British History, 407-597, by Fabio P. Barbieri

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Chapter 2.9: The beginnings of British independence

Fabio P. Barbieri


Thus far, what we have found out of the history, as opposed to the legend, of the end of Roman power, is this. First, the only credible historical notices are those in the Narratio de imperatoribus .and in the Chronicle of 452, which declare that the Empire lost the Britains in 410; and in Zosimus 6.10, which speaks of a Rescript authorizing the British ciuitates to conduct their own defence. There is no evidence of any social, religious or national revolt. There is no evidence that the British expelled any Romans in 410. The only positive statement of this comes from Zosimus 6.5, who probably derived it from L, a Gildasian-age source describing a much later war. Zosimus 6.10, on the other hand, seems to derive from Olympiodorus, and is best interpreted as saying that the existing British Roman authorities were told to carry on defending the country but not to expect any continental help.

These British authorities can only have been the same people who had supported Constantine III for the previous three years. Having rejected Zosimus 6.5, we have no evidence whatsoever of any purge, revolt, or even reform; although Constantine III himself fell, there is no evidence that his government in Britain was ever overthrown by anyone.

Indeed, according to Procopius, "the Romans could never reconquer Britain [after Constantine’s fall], but it remained under the care [emeine] of tyrants". As in later Greek and Latin "tyrant" means "usurper", this describes an institutional continuity, through a line of succeeding "tyrants", from the "tyrant" Constantine. Emeine, aorist of menw, is a curiously positive verb for "tyrants", indicating that they “looked after” or “cared for” the island; and the aorist is a tense without exact English equivalent, that indicates something whose effects, though done or started in the past, last into the present. The clear implication is that those "tyrants" were still "caring for" Britain in Procopius' day - or rather the day of his sources.

Now Procopius' view of "Britain", that is the former Roman territory from which Constantine came, was wholly out of books[1]. The information he received, from lying Frankish sources, about the state of the island in his time, called it Brittia. Procopius must have found mention of this British institutional continuity of usurpation in a book; surely the same that described Constantine’s revolt. We notice that he seems to know nothing of any Saxon invasion of Britannia; when the Franks tell him of a Brittia whose natives shared the island with Teutonic invaders from north Germany, he is incapable to make the connection. In theory, his source may have been written at any time between Constantine's own time and that of Procopius; but the reference to a plural number of intervening "tyrant" rulers of Britain militates against dating it too close to Constantine, and the fact that he seems to know nothing of the Saxon war of 442 might suggest that it was written before that. In other words, it might well have had the thing we lack: good direct information about the British political set-up before 442.

Other arguments for a continuing Roman-usurper government in Britain are in the peculiarities of the Rescript of Honorius and by the Notitia Dignitatum. Both suggest that the status of the country was Roman but anomalous. Honorius violated protocol by addressing the ciuitates of Britain rather than its imperial representatives; he might perhaps have done so because he was not willing to recognize any layer of Roman government above that of ciuitas as legitimate, which in turn is best explained if the governing institutions of Britain were the same that had acknowledged the hated usurper Constantine. As for the Notitia, we have seen that it treats Britain as a Roman country, but that its information about its bureaucracy is out of date by decades; this is best explained if there was no direct contact between whatever Roman bureaucracy existed in Britain and the upper layers of the Roman state in Ravenna and Constantinople.

A third reason to suspect institutional continuity between Constantine III and succeeding British rulers lies in Geoffrey of Monmouth's very curious use of Constantine III (II in his numbering) and his son Constans. Geoffrey, who wrote 600 years after the great crisis, knew very little about these people, and his inventive ways with names and dates would lead most historians to automatically disregard him as a source: but it is a remarkable fact that - in a completely legendary narrative frame - he nevertheless knew their names, their family relationship (father and son), the fact that Constans was a monk who had shamefully broken his vows to become a sovereign and his father's heir, the fact that both died violent deaths, and the fact that Constantine and Constans represent, in some fashion, the end of the Roman period of British history. He regards Constantine as the first Rex Britanniae after the end of Roman power, and Constans as his successor, both ideas that are not far from the truth.

From there on, however, we are into unadulterated legend.  Far from going from Britain to Gaul and dying there, Constantine comes to Britain from Armorica, and Geoffrey goes out of his way to explain that he has not confused "little Britain" with Great Britain, by specifying that he meant the country called Armorica or Letavia (Welsh Llydaw). His Constantine is entirely unconcerned with the Roman Empire, but very concerned with Britain, which he leads to victory against the barbarian invaders until one of them, a Pict who had treacherously entered his service, murders him. Vortigern, making his first appearance in Geoffrey in the treacherous role that is from henceforth going to be his and his heirs', persuades Constans - the least suited of Constantine's three sons, because of his monastic training, but the eldest - to be King, places him under his thumb, eventually has him murdered, and succeeds him. Constantine's two remaining sons, who are none other than Ambrosius Aurelianus (Aurelius Ambrosius in Geoffrey) and Uther Pendragon, come to adulthood, enter Britain and avenge him, but not before Vortigern has been deceived by Hengist and Ronwein, and unleashed the horrors of Saxon invasion on the island.

This story will be analyzed later; the point to be made now is that Geoffrey's Constantine II is a doublet of his Ambrosius. As Ambrosius is Constantine's second son, Constantine himself is a second son, sent over by his older brother Aldroenus. Both come from Armorica to a Britain in chaos from lack of legitimate authority and the uncontrolled invasions of pagans. Both are stunningly successful, and the British flock to them, till they have freed Britain; but they both die by the treachery of a barbarian, rashly admitted to their own household.

What does this mean? Obviously, that one of these legends has been copied from the other. Which is the archetype, the model; and which is the ectype, the copy? Obviously, Ambrosius is the archetype, and Constantine the ectype. Geoffrey’s account of Ambrosius, though not derived from Gildas, coincides with his in several ways; on the other hand, Geoffrey’s account of Constantine contradicts almost everything we know about the character. That is, there is every reason to believe that Geoffrey's account of Ambrosius has some kind of connection with reality, and just as many to believe that his account of Constantine - save for the few points I mentioned - does not. This only makes sense if it was built on that of Ambrosius.

What this means is that the legend was constructed in Britain, autonomously of any Continental tradition, in the shadow of the legend of Ambrosius. It is not, in my view, the work of Geoffrey himself, and above all it is not the result of any reading of any Continental account of Constantine and Constans, for if it had been, Geoffrey would never have passed the chance to present Constantine & Son, as he did both Brennius and Arthur, as conquerors of the whole continent, nor to have described their killing by Honorius' followers as the basest kind of treachery. Geoffrey was fond of saying naughty things about Rome, and in fact Aldroenus is heard loudly criticizing Roman power just as he is about to send Constantine to Britain.

The point of the legend is rather to connect Ambrosius with the founder of an independent British monarchy. Removing from the dossier of Constantine "II" and Constans all those things in which Constantine is clearly imitating Ambrosius, we still find that his claim to be the first king of Britain after the end of Roman power is intact. Ambrosius has no such claim in any document we have: Gildas insists that his parents had nimirum, verily and indeed, worn the purple, and Nennian legend makes him Vortigern's successor, thus denying that he had a founding role. To be the first king of post-Roman Britain can never, in any legend, have been Ambrosius' role, and it follows that Constantine "II" cannot have derived this feature of his legend from him. What is more, there would be no point to connect Ambrosius to a character which, taking all aspects of his dossier into consideration, is much more obscure than himself, and whose legend was reconstructed starting from his own; not unless this obscure character had, in turn, some particular relevance that no other legendary figure had. Obviously, the differentia that leaps to the eye is his claim to be the first king of an independent Britain.

That this association is artificial and rather clumsy is also moderately obvious. Constantine III cannot possibly have been Ambrosius' father, both because of very different family names - he was, according to his coins, Flavius Claudius Constantinus, with not an Aurelius, Aurelianus or Ambrosius in sight - and because, according to Gildas' clear statement, Ambrosius' father died at Saxon hands in or shortly after 442[2]. The author of the story has bungled the affiliation; which only makes his point - to associate the great national hero with the founder of the national monarchy - even more obvious[3]. Somewhere in Britain, Constantine II(I), a heroic soldier, and his son Constans, a monk turned Caesar to the scandal of good clergymen, were remembered as the originators of the British monarchy: the same British monarchy that devolved upon Ambrosius when he came to free his shattered mother country from the Saxons[4].

How such data could have survived for so long and taken the shape they did in Geoffrey's talented hands is not really relevant; so long as we recognize that Geoffrey's data have an ultimately historical source - to the extent that I pointed out, that is that Constantine II(I) and his son, the monk Constans, were lords in Britain and that they represent the point where Britain leaves imperial control - that proves that some knowledge of them had survived; and this, in turn, means that we must take seriously the notion, which is also embedded in the material, that the subsequent British regarded him as the first of their line of kings.

There is nothing impossible or even unlikely about this. We should not treat Gildasian Britain and its Welsh successors as illiterate: literacy and Latin had never been lost, and it follows that all sorts of data can have been preserved, though certainly not in a historical frame. The fact that a need was felt to create a legend for Constantine and Constans strongly suggests that, apart from those few data, nothing was known about them; and the fact that Constantine was given a legend built on Ambrosius' means that when it was created, Ambrosius was a central figure. Ambrosius gained prestige by receiving the legitimacy of descent from the founding hero, but the founding hero himself was given prestige by being made a precursor of Ambrosius' historical mission of deliverance.

And this drives the last nail into the coffin of the notion that a Celticizing, anti-Roman, nativist revolution broke out successfully in Britain, shortly after Constantine's revolt. If the later British regarded Constantine as the establisher of the British monarchy, there is no space for any successful revolt in his time except his. Britain had not changed since Carausius had set up his autonomous imperial throne there a century earlier (286-293); and today’s historians accept[5] that, far from manifesting any intense desire to resurrect an autonomous British or Celtic culture, Carausius, "promoted himself... as a restorer of old Roman virtues"[6]. Constantine III's coins carry a similarly Roman message. Carausius had presented himself as the "brother" of the reigning emperors, Constantius and Maximinus; Constantine tried for a while to reach a similar accommodation with Honorius. There is no reason why those who took over in Britain when he fell should have regarded themselves as anything but that: reigning Roman emperors, equal to those resident in Ravenna and Constantinople, administering an autonomous but equal part of the Roman Empire - that is, of the civilized world. They had enough precedents. I think that this is how we should consider the rulers of "independent" Britain until the first Saxon war: as claimants to the Roman throne, tyrannoi as Procopius or his source called them.

Among John Morris' not inconsiderable merits is to have made a clear and forceful case for the survival in the British Isles of a notion of imperium and emperorship, developing quite separately from Constantinople and the Continent[7]. The title of Emperor seems to have been, if not a regular attribute, then at least a shadowy cloud of glory hanging over the mightiest kings of Britain and even Ireland (incidentally, this seems to describe fairly exactly the equally shadowy English title of Breatwalda), a number of whom claimed it in a period in which it would have been considered practically blasphemous for continental successor kings, still overawed by Constantinople, to do so. Even Constantinople's sworn enemies, the Longobards, fully in control of the imperial province of Italy, never thought of making any imperial claim; but the word Imperator was used occasionally, and the word imperium regularly, for sovereigns who could claim to rule all Britain, and for their sphere of rule. On one or two occasions the word is used for Irish High Kings (Muirchu so describes Loegaire), but, it seems clear, illegitimately. When Adamnan wants to describe Diarmat mac Cearbhaill, ruler of all Ireland - a king set over kings, and therefore above the normal term rig/rex - he uses the word regnator; Oswald of Northumbria, king of the kings of Britain, he calls Imperator, though when it comes to ruling, not his own kingdom of Northumbria, but the whole people of the English, (that is, within the larger British world) the word he uses is regnator Saxonum. In other words, the title of high king of all Ireland was, in Adamnan’s highly instructed and political eye (he was, after all, of royal family and an abbot of Iona) equal to the title of high king of one of Britain’s four peoples, Picts, Scots, British and Saxons; but the title of all Britain was higher. Both Muirchu and Adomnan were writing in the later seventh century, when a king of the Franks would have fainted, or laughed, at the suggestion that he could claim equality with the only emperor of the world.

We must not dismiss the evidence only because it is fragmentary, much less indulge in the fantasy that names and titles in the Dark Ages were vague or interchangeable. Even in the middle of a period of flux and violence, the Dark Age mind was naturally hierarchical, and understood the world as a ranking of powers. The distinction between a mere king and an emperor was clear enough to Odoacer, the adventurer who made himself king of Italy in 476, when he sent the imperial insignia to the Emperor Zeno in Constantinople with a message that the world had room for only one emperor. And of all hierarchical cultures, we have seen, there was none more hierarchical than the Celtic culture of Britain. They would be the last to toss the title of Emperor around for a mere local king, if their only reason was pretension. It is hard to see where the idea that the lord of all Britain could legitimately be called Emperor could come from, if not from an ancient line of pretensions issuing from Constantine III, pretender emperor; possibly in a context where his successors were active not only in Britain but in northern France, Pictland and perhaps Ireland, thus having a strong claim to be regarded as lords of peoples[8].

The same doctrine is clearly in operation in The dream of Maxen Gwledig, where Maxen, falling in love with Elen of the hosts, accepts her request that he should live with her and moves to Britain permanently. The validity of his move to Britain is then confirmed by his victory over the rival Emperor put up by the Senate of Rome. As we have seen in discussing the concept of teyrn and gwledig, victory in battle was not, in Celtic thought, a merely contingent fact, but the manifestation of a natural superiority, that makes one king teyrn and another gwledig - innately victorious. That the Roman emperor located to Britain defeats the one located in Rome is a sign of the permanent superiority of the Roman imperial title of Britain; especially if we consider that the story makes his victory depend on the intervention of a small but resplendent Welsh force. Such a story simply could not have been conceived or written if an idea did not exist that the fullness of Roman imperial sovereignty had passed into the island of Britain; it is a narrative illustration of the idea[9].

These considerations allow us to maintain that, between the revolt of Constantine in 407 and (at a bare minimum) the Saxon war of 442, Britain was governed by an usurping succession of imperial claimants who followed on from Constantine III in some fashion. They regarded themselves as Roman and legitimate sovereigns, and probably set up their own versions of Roman institutions. Roman civic administration did not collapse in 410. There is no reason not to postulate complete continuity between the administration that fed and armed Constantine III’s armies and any following government up to the Saxon disaster of 441/442.

Whoever harbours doubts about Roman Britain’s unity before, and even after, the Saxon revolt of 442, is taking those doubts to the sources, not drawing them from them. I have shown that Zosimus' mention of many autonomous poleis applies, if it applies at all, to a much later date. Other than that, no document, nor even archaeology, gives us any reason to suspect disunity; nobody speaks of Britain, or even "the Britains", Britanniae except as a unit. The Gallic Chronicle describe the Britains as lost to Rome at one go, and falling to the Saxons at one go. St.Patrick remembers the Britanniae, and the Britanniae alone, as the country of his fathers. It is in Ireland that he finds reguli, kinglets; his Britains only know the kind of local life symbolized by his father's little ancestral estate, not autonomous, but part of a much larger polity. Constantius of Lyons regards the Britains as affected by Pelagianism in their entirety, and Germanus' first mission, at least, is to them as a whole. Every fifth-century writer whose work has survived treats the former Roman provinces as a single entity and calls them by the plural, Britanniae.

In the next century, Gildas' narration assumes the unity of Britain, however fractious its nobles and clergy, and implies the existence of a power that claimed the whole island, and some sort of succession to Roman Britain. The people in Rome who spoke to Procopius of "the woes of Britain" also saw the island as an entity, whose "woes" affect it as an entity. The Frankish ambassadors who made such play of Procopius' credulity about Brittia and Brettania were at least clear that the Brittones of Brittia had only one king. The one difference between the fifth and sixth century is that the plural Britanniae is gone: Gildas, Zosimus, Procopius, all speak of Britain in the singular - Brettania, Britannia, Brittia. This, if anything, underlines the unity of the country. Gildas saw the pullulation of aggressive local potentates going their own sweet way independently of the central power (which he identified with the house of Ambrosius Aurelianus) as a process that had taken place in his own lifetime; he wanted war against the Saxons in order to re-unify the entity called Britannia. This hardly argues for any degree of disunity a century before him.

The insistence on the plural Britanniae in the fifth century seems significant. A plurality of Roman British provinces had existed ever since Septimius Severus had split Roman Britain in two in the third century, and yet Roman writers of up to 400AD had always preferred the singular. Even when that very decisive man Diocletian, among such brilliant decisions as legislating inflation out of existence with a compulsory official price list, and legislating the Christians off the face of the Earth with a great persecution, decided that the empire needed not one but four Britains, this decision was just as successful as the rest: people used the official plural when they remembered to – but as often as not they forgot and called the country Britannia, even in official publications such as the Notitia dignitatum. The only result of Diocletian’s decision was that language became sloppy and incoherent, designating the same country as Britannia, Britanniae, and indeed Britanni – often in the same work. Sloppiness is not a natural quality of the Latin language, designed by centuries of lawyers and grammarians to achieve subtle, elaborate, yet clear and firm distinctions; but Diocletian’s invention of the plural Britanniae, Britains, went against its nature. Latin likes to isolate geographical units – Graecia, Italia, Africa – and often personifies them (there are at least two known inscriptions in which Britannia is treated as a goddess[10]).  The result was a linguistic mess.

After 410, however, the plural celebrates an ephemeral triumph. Except for one passage in Prosper’s panegyric of Pope Celestine, no contemporary writer fails to use it. But it is a pyrrhic victory: by the end of the fifth century, the plural has vanished altogether. Not a single sixth-century writer, from Procopius to Jordanes to Gildas to Gregory the Great, uses it; nor has it risen from its grave since, even when a Lesser Britain appeared across the sea from the old (Great) Britain.

It seems therefore quite possible that this brief success of Britanniae may have something to do with the rise of an independent Roman Britain; and that when we meet the plural in this period, the writer may refer not to Britain, or even to the British Roman provinces, but to the specific political situation created after 410, with the island of Britain a breakaway yet Roman state. In the last three centuries, the apparently vague name “United States of America” has been given, not to any association of states on a vast and diverse double continent, but to a highly specific state, defined by a highly specific set of institutions; and, in an earlier period, the still more vague name “United Provinces” had belonged, not to any association of “provinces”, but to the specific government that held the mouths of the Rhine. The difference with these long-lived and influential powers is that the Britanniae did not last; and the name did not survive the specific political situation that gave it birth. We see it already a confused and fading memory in the writings of A and Constantius of Lyons, and completely and consciously deleted from the records in Gildas[11].

There is a secondary but politically very important fact. According to E, and to a host of clues[12] including the survival of the classical forensic speech as a literary model used by Gildas, the ruling classes of post-Roman Britain were obsessed with law and legal process. In that case, they are likely to have read the Rescript - a fully valid statement of law from Ravenna - as valid to the letter; and to have found in it, not only a general declaration of independence, but a statement that the ciuitates, rather than the civil or military imperial infrastructure, were made responsible for defence[13]. To take up this new responsibility, the ciuitates must have taken over weapons stores, state weapons factories, and training camps; which must have involved a great deal of coordination.

From the start, then, we are not allowed to think in terms of single ciuitates or groups of ciuitates going their own merry way: quite apart from the fact that it would have spelled disaster against powerful and determined enemies such as Picts, the Roman army was a centralized large-scale organization, and to take over even as much of it as was based in Britain must have required an equally centralized and large-scale administrative effort. In fact, one wonders whether things were not to some extent the other way; whether the existing network of army administration (and tax collection, to feed the army) which must have been in place even after Constantine III took fighting units to Gaul, was not somehow used to form an island-wide government structure, and whether army and tax administrative personnel, still in place were not co-opted by the new government. To me, the independence of the Britanniae looks like nothing so much as the early years of the United States of America, with circumstances throwing a cultured but provincial landholding class with a long experience of local government but no national or international responsibilities, into the government of a large colonial society, with the need to organize a military, political, and legal framework from scratch. There are differences: Britain was far more threatened by uncivilized tribes than 1776 America (though America felt such a threat existed); conversely, imperial authorities did not threaten the Britanniae as England did the Thirteen Colonies (though daydreams of imperial restoration may have been a factor in the time of Galla Placidia and Aetius). And the case of America tends to support my view that we should not even consider any idea of political disunity and ciuitates going their separate ways. Across a far larger country, more thinly populated (by 1776, the Thirteen Colonies had about three million free inhabitants on a surface at least six times that of the island of Britain) and with practically no common past - administratively, intellectually, politically, there was no such thing as "America" practically until the Revolution - the force of events, as well as a common ideology and a common language, held the country together even though common institutions had to be arranged from nothing. A fortiori, then, independent Britain, with three centuries of common Roman administration and an army structure already in place, must have sought common institutions; and in that time and age, that meant monarchy, perhaps with a Senate of noblemen to complement it.

Zosimus 6.5.3 has cast a curse of distortion over every scholarly attempt to reconstruct British history after the Rescript, imposing what we now see is a quite needless presumption that the Roman government structure had been swept away, and authorizing, therefore, all sorts of fancies about the rise of local powers and the fragmentation of Britain into small kingdoms: to the point where the clear statement of every single source that Vortigern was the king of all Britain[14] was questioned. Now we see that no such revolt or collapse took place; and therefore we can take Procopius’ statement that “tyrants”, i.e. Roman usurpers, ruled Britain after the fall of Constantine III, at its full value. We have no evidence whatever for any fragmented British local powers before the sixth century, and every witness we have, however vague, to fifth-century Britain, makes it a united domain. And I take my hat off to John Morris’ shade for perceiving that Gildas saw the rise of uncontrolled local kinglets as an unwelcome and recent development, which had taken place in his lifetime (if Morris was capable of such perceptive reading of texts, why the Devil was he so often cloth-eared and ham-handed with legend, damn it?). In the light of all these facts, any hypothesis that post-Roman Britain, especially before 411-442, might have seen more than one sovereign authority, let alone a proliferation of kinglets, is simply groundless and unnecessary; without Zosimus to muddy the waters, Occam’s Razor would long since have disposed of it.

Unfortunately, our evidence for the institutional set-up of the Britanniae in this period is scanty to say the least. Two Pelagian letters[15], written possibly to an older, well-born Briton by a younger man who was an enthusiastic Pelagian, bear a most unusual heading: Honoreficentia Tua, "To Your Honourableness", a title unknown to the very ritualized forms of late-Roman address. One of them also makes an equally unexpected wish for the addressee, "I wish for you an everlasting consulate", which seems to clash with the fact that the Roman consulate was an annual office. These may reflect local British institutional developments. Perhaps the British made the Consulate into an office with an open-ended term, or at least allowed their consuls to be re-elected time and again: and perhaps a new form of address was devised for a multi-year consul. After all, the number of aristocrats of senatorial rank living in the island must have been small; and to open the highest ranks of the State to all and sundry would depreciate them, a strong consideration in the caste-ridden late Empire. The young Pelagian's "wish" that his addressee should enjoy "an everlasting consulate" suggests that the consulate might not prove so everlasting, that is, that he might be relieved of it, after however many years. But these are hardly clear waters: I say no more than that this seems to me a likelier explanation than any other. Constantius' uir tribuniciae potestatis, "a man with the power of a tribune", seems to belong to a slightly lower, but still respected order of officials: but if Constantius himself could hardly be clear about his rank and powers, we cannot be expected to do better. The evidence for the existence of a British Senate is rather better, and we will deal with it - along with a multitude of other matters - in the next book.

Notes


[1]See Appendix IV.

[2]The rest of this study will offer us several more contradictions between this legend and the reality we discover. To anticipate: the man who came to be called Vortigern overthrew Ambrosius' father, who had been king of Britain - yet the Vortigern of Geoffrey has nothing to do with the murder of Constantine, Ambrosius' supposed father, whom he should have killed if he killed anybody. On the other hand, he is concerned with the murder of Constans, who was indeed killed - but by the men of Honorius; and Gildas mentions no murdered royal brother of Ambrosius. What is more, the Proud Tyrant of Gildas kills nobody, and Ambrosius' father is allowed to spend his days in peaceful retirement; it is the Saxons who kill him. Clearly, Geoffrey's sources were not in touch with historical reality.

[3]It also means that the story was written in a period when the tripartite Roman system of naming had been forgotten. Unfortunately we cannot be sure when this happened in Britain, and at any rate it would only give us a very broad terminus post quem.

[4]Perhaps this also explains why Gildas and later Welsh tradition make the historical Magnus Clemens Maximus, however distorted, into the last Roman emperor of Britain, and place the end of Roman power in Britain in 388, at the end of his unsuccessful usurpation, ignoring altogether the very similar figure of Constantine. Whether or not Gildas had introduced Maximus into Welsh tradition, he and others like him would have identified any historical record of Constantine, not as that of a late Roman usurper, but as that of the first British king. In point of fact, Gildas' insistence on the tyrannus nature of Maximus shows that he is the sort of person he would expect to find on a British throne. That is, he would not be surprised to find that the well-known Constantine of Britain was a less successful doublet of Maximus. That is exactly what he would expect.

[5]P.J.CASEY, The British Usurpers: Carausius and Allectus, London 1994: GUY DE LA BEDOYERE, The golden age of Roman Britain, Stroud 1999; cf. de la Bedoyere's interesting (and witty) letter to Current Archaeology 153 (July 1997), p.358.

[6]I must record some doubts, however, about a supposed instance of Carausius' Classicism: that is, the motto on some of his coins, Exspectate ueni, "come, O long-awaited", described as a quotation from Aeneid 2.283. If that is the case, then Carausius grossly misquoted: not only is the verb uenis (indicative present, you come) rather than ueni (imperative, come!), but Aeneas actually uses it to address, with wild and delusory hope, the ghost of Hector, whom he fleetingly takes for the living man, appearing to him as Troy (Rome's mother city) is being destroyed, and desperately unable to do anything about it! One could hardly imagine a grimmer precedent for a "restorer of ancient virtues" to invoke, or a worse omen; and if Carausius actually had the quotation in mind, which I doubt, it was in the ignorant and imprecise way most people quote old quotes whose meaning is forgotten, always managing to get the thrust of the original wrong.

[7]The age of Arthur, passim, esp. 317-334.

[8]I will however describe all the sovereigns of Britain in succession to Constantine III as "Kings" rather than "Emperors"; first, because it is much easier - all the known individuals involved, from Vortigern to Ambrosius to Edwin of Northumbria, are generally described as kings - and second because it is impossible to recover from anywhere a positive statement that the lord of all Britain was equal in authority to the emperor of Rome. Let us never forget, however, that some sort of imperial succession must have been claimed by any king who managed to gain rule - or to consider that he had gained rule - over all Britain.

[9]Interestingly, its fundamental ideas are reminiscent of a Roman legend, that of the transfer of the leadership of Latin peoples from Alba Longa to Rome. The geographical migration of supreme sovereignty is certified by a battle which takes place after the sovereignty has already moved from one place to another - in Roman legend, Rome is already on to its third king, Tullus Hostilius, before Alba starts challenging its pretensions. In both cases, the “losing” side elects a head of state to fight its war; the second emperor in Maxen, the Alban dictator Mettius Fufetius in the legend of Tullus, which may well mean that they are trying to artificially fill the void of sovereignty which followed the move of the king of the legitimate blood to its new seat. The fact that sovereignty goes first, and only afterwards it is followed by a military defeat, also reminds us of the order in which the “Roman invasions” of RA follow each other; first, a peaceful assertion of sovereignty; then a war that proves that sovereignty in power. As I showed in my Gods of the West I: Indiges (Brussels 1999), archaic Latin and Celtic ideas, as manifested in their respective mythologies, are very close indeed - corresponding to the linguistic closeness of the two language groups within the Indo-European family.

[10]The data for this paragraph are from SNYDER op.cit. 52-55 and notes. For the two inscriptions to Dea Britannia, one on an altar, GUY DE LA BEDOYERE, A companion to Roman Britain, Stroud 2000, 154.

[11]This is very relevant to a major historical problem, the dating of St.Patrick. Patrick is born in the Britains, and as he is writing they still exist under that name; their prelates are powerful enough to not only stand in his way, but nearly ruin him. He is called to return to the Britains to oppose his powerful enemies, and wishes he could, if only to meet his elderly parents and his relatives, who still live in the Britains. ST.PATRICK, Confession, 23, 32, 43; and see Book 4, below.

[12] See especially bk.5, ch.1, below.

[13]Political evolution in the Empire of the West moved in the opposite direction. Within two generations the ciuitates were stripped of all their surviving powers, handed over to comites or Counts nominated by the emperor. This, one of the origins of medieval feudalism, probably did not affect Britain, which had by then fallen to the Saxons. One wonders whether the catastrophic example of the island, whose ciuitates had so comprehensively lost out to a barbarian host they had themselves called in, did not encourage the emperor Majorian, responsible for this reform. He may have felt that it proved the immaturity and irresponsibility of local administrations.

[14]Gildas speaks of a ruler and council with authority over all Britain (27.2); Bede of “Vortigern, king of the Britons” (1.14-15); the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle ditto (year 449 – though this is probably derived from Bede); Nennius makes him the successor to Roman power over Britain (31); Procopius speaks of a single king set over all the British, with the Angiloi and Frissones each having a king of their own; Geoffrey (who had sources other than Nennius) makes Vortigern a usurper of the British throne. Of these sources, Gildas and Procopius have the most weight, as they are speaking about what are either contemporary realities or realities which have a direct influence over the contemporary scene.

[15]MIGNE, Patrologia Latina suppl.1, 1687ff. (Honoreficentia Tua...) and suppl.1, 1375ff.: MORRIS, Pelagian literature, in Journal of theological studies new series 16 (April 1965) 26-60, esp.39: HANSON op.cit. 46.

History of Britain, 407-597 is copyright 2002, Fabio P. Barbieri. Used with permission.

Comments to: Fabio P. Barbieri


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