Who were the 12 knights of King Arthur’s Round Table?

Depending on whose story you read, there may have been 12 or 24 or 150 or thousands. There are many tales of King Arthur’s Round Table from different years, in both French and English.

And of the traditional 12 knights, there are different lists of names. It’s anyone’s guess about the original group.

First, a little history. The Round Table is first mentioned in the work of the cleric named Wace, a renowned Norman poet from around 1155 A.D. In the piece titled Le Roman de Brut, he explained that the shape of the table kept Arthur’s knights from fighting over who had the seat of honor. The Round Table made it so that everyone and no one had the best seat or was considered more worthy than the rest.

Over the years, the Round Table developed into an almost mythical object. In the English translation of Wace’s work, the table was so large it could seat up to 1,600 men and held magical powers beyond simply resolving conflict among the knights. As large as it was, it could still be folded up and carried on horseback.

If you could happen to find one of these on the Internet, let us know because we’d like one, too.

The more popular version of the story has the table holding enough spaces for 12 of the bravest, most honorable knights. The magic number 12 is, of course, borrowed from the image of Christ’s apostles.

Taking this imagery even further, in one version of the tale, an empty seat always remains open, representing Judas’ absence, as is portrayed in the Last Supper, or Jesus (or the coming Messiah) on Passover, depending on whom you ask.

This empty seat was called the Siege Perilous and was reserved for the knight who would be so holy that he’d find the Holy Grail. Later, Sir Galahad’s name appears in the empty place as being worthy of sitting there.

While you may well get a different set of 12, depending on what source you consult, here are the more common of those Arthurian knights who were seated in the round:

Gawain, Ban, Bedivere, Ector, Gareth, Kay, Sir Lancelot, Launfal, Palomides, Sagramore, Ywain, Galahad, Bors, and Perceval.

The latter three are the ones who, according to legend, eventually uncovered the Holy Grail.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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