Heroic Age Logo The Heroic Age, Issue 2, Autumn/Winter 1999  

Forty Years of Fear

Notes and Bibliography


  1. An earlier version of this paper was first presented at the Conference on The Medieval Chronicle, 13 July 1996. I am very grateful to Professor P.J.C. Field and Mr. Jonathan Hunt for reviewing earlier drafts of this paper, and to Miss Annemarie Speetjens for translating several Latin passages. The views presented here and any remaining mistakes must, however, remain my own.

  2. Nennius in Morris (1980) and Mommsen (1894-98, 3:111-222). All translated passages are taken from the former. All citations are to Historia Brittonum.

  3. It should be noted that this differs from other versions. Most of the manuscripts of the Historia Brittonum end their historical portion with the "Arthuriana", followed by two geographical appendices and two lists, that of the civitates and the mirabilia. Harleian 3859, however, has four historical sections instead. Therefore quotations of the date-list differ. Miller (1980) used 65D after Dumville's Vatican Recension, while Dumville (1972-74:439-445) has 66. In these citations I have therefore used 66 as well. All dates in the passage below are provided by Morris 1980:39.

  4. My own translation, since Morris fails to translate this passage.

  5. Morris interprets this passage as "from the beginning of the reign of Vortigern". For another interpretation, see Miller below.

  6. Morris translates "Saxones" as "English" and also in the phrases below.

  7. Though the Latin text says "Incarnation", Morris translates as "Passion".

  8. The Latin reads:

    A mundi principio usque ad Costantinum et Rufum, VDCLVIII anni reperiuntur.


    Item, a duobus Geminis Rufo et Rubelio usque in Stillitionem consulem, CCCLXXIII anni sunt.


    Item, a Stillitione usque ad Valentinianum, filium Placidae, et regnum Guorthigirni, XXVIII anni.


    Et a regno Guorthigirni usque ad discordiam Guitolini et Ambrosii anni sunt XII, quod est Guoloppum, id est catguoloph. Guorthigirnus autem tenuit imperium in Brittannia Theodosio et Valentiniano consolibus, et in quarto anno regni sui Saxones ad Brittanniam venerunt, Felice et Tauro consolibus, CCCC anno ab incarnatione Domini nostri Jesu Christi.


    Ab anno quo Saxones venerunt in Brittanniam et a Guorthigirno suscepti sunt usque ad Decium et Valerianum anni sunt LXIX. (Historia Brittonum 66; Morris 1980:80)

  9. Bede gives the traditional date, the year 449 (Shirley-Price 1990:62). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives both 448 (Winchester MS) and 449 (Peterborough MS): Swanton 1996:12-13.

    Dark and Dark 1997:135. Although Dark and Dark are unsure of the exact time of arrival of the first independent settlers, they state that "On archaeological grounds, however, it appears that people culturally connected with the Anglo-Saxons of the second half of the fifth century were probably arriving in Britain as early as the first decades of that century."

  10. Chadwick 1954:26. "In several cases the calculations present difficult problems, but it may be noted that its date [i.e. A.D. 425 for the accession of Vortigern] agrees well enough with what is now thought to have been the end of the Roman domination."

    Alcock 1971:39, 104. Alcock accepted the dates for Vortigern and the Adventus as authentic, possibly calculated as early as A.D. 447 or A.D. 455 as a preface to Easter Table annals (now know as the Annales Cambriae).

    Johnson 1980:153. Though he regarded the Historia Brittonum as generally suspect, Johnson saw the dates for Vortigern as a "neat context" for an Anglo-Saxon take-over in A.D. 441 (as related by the Gallic Chronicle of 452 ).

    Campbell 1982:31, 34-36. Campbell believed that Nennius date of 428 for the Adventus was probably no better than Bede's of 445x455, but that archaeological evidence suggests that it is rather nearer the truth.

    Böhme 1986:559-61. Böhme accepted the date of A.D. 428 for the Adventus from the Historia, as he saw it confirmed by the many finds of late Roman military material in fifth-century Britain.

    Myres 1986:17-18. Myres believed some of the dates may have been derived from sources as early as the fifth or sixth centuries.

    Bachrach 1988:138-40. According to Bachrach, Vortigern could well have been one of the reges shortly after Constantine III, though he does not rule out a floruit round either 450 or 480.

    Higham 1994:118-48. Higham favours an Adventus in A.D. 428 because he accepted that by A.D. 441 (according to the Gallic Chronicle of 452) large parts of Britain had been taken over by the Saxons, a date which he saw confirmed by studies such as by Böhme (1986).

    Jones 1996:272. Michael Jones is a strong defender of the accuracy of the date for the Adventus in A.D. 428: "The 428 date is the only one for the Adventus which can be reconciled with the continental evidence and the revised archaeological dating for the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons in Britain. It is an argument for the genuineness of some early tradition in the Historia".

  11. The exception of course being St Patrick, who unfortunately has nothing to report relating to this issue.

  12. The attribution to Nennius occurs in only a minority of the later manuscripts. For a discussion of date and authorship see Dumville (1975-76), but also Field (1996). The real Nennius (c. A.D. 821) was almost contemporary with the "anonymous author" of Dumville (who is dated c. A.D. 829). Though I would have preferred the form "Nennius," for simplicity's sake I have opted for Nannius, without the quotation marks.

  13. See Kirby and Williams (1975-76); Dumville (1977); and Campbell (1986).

  14. The last to do so had been Ferdinand Lot (1934). Most of the recent work has been undertaken by Professor David Dumville, whose articles on this subject are conveniently re-published in Dumville 1990.

  15. "Anno Domini" and "Anno Passionis" dates form two different calenders that existed during this time. "Anno Domini" means "In the year of Our Lord" and starts the calender with A.D. 1, being the birth of Christ (NB: not the non-existing year zero!). "Anno Passionis" means "the Passion of Our Lord" and starts the calender with A.P. 1, being the death of Christ. The difference between these two is 27 years, a common error occurring with early chroniclers.

  16. Tolstoy (1962), Dumville (1972-74) and Miller, both (1977-1978) and (1980).

  17. The Latin reads:

    Factum est autem post supradictum bellum, id est quod fuit inter Brittones et Romanos, quando duces illorem occisi sunt, et occisionem Maximi tyranni, transactoque Romanorum imperio in Brittannis, per XL annos fuerunt sub metu. Guorthigirnus regnavit in Brittannia, et dum ipse regnabat in brittannia, urgebatur a metu Pictorum Scottorumque et a Romanico impetu, nec non et a timore Ambrosii. Interea venerunt tres ciulae a Germania expulsae in exilio . . . (Historia Brittonum 31; Morris 1980:66-67).

    The exact source of the forty years has never been established. Neither Nennius nor Bede explain what lies behind this exact number. Though the explanation might be that we are dealing iwth a biblical number, that is, that this period should be seen as strictly symbolic, we can only guess at its origin.

  18. Tolstoy 1962:152: "It is extremely difficult, to say the least, to reconcile this date with what is known of early fifth-century history."

  19. Kirby 1970:45-46, 58. Though he did not support this solution by Tolstoy, Kirby agreed that the calculation "409 + 40 years equals 449" could very well have been how this date for the Adventu's was obtained. But whether or not it was Nennius or later Anglo-Saxon sources that made this calculation, Kirby stressed: "What lies behind this forty-year period we know not." Kirby's own interpretation was that a Welsh chronologist noticed the similarities between the elements of "fear" in the period of '40 years of fear' after Maximus's death and the "fear" in which Vortigern lived, equating both to arrive at Vortigern's accession 40 years after Maximus' death.

  20. Gildas, De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae 20.1; Winterbottom 1978:23-24. Of course Gildas did not give any dates, but Aetius was consul for the third time in A.D. 446. This view of events has been challenged by Higham (1994:118-24).

  21. Most notably Sonia Chadwick Hawkes (1974) and Horst Wolfgang Böhme (1986). See also Welch (1993). Though the discussion is by no means settled, these authors argue that on the base of grave-goods, the presence of Germanic Foederati (whether as regular Roman military personnel or not) should be extended towards the middle of the fifth century. Similar finds of Anglo-Saxon material would confirm this.

  22. Dumville 1977:177, 180. Dumville lists as sources: the chronicles of Prosper of Aquitane and Isidore of Seville, the Eusebius-Jerome Chronicle, the Cursus Paschalis of Victorius of Aquitaine, Gildas's De excidio et conquestu Brittanniae, a legendary account of St. Patrick, a Welsh vernacular poem on Arthur, a (lost) Liber Beati Germani, the Northumbrian regnal list and some English material concerning Hengist and Vortigern.

  23. The Latin reads:

    Post multum intervallum temporis a Valentiniano et Theodosio consulibis in tertio ab Avviluea lapide spoliatus indumentis regiis sistitur et capite damnatur. (Historia Brittonum 29; Morris 1980:66)

  24. Dumville 1972-74:445. Though this statement contains some ambiguities, what follows clearly indicates that by "period" Dumville means that Nennius supposedly thought Vortigern immediately succeeded Maximus.

  25. Historia Brittonum 29; Morris (1980:66). Valentinianus cum Theodosio regnavit annis VIII ("Valentinian ruled for eight years with Theodosius.").

  26. Victorii Aquitani, Cursus Paschalis (Mommsen 1894-98:720): Theodosius and Valentinian appear together for the first time in Anno CCCXCVIII (A.D. 425), and for the last time in Anno CCCCVIII (A.D. 435).

  27. Victorii Aquitani, Cursus Paschalis (Mommsen 1894-98:720). Theodosius and Valentinian appear together in the entries for: Anno CCCXCVIII (A.D. 425), anno CCCXCVIIII (A.D. 426), anno CCCCIII (A.D. 430) and anno CCCCVIII (A.D. 435).

  28. Victorii Aquitani, Cursus Paschalis (Mommsen 1894-98:716-720): Anno CCLXI: Theodosio II et Cynegio (A.D. 388) is of course the perfect spot, but both appear separately no fewer than fourteen times between the entries for 388 and 435. Theodosius appears in A.D. 388, 393, 403, 407, 409, 411, 412, 415, 416, 418, 420, 422 and 433. Valentinian appears only in A.D. 390.

  29. Victorii Aquitani, Cursus Paschalis (Mommsen 1894-98:716): Valentinian in 373, 376, 378 and 387, Theodosius in 380.

  30. Though admittedly only if its generations have the longer average length of 375 instead of the shorter average of 25 years. This floruit would of course also support the traditional dates for Vortigern.

  31. London British Library Additional 16974.

  32. Muhlberger 1990:136-37. Though the earliest manuscripts attribute his work to Prosper, the real identity of the Gallic Chronicler of 452 is lost at least since the ninth century.

  33. Miller 1978:317. Miller supplies the year A.D. 425, but does not comment on how this obvious duplication of events around Maximus could occur.

  34. London British Library Additional 16974, Gallic Chronicle, the entry of Theodosius 4, A.D. 388.

  35. See note 32: this mistake would have had to be made before the ninth century or earlier.

  36. The reasoning behind this is quite intricate. Miller never states this opinion in full, as it is divided between two articles (Miller 1977-78:317 and 1978:52). This conclusion must therefore remain my own, based though upon Miller's quite strong hints.

  37. Miller 1980:28. This is much more--it must be emphasized--of a picture than a reconstruction..

  38. Miller 1980:29. Miller did in fact prepare a paper on this subject (Dates of the Adventus Saxonum), which has never unfortunately to my knowledge been published.

  39. Miller 1980:29. Miller does not say how old this list would have been.

  40. Dumville 1973:312. Codex 178, Bürgerbibliothek Bern, Switzerland.

  41. Codex 178, Bürgerbibliothek Bern. Italics and translation mine. The Latin reads:

    Annos CCCCXLVIIII Martinus cum Ualentiniano imperium su[scip]iens et vii annis [tenuit]; quorum tempore Angli, a Uuertigerno Brittonum rege arcessiti, Brittaniam adierunt quorum dux erat Hengist filius Ohta. (Dumville 1973:312)

  42. Dumville 1973:314, n. 5; Jackson (Dumville 1973:314, n. 5) concluded: "At any rate the form Uuertigernus must be very early--indeed one might well suppose it comes from a written source contemporary with the man himself."


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