Lucius Tiberius, Lucius the Roman
Luces, Lucies, Lucidar, Lucyus
Geoffrey is rather vague as to his actual status and calls him procurator (governor); he implies he was inferior to the Emperor Leo of Constantinople, a procurator or deputy. Geoffrey portrays him as a tyrant who seeks to conquer and subjugate all of Europe, including Britain, under Roman rule. Wace and Malory both style him Emperor of Rome. Wace tells us that he was born in Spain and was between 30 and 40 years old at the time he went to war with Arthur.
In the early chronicles, Arthur’s war with Lucius immediately precedes Mordred’s uprising, but beginning in the Vulgate Merlin, the war is placed at the beginning of Arthur’s reign.
Emperor Lucius, which was called at that time, Dictator of Procuror of the Public Weal of Rome,
sent twelve ancient, venerable ambassadors to Arthur’s court to command from him the traditional obeisance and truage paid by the kings of Britain to Rome, and threatening dire war against Arthur if he refused to pay. Arthur refused to pay, citing the examples of
Belinus and Brenius, kings of Britain, [who] have had the empire in their hands many days, and also Constantine the son of Heleine.
This gave the king and his knights an excuse to play with weapons again after a long calm period. Arthur then crossed the Channel to meet Lucius on the Continent, perhaps reasoning that thus he could keep the destruction of warfare out of Britain. Lucius summoned Rome’s allies to his aid from Europe, Africa, Arabia and Asia, gathered his army and his personal bodyguard of “fifty giants which had been engendered of fields”, and set out to meet Arthur in Gaul (France).
Arthur sent Gawaine, Bors, Lionel, and Bedivere in embassy to command Lucius to return to Rome. Haughty words passed on both sides, Lucius showing himself as proud as Arthur, and finally Gawaine fell into a rage and slew Lucius’ cousin Sir Gainus in the Emperor’s presence.
The ensuing skirmish turned into a battle, with much bloodshed and taking of Roman prisoners. Lucius arranged an ambush to rescue the Roman prisoners as they were being sent to Paris. The attempt was foiled by Lancelot and Cador. A senator who escaped from the fray reached Lucius with this counsel:
Sir emperor, I advise thee for to withdraw thee; what dost thou here? ... for this day one of Arthur's knights was worth in the battle an hundred of ours. Fie on thee, said Lucius, thou speakest cowardly; for thy words grieve me more than all the loss that I had this day.
After a number of skirmishes in Gaul and other parts of Europe, Arthur and Lucius met att the valley of Soissons. Lucius met death from Arthur’s own sword (he split Lucius’ head in two with his sword Excalibur), following which Arthur marched on Rome, took it, and was crowned Emperor of Rome by the Pope himself. Most sources say that Arthur sent Lucius’ body back to the Roman senate as the “tribute” he had been ordered to pay. Sometimes Gawain is given as the slayer; one source says it is Lancelot.
It seems that Arthur was not able to maintain himself as both King of Britain and Emperor of Rome, for the Romans attacked him again when he was besieging Lancelot in France toward the end of his reign. We may perhaps surmise that there was originally but one campaign against Rome (in some medieval versions, Mordred makes his bid for the throne while Arthur is absent on the Roman campaign rather than while Arthur is in France for the specific purpose of fighting Lancelot).
It also makes sense, however, to accept a successful British war against Rome, as described by Malory, during the early or middle years of Arthur’s reign, followed by a revolt of Rome against Arthur in the last, troubled years of his reign, as described in Vulgate VI.
It’s uncertain whether it was Lucius or his predecessor who married Avenable.
The Norse Saga of Tristram calls him Írón. R.S. Loomis suggests a derivation from the Welsh Llenlleawc Hibernus (Llenlleawc the Irishman), corrupted to Lucius Hiberius. Other scholars have suggested that Geoffrey of Monmouth took the character from a “Lucerius,” named in the chronicle of Sigebert of Gembloux as a western Roman emperor between 469 and 470.
Historia Regum Britanniae | Geoffrey of Monmouth, c. 1138
Liber de Compositione Castri Ambaziae | c. 1140
Roman de Brut | Wace, c. 1155
Brut | Layamon, late 12th century to mid-13th century
Vulgate Merlin | 1220-1235
The Chronicle of Pierre de Langtoft | Pierre de Langtoft, c. 1300-1307
The Story of England | Robert Mannyng of Brunne, 1338
Alliterative Morte Arthure | c. 1400
Le Morte Darthur | Sir Thomas Malory, 1469-1470