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The Real King Arthur

10/06/2013 12:41 BST | Updated 07/08/2013 10:12 BST

By Paul Bannister author ofArthur Britannicus

The real King Arthur was a Celt who stole a Roman fleet and declared himself emperor of Britain, says an investigative journalist who may have located the legendary king's grave.

The story of the first ruler of a unified Britain uncannily parallels the tale of Arthur. There are close links between myth and fact in the Celt's name, actions and Christianity. Significantly, his headstone was even moved to a royal graveyard.

The story began in 286 AD when Carausius Mauseus, an officer in the Roman navy, was ordered to suppress pirates in the English Channel.

Emperor Diocletian, however, learned that Carausius was doing more than stopping piracy: he was pocketing the pirates' loot. Faced with court martial, Carausius defied Rome, declared himself emperor of Britain and northern Gaul and moved his fleet from Boulogne to Dover. His land forces included three legions in Britain, one in Gaul and some foreign mercenaries.

The Romans retook Boulogne but the rebels defeated their new fleet, and prevented a Roman invasion of Britain.

Carausius next united the British tribes to fight off incoming waves of Saxons, bringing years of peace to the island. He used clever propaganda on his coinage to make his rule seem legitimate, declaring himself 'The Awaited One' and 'Restorer of Britain,' and put his image alongside his 'brother emperors' Diocletian and Maximian.

He was eventually betrayed and the Romans successfully re-invaded Britain. One of their first acts was to destroy almost all of Carausius' memorials, but his coinage survived, and the Romans' own descriptions tell us that Carausius was a thick-necked, bear-like man. The British for 'bear-king' is 'Arto-rig' and there are language links, say experts, between 'Caros' and Artorius.'

Arthur is reported in a very early Welsh "Stanza of the Graves' as being buried in north Wales. And a fourth-century grave was found just where a king would be interred, at the head of a pass in Snowdonia.

That grave marker carries Carausius' name, and is now in the same church where Llywelyn the Great's father is reputedly buried.

The memorial stone says in Latin: 'Carausius lies here in this heap of stones' and it carries the looped cross symbol, the chi-ro, of the earliest Christians.

Fr Clive Hillman of St Tudclud's Church, Penmachno, where the stone is displayed, said "It is one of only 12 headstones found in Britain that carry the chi-ro symbol. This was a very significant Christian centre and the stone commemorates an important person."

It could also, commemorate the real Once and Future King, the lost emperor who first brought peace to Britain.

Paul Bannister is author ofArthur Britannicus published by Endeavour Press.