Heroic Age Logo The Heroic Age, Issue 1, Spring/Summer 1999  

Gildas and the City of Legions

Notes and Bibliography


  1. De excidio Britanniae § 10 (Winterbottom 1978:92; Mommsen 1898a:1-85:31). I am grateful to Tomos Roberts, Keeper of the Melville Richards Archive of Place-Names at the University of Wales Bangor, for advice on early Welsh philology and Welsh onomastics, and to Rijcklof Hofman of the Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research at Leiden University and the Titus Brandsma Instituut, Nijmegen, for information about Saints Aaron and Julius and early Christian writing generally. Their help has been indispensable.

  2. Gildas does not make it clear whether the two martyrs shared a single shrine or had one each. For simplicity’s sake I assume the former, but error in this matter would not affect my argument.

  3. Rijcklof Hofman (personal communication) cites De tempore rationum (CCSL 123B, 508, 1374/9), Quentin (1908:104-7) and, among others, the chronicles of Ado of Vienne and Orderic Vitalis (Patrologia Latina 106, 1191A; 123, 90D) and the martyrologies of Notker Balbulus and Ado of Vienne (Patrologia Latina 131, 1107C; 123, 290A).

  4. Rijcklof Hofman (personal communication), following Dumville, cites Stokes (1905:160); and the gloss from the Lebar Brecc in Stokes (1880:cxv). Hofman points out that although the gloss shows that the two saints were known in Ireland, it does not prove that they had a feast day in Ireland different from the one given by Florus. The Irish glossator might too easily have been prompted by the coincidence of name of the two Aarons or the similarity between Julius’s name and the name of the month of July or both. Their modern feast-day is 3 July; see the Saint Andrew Daily Missal (1958:2000).

  5. Rijcklof Hofman kindly looked for the phrase, including searching the Corpus Christianorum, the Patrologia Latina, and the Archive of Celtic Latin Literature electronically for urb* legio*, and, apart from an anomalous occurrence in William of Malmesbury, which will be noticed later, found it only in Bede and Geoffrey of Monmouth, who appear to be using Gildas, Henry of Huntingdon, who is using Bede, and Gerald of Wales, who is using Geoffrey.

  6. Llandaff Charter 225, dated c. 864, in Davies 1979:121; cf. Stephens 1985:326. For the continuation of their cult in the equivalent Catholic diocese in this century, see the Saint Andrew Daily Missal 1958:2000.

  7. This is Flower’s hypothesis, reported by Dumville 1997:25-7; for a different view, giving more weight to the Irish evidence, see Hofman (forthcoming). On the manuscript, Sankt Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek 904, see Hofman 1996, 1:12-31 and passim.

  8. Geoffrey 3.10, 4.19, 9.12; Griscom 1929; Thorpe 1976:99-100, 124-25, 224-28.

  9. Two-thirds of Geoffrey’s nine references to the urbs legionum speak of it as a metropolitan see: Geoffrey 3.10, 4.19, 7.3, 8.12, 9.12, 11.3 (Thorpe 1976:99-100, 124-25, 146-48, 171-77, 197-98, 224-28, 262).

  10. Thorpe (1978:115) notes several of the points of dependence on Geoffrey. Rijcklof Hofman points out that Gerald may have known Gildas’s De excidio as well. He shows knowledge of it in his Descriptio Kambriae, written a mere three years after the Itinerarium.

  11. Previous scholarship on Gildas's date is cited by Higham (1994:118-45) and in Koch (1996:241-42). On Deira, see Dumville 1989:213-22, especially 218-20.

  12. On Gildas's style, see variously François Kerlouégan (Barley and Hanson 1968:151-76), Winterbottom 1978:5-9, Lapidge and Dumville 1984:chs. vi-vii, ix-x; Kerlouégan 1987; Howlett 1998.

  13. In later Latin it could even be used for the City of God (Souter 1949:s.v.)

  14. For the early development of the place-names, see Rivet and Smith 1979.

  15. Stevens 1937, especially 202 and note.

  16. Gildas § 3 (Winterbottom 1978:16-17). Stevens (1937:202-3, 201n) attempts to identify them.

  17. Stevens (1937:200-3) identifies 26 civitates (a few with less than full certainty); nothing he reports suggests Chester or Caerleon was among those unidentified.

  18. For urbs, see Gildas §§ 1.5 and 45.1 (biblical) (Winterbottom 1978:13-14, 41) and §§ 2, 10.2, and 13.2 (other) (Winterbottom 1978:16, 19, 20-21); for civitas, §§ 1.4, 28.2, 42.2, 45.1, 51.1 (twice), 53.3, 55, 61.1 (twice), 87, 93.2 (twice), 110.3 (biblical) (Winterbottom 1978:13, 29-30, 39, 41, 45-46, 49, 66, 69, 79) and §§ 3.2, 19.3, 24.1, and 26.2 (other) (Winterbottom 1978:16, 23, 27, 28). He can also speak of major cities as coloniae (e.g. at § 24.3; Winterbottom 1978:27).

  19. Aquileia was the chief city of the province of Venetia-and-Istria (Hammond 1970).

  20. On the implications of the territorial origins of the British delegates to the council, see Mann 1961.

  21. Haddan and Stubbs (1869-1871) suggest that the corrupt reading of the name of the third bishopric represented at Arles was an error for Caerleon, but Mann (1961), followed by Rivet and Smith (1979:48-50) argues more plausibly for Lincoln.

  22. For some plausible moments, see Dumville 1989:220-1. For interesting parallels, consider the much better-recorded process by which the Byzantine emperor Romanus Lecapenus recovered the sacred Mandelion from the Moslems of Edessa in 943, after it had been lost to Christians for 305 years (Runciman 1963:145).

    One other word of Gildas's in this passage may be worth noticing, because it may have related implications. In a writer so allusive and so steeped in the Bible, divortium, which means "divorce" as well as "partition", may allude to the Gospel of Matthew 19.3-9. At another point in his book, Gildas cites the Gospel passage in its literal sense with the usual implications (Gildas 28.3; Winterbottom 1978:30). On his text, see Burkitt 1934:206-15. If his words earlier allude to this passage too, the echo implies that British territory had not simply been seized by force, but had been permanently alienated by treaty or some equivalent legal process, and that such alienation was illicit, contrary to God's will, and should be reversed.

  23. Morris 1980; cf. Mommsen 1898:111-222; Dumville 1985 (Of the projected ten volumes of this last, only the first has appeared.).

  24. Dumville (1975-1976:78-95) has even argued that Historia Brittonum was not written by Nennius; for a different view, see Field 1996:159-65.

  25. Nennius 56; Morris 1980:35-36; Mommsen 1898b:200; § 27 (Dumville 1985).

  26. The present scholarly consensus on it reported by Koch (1996:246-51. For other scholars' views on the phrase, see Crawford 1935:277-91; Jackson 1959:1-11; Bromwich 1963:85-95; Alcock 1973;55-88; 1975-1976:163-181; Dumville 1986:1-26.

  27. Koch (1996:246-51) points out that the Welsh source may have called the next battle Tribruit Abon ("the river Tribruit"), which could give six consecutive rhymes in -on (adding abon, Bregion and Badon), and that such a sequence would have important implications for the date and content of the Welsh poem.

  28. Modern Welsh dinas, in the sense of "city", which would have been even closer to urbs, is a much more recent development.

  29. It also corrupts the Latin name to urbs Leogis, but that is not significant.

  30. §§ 66a, 47; § 56; (Morris 1980:32-33, 35-36, 39) for the Cornish equivalent see Padel 1985:50-2. For Vortigern and his city, see Bartrum 1993:338-42.

  31. § 66a (Morris 1980:39); cf. Jackson 1938:44-55.

  32. See §§ 7, 10 (twice), 33, 38, 66a (civitas) (Morris 1980:18, 19, 27, 29, 39); §§ 25, 32 (twice), 42, 49, 56, 64, 65 (urbs) (Morris 1980:24, 26-27, 30-31, 33, 35-36, 38-39). In §§ 25 and 66a (Morris 1980:24, 39)the two words are used to refer to Caernarfon, in §§ 32-3 (Morris 1980:26-27), to the city of King Benlli.

  33. § 66a (Morris 1980:39). Legeion should be Legion, as Jackson, "Nennius and the Twenty-Eight Cities," points out.

  34. E.g. Lloyd 1912, 1:126; Crawford 1935:287; Jackson 1959:4; Bromwich 1975-1976:171; 1963:93-4; Jones 1964:8; Bromwich et al. 1991:2-3; Bartrum 1993:88. Alcock (1973:359) says that it must be either Chester or Caerleon, but that there is no basis for choosing between them.

  35. Lloyd 1912, 1:126; Crawford 1935:279; Bromwich 1963:93-4.

  36. For instance, he has Arthur ludicrously going into battle with the image of the Virgin Mary on his shoulders (imaginem sanctae Mariae perpetuae virginis super humeros suos). "Shoulders" will be a mistake for "shield": in early Welsh the two words could be homographs. What Nennius thought his source said was absurd, but although he could have corrected or omitted the absurdity, he reproduced it exactly, apart from presumably turning a singular "shoulder" into a plural "shoulders".

  37. Mommsen (1898a:31) does not record legionis in any Gildas manuscript, or legionum in a Nennius one (Mommsen 1898b:200).


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