunders when she tries to identify the Arthurian battles as these are listed in Nennius and ascribes them to LAC. [As camp prefect, LAC would not have been leading battles away from York.] Her Ribchester, Roman Bremetennacum, is not Breguoin; this is a linguistically impossible equation. And Mount Badon cannot, by any stretch of philology or phonology, be Dumbarton Rock. She also places the Dubglas or Douglas River battle in Lancashire, where there is no Linnuis. The Tribruit she puts arbitrarily on the Ribble estuary (presumably because this is close to Ribchester). I have provided good candidates for all of these battle sites in my book THE ARTHUR OF HISTORY.
Perhaps nowhere does she become more undisciplined than when she proposes supposed parallels between motifs found in the Arthurian Legend and those found in Alano-Sarmatian stories, especially in the Nart Saga. She does everything from misinterpreting the name of Lancelot of the Lake to suggesting that the thoroughly Celtic Bedwyr owes his origin to the Nart hero Batraz. This is “sound-alike” etymology at its worst – a classic amateur’s pitfall. To try and bolster this less than weak case from the standpoint of comparative linguistics, she claims to have proven that certain aspects of Arthurian romance (all late medieval creations) are to be derived from material found in the Nart stories. I’ve dealt in some detail with the Sword Deposition tale in my book THE MYSTERIES OF AVALON, and there dispense with her explanation. In the same work I show that the Sword in the Stone episode owes nothing to ancient Alanic ritual practice.
The same kind of wishful thinking underlies other aspects of her Sarmatian theory. She makes much of the draco standard of Uther Pendragon, pointing to its origin among the Sarmatian cavalry. This despite the fact that such standards were in use by the Roman army in general from a fairly early period (see http://www.fectio.org.uk/articles/draco.htm). In ascribing so much significance to the draco standard of the Sarmatians, she neglects to properly analyze the dragon story of Dinas Emrys.
Even the Holy Grail is not spared a Sarmatian makeover. Once again she engages in false etymology in order to convince us that key figures in the Grail story – like the Grail King Alain (not ‘Alan’, as in the tribe of that name, but from the thoroughly Celtic deity names Alaunos and Alauna) – were imported from Sarmatian tradition. She also commits an unpardonable sin, in my estimation: she relies on the late romance Grail stories to further her agenda. In doing so she fails to grasp the obvious: the earliest stratum of the Welsh Arthurian tradition has its own prototypical Grail tradition which all point to magical Otherworld cauldrons with Irish associations. There is simply no connection at all between these Celtic mythological elements and Malcor’s Sarmatians.
Now, had Dr. Malcor as a professional folklorist promoted an Arthurian theory that sought to utilize Jung’s idea of archetypes, I might have been able to get on board with her on this. I mean, the human mind tends to work much the same from culture to culture. Thus we always find what appear to be amazing parallels from ethnic group to ethnic group. But these parallels are not due to diffusion, in the sense that this process is understood by folklorists. They are present in diverse populations and over great periods of time precisely because people tend to symbolically render the world in accordance with how their brains are wired, which in large part determines how they will experience and react to their environments.
Are there, then, parallels between the Celtic and Alano-Sarmatian traditions? Well, yes. But did the latter inform or influence the former?
No. There is not a shred of evidence that they did.