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The Gallic Chronicle Restored: A Chronology for the Anglo-Saxon Invasions and the End of Roman Britain

  • Michael E. Jones (a1) and John Casey (a2)

The last decade has seen renewed interest in late Roman Britain and its transition to Saxon England. There have been a number of attempts to clarify the chronology of events between the collapse of the central Roman administration and the establishment of a substantial and permanent Saxon presence. These attempts at chronological certainty have, of necessity, focused upon the entries in the so-called Gallic Chronicles since these sources are the nearest in date of composition to the events which they record. Two events in the Chronicles relate to Britain. One records a Saxon invasion in the first decade of the fifth century whilst the second alludes to the subjection of Britain, or some substantial part of it, to the Saxons some thirty years later.

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1 Miller, M., Britannia ix (1978), 315–18 ; Thompson, E.A., Britannia viii (1977), 303–18 ; Bartholomew, P., Britannia xiii (1982), 261–71 ; Muhlberger, S., Britannia xiv (1983), 2333. Ian Wood's interesting discussion was published after a draft of this article was completed. See ‘The End of Roman Britain: Continental Evidence and Parallels’ in Lapidge, M. and Dumville, D. (eds.), Gildas: New Approaches. (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1984), 125.

2 Mommsen, T. (ed.), Chronica Minora, vol. 1, Mon. Germ. Hist., Auct. Antiq. vol. 9 (Berlin, 1892), 617–66.

3 See note I above.

4 Muhlberger, op. cit. (note 1), 25–27. Muhlberger, however, failed to see the general accuracy of the regnal year lists and misdated Gratian's first regnal year as 379. Illness prevented Dr Miller from viewing the British Library MS. Had she done so her arguments would doubtless have been modified.

5 Miller, op. cit. (note 1), 316.

6 That this entry must originally have been entered opposite year XII is also confirmed by the description of the battle of the Frigidus which took place in September 394. This date would be the correct AD equivalent to regnal year XII. The fact that the material entered under regnal year XI should correctly correspond to the missing regnal year XII, together with the absence of any actual legitimate entry for year XI, suggests that year XI was originally a blank. At some stage of transcription, the entry for year XII must have been conflated with year XI. As a consequence year XII became itself a blank, terminal year in the list for Theodosius and dropped out. The blank years in the Gallic Chronicle of 511 and their associated problems provide a close analogue for this suggestion. See below.

7 See Appendix II.

8 The double dated entries may be seen in lines 27–28, 49–50, 76–81, 87–88, 105–107 and 125–126 of Mommsen's text.

9 These preface each emperor's entries. One other interpolated regnal summary is located under year III of Theodosius I.

10 The papal interpolations must be drawn from a work which deliberately contrasted the orderly succession of the See of Rome with the chaotic situation of the rival patriarchs. Leo I's attempt to assert the supremacy of Rome would be a likely source for such a document, but there is no way of knowing when the material was interpolated into the text of the G.C. 452.

11 See Appendix II.

12 For the treatment of the death of Arcadius by the primary sources see Clinton, Fasti Romani, 570 ff.

13 The murder of Count John s.a. Arcadius and Honorius XV looks suspicious and is not otherwise attested. See Martindale, J., The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, vol. 2 (Cambridge, 1980), 594. The entries under year XVI are fully discussed below.

14 Recall that the G.C. 452 discounted Oct.-Dec. 423. Accordingly, regnal year XXI = 444 rather than 443.

15 Mommsen, Chronica. Minora., vol. 1, 661.

16 See Appendix I.

17 See below.

18 We are grateful to Dr F.R. Stephenson of Durham University for information concerning the astronomical entries.

19 Prosper also misdated the eclipse to the same year as the G.C. 452. See Justin Schove, D., Chronology of Eclipses and Comets AD 1–1000 (Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1984), 74.

20 Ho, P.Y., ‘Ancient and Medieval Observations of Comets and Novae in Chinese Sources,’ Vistas in Astronomy v (1962), 127–28.

21 John Morris suggested 411, The Age of Arthur (London, 1973), 44. The 408 and 409 alternatives are discussed fully below.

22 Thompson, op. cit. (note 1), 307–9.

23 Todd, Malcolm, Roman Britain, (London, 1981), 240 ; Scullard, H.H., Roman Britain: Outpost of Empire (London, 1979), 175 ; Johnson, Stephen, Later Roman Britain (London and Henley, 1980), 105 ; Salway, Peter, Roman Britain (Oxford, 1981), 433.

24 Thompson, op. cit. (note 1), 306.

25 Thompson, E.A., Classical Quarterly xxxii (1982), 453–54.

26 Stevens, , Athenaeum xxxv (1957), 335 n. 120. The 410 date has had defenders. See Frere, S.S., Britannia, (London, 1974), 409–10.

27 Bury, J.B., History of the Later Roman Empire (London and New York, 1889), 143. The commonly available Dover edition is a reprint of the second edition (1923), not a reprint of the first edition (1889) as stated by the Dover editor.

28 Gibbon, Edward, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol. 3 (London, 1897), 272 ff. , 352 ff. Bury corrected the accession of Marcus to 406.

29 ibid., 488.

30 Bury, , History of the Later Roman Empire, 2nd ed. (London, 1923), 200.

31 Freeman, E.A., Western Europe in the Fifth Century (London, 1904), 145–50. His earlier study is still valuable. ‘The Tyrants of Britain, Gaul and Spain,’ English Historical Review 1 (1886), 53–85.

33 Bury, , Later Roman Empire (1923), vol. 1, 200. Roncalli (2 vols., Padua, 1787), 748: XV Hon. ‘Hac tempestate praevaletudine [?] Romanorum attenuatae Britanniae. Saxonum incursione devastatam Galliarum partem Wanali atque Alani vastavere….’ Mommsen, 652–654: XVI Hon. ‘Hoc tempestate praevale[nte hostium multijtudine Romanorum vires attenuatae. Britanniae Saxonum incursione devastate. Galliarum partem Vandali atque Alani vastavere….’

34 Freeman, op. cit. (note 31), 149.

35 Western Europe in the Fifth Century was published posthumously from Freeman's notes. The work passed through several editors' hands before completion. This doubtless explains why the 408 error was not corrected before publication.

36 The Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians (London, 1928), vi. These lectures were first presented in 1903, but as the editor noted in his preface, Bury polished and modified them over the years.

37 ibid.., 129–30.

38 One other strand of argument, independent of Bury, has been used to bolster the 408 date. This suggests that the multiple entries given with Hon. XVI (410) are actually juxtaposed or sequential entries of different years. This idea is rejected below. Contra Wood, op. cit. (note 1), 19; Muhlberger, op. cit. (note 1), 31; Bartholomew, op. cit. (note 1), 269.

39 This is a synthesis of Thompson's arguments presented originally in slightly different variations in three separate articles: ‘Britain, A.D. 406–410,’ op. cit. (note 1). ‘Zosimus 6.10.2 and the Letters of Honorius,’ op. cit. (note 25); ‘Fifth Century Facts?’ Britannia xiv (1983), 272–74. See especially ‘Britain, A.D. 406–410,’ 408 ff.

40 Thompson, E.A., Britannia xiv (1983), 273 n. 164. The crucial fact is the invasion of Spain in 409 given in Hydatius 42.

41 See the introductions in Zosimus, , Historia Nova, trans. Buchanan, James J. and Davis, Harold T. (San Antonio, 1967) ; Zosimus, , New History, trans. Ridley, Ronald T. (Sydney, 1982) ; Cameron, A., Philologus cxiii (1969), 106–10.

42 Thompson, op. cit. (note 1), 307 ff.; idem, op. cit. (note 25), 446 ff.

43 Zosimus, , Historia Nova, ed. Mendelssohn, Ludwig (Leipzig, 1887), 67, 228 ; Zosimus, , Historia Nova (trans. Buchanan, and Davis, ), pp. vii-ix.

44 Zosimus 5.42.

45 Zosimus (trans. Buchanan and Davis), 6.1.

46 Thompson, op. cit. (note 1), 306, 308; idem, op. cit. (note 25), 449–50.

47 Thompson, op. cit. (note 25), 450.

48 Freeman, op. cit. (note 31), 96. Thompson acknowledges this characteristic of Zosimus' work, op. cit. (note 25), 47.

49 Orosius, 7.39–40; Sozomen 9.9–11.

50 Freeman, op. cit. (note 31), 116, 121.

51 Thompson, op. cit. (note 25), 305 n. 4, 309.

52 Jones, A.H.M., Later Roman Empire (Oxford, 1964), 170. See Matthews, J.F., JRS lx (1970), 7997.

53 Zosimus (trans. Buchanan and Davis), 6.2; Olympiodorus (trans. Gordon), ff. 12.

54 Thompson, op. cit. (note 25), 449. Freeman noticed this error, op. cit. (note 31), ‘Tyrants,’ 55 n.3.

55 There were two embassies from Constantine to Honorius in 409. In between Honorius learned of the murder of his relatives at the hands of Constan tine's henchmen.

56 L.H. and C.A.S. Nelson noted this fact in another context. Classical Folia xxxi (1977), 91.

57 Zosimus (trans. Buchanan and Davis) 6.6.

58 Prosper gives Honorio VIII et Theodosio III (409); either September 28 or October 5, 409, according to Hydatius 42. Cf. Orosius 7.40.

59 Zosimus 6.3.1.

60 Thompson, op. cit. (note 1), 306–9.

61 idem.

62 A.H.M. Jones, Later Roman Empire, 195.

63 Hydatius 42; Salvian 6.12; Orosius 7.38–40; Sozomen 9.12; Prosper Hon. VIII et Theod. Ill; Olympiodorus ff. 30; G.C. 452 s.a. Hon. XVI.

64 Zosimus, Historia Nova, trans. Ridley, p. 227 n. 17.

65 Zosimus 6.3. See Freeman, op. cit. (note 31), ‘Tyrants,’ 57.

66 Jones, op. cit. (note 62), 194–97; Goffart, Walter, Barbarians and Romans (Princeton, 1980), 3 ff.

67 Gibbon, op. cit. (note 28), vol. 3, 268. Cf. Bury, op. cit. (note 30), 187.

68 Gregory of Tours H.F. 2.9. He is quoting from Renatus Profuturus Frigeridus. See the works of B. Bachrach for a detailed treatment of the Alans during this period. ‘The Alans in Gaul,’ Traditio xxiii (1967), 476–89; A History of the Alans in the West (Minneapolis, 1973).

69 Hydatius 49. The Silings settled Baetica; the Alans took Lusitania and Carthaginensis; the Suevi and Asding Vandals settled separately in Gallaecia. See Collins, Roger, Early Medieval Spain (London, 1983), 17.

70 Thompson, op. cit. (note 1), 308.

71 Orosius 7.38.3, 7.40.3.

72 Bury, op. cit. (note 30), 189 n. 2. The similarity of the names Alani and Alamanni creates serious potential confusion.

73 Jerome (trans. Freemantle) Ad Ageruchia.

74 See Freeman, op. cit. (note 31), 97, 133.

75 Olympiodorus ff. 16; Zosimus 6.5; Gregory of Tours H.F. 2.9.

76 Olympiodorus ff. 17; Gregory of Tours H.F. 2.9; Orosius 7.42.6; Sozomcn 9.15.3.

77 Sozomen (trans. Walford) 9.12: ‘This precaution was probably the cause of the ruin of the country; for, when Constantine was deprived of his power, the Vandals, Suevi and Alans seized the mountain passes, took possession of many forts and cities in Spain and Gaul, and arrested the chief officers of the tyrant.’ Orosius 7.38–40. Orosius' account is chronologically confused but he refers to Spain three times, always in association with Gaul. For example: ‘Furthermore, other nations, irresistible because of their numbers and strength, by which the provinces of the Gauls and the Spams were being pressed….’ Orosius (trans. Deferran) 7.38.

78 Thompson, op. cit. (note 1), 309.

79 See note 77 above. The comment of the most recent translator of Zosimus supports the essential logic of assuming the continued presence of barbarians in Gaul after the 409 invasion of Spain: ‘Zosimus concentrates on the revolt in Gaul itself of the invaders who did not move into Spain.’ Zosimus, (trans. Ridley), p. 228 n. 29.

80 Hydatius 42. See note 58 above.

81 Freeman noted the synchronism, op. cit. (note 31), 134.

82 See above note 63.

83 Isidore, History of the Suevi, 85.

84 Collins, Early Medieval Spain, 17 ff.

85 Contra Bartholomew, op. cit. (note 1), 269.

86 Thompson, op. cit. (note 25), 454.

87 Miller, op. cit. (note 1), 315 ff.

88 See above.

89 Muhlberger accepted Miller's idea that the regnal chronology was inaccurate and possibly a product of Carolingian editing. He concluded, however, that such editing would not have affected the entries themselves. Muhlberger, op. cit. (note 1), 26–27.

90 See above.

91 Miller, op. cit. (note 1), 317.

92 idem.

93 idem, 318.

94 Both Thompson and Muhlberger noted the weakness in this part of Miller's (and Bartholomew's) argument. See Thompson, op. cit. (note 40), 273–74; Muhlberger, op. cit. (note 1), 27, 32. The primary references are: Narratio de Imperatoribus Domus Valentinianae et Theodosianae; Constantius Vita Germani 12, 14, 25; Patrick Conf. 28; Olympiodorus ff. 12.

95 Mommsen systematically attempted to equate regnal years and A.D. dates for the reign of Theodosius II. See Muhlberger, op. cit. (note 1), 30.

96 The problem of Bleda's death is fully discussed with references in Otto Maenchen-Helfen, J., The World of the Huns (Berkeley, 1973), 104. He rejected the date given by the Gallic Chronicle of 452 not on any specific factual grounds but because of the overall poor reputation of the source. E.A Thompson earlier took a similar position. A History of Attila and the Huns (Oxford, 1948), 88.

97 Gibbon, , Decline and Fail of the Roman Empire, ed. Bury, J.B., vol. 3 (1897), 488–89.

98 Mommsen, Chronica. Minora., vol. 1, 617.

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