The Heroic Age

Issue 4

Winter 2001

The Last of The Romans

Notes and Bibliography


1. I would like to thank Sandra Garside-Neville for putting me on the track of Ambrosius Aurelianus, and for her continued advice and encouragement. I am also grateful to Chris Daniell, Dr. Richard Hall and Jason Monaghan for their comments on an earlier draft of this paper.

2. Gildas, De Excidio Britonum (trans. Winterbotton 1978).

3. For example Esmonde Cleary 1989: 166-8.

4. Particularly Lapidge and Dumville 1984, which includes discussions on the evidence provided by Gildas for sub-Roman society, religion, literature and education. See also Daniell 1994 for the significance of the geographical information in Gildas.

5. Nennius, Historia Brittonum (trans. Morris 1980).

6. The main contemporary source is St. Patrick, Confessio, Epistola and Dicta (trans. Hood 1978). In addition to the British History and Welsh Annals (see note 5), a notable later work based on earlier information is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (trans. Garmonsway 1972). The continental sources include: Prosper of Aquitaine, Epitoma Chronicron; The Gallic Chronicles of 452 and 511; imperial chroniclers, including Zosimus and Jordanes; and Constantius of Lyon, Vita Sancti Germani. For the significance of these sources see Snyder 1998, 29-49.

7. Gildas 25, Winterbottom 28. Ambrosius is described as a viro modesto. The 'notable storm' was the revolt by Germanic immigrants around the middle of the 5th century, often referred to as the Saxon Revolt.

8. Morris 1973: 71.

9. Historia Brittonum 42, Morris 1980: 72: consulibus romanicae gentis.

10. Historia Brittonum 66, Morris 1980: 39.

11. Historia Brittonum 31, Morris 1980: 31.

12. Chronicle of 452 126, Mommsen 1891-8: i.660. .

13. Alcock 1971: 106.

14. Gildas 23, Winterbottom 97. For a discussion of foederati and associated technical terms, see Snyder 1998: 112 n.16.

15. Historia Brittonum 37, Morris 1980: 28. The Chronographer (Historia Brittonum 66) dates the arrival of the first group of Saxones to 428.

16. Gildas23.5, Winterbottom 97. quae multo tempore.

17. Historia Brittonum 43-6, Morris 1980:31-2.

18. Gildas 24.3, Winterbottom 27.

19. Gildas 20.1, Winterbottom 23-24. For example Morris 1973, 39. See also Sonia Hawkes' summary of the issue: S.C. Hawkes, `The south-east after the Romans: the Saxon settlement' in Maxfield 1989: 80-1.

20. Higham 1994: 136-7. See also Snyder 1998: 259 n.3.

21. Wood 1984: 8-9.

22. Gildas 20, Winterbottom 24; Vita Sancti Germani: 17-18, Krush & Levison VII: 253-5.

23. 'Campaign' is used throughout this document in the sense of a series of military operations, normally lasting a number of years, which is aimed at achieving a major objective.

24. Historia Brittonum: 45-6, Morris 1980: 32. The improbable tale of a massacre at a peace conference does not mean that the basis of the tale, the defeat of the British, has to be disregarded.

25. Gildas 25.1, Winterbottom 27-28.

26. Wood 1984, 21-2.

27. Jordanes, Getica: 45.237-8, Mommsen 1882: 118-9; Sidonius, Epistolae I. 7.5, Loyen II.22.

28. Concilium Turonense I, 148, Munier 142f.

29. Gildas, 25.3, Winterbottom 27-8: avita.

30. Some historians (for example Higham 1994: 137) prefer a late 5th century date for the 'Ruin of Britain', on the basis of the writing style as much as the chronology of the events it describes. However, Lapidge (1984: 40) and Wright (1984) regard Gildas as an example of traditional rhetorical writing in the Late Latin prose style, which could have been written in the 6th century. Furthermore, the conventional chronology has been supported in other recent studies (Dumville 1984b: 83; Dark 1994: 258-60). In addition, the evidence of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle also points to an earlier 6th century date. The Chronicle does not record any Saxon battles against the British between 530 and 552; indeed, if battles that seem to have been intended to explain place-names are excluded, no battles against the British are noted between 491 (Pevensey) and 552 (Old Sarum). The absence of Saxon victories for at least two and perhaps six decades prior to 552 can be identified with the period of peace during which Gildas was writing. Dumville (1984a) rightly casts doubt on the reliability of such annalistic evidence, but at least it does not contradict the chronology based on the Ruin of Britain.

31. Historia Brittonum 40-2, Morris 1980:29-30.

32. Gildas: 25.3, Winterbottom 98:duce. For the meaning of the title see Alcock 1971: 60-1; Snyder 1998: 8.

33. Historia Brittonum 48, Morris 1980:74: rex magnus inter omnes reges Britannicae gentis.

34. Historia Brittonum 48, Morris 1980:33.

35. Gildas 25.2, Winterbottom 28.

36. Historia Brittonum 56, Morris 1980: 35, 45. See Alcock 1971: 45f.

37. Dumville 1984a: 54.

38. See Higham 1994: 48-9.

39. Wood 1984: 23.

40. Gildas 26.3, Winterbottom 28.

41. Morris (1980: 4) suggested that the Chronographer (Historia Brittonum: 66) might have ended originally with a computation dating the battle of Badon to 497.

42. This is contrary to the view that the Ambrosius described by Gildas and the Ambrosius mentioned by the British History as being active before the Saxon revolt were one and the same, and so was too early to have been present at Badon. See for example Alcock 1971: 105.

43. Gildas 27, Winterbottom 29.

44. Frere 1978: 241-3, 260-70.

45. 'Sicilian Briton', Ep. 2, Morris 1973: 48: consulatus.

46. Zosimus: 6.5, Buchanan & Davis 252-3.

47. Zosimus: 6.10, Buchanan & Davis 256.

48. Orosius 7.40.4, Thompson 304.

49. Frere 1978: 238-9.

50. Gildas 22.3-23.1, Winterbottom 97: consilium, consiliarii.

51. Historia Brittonum 39, Morris 1980:29, 70. In this case, a significant element of the Council is thought to have been ecclesiastical: magna synodus clericum ac laicorum in uno concilio.

52. See Wood 1984.

53. See Hunter-Mann 1993.

54. See Snyder 1998, 228-30 for a view on how the kings may have derived from the possessores, members of the local aristocracy or curial class.

55. See Dark (1994: 71f.) for a study of the relationship between kingship and the civitates.

56. Historia Brittonum 32-5, Morris 1980: 26-8.

57. Gildas 21.4, Winterbottom 24-5.

58. Snyder 1998: 229-30 suggests that the tyrannus was the first step towards the dynastic reges prevalent in Britain by the 6th century. However, reges are referred to from an early stage, and it is clear that there were good as well as bad kings. For example, Historia Brittonum, 32: rex iniquus....tyrannus. Gildas (23.1-4, Winterbottom 97) reinforced his criticism of the leader who made (in his view) the cardinal error of inviting the Saxons into Britain by describing him as a tyrannus. See also the comment by Gildas (27, Winterbottom 99) regarding the kings of his own time: Reges habet Britannia, sed tyrannos.

59. Gildas: 23.1, Winterbottom 26: 'great king' (but bad - see preceding note).

60: Historia Brittonum 66, Morris 1980:26.

61. See n.7-9.

62. Morris (1973: 100) speculates that the Ambros- place-names represent the locations of garrisons of Ambrosiaci, military units raised by an Ambrosius. Recent analysis of these place-names has concluded that a derivation from the personal name Ambros- is still possible, although an alternative interpretation is 'place frequented by buntings.' See Mills 1998: 9ff.

63. See Rutherford Davis 1982 for a detailed study of the evidence for a fifth/sixth century enclave in this area, surrounded by Saxon settlement. This model is based on the presence of sub-Roman occupation at towns such as St. Albans and London, and the absence of Early Saxon cemeteries in the region. However, sub-Roman occupation in towns is not unusual and there is some evidence for Saxon settlement, so this hypothesis remains tentative.

64. See for example Dark 1994: 265.

65. Wood, M. 1981: 50.

66. See for example Burrow 1981: 124ff.

67. Historia Brittonum 56, Morris 1980: 35.

68. Annales Cambriae 516, Morris 1980: 45.

69. Annals Cambriae 537,Morris 1980: 45.

70. Historia Brittonum 73, Morris 1980: 42.

71. Alcock 1971: 36ff.

72. For Badon in southern Britain see Morris 1973:112-13 and Alcock 1971:68-71.

73. Wade-Evans 1934: 103-5. See also Alcock 1971: 85.

74. In Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain (11.2, Thorpe 261), Arthur seeks refuge at Avalon following the battle of Camlann. It has been noted that the place-name Avalon is probably derived from Roman Aballava; this name was applied to Burgh-by-Sands, a fort at the western end of Hadrian's Wall (Rivet and Smith 1981: 238).

75. Gododdin, B.38, Jackson 1969: 12.: `He glutted black ravens on the rampart of the stronghold, though he was no Arthur.'

76. History of the Kings of Britain 6.19, Thorpe 169.

77. History of the Kings of Britain 8.10-12, Thorpe 195-8.

78. Historia Brittonum 45-6. Morris 1980: 32.

79. History of the Kings of Britain 8.9, Thorpe 195.

80. Morris 1995: 99; Chandler 1978-9: 12-15.

81. Tolstoy 1985: 25f.

82. Merlin: Merlinus, Annals Cambriae 573, Morris 1980: 45, 85.

83. Tolstoy 1985: 50f., n.25.

84. Tolstoy 1985: 1f.

85. See for example Millett 1990: 229. This otherwise excellent archaeological study of Roman Britain is rounded off by a list of fifth-century historical events.

86. See Esmonde Cleary 1989: 131ff. for a recent rendition of this view.

87. Reece 1980.

88. See notably Dark 1994: 50-70. Hunter-Mann (1993) argues that the lack of datable early 5th century finds is not necessarily evidence of socio-economic collapse c.410. See Snyder 1998, 217-21 for a review of this debate.

89. See Snyder 1998: 50ff.

90. Lapidge 1984.




Alcock, L. (1971) Arthur's Britain. London: Penguin

Buchanan, J.J. and Davis, H.T. 1967. Zosimus, Historia Nova: The Decline of Rome. San Antonio

Burrow, I. (1981) Hill-forts after the Iron Age: the relevance of surface fieldwork. In Guilbert, G. (ed.), Hill-fort Studies: Essays for A.H.A. Hogg. Leicester: Leicester University Press

Chandler, J. (1978-9) 'Three Amesbury Legends.' The Hatcher Review 6, 12-23

Daniell, C. (1994) 'The Geographical Perspective of Gildas.' Britannia XXV, 213-7

Dark, K.R. (1994) Civitas to Kingdom: British Political Continuity 300-800. Leicester: Leicester University Press

Dumville, D.N. (1984a). 'Gildas and Maelgwn: problems of dating.' In Lapidge and Dumville, 51-9.

Dumville, D.N. (1984b). 'The chronology of De Excidio Britanniae, Book I.' In Lapidge and Dumville, 61-84.

Esmonde Cleary, A.S. (1989). The Ending of Roman Britain. London: Batsford

Frere, S.S. (1978). Britannia. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul (2nd edition)

Garmonsway, G.N. (1972). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. London: Dent

Hawkes, S.C. (1989). "The south-east after the Romans: the Saxon settlement" in V.A. Maxfield (ed.), The Saxon Shore: A Handbook. Exeter: Department of History and Archaeology, University of Exeter

Higham, N.J. (1994). The English Conquest. Manchester: Manchester University Press

Hood, A.B.E. (1978). St. Patrick: His Writings and Muirchu's Life. Chichester: Phillimore

Hunter-Mann, K. (1993). 'When (and what) was the end of Roman Britain?', p. 67-78 in Scott, E. (ed.), Theoretical Roman Archaeology: First Conference Proceedings. Aldershot: Avebury.

Jackson, K. (1969). The Gododdin: the Oldest Scottish Poem. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Krusch, B. and Levison, W. (1919-20). Passiones vitaeque sanctorum aevi merovingici. Hannover

Lapidge, M. (1984). 'Gildas's Education'. In Lapidge and Dumville, 27-50.

Lapidge, M. and Dumville, D. (eds.). (1984). Gildas: New Approaches. Woodbridge: Boydell


Loyen, A. (1960-70) Sidoine Apollinaire. (3 vols.) Paris

Millett, M. (1990). The Romanization of Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Mills, A.D. (1998). A Dictionary of English Place-Names. Oxford: Oxford University Press


Mommsen, T. (1882) Iordanis Romana et Getica. Berlin

Mommsen, T. (1891-8) Chronica minora saec. IV-VII. (3 vols) Berlin

Morris, J. (1973). The Age of Arthur. Chichester: Phillimore

Morris, J. (ed. & trans.). (1980). Nennius: British History and The Welsh Annals. Chichester: Phillimore

Morris, J. (1995). Arthurian Period Sources: Volume 3, Persons. Chichester: Phillimore


Munier, C. (1963) Concilia Galliae A.314-506. Turnhout

Reece, R. (1980). 'Town and country: the end of Roman Britain.' World Archaeology XII i, 77-92

Rivet, A.L.F. and Smith, C. (1981). The Place-names of Roman Britain. London: Book Club Associates

Rutherford Davis, K. (1982). Britons and Saxons: the Chiltern Region 400-700. Chichester: Phillimore

Snyder, C.A. (1998). An Age of Tyrants: Britain and the Britons AD 400-600. Stroud: Sutton


Thompson, E.A. (1977) 'Britain, A.D. 406-410.' Britannia VII: 303-18.

Thorpe, L. (1966) Geoffrey of Monmouth: The History of the Kings of Britain. Harmondsworth: Penguin

Tolstoy, N. (1985). The Quest for Merlin. London: Hamish Hamilton

Wade-Evans, A.W. (1934). Welsh Christian Origins. Oxford: Alden

Winterbottom, M. (ed. and trans.). (1978). Gildas: The Ruin of Britain and other works. Chichester: Phillimore

Wood, I. (1984). 'The end of Roman Britain: Continental evidence and parallels.' In: Lapidge and Dumville, 1-25.


Wood, M. (1981). In Search of the Dark Ages. London: Book Club Associates.


Wright, N. 1984. 'Gildas's prose style and its origins.' In Lapidge and Dumville, 107-28



 Return to Table of Contents


  Return to homepage
Copyright © Kurt Hunter-Mann, 2001. All rights reserved.

This edition copyright © The Heroic Age, 2001. All rights reserved.