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Forty Years of Fear
Facts, fiction and the dates for Vortigern
in chapter 66 of the Historia Brittonum

Robert Vermaat

The Heroic Age - Magazine
first published in
The Heroic Age

This paper[1] defends the accuracy of three dates, relating to the reign of Vortigern, given in the Historia Brittonum.[2]We shall be concerned chiefly with chapter 66 (Morris 1980:39), which presents the reader with an impressive set of calculations and dates[3]

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. (HB § 66; Morris 1980: 80)
From the beginning of the world to Constantinus and Rufus are 5658 years (A.D. 457).
Also, from the Two Twins Rufus and Rubelius
(A.D. 29), to Stilicho (A.D. 400), 373 years.
Also, from Stilicho to Valentinian, son of Placidia, and the reign of Vortigern, are 28 years.
And from
[5] the reign of Vortigern to the quarrel between Vitalinus and Ambrosius are 12 years, that is Wallop, the battle of Wallop. Vortigern however, held empire in Britain in the consulship of Theodosius and Valentinian (A.D. 425), and in the fourth year of his reign the Saxons[6] came to Britain, in the consulship of Felix and Taurus(A.D. 428), in the 400th year from the Incarnation[7] of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
From the year when the Saxons came to Britain and were welcomed by Vortigern to Decius and Valerian are 69 years (A.D. 497). (Morris 1980: 39)

This highly important passage purports to date three events in fifth-century Britain; the accession of Vortigern (in A.D. 425), the arrival of the Saxons in the fourth year of Vortigern (A.D. 429) and the battle of Guoloph in the twelfth year of Vortigern (A.D. 436 or 437). None of these dates, however, agree with the more traditional dates for these events presented by Bede and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle[8]. For most scholars an 'early' Vortigern as opposed to Bede’s dating around A.D. 449 might be acceptable, but such an early date for the coming of the Saxons is out of the question. Even so, some scholars have expressed views that are in favour of the accuracy of these early dates, especially Hector Munro Chadwick (1954), Leslie Alcock (1971), John H. Ward (1972), John Morris (1973), Stephen Johnson (1980), Horst-Wolfgang Böhme (1986), J.N.L. Myres (1986), Sheppard Frere (1987), Bernard Bachrach (1988), N.J. Higham (1994), Michael Jones (1996) and Dark & Dark (1997).[9]

The problem is of course that these three dates from chapter 66 are not recorded in any independent contemporary fifth-century source. In fact, no surviving contemporary insular source comments on them,[10] and on the continent the closest observers, such as Prosper and the 'Gallic Chronicles', are in southern Gaul. The first British glimpse is from Gildas, (Winterbottom 1978) a century after the events in question, followed by Bede (Shirley-Price 1990) in the eight century and 'Nennius', the supposed author[11] of the Historia Brittonum in the ninth century.

Though Bede is the earlier, he is considered more accurate, mostly due to his use of Gildas, who is still considered authoritative for the period. Until the late sixties however, the Historia Brittonum was used freely as a source, particularly because of the details it contains. Though it seemed clear, even then, that much of its contents should be treated with extreme caution, many of the dates provided had been considered correct. This culminated in large period-studies such as 'The Age of Arthur' (1973) by the late John Morris, whose use of the Historia Brittonum led to much criticism among historians.[12]

Long-overdue[13]textual study of the Historia Brittonum from the 1970s onwards, established its untrustworthiness with regard to dates. The relatively late date of the Historia’s compilation in relation to the events it describes, its indiscriminate use of myth and legend alongside more accepted history, but also the apparent inability of the anonymous compiler to separate Anno Domini and Anno Passionis dates (David Dumville 1972-74: 439-441), contributed much to this conclusion. To establish the true historical value of the text, the historical facts had to be separated from the fiction, especially where early English myth and legend were concerned. Chapters on Arthur were therefore rejected, and events with seemingly precise dates such as the accession of Vortigern, the Adventus Saxonum and the Battle of Guoloph shared this fate. Several authors came to the conclusion that these dates had no historical validity at all.[14]


The first of these critics was Nikolai Tolstoy (1962: 52-153), who suggested a possible solution to the problem of the discrepancies between the Vortigern dates in the Historia Brittonum and in Bede in a passage from chapter 31 of the Historia Brittonum:

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...(HB § 31; Morris 1980: 66-67) It came to pass that after this war between the British and the Romans, when their generals were killed, and after the killing of the tyrant Maximus and the end of the Roman Empire in Britain, the Britons went in fear for 40 years. Vortigern ruled in Britain, and during his rule he was under pressure, from fear of the Picts and the Irish, and of a Roman invasion, and, not least, from dread of Ambrosius. Then came three keels, driven into exile from Germany... (Morris 1980: 26)

According to Tolstoy, the key to the problem of apparently irreconcilable dates[15] was a mistaken calculation. This calculation added the forty years in which 'the Britons went in fear' to the year A.D. 388 (Maximus' death), to give the supposed date of the arrival of the Saxons (A.D. 428).

Tolstoy (1962:152) considered this supposed calculation a mistake, for this forty years should clearly have been added to the real "end of the Roman Empire in Britain", namely A.D. 409. This would give A.D. 449 for the Adventus, which fitted perfectly with the traditional dates of Bede and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.[16] The accession of Vortigern would accordingly be pushed forward to A.D. 446, a date acceptable to most historians as it occurred together with the "appeal to Aetius"[17]. The conflict with Ambrosius at the Battle of Guoloph, now dated to A.D. 458, would therefore agree with Gildas and also with Bede’s dating of Ambrosius Aurelianus some time after 449. Though Tolstoy's solution reconciles the dating of ‘Nennius’ with the traditional dating of Vortigern and the Adventus Saxonum, it remains unsatisfactory as all the three assumptions upon which it is based are questionable:

Tolstoy argued that the dates as originally calculated by 'Nennius' were irreconcilable with what we know of fifth-century history. But this assumption is no longer tenable. Since Tolstoy wrote in the early 1960s, archaeology has put forward evidence[18] for a more complex and less traditional transition from the Roman empire during the first half of the fifth century. The possible dating of such a transition is perfectly reconcilable with 'Nennius' dates.

Tolstoy’s second assumption is that the period of forty years leading up to the arrival of the Saxons was originally added to the date of the death of Maximus, i.e. to the year A.D. 388. This is by no means stated by 'Nennius', whose statement about the ‘forty years’ just happens to be followed by the mention of Vortigern and the subsequent Adventus Saxonum. 'Nennius', who is clear about the dates through the consuls that he mentions, does not make such a computation. First, Vortigern comes to power only 36 years after A.D. 388, in A.D. 425. Second, 'Nennius' does not state that the 'period of fear' ended with the arrival of the Saxons. How could he - these Saxons are not exactly portrayed as liberators from such a threat! In my opinion there is nothing that warrants a direct chronological connection between these two sentences. This problem has received no further attention from subsequent critics. See more of this below (Dumville).

Tolstoy's third assumption is that 'Nennius' was ignorant of the traditional dates for Vortigern and the Adventus Saxonum as presented by Bede. Had he not been so, the discrepancy between his solution and theirs would have been obvious immediately. To have accepted this discrepancy would have made 'Nennius' look at least very careless. But 'Nennius' could hardly have been ignorant of these dates, for though Bede does not seem to be included in the impressive list of sources apparently available to ‘Nennius’,[19] his use of English material makes it extremely unlikely that he had no access to Bede’s work or disregarded it deliberately. This means that he must have noticed the discrepancy referred to above, and that he accepted that fact. Therefore, either his calculation was correct or he had access to another source that was prominent enough to defy Bede, maybe a set of dates, now lost (I will deal with this possibility below). Tolstoy (1962:152) did indeed acknowledge that there might have been such a possible source, an original core which provided the fourth year for the Adventus and the twelfth year for the battle of Guoloph.


The next to tackle this problem was David Dumville (1972-74). His conclusion was that 'Nennius' was attempting to write a synthetic history (Dumville 1986:1) and as a result looked for the dates of the Adventus Saxonum and the accession of Vortigern. Dumville states that 'Nennius' computed these dates himself, using only two sources, Prosper's Epitoma Chronicon, and Victorius' Cursus Paschalis (Dumville1972-74:444). After he had made the calculation as to the date he wanted, 'Nennius' subsequently added references to the contemporary Roman consuls from Victorius' Cursus Paschalis (Dumville 1972-74: 445) to add authority to his text.

Like Tolstoy, Dumville (1972-74:445) saw the statement in chapter 31 as the key to the problem. 'Nennius' would have discovered from Prosper that Maximus' death occurred at the hands of the Emperors Theodosius and Valentinian in A.D. 388. To this he would have added the period of forty years to arrive at the date for the Adventus Saxonum as proposed by Tolstoy. But unlike Tolstoy's solution, Dumville's solution also aligns itself with a statement in chapter 29:

Post multum intervallum temporis a Valentiniano et Theodosio consulibis in tertio ab Avviluea lapide spoliatus indumentis regiis sistitur et capite damnatur. (HB § 29; Morris 1980: 66) After a long lapse of time, he [Maximus] was stopped by the consuls Valentinian and Theodosius at the third milestone from Aquileia, deprived of his royal raiment, and sentenced to execution. (Morris 1980:25)

This is a quotation from Prosper’s Chronicle (c. 1191, AD 388), though altered by the substitution of the word consulibus for imperatoribus. According to Dumville, this showed that 'Nennius' believed that emperors gave way to consuls, a view supposedly confirmed when he found in the Victorian Cursus Paschalis that Valentinian and Theodosius were consuls in A.D. 387 and 388 (Dumville 1972-74: 444).

This in turn led to Dumville's explanation of the impressive chronological accuracy of the equation of the Adventus Saxonum with the fourth year of Vortigern. As 'Nennius' supposedly wished to establish the accession of Vortigern, Dumville states that ‘Nennius’ turned again to these tables to find both consuls who brought the reign of Maximus to an end, and found both Valentinian and Theodosius mentioned together for the first time in Anno CCCXCVIII (A.D. 425). ‘Nennius’ then supposedly equated these consuls in A.D. 425 with the emperors in A.D. 388. Hence, since Vortigern succeeded Maximus, his accession occurred in A.D. 425. This meant that the Adventus Saxonum took place in A.D. 388 + the ‘Forty Years of Fear’ = A.D. 428.

Thus the Adventus Saxonum occurred in the fourth year of Vortigern. Dumville considered the appearances of the 1st year and the 12th year as useless, for they were only generated by 'Nennius', solely for the purpose of establishing the dates. Dumville concluded that this impressive chronological precision in dating the Adventus Saxonum was illusory (Dumville, 1972-74: 445) and that there was no possiblity of some authentic native record behind the synchronisms.
Yet this solution is not satisfactory. It rests upon a number of mistakes and assumptions which can be disproved.

First, Dumville states that 'Nennius' equated the accession of Vortigern with the period following Maximus death [20] for he looked for the first occurrence of Theodosius and Valentinian together as consuls to find the date for the accession of Vortigern. I believe this to be a fundamental mistake. I would concede immediately that such a computation seems likely, but this is simply not supported by the text. The sole fact that the sentence “…and after the killing of the tyrant Maximus and the end of the Roman Empire in Britain, the Britons went in fear for 40 years“ is followed by the next sentence: “Vortigern ruled in Britain…”  does not prove that 'Nennius' connected both statements in any way. It does not mean that ‘Nennius’ thought Vortigern directly succeeded Maximus (as both Dumville and Miller claimed, below) nor that the Saxons arrived in Britain 40 years after the end of the Roman Empire in Britain (as Tolstoy claimed, above).

So how would 'Nennius', knowing this, possibly have come to an equation with this result? He clearly did not equate the death of Maximus (or even the period thereafter) with the accession of Vortigern. The enormous discrepancy in the length of the period - no less than 36 years - would of course have been clear to 'Nennius'. He clearly proved this with his statements that the Adventus Saxonum was in the fourth year of Vortigern and that there was a period of forty years between Maximus' death and the accession and/or the Adventus Saxonum. Even more to the point; Prosper, who was one of the sources used by ‘Nennius’, ascribed the fall of Maximus to Theodosius and Valentinian ‘sub anno’ 388. How ‘Nennius’ would have managed to use Prosper’s dates and still choose 425 (unless he was being deliberately fraudulent) is inexplicable, but more of this below (Miller, especially note 29).

Second; in proposing his solutions Dumville assumes that 'Nennius', apparently muddling his A.D. and A.P. dates, fails to distinguish between the emperors of the fourth and the fifth century, confusing the emperors Theodosius and Valentinian with their successors. But 'Nennius' would have surely noticed in his source (the Victorian Cursus Paschalis) the names of Stilicho and Aetius before the year he supposedly equated with the death of Maximus. He would then also have known that the consuls he found in A.D. 425 were not the Theodosius I and Valentinian II of the fourth century, but the Theodosius II and Valentinian III of the fifth! 'Nennius' is not likely to have made such an enormous mistake, for he states in chapter 29 that Theodosius and Valentinian ruled together  for eight years.[21] Yet the Theodosius and Valentinian he supposedly found in the Cursus Paschalis appear over a period of ten years.[22] This could be explained as a simple mistake, but taken together with the rest of the evidence I propose that 'Nennius' indeed knew what he was writing about.

Third; Dumville assumes that 'Nennius' looked in the Victorian Cursus Paschalis for the appearance of Theodosius and Valentinian together to deduce the accession of Vortigern. But Dumville fails to explain why 'Nennius' specifically had to choose for the year A.D. 425 for this event, instead of, e.g. A.D. 426, where both names occur as well, as they do in other years.[23] The names of Theodosius and Valentinian also appear in several other years by themselves,[24] as they of course do before the death of Maximus.[25] As there is no reason why 'Nennius' would not have chosen any of these dates, the supposed choice of this date now becomes difficult to explain.

Concluding, Dumville's suggestion for the calculation of the year A.D. 428 is not sufficient, neither is his solution for the date of the accession of Vortigern in the year A.D. 425. Therefore Dumville's proposed solutions for the mechanics behind the supposed calculation of dates by 'Nennius' remain unconvincing. Dumville has never attempted to explain the origin of the remaining date, i.e. the twelfth year of the reign of Vortigern, the battle of Guoloph.


Molly Miller is the third and last of the authors to be discussed here. Her solutions to the problems of chapter 66 are quite different from those of her predecessors. Not only did she attempt to explain the ‘twelfth year’ of Vortigern and the seemingly unrelated battle of Guoloph, but she developed a solution based on the text itself instead of looking at various calculations within the text. Though Miller agreed with Dumville that ‘Nennius’ (or a source) might have believed Vortigern to have succeeded Maximus directly in A.D. 425 (1977-78:52),  she proposed two different reasons to dispose of  the resulting supposed accuracy.

Miller’s first reason is that the dates in chapter 66 of the Historia Brittonum might have been based on the pedigree of Gwrtheyrnion contained in chapter 39, which is probably the only evidence that might confirm them. This pedigree would support the adult lifetime of Vortigern falling within or overlapping the years from 425 to 462-463.[26] Though this source is not contemporary and the pedigree uncertain, it can’t be completely disproved (Miller 1978: 52-55).

Miller’s second, more intricate, explanation deals with a possible mistake made by ‘Nennius’. Miller based this upon a possibly ninth- or tenth-century document, edited by Mommsen (Chronica Minora I, 1892: 515-566) containing several manuscripts,[27] especially the Gallic Chronicle of 452, erroneously attributed to Prosper.[28] The entry in this text under Honorius XXX is a seemingly duplication of Maximus’ death: "Maximus tyrannus de regno deicitur…"[29] Actually, this could be a reference to another Spanish usurper with the name of Maximus, who was raised by Gerontius (409) in rebellion against Constantine III. There might even have been another one of that name, as it is known from Sozomen that Honorius executed at least one Maximus (Muhlberger: 171 n.75). Since the fifth entry before this one clearly mentions the end of Magnus Maximus,[30] it is clear that this one is not about him. Yet it seems possible that this text, attributed to Prosper, could have led to the confusion of ‘Nennius’ (or an earlier source)[31] in choosing the date for both the death of Maximus and the accession of Vortigern.[32]

Though this solution suggests that 'Nennius' in this way established that Vortigern had succeeded Maximus directly, and still could come up with an accession-date of A.D. 425, the explanation still falls short, beacuse Miller fails to create a link between the sources used by ‘Nennius’ and this manuscript. We have no evidence that 'Nennius' had access to or even had knowledge of this Gallic Chronicle of 452, but we do know that ‘Nennius’ used Prosper (see note 19), who does not make the mistake of erroneously duplicating Maximus’ death. Furthermore, as I have shown above, by stating in chapter 66 that Vortigern acceeded in A.D. 425, 'Nennius' clearly showed that he made no such mistake.

Miller further tries to explain the calculations of chapter 66 by attempting to ‘reconstruct’ the text itself. This reconstruction is based on the assumption that the original text once consisted of two columns (Miller 1980:26). Because of this, the entry of "et a regno Guorthigirni..", originally in the middle of the chapter (above), should in fact be placed at the very end. Furthermore, the word regno, originally translated as accession, which to Miller can't be right (Miller 1980:27), has been changed by Miller to reign. To do this,  the "a" (et a regno..) has to be removed as a copyist’s false correction. Miller now translates the entry as ‘And for Vortigern’s reign are twelve years’. This not only justifies the removal of the entry to the end of the chapter, its new translation immediately explains the connection to the Battle of Guoloph: the discordia that in this explanation marked the end of Vortigern’s reign.

Miller’s arguments look very impressive: ‘Nennius’, a source, or someone else responsible for transcribing the Historia Brittonum appears to have been convinced that Vortigern ruled for twelve years, a reign ended by a discordia at the Battle of Guoloph. She herself urges caution,[33] for though Miller claims to have solved the problems, she admits that her solution remains, unfortunately, little better than juggling with words, because too many scribal errors and other such assumptions have to be taken into account. Therefore, apart from possible confirmation by the pedigree, Miller supplies no new facts. The date of the Adventus Saxonum in A.D. 428 remains unexplained.[34]


This leaves the question as to what does explain the origin and dating of the entries for Vortigern's first year (accession), his fourth year (Adventus Saxonum) and his twelfth (the battle of Guoloph)? Explanations include a simple mistake (Tolstoy), ghost-dates calculated by 'Nennius' (Dumville) or a muddled transcription of the text (Miller). But when examined, none of these seem satisfactory. A last remaining option is one of of a real underlying source for the dates in the Historia Brittonum, possibly a contemporary set of annals.

As we have seen above, Tolstoy acknowledged there might have been a 'core', that stated that the Adventus Saxonum occurred in the fourth year of Vortigern (Tolstoy 1962:152). Even Miller believed it certain that the dates listed in chapter 66 came from an older document incorporated into the Historia Brittonum.[35] Though this option was rejected by Dumville (1972-74:445), we have seen that his reasons for this rejection are not satisfactory. The advantage with this solution is that no change to 'Nennius' methodology is neccesary. ‘Nennius’ may have found the year elsewhere and provided the consuls accordingly, instead of finding the consuls first and only then finding the year. The problem is of course that hardly any evidence of such a source exists.

The evidence that we have is very slight, nor does it point to a set of annals that might underlie the list behind chapter 66. Yet it does provide evidence that there were contemporary insular sources with knowledge of Vortigern. It was David Dumville (1973: 312-314) who pointed this out with reference to a ninth-century chronicle-fragment [36] that provides a possible source. Dumville thought it a short British chronicle which shows an early form of the name "Vortigern":

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 In the year 449 Martinus and Valentinian took the empire and held it for seven years; during which time the Angles, whose leader was Hengist, son of Ohta, came to Britain at the invitation of Uuertigern, king of the Britons.

The chronicle is based (Dumville, 1973: 312) on Bede’s annalistic summary in his Historia Ecclesiastica V.24 (Shirley-Price 1990, 325-326), but with additional information (in italics here). This passage is part of only twelve entries, starting at the year 60 B.C. and cut short after A.D. 565, where Bede continues. Though dating back to a French scriptorium in the second half of the ninth century the chronicle is almost certainly English, originated up to a century earlier (Dumville, 1973: 312). However, the sources of this chronicle might have included a very early British set of annals.

The evidence for this is the form of the name of Vortigern. The very early version of Vortigern's name (Uuertigerno) is considered by Kenneth Jackson to be evidence for a possible fifth-century source for the chronicle fragment.[37] Though the spelling of Vortigern’s name might have been drawn from another version of Bede's De temporum ratione, where the form Vertigerno is used, this certainly need not have been the case. Bede's form of Vertigerno probably went back to a British original of *Wortigernos (Jackson 1982: 36). Though it certainly proves that Bede used very early sources, it must be stressed that, apart from Gildas, such sources in fact did exist.

We may assume that, based on such early forms of the name of Vortigern, at least in theory, sources contemporary with Vortigern existed in the period immediately before Bede and ‘Nennius’ wrote. Though ‘Nennius’ did not use this form of the name, we need not conclude that he had no access to such early sources. We know he used Isidore of Seville and very probably Bede as a source and must therefore have been aware of early forms as Uurtigernus or Vertigerno. That he used Guorthigirnus instead was probably only for the benefit of his (ninth-century) Welsh audience.


The purpose of this paper was to re-examine the validity of the dates in chapter 66 of the Historia Brittonum, by examining the criticism of ‘Nennius’ supposed methods. In the light of the enormity of the mistakes neccesary, we can safely rule out the idea that ‘Nennius’ knowingly looked in the Victorian Cursus Paschalis for the names of Valentinian and Theodosius to establish the date of Vortigern’s accession. He did not need to, for we can safely assume that he did not equate the accession of Vortigern with either the end of Maximus’ reign or the ‘forty years of fear’ that supposedly followed it. What he did add from this and other sources was the names of the consuls, which in all probability were not present in any early British source. He also made several calculations, thereby muddling several sets of dating and showing his lack of knowledge and insight in these sources. We have no grounds for thinking that he carelessly or deliberately corrupted his sources in any way. Furthermore, though he was aware of Bede and the (later) dating of Vortigern in that source, he still chose to reach a very different conclusion.

We can therefore no longer totally rule out the idea that the list of dates in chapter 66 of the Historia Brittonum was indeed based upon an underlying earlier source, now lost. Concerning the accuracy of the dates for Vortigern in chapter 66 of the Historia Brittonum we may therefore conclude, at least speculatively, that they could very well have been taken from a fifth-century British source.


[1] This paper was first published in The Heroic Age, Issue 2 (Winter 1999-2000), though this draft is slightly updated. An earlier version of this paper was first presented at the Conference on The Medieval Chronicle, 13 July 1996 in Driebergen, The Netherlands. 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: British History and the Welsh Annals, Latin and trans. John Morris (1980), in: History from the Sources VIII, Chichester, and Mommsen, Theodor (1894-98), Chronica Minora iii, pp. 111-222 in: Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi xiii, Berlin. All translated passages are taken from the former. All citations are to HB.
[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 Rescension, 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 with English and also in the phrases below.
[7] Though the Latin text says Incarnation, Morris translates with Passion.
[8] Bede gives the traditional date of the year 449: Shirley-Price 1990: 62. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives both 448 (Winchester MS) and 449 (Peterborough MS): Swanton 1996: 12 and 13.
[9] 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 and 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 known as the Annales Cambriae ).
Ward, 1972: 278-9. Ward accepted the dating of the Historia Brittonum, but dated Vortigern's accession to A.D. 426. He regarded the date of A.D. 428 for the Adventus as an 'obvious' interpolation.
Morris, 1973: 49, 55-6 and 75ff. Morris dated Vortigern's accession to A.D. 425 and the 'Saxon Revolt' to A.D. 442.
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 A.D. 428 for the Adventus was "probably no better than Bede’s of A.D. 445x455, but that archaeological evidence suggests that it is rather nearer the truth."
Böhme, 1986: 559-561. Böhme accepted the date of A.D. 428 for the Adventus Saxonum from the Historia Brittonum, 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.
Frere, 1987: 361 and 373-4. Frere believed that Vortigern began his rule in A.D. 425, that the Saxon Federates arrived around A.D. 430 and that these federates rebelled in A.D. 442.
Bachrach, 1988: 138-140. 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 A.D. 450 or A.D. 480.
Higham, 1994: 118-148. 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 ".
Dark & Dark, 1997: 135. Although they are unsure of the exact time of arrival of the first independent settlers, Dark & Dark 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] The exception of course being St Patrick, who unfortunately has nothing to report relating to this issue.
[11] 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). Since the real Nennius (c. A.D. 821) was almost contemporary with the 'anonymous author' of Dumville (who is dated c. A.D. 829), I have used the form 'Nennius' instead.
[12] See Kirby and Williams (1975-76); Dumville (1977); and Campbell (1986).
[13] The last to do so had been Ferdinand Lot (1934) Most of the recent work has been undertaken by Professor David N. Dumville, whose articles on this subject are conveniently re-published in Dumville 1990.
[14] Nikolai Tolstoy (1962), David Dumville (1972-74) and Molly Miller, both (1977- 1978) and (1980).
[15] Tolstoy 1962: 152: "It is extremely difficult, to say the least, to reconcile this date with what is known of early fifth-century history."
[16] Kirby, 1970: 45-46 and 58. Though he did not support this solution by Tolstoy, Kirby agreed that the calculation of "409 + 40 years equals 449" could very well have been how this date for the Adventus 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' death and the fear in which Vortigern lived, equating both to arrive at Vortigern’s accession 40 years after Maximus' death.
[17] Gildas, DEB 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): 118-124.
[18] Most notably Sonia Chadwick Hawkes (1974) and Horst Wolfgang Böhme (1986). See also Martin 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.
[19] Dumville, 1977: 177 and 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’ 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.
[20] 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.
[21] HB § 29; Morris, 1980: 66. "Valentinianus cum Theodosio regnavit annis VIII."
[22] Victorii Aquitani, Cursus Paschalis; Mommsen, Theodor (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).
[23] Victorii Aquitani, Cursus Paschalis; Mommsen, Theodor (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).
[24] Victorii Aquitani, Cursus Paschalis; Mommsen, Theodor (1894-98): 716-720: Anno CCLXI: Theodosio II et Cynegio (A.D. 388) is of course the perfect spot, but both appear separately no less 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.
[25] Victorii Aquitani, Cursus Paschalis; Mommsen, Theodor (1894-98): 716: Valentinian in 373, 376, 378 and 387, Theodosius in 380.
[26] Though admittedly only if its generations have the longer average length of 37,5 instead of the shorter average of 25 years. This floruit would of course also support the traditional dates for Vortigern.
[27] London BL Addit 16974.
[28] Muhlberger 1990: 136-137. 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.
[29] Miller 1978: 317. Miller supplies the year A.D. 425, but does not comment on how she thought that 'Nennius' would have mistaken this entry about a Spanish usurper for a duplication of events around Maximus Maximus. Prosper relates to this second Maximus as well, but this one is spared by Honorius (c. 1243-45, AD 409-412).
[30] Miller 1978: 317. London BL Addit 16974: Gallic Chronicle of 452, the entry of Theodosius iiii, A.D. 388.
[31] See note 28: this mistake would have had to be made before the ninth century or earlier.
[32] The reasoning behind this is quite intricate. Miller never states this opinion in full, as it is divided between two articles (1977-78:317 and 1978:52). This conclusion must therefore remain my own, based though upon Miller’s quite strong hints. Basically, Miller seems to think that 'Nennius' read both Prosper and the Chronicle of 452 and could have noticed the similarity between and Proper's (c. 1191, AD 388) and the entry for Honorius XXX. He would then possibly have mixed them up, taking the regnal year attached to the second as related to the first one - ergo did Maximus die in AD 425, which 'Nennius' knew or took to be the accession of Vortigern. I can only comment that such a mistake would have been so incomprehensible (like those proposed by Dumville, above), that I fail to see the possiblity.
[33] Miller 1980: 28: "This is much more - it must be emphasized - of a picture than a reconstruction."
[34] Miller 1980: 29. Miller did in fact prepare a paper on this subject ('Dates of the Adventus Saxonum'), which has not been published as far as I'm aware.
[35] Miller 1980: 29. Miller does not say how old this list would have been.
[36]Dumville 1973: 312. Codex 178, Bürgerbibliothek Bern, Switserland.
[37]Dumville 1973: p.314, note 5: Kenneth Jackson 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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