The term “Giant’s Dance” is often associated with the legendary monument Stonehenge, a prehistoric stone circle located on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England. The name Giant’s Dance is a poetic and historical reference that can be traced back to medieval literature.
In medieval Welsh literature, particularly in the collection of Welsh tales known as the Mabinogion, there is a tale called Culhwch and Olwen. This tale mentiones a series of tasks that the hero Culhwch must complete in order to win the hand of the beautiful Olwen. One of these tasks is to obtain the “Anvil of the Giant’s Fortress” and the “Giant’s Dance,” which is believed to refer to the stones of Stonehenge.
The association of Stonehenge with giants and their dance is part of the rich folklore and mythology surrounding the monument. Various legends and stories have been woven around Stonehenge throughout history, often attributing its creation to supernatural or mythical beings.
Geoffrey of Monmouth explains the Giant’s Diance was a circle of giant stones which had been carried out of Africa by a race of giants. The circle was placed on Mount Killaraus in Ireland. When Ambrosius Aurelius desired to build a monument in Amesbury for fallen British warriors, Merlin suggested bringing the Giants’ Dance from Ireland. Ambrosius laughed at the idea of transporting such heavy stones, but Merlin was able to accomplish the task through magic and ingenious engineering.
Merlin’s party – led by Uther – encountered resistance from the Irish under King Gilloman, but they were victorious. Merlin brought the stones to the plain of Ealing near Amesbury and set them up in a ring. Ambrosius Aurelius, Uther Pendragon, and later kings were buried at the Giant’s Dance.
The fourteenth-century Short Metrical Chronicle has Merlin building the Dance for King Dunval (Dunwallo Molmutius), not Ambrosius.
Culhwch and Olwen | Late 11th century
Historia Regum Britanniae | Geoffrey of Monmouth, c. 1138
Roman de Brut | Wace, c. 1155
Short Metrical Chronicle | 1307