Discussion of the Saxon
Invasion of Britain, Part 2
by Michael Veprauskas
The next written source
that will assist us to date the Adventus Saxonum, is
the Historia Brittonum. Generally ascribed to
the monk Nennius, it reflects a British tradition of
these events, much as Bede's History preserves
an English account. In its initial form, it
seems to have been compiled c.830, but was extensively
edited in later centuries. Several Latin
versions, in whole or part, have been identified
throughout Great Britain and the rest of Europe.
The Historia Brittonum contains several
references to the initial arrival of the Saxons,
but one in particular is more exact in dating this
beginning of the world to Constantinus and
Rufus, are found to be five
thousand, six hundred, and fifty-eight years.
Also from the two
consuls, Rufus and Rubelius, to the consul Stilicho,
are three hundred
and seventy-three years.
Also from Stilicho to
Valentinian, son of Placida, and the reign of
Vortigern, are twenty-eight
And from the reign of
Vortigern to the quarrel between Guitolinus and
Ambrosius, are twelve
years, which is Guoloppum, that is Catgwaloph.
Vortigern reigned in Britain when Theodosius
and Valentinian were consuls, and in the fourth year
of his reign the Saxons came to Britain, in the
consulship of Felix and Taurus, in the four hundredth
year from the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus
From the year in which
the Saxons came into Britain, and were received by
Vortigern, to the
time of Decius and Valerian, are sixty-nine
In the preceding quote
the most important item is section four, and concerns
both the beginning of Vortigern's reign and the
arrival of the Saxons. The other four sections
are peripheral to these two events. Here, the
beginning of Vortigern's reign is linked with the
consulship of Theodosius II and Valentinian III, which
occurred in 425. The fourth year of his reign
would have been 428, the year of the consulship of
Felix and Taurus.14
The four hundredth year from the
"Incarnation" is a misnomer, as 428 was
actually the four hundredth year from the
of Christ. Confusion in dating from the Incarnation
and the Passion occurs elsewhere in the Historia
We will not consider
the first statement of Nennius for now, as it is not
directly related to our dating of the Adventus (but
Clerical Portrait of Vortigern).
The second section "from
the two consuls, Rufus and Rubelius, to the consul
Stilicho..." again represents dating
from an important point in Christianity, as the
consuls named held there positions at the customary
time for the Passion, AD 28/29. The Latin text
reads "Item a duobus Geminis Rufo et Rubelio...",
"from the two Gemini". This refers to
Lucius Rubellius Geminus and Gaius Rufus
Geminus who held the consulship in AD 29.
Consuls took office on January 1, of a given year and
so consular dating is from January 1st. The
church dated the New Year from March 25th, thus
creating a slight ambiguity in dating. Three
hundred, and seventy-three years added to this would
bring us to the year 401/402, when Stilicho was regent
to the young Honorius. His actual consulship was
in the year 400. A one to five year dislocation
of years is common in old chronologies. Even
Bede erred on several occasions in this respect.
The point is that an important Christian event is
linked with Stilicho and Honorius, the latter
immediately preceding the reigns of Valentinian III
and Vortigern (except for a very brief reign by
"Also from Stilicho to Valentinian, son of
Placida, and the reign of Vortigern, are twenty-eight years."
Here again, the reign
of Vortigern is clearly linked with that of
Valentinian III. Stilicho became regent of
Honorius, and hence of the Western Roman Empire, in
395. His consulship was in the year 400.
Adding 28 years to either of these two dates takes us
close to the year 425.
from the reign of Vortigern to the quarrel between
Guitolinus and Ambrosius, are
which is Guoloppum, that is Catgwaloph."
As can be seen, all of
the preceding calculations start from the beginning of
an individuals reign, rise to power, or
consulship. From the earliest times when
chronology was based on a prominent individual or
event, it was always from its first year.
Certain parties have expressed confusion, about
whether this statement should be taken to mean the
beginning of Vortigern's reign, or its end. The
beginning is clearly indicated. The year is
The last and fifth
section, which comes after the central events in
section four (Vortigern and arrival of Saxons), starts
from the beginning of an event (arrival of the Saxons)
and moves backwards in time. If we amend 69
years to 169 years we arrive at the end of the reign
of Valerian, 259/60 ad. Valerian vigorously
renewed the persecutions first set in motion by the
Emperor Decius a few years before. Hence the two
names are linked.
It can be seen that
this section of Nennius faithfully expresses a unity
of purpose, both leading to and from two key
events. That is, the rise of Vortigern and the
Adventus Saxonum, the latter of which is dated to
428. The rise to power of Vortigern, in 425,
makes his marriage to Severa - the daughter of the
Maximus (died 388), quite possible. This is
explicitly stated in the well-known pillar of Eliseg.
There are several other
sections from the Historia Brittonum relative to our
quest. The first is as follows:
the above-said war between the Britons and the Romans,
the assassination of their
rulers, and the victory of Maximus, who slew
Gratian, and the termination of the Roman power
in Britain, they were in alarm forty years. Vortigern
then reigned in Britain..."16
indicates the termination of Roman authority in
Britain occurred during the usurpation of Maximus.
Magnus Maximus revolted and slew Gratian in 383.
He drove Valentinian II from Italy in 387. In
388, he was defeated and executed by Theodosius
I. If we add 40 years to any of these dates, as
indicated by the text, we arrive at the years 423-428
and the reign of Vortigern. The tradition
related here appears distinct and independent from the
latter section of Nennius previously quoted.
Elsewhere we read:
Gratian Aequantius was consul at Rome, because then
the whole world was
governed by the Roman consuls, the Saxons were
received by Vortigern in the year of our Lord
four hundred and forty-seven..."17
The translation above,
by J.A. Giles, diverges from the Latin texts which
clearly give the date as "three hundred and
forty-seven years", as the time of arrival of the
Saxons. Presumably, he amended the text by a
hundred years to put it roughly in line with Bede's
Adventus Saxonum, as 347 years was plainly
wrong! The original text also reads "347
years" as dating from the Passion. To this
we arrive at a corrected date of 375 or 379,
depending on whether the original source used 28 or 32
ad. as the date of the Passion. Two of the most
common corruption of Roman numerals are "V"
with "X" and "L" with
"C", especially when the latter
"C" is written in the early square
form. The original date could very well have
been "CCCXCVII (397) years from the
Passion". Adding 28 or 32 years to this
would give a date of 425-429, which fits well with our
previous calculations for Vortigern and the Adventus.
The name of the Emperor Gratian would have been
added as reigning during the years 375-379 of the
Using Geoffrey's method
of dating Camlann as 93 years after the Adventus, we
arrive at the year 521 for this event. This fits
well with the conjectured rise to power of Maelgwn of
Gwynedd, around the year 520, and his later supremacy
among the British. The Annales Cambriae date
Badon some 21 years before Camlann.
Saxonum Part Three
of Monmouth, History
of the Kings of Britain, xi.2.
- Nennius, Historia
Brittonum, Section 66.
Alcock, Arthur's Britain, p. 104-105.
Alcock, Arthur's Britain, p. 104-105.
Historia Brittonum, Section 31.
Historia Brittonum, Sections 50 and 31,
translation by J.A. Giles.