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Myths & Legends
KING ARTHUR’S FRENCH ODYSSEY - pArt 3
The Forges of Avalon
During the combat Drogon was killed. He was killed despite the fact that he was wearing “un haubert merveilleux sorti de la forge d’Espandragon; jamais armes n’avaient pu le trouer.” [Translation: ‘a marvellous coat of mail made in the forge of Espandragon, which had never been penetrated by any weapon’]. The footnote in the French edition cites Paul Meyer as making a positive connection between the name of the forge and the name ‘Pendragon’ associated with King Arthur’s father. (vii)
Apart from King Arthur being taken to the Isle of Avalon to have his wounds seen to, the only other time that Geoffrey of Monmouth mentions ‘Avalon’ in his History, is when he too mentions a forge in connection with Arthur’s famous sword, ‘Caliburn’. “He girded on his peerless sword, called Caliburn, which was forged in the Isle of Avalon.” Did Drogon’s coat of mail have the same provenance as Arthur’s sword, Caliburn? Was there a superior forge in the Avallonnais area with a reputation for producing miraculously strong weapons and armour?
The answer is yes. In fact there were a great many forges in the Avallonnais. It was the Celts again who first discovered and exploited the iron ore deposits in the vast forests to the south west of the Vézelay hill – now called Les forets des Ferrières. The forest was delineated by several important towns now called, Bois-de-la-Madeleine, Chamoux, Maison-Dieux, Nuars, Fontenay-près-Vézelay and Foissy-lès-Vézelay. The Celts established the area as a major metal-working centre, with good road and water communications, which the Romans further developed and exploited, providing a network of substantial roads fit for haulage, and a navigable waterway up the River Cure from the River Yonne, as far as Gué Pavé which was thought to have been both a fording point, and a landing stage. Over an area in excess of 20 square kilometres, slag heaps were discovered, providing evidence of the smelting processes. Almost two thousand mines were discovered across an area of six hectares, and it was estimated by Abbot Lacroix in his “Les Origines protohistoriques et gallo-romaines de Vézelay” that between five hundred and eight hundred manual workers would have been employed in the iron and steel industry. (viii)
In particular one small village, Sermizelles, was known for its forges. The name comes from the ‘Sarmates’ or Sarmatians who were conscripted Roman soldiers from the near East. They were garrisoned there to protect the village, which was on the Via Agrippa. Sarmatians had a particular reverence for swords and weaponry. They also maintained religious customs associating swords with stone and water. Perhaps the ‘Forge of Espandragon’ was an echo of the King Arthur legend, which was in turn picked up and used again as part of the Matter of France – a unique cross-over. If Arthur Riothamus had been to Gaul before then he would have known about the reputation of the Avallonnais forges.
© Marilyn Floyde 2007
Next - The Battle of Valbeton
2016: King Arthur's French Odyssey - Avallon in Burgundy by Marilyn Floyde, has now been republished with fresh findings. Your can order it from www.islandofavallon.co.uk. Now also translated into French.