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The King asleep in mountain (D 1960.2 in Stith Thompson's motif index system)[1] is a prominent folklore motif found in many folktales and legends. Thompson also termed it as the Kyffhäuser type.[2] Some other designations are: king in the mountain, king under the mountain, or sleeping hero.

Examples include the legends of Frederick Barbarossa at Kyffhäuser, Kraljević Marko, Ogier the Dane, King Arthur, Charlemagne, Sebastian of Portugal, and King Matjaž.[3][4]

The motifs A 571 "Cultural hero asleep in mountain", and E 502, "The Sleeping Army" are similar and can occur in the same tale.[1] A related motif is the "Seven Sleepers" (D 1960.1,[2] also known as the "Rip Van Winkle" motif), whose type tale is the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus (AT tale type 766).


General featuresEdit

Frederick sends out the boy to see whether the ravens still fly.

King in the mountain stories involve legendary heroes, often accompanied by armed retainers, sleeping in remote dwellings, including caves on high mountaintops, remote islands, or supernatural worlds. The hero is frequently a historical figure of some military consequence in the history of the nation where the mountain is located.

The stories gathered by the Brothers Grimm concerning Frederick Barbarossa and Charlemagne are typical of the stories told, and have been influential on many variants and subsequent adaptations. The presence of the hero is unsuspected, until some herdsman wanders into the cave, typically looking for a lost animal, and sees the hero. The stories almost always mention the detail that the hero has grown a long beard, indicative of the long time he has slept beneath the mountain.

In the Brothers Grimm version, the hero speaks with the herdsman. Their conversation typically involves the hero asking, "Do the eagles (or ravens) still circle the mountaintop?" The herdsman, or a mysterious voice, replies, "Yes, they still circle the mountaintop." "Then begone! My time has not yet come."

The herdsman in this story was then supernaturally harmed by the experience: he ages rapidly, he emerges with his hair turned white, and often he dies after repeating the tale. The story goes on to say that the king sleeps in the mountain, awaiting a summons to arise with his knights and defend the nation in a time of deadly peril. The omen that presages his rising will be the extinction of the birds that trigger his awakening.[5][6]


A number of kings, rulers, fictional characters and religious figures have become attached to this story. They include the following:




Asia (w/o Middle East)Edit





Baltic statesEdit

  • A popular motif in Latvian legends involves a castle sinking into ground leaving a hill behind it. Years later somebody finds a way into the hill and somehow guesses the name of the castle causing it to rise again and its ruler and his people to return to the living.
  • Vytautas the Great (Lithuania). It is believed he will rise from his grave when the worst danger threatens Lithuania in order to defend the motherland at the last battle.

Britain and IrelandEdit

  • King Arthur (Great Britain and Brittany), perhaps the most famous of the "king under the mountain" examples. According to the legend, Arthur was taken away to Avalon to sleep until he was needed by the people of Britain. Several legends talk of a herdsman who stumbles across a cave on mainland Britain, wherein he finds Arthur sleeping, often with his knights and Excalibur by his side. In a variation on this, sometimes the exploring herdsman finds instead just Arthur's knights, or Sir Lancelot, Guinevere and the knights sleeping in wait on the return of the "Once and Future King".
  • Merlin of the Arthurian legend, who is imprisoned in an oak tree by Nimue.
  • Thomas the Rhymer is found under a hill with a retinue of knights in a tale from Anglo-Scottish border. Likewise, Harry Hotspur was said to have been hunting in the Cheviots when he and his hounds got holed-up in the Hen Hole (or "Hell-hole") awaiting the sound of a hunting horn to awaken them from their slumber. Another border variant concerns a party of huntsmen who chase a roebuck into the Cheviots when they heard the sweetest music playing from the Henhole, however when they entered they became lost and are trapped to this day.[10]
  • Bran the Blessed
  • Owain Lawgoch, Welsh soldier and nobleman (14th century)
  • Owain Glyndŵr, the last native born Welshman to hold the title "Prince of Wales"; he disappeared after a long but ultimately unsuccessful rebellion against the English. He was never captured or betrayed and refused all Royal pardons.
  • An unnamed giant is supposed to sleep in Plynlimon.
  • Fionn mac Cumhaill is said to sleep in a cave/mountain surrounded by the Fianna (he is differentiated from them because of his large stature). It is told that the day will come when the Dord Fiann is sounded three times and Fionn and the Fianna will rise up again, as strong and well as they ever were. In other accounts he will return to glory as a great hero of Ireland.[11]
  • Gearóid Iarla, Earl of Desmond, who dozes under Lough Gur with his silver-shod horse[3]
  • Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare, who is at temporary rest under the Curragh of Kildare[3]
  • King Harold. In Anglo-Saxon legends he survived the Battle of Hastings and will come one day to liberate the English from the Norman yoke[12]
  • Sir Francis Drake. It is stated that if England is in deadly peril and Drake's Drum is beaten, then Sir Francis Drake will arise to defend England from the sea. According to the legend, Drake's Drum can be heard at times when England is at war or significant national events take place.

German-speaking realmEdit

Greek, Hellenistic and ByzantineEdit

Ancient GreeceEdit
Byzantine EmpireEdit
  • Constantine I, said to have been turned into a stone statue, although not resting within a mountain.
  • Constantine XI Palaiologos, the last emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, said to have been turned into marble and thus was known as "Marmaromenos", "the Marble King". He was said to be hidden somewhere underground until his glorious return as the Immortal Emperor.
  • John III Doukas Vatatzes (also known as "Kaloyannis III'")



  • Boabdil, last Islamic prince of Granada. (Spain)[13]
  • King Pelayo, Visigothic king of Asturia, credited with beginning the Reconquista. (Spain)
  • King Rodrigo (Spain). Said to escape from the Moorish invasion and await for "the time of maximum need" to save his people.
Sebastian I. With his death, the house of Aviz lost the throne of Portugal. Sebastianists hold that he will return to rule Portugal's Fifth Empire.

Jewish AshkenaziEdit

  • Golem of Prague, whose remains are said to be in the attic of the Old New Synagogue in Prague, and that it can be brought back to defend the Jewish people. (Jewish mysticism)
  • King David is depicted in Haim Nachman Bialik's tale "King David in the Cave" as sleeping along with his warriors deep inside a cave, waiting for the blast of the ram's horn that will awaken them from their millennia of slumber and arouse them to redeem Israel.[14][15] This role was not attributed to King David in earlier Jewish tradition.



Statue of Ogier the Dane, Kronborg Castle

Slavic nationsEdit

East SlavicEdit
  • Alexander Suvorov (Russia), Russian generalissimo, sleeps in a deep cave where prayer is heard and icon lamp burns. The legend says Suvorov will come back to save his country from a mortal danger.[16]
  • Taras Shevchenko, Ukrainian poet and painter (Ukraine), believed to be a supernatural hero (charakternik), is said to sleep under his grave mound in Kanev or even in the Kiev Pechersk Lavra.
South SlavicEdit
West SlavicEdit
  • Ječmínek, legendary Moravian king will, according to a prophecy, return to save his country from enemies.[18]
  • Giewont, a mountain massif which is said to be a sleeping knight (Poland)
  • St. Wenceslas (Václav) of Bohemia (Czech Republic). He sleeps in the Blaník mountain (with a huge army of Czech knights) and will emerge to protect his country at its worst time, riding on his white horse and wielding the legendary hero Bruncvík's sword.[18]
  • Knights of Sitno in Slovak mythology are a legion of knights supposedly sleeping inside the mountain Sitno in Central Slovakia, waiting to be called upon in times when the Slovaks are in danger. It is said that every seven years, the oldest of them climbs up the hill and shouts the question: "Is it time yet?" in every world direction. If nobody answers, he climbs back inside.[19]


Middle EastEdit


North AmericaEdit

  • The Pueblo hero-god Montezuma — believed to have been a divine king in prehistoric times, and suspended in an Arizona mountain that bears his image.
  • The Sleeping Ute mountain in Colorado is said to have been a "Great Warrior God" who fell asleep while recovering from wounds received in a great battle with "the Evil Ones" (there are many other variants of this legend)
  • Tecumseh of the Shawnee
  • Emperor Norton is claimed by several defunct civil rights groups to have been destined to return to the USA when the unity of the Republic is at its nadir.[21]

Sleeping anti-hero and villainEdit

Sometimes this type of story or archetype is also attached to not-so-heroic figures, who are either simple anti-heroes or fully villains, whose return would mean the end of the world, or whose sleep represents something positive. This kind of archetype is known as the "Chained Satan" archetype.[22] Among examples of this are:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Ó hÓgáin (1991), p. 197.
  2. ^ a b Thompson, Stith (1977), The Folktale, University of California Press, pp. 264–265
  3. ^ a b c Ó hÓgáin (2000), p. 92.
  4. ^ Henken, Elissa R. (1996), National Redeemer: Owain Glyndŵr in Welsh Tradition, Cornell University Press, p. 83
  5. ^ Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsche Sagen (1816/1818), no. 23.
  6. ^ Kaiser Karl im Untersberg (German)
  7. ^ Isidore of Seville – De ortu et obitu patrum (5th century)
  8. ^ Jacobus de Voragine – The Golden Legend
  9. ^ Mher in the Carved Rock, J. A. Boyle, at the Library of the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
  10. ^ Henry Tegner; Ghosts of The North Country, 1991 Butler Publishing, ISBN 0-946928-40-1. p.13
  11. ^ Augusta, Lady Gregory – Gods and Fighting Men (1904)
  12. ^ The Science of Fairy Tales: An Enquiry Into Fairy Mythology, Edwin Sidney Hartland, 1925 edition, p. 143
  13. ^ Ellen M. Dolan, Sue D. Royals, Building Comprehension - Grade 5, p. 29. Milliken Publishing, 1999, ISBN 978-0787703943 [1]
  14. ^ "Canaanism:" Solutions and Problems Archived 2012-07-17 at, Boas Evron, Alabaster's Archive
  15. ^ "הַמֶּלֶךְ דָּוִד בַּמְּעָרָה / ח"נ ביאליק".
  16. ^ "Елена Лебедева. Русский архистратиг / Православие.Ru".
  17. ^ The Science of Fairy Tales: An Enquiry Into Fairy Mythology, Edwin Sidney Hartland, 1925 edition, p. 144
  18. ^ a b Alois Jirásek, Old Bohemian Legends (1894, Staré pověsti české)
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-06-06. Retrieved 2014-06-03.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  20. ^ "Sleeping Hero Legends". Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  21. ^ A gay court pays homage to its queer emperor / Group attends 31st-annual memorial service [2]
  22. ^ a b "School of Humanities and Creative Arts - University of Canterbury" (PDF). The University of Canterbury. Retrieved 8 May 2018.


External linksEdit