In the legend of King Arthur, what is the name of his sword?

And the answer: Excalibur.

Photo credit: public domain. 

Famously drawn out of stone by Arthur as a young boy, Excalibur first appeared as Caliburnus in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain and developed by later writers until Sir Thomas Malory's version of King Arthur's legend, which has become the definitive story of the sword.    

The story describes a gleaming sword thrust into a stone— a sword that only the rightful king of Britain could pull out. After the fiercest warlords and generals tried to no avail, it was the humble, young Arthur that retrieved the sword from the rock. For centuries, this story has been passed down from one generation to another through various works by poets and authors. King Arthur, as we know him, is a creation of the late Middle Ages, however, it is a story with roots in Gaelic poetry. The poem "The Gododdin" in fact contains the first written reference to Arthur— though, doesn't describe the hero himself. In many other works from this period, Arthur's name appears in reference to his great skill as a warrior, yet little evidence can be found to support his rule or true existence quite at all.

Using Celtic and Latin source, Geoffrey of Monmouth began constructing the story of Arthur in 1130 CE. Although the work is titled History of Kings of Britain, "history" is perhaps a generous phrase considering that Geoffrey wrote some 600 years after the Saxon invasions. Instead, the cleric compiled fragments of myth and poetry to compensate for the almost complete lack of official records.

The chronicle got the attention that Geoffrey had hoped for, and was soon translated into French by French poet Wace around 1135 CE. Yet, Wace added another central piece of the Arthurian lore: the Round Table. He wrote that Arthur had the table constructed so that all the guests of his court could be equally placed. After reading this translation, another French poet did the same, adding myths and other lore as the story progressed through time.

Today, the legend of Arthur remains central to our construction of British myth and lore. Learn more about the story in its various iterations here.

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