The case has often been made that Camelot is a late French form of the Romano-British Camulodunum place-name. However, archaeological evidence from both the fort on Old Lindley Moor near Slack and from the fort on Almondbury five miles from Slack (either of which may have been the ancient Camulodunum) has not revealed Dark Age occupation of these sites. The other primary candidate for Camelot is the Cadbury hill-fort by the Camel villages in Somerset. While this fort does show Dark Age occupation, its location does not match that provided for Camelot in the romances.
The first clue as to the actual whereabouts of Camelot is found in Chretien de Troyes’ Knight of the Cart, which is the earliest romance to mention this site. According to Chretien, Camelot is ‘in the region near Caerleon’. For some reason, most authorities have seen fit to ignore this statement, insisting that Camelot was placed near Caerleon simply because of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s glorified description of the latter site as a major Arthurian centre. If we do take
Chretien’s statement seriously, we can for the first time arrive at a satisfactory identification of this most magical of royal cities.
The second clue to the location of Camelot is from the later romance The Quest for the Holy
Grail, wherein Arthur escorts the Grail questersfrom Camelot to a point just shy of Castle Vagan.
A third clue, from the prose Tristan, places Camelot either on or very near the sea. The last clue is from the Morte Artu; in this source, the castle of Camelot is on a river. It goes without saying that we need to look for a CASTLE or, at the very least, the site of an earlier hill-fort of some significance.
Castle Vagan is St. Fagan’s Castle (W. Ffagan) four or five miles west of Cardiff. This site lies in the Ely Valley, the supposed location of the Campus Elleti of the boy Ambrosius (not the historical Ambrosius in this context, who was made into Arthur’s uncle, but the ‘Divine or Immortal’ Lleu/Mabon; see Chapter 1 above).
According to the HB, Campus Elleti, the ‘Field or Plain of Elleti’, was said to be in Glywysing, the later Morgannwg/Glamorgan, which is indeed where the Ely Valley lies. Only a dozen miles separate Campus Elleti from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Caerleon.
In my opinion, Campus Elleti, with Latin Campus rendered as French Champ (the p of which is silent), became Camelot:
Cham(p) ellet(i) > Camelot
So can we now be relatively certain that Camelot was a site in the Ely Valley? Yes – although there is disagreement about the relative linguistics of Ely/Elei and Elleti.
According to Welsh place-name expert Professor
Wyn Owen, the derivation of the Ely river-name is uncertain:
“R.J. Thomas (Enwau Afonydd a Nentydd Cymru, [Cardiff 1938] 141) derives 'Elei, Istrat Elei' c.1150 tentatively from *Eleg' + -i but offers no meaning, while Ifor Williams (Enawau Lleoedd [Liverpool 1945] 40) suggests that the root is leg meaning dripping, slow-moving from which we get llaith 'damp', cognate with Eng. to leak, and lake”.
The initial E- of Elei could be explained by an el prefix, ‘much’, would would give us a meaning the ‘very slow-moving’ river. Elleti would have to be, therefore, a form of Elei which displays the terminal of llaith. Yet if so, it is difficult to account for why there is only one /l/ in Elei.
Graham Isaac disagrees that the river-name Ely can be related to Elleti:
“On Elei, it would be from the same root as Aled,
Alun, Eleri, all rivers, < Celt. *al- < PIE *h2el-, 'to shine'. They are all, in different ways, 'shining rivers'. Elleti is not connected with these. The form Elleti is corroborated by the instance of 'palude [Latin for “marsh” or “swamp”] Elleti' in Book of Llan Dav (148). But since both that and HB’s campum Elleti are in Latin contexts, we cannot see whether the name is OW Elleti (= Elledi) or OW Ellet (= Elled) with a Latin genitive ending. Both are possible. My guess would be that OW Elleti is right. As the W suffix -i would motivate affection, so allowing the base to be posited as all-, the same as in W ar -all 'other', all-tud 'exile', Gaulish allo-, etc. Elleti would be 'other-place, place of the other side (of something)'.
There are certainly no grounds for thinking of a connection between Elleti and Elei.”
This may be true, but it seems to me that the /ll/ Professor Owen was seeking is present in Elleti, and the palude or ‘swamp, marsh’ name applied to the place does favor the “very slow-moving’ etymology. Elei would merely represent a truncated form of the name.
Mabon as one of the ‘vultures of Elei’ is called the servant of Uther Pendragon because Uther is the Ambrosius and Ambrosius was situated at Campus Elleti.
It may also be that Campus Elleti, from a presumed Welsh Maes Elei or similar, was a relocation for the Moselle (Latin Mosella/Mosellae) River in Gaul, upon which stood the Roman city of Augusta Treverorum of the Gaulish prefect A.A. and his son, St. Ambrose.
If so, this would once again confirm my identification of A.A. as a personage belonging to the 4th century.
There are two notable monuments in the lower
Ely Valley. One is a Roman villa. The other is a fairly major hillfort now called Caerau. From
“Surrounded by housing and the A4232, Caerau hillfort is one of the largest and best preserved in
South Wales. It occupies the western tip of an extensive ridge-top plateau in the western suburbs of Caerau and Ely, Cardiff, Wales. The old parish church, St Mary’s, and a small ringwork, almost certainly a medieval castle site probably contemporary with the church, stand within the hillfort on the north-eastern side. Caerau Hillfort is the third largest Iron Age hillfort in Glamorgan enclosing 5.1 hectares (about the size of four football pitches). Recent excavations by Channel
Four’s Time Team in April 2012 showed that occupation started about 600BC and lasted, probably not continuously, into the 3rd century
This is certainly the only candidate for Camelot.
More information on the fort can be found at:
Campus Elleti almost certainly refers to the flat lowland plain leading to the banks of the river to the north of the fort.