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The Gallic Chroniclers of 452 and 511
(AD 452 and 511)
Robert Vermaat

We have only a slim idea of the now-anonymous authors of these Gallic Chronicles, which are both named after the years of their final entries. The Chronica Gallia a CCCCLII and the Chronica Gallia a DXI, as they are officially called, survive in a number of manuscripts, that all seem to originate from a ninth- or tenth-century Carolingian copy of the fifth- and sixth-century originals. Both authors’ names have been lost to us at least since that date. These chronicles seem to be products of a monastic establishment in southern Gaul (below). Their importance for this study lies foremost in the dating of the Anglo-Saxon takeover of Britain, one of the most important events in this study. Finding a date for this catastrophe would indeed make it possible to place Vortigern securely in the first, rather than the second half of the fifth century. If these entries are authentic, that is.


Over the last decades, a hot debate has sprung up over the authenticity of these dates. Especially those historians that need to stay close to the apparent dating by Gildas (or at least Bede’s interpretation of that dating), are troubled by the second date. This date of 441 is clearly up to ten years too early for the ‘traditional’ Adventus Saxonum, being the invitation by Vortigern and the subsequent revolt, which Bede dated at 446-7, and later at 455. These dates also disagree with Bede’s eight-century ‘reconstructed’ internal chronology from Gildas (though not necessarily with Gildas!), which has recently been advocated especially by Dumville and Snyder. To me, the dating by the Gallic Chronicle of 452 and the Gallic Chronicle of 511 is the watershed that puts Vortigern in the first half of the fifth century, which is in favour of accepting the dates as presented by the Historia Brittonum. (see also 'Forty years of fear').

Attempts have been made to discredit both chronicles as Early Medieval Carolingian editions (Miller), or at least as untrustworthy because or erroneous dating elsewhere (Burgess). It is a know fact that the dating of the Gallic Chronicle of 452 is often confused and unreliable. Only after 446 can the entries be trusted completely, while before that several known events are misdated. Others have tried to demean to significance of these entries by reducing the impact of the Saxon incursions to only small parts of Britain, exaggerated by Mediterranean observers.

Miller’s criticism concerned both the form and the dating, as the manuscript (particularly Jerome’s text) seemed to have been heavily edited. Miller then re-worked the dating on the basis of a mistake in regnal years (a 4-year surplus), and arrived at a date for the final Saxon takeover in 445-6, which happened to agree with that of Bede. As a result, she concluded that this date was taken from Bede in the first place by the same later Carolingian editor, which would mean that the Gallic Chronicle of 452 was useless as a source for the fifth century, and the date of 441 a ‘ghost-date’.

Muhlberger managed to refute this criticism; the text of Jerome had not been edited after the entry for AD 70, so there is no reason to believe that rest was edited as well. Likewise, while Miller was correct in her misgivings about the dating by the chronicler, her solution was too simple (she added 4 years to all entries), as this error in regnal years extended only to the short period of 409-423. Afterwards, the framework of regnal years is correct.

Textual scholarship has now swung in favour of accepting both chronicles as important sources. Wood has argued that the dating scheme using Olympiads in the Gallic Chronicles is uncommon in later annalistic texts. The dating is very accurate when compared with outside evidence, whereas Carolingian editing seems to have been limited to combining the chronicles with Jerome’s Chronici Canones, in order to make a continuous history. Especially Jones & Casey have advocated strongly that the Gallic Chronicle of 452 is proof for a Saxon incursion in Britain around 409-11, that led directly to the revolt of the Britons from the Empire, and both chronicles support the takeover of large parts of Britain by the Saxons. Though Burgess may be too cautious in arguing that the Gallic Chronicles are not accurate enough to be regarded as good witnesses for the fifth century, he does not disagree with the dating of this takeover in around the year 441.

Concluding, it means that while we should urge caution against putting too much faith in precise dates for fifth-century events, this does not undermine the position of the Gallic Chronicles as a very important contemporary source for significant events in Britain. Even when not used for constructing a chronology or a narrative, they are at least a biased but contemporary opinion from Gaul on events that seemed to happening in Britain. In both cases, they are a very important witness for a Germanic revolt in Britain in the first years of the fourth decade of the fifth century. This goes against the ‘traditional’ opinion that these events did not take place before the second half of the fifth century.

Chronica Gallia a CCCCLII

The chronicler of 452 can be deduced to have been a devout Christian from Marseille, like Prosper of Aquitaine, who had lived in Marseille as well. In the year 452, the anonymous chronicler began to write a continuation of Jerome’s Chronici Canones, twenty years after Prosper had started his first, and three years before Prosper issued his final edition of the same project. In fact, as one of the manuscripts states that ..quae sequuntur Prosper Prosper digessit (what follows, Prosper arranged), it was long assumed that Prosper was the author of the Gallic Chronicle up to 452.

Despite similar backgrounds and subject, their ecclesiastical and political opinions were opposed. While Prosper, like Orosius, had been a staunch supporter and a protégée of Augustine, the chronicler of 452 was not:

c. 17: Augustine, who was teaching rhetoric.. was converted to the true faith. He had previously been a Manichaean.
c. 47: Augustine discussed many things in many books.
c. 81: The heresy of the praedestinati, which is said to have had its origin with Augustine..

As a result, he has sometimes been called semi-Pelagian, also because of his assumed relations with Lérins and Faustus of Riez (below). But he criticised Pelagius for a ‘madman’ as well.

Their view of the Roman world was also very different. Prosper was never alarmed at the presence of the barbarians within the empire, and even the wars of the 450s did not shake his trust in Rome. The chronicler of 452, however, regarded the recent imperial defeats as a bad sign for the near future, as he wrote during the invasion of Attila in Gaul, not knowing the outcome. A main theme of his chronicle is the slow dismemberment of the Roman empire. He draws attention more than once to the barbarian invasions and eventual takeovers in Gaul, Spain and Britain, which might constitute the main reason for including Britain in the first place.

Because of his inclination to summarize, we cannot deduce too much from the chronicle, but we might be able to state that the Gallic Chronicle of 452 reflected a general dissatisfaction by the Gallic elite with the Italians. It may not have been a surprise that the men who followed Avitus to Rome in 455 after the death of Valentinian III, were the (grand)sons of the men who had supported Jovinus in 411, after the demise of Constantine III. Prosper, who had left Gaul in 430 for Rome, did not share that feeling. Though he had seen the Vandals sack Rome in 455, his interests lay too much in the religious world to count the setbacks of the secular world as important. The Chronicler of 452 was clearly more down-to-earth for that; to him, the fate of church and state was inseparable. He supported pious rulers like Theodosius I or even like Magnus Maximus, for without these, heretics like the Arians would again spread their evil doctrine throughout the world.

Chronica Gallia a DXI

The earliest witness to the text of the Gallic Chronicle up to 452 is the Gallic Chronicle of 511. This equally anonymous text was written somewhere in southern Gaul as a continuation of Jerome’s chronicle, just as the Gallic Chronicle of 452 had been, The chronicler of 511 used that of 452 as a source, but possibly reworked it. We don’t know if he had a fuller, more complete version at his disposal, or if he used other sources to cross-reference and reconstruct the sometimes faulty chronology of the Gallic Chronicle of 452. But it remains a fact that the Chronicle of 511 is extremely correct in its dating. This becomes apparent when shown that the chronicler of 511 used neither Hydatius nor the Gallic Chronicle of 452, his two known chief sources, for the construction of his basic chronology for the first half of the fifth century.

This becomes immediately apparent when we compare the reigning emperors from Gratian to Marcian:

Gallic Chronicle of 452   Hydatius (469)   Gallic Chronicle of 511  
Gratian (6 years) 6     Gratian with Valentinian II (5 years) 5
    Theodosius I (17 years)   Valentinian with Theodosius I (8 years) 13
Theodosius I (11 years) 17 (with Gratian) 17 Theodosius I (3 years) 16
        Arcadius and Honorius (12 years) 28
Arcadius and Honorius (32 years) 49 Arcadius and Honorius (30 years) 47 Honorius and Theodosius II (18 years) 46
Theodosius II (27 years) 76 Theodosius II (21 years) 68 Theodosius II and Valentinian III (25 years) 71
Valentinian III and Marcian (no length given)   Marcian (no length given)   Valentinian III (5 years) and Marcian (no length given)  

All three have different regnal years in almost all cases, but the Gallic Chronicle of 511 is by far more varied in its chronology. Although dependent on both for the information of that period, he clearly had other sources for the construction itself.


Britain figures prominently in the Gallic Chronicle of 452, which gives us a few entries about Magnus Maximus:

Chronica Gallia a CCCCLII, (AD 383-4)

Gratian, III:
Maximus tyrannus in Britannia a militibus constituitur.

Gratian, IIII:
Incursantes Pictos et Scottos Maximus tyrannus strenue superavit.

Gratian, 3rd year :
Maximus was made a tyrant by his troops in Britain.

Gratian, 4th year :
Maximus the tyrant achieved an admirable victory over the invading Picts and Scots.

Especially the second one is unique, as Maximus’ military exploits in Britain are mentioned nowhere else, before Geoffrey of Monmouth (!).

Next, it provides the very important dates of the first Saxon raid directly before the British revolt in ca 409:

Chronica Gallia a CCCCLII, (AD 409 or 410)

Honorius, XVI:
Britanniae Saxonum incursione davastatae.
Honorius, 16th year :
The Britains were devastated by an incursion of the Saxons.

But foremost, the first indication of the Federates’ revolt in ca 441, a date repeated in the Gallic Chronicle of 511:

Chronica Gallia a CCCCLII, (AD 441)

Theodosius, XVIII-XVIIII:
Britanniae usque ad hoc tempus variis cladibus eventibusque latae in dicionem Saxonum rediguntur.
Theodosius II, 18th and 19th year :
The Britains, which to this time had suffered from various disasters and misfortunes, are reduced to the power of the Saxons.

Chronica Gallia a DXI, (AD 440)

Theodosius, Valentinianus XVI:
Britanniae a Romanis amissae in dicionem Saxonum cedunt.
Theodosius II and Valentinian III, 16th year :
The Britains, lost to the Romans, yield to the power of the Saxons.

This is very straightforward evidence for the dating of the Adventus Saxonum and the takeover of Britain, brought to us by a contemporary witness, who appears to have been writing close enough to the island to notice these events. These dates form an enormously important anchor-point for the British history in the fifth century, not to mention their value for understanding the politics behind it. Though we know from late evidence that the Saxons did not conquer all of Britain at that date, the notice is important nonetheless.

It demonstrates that Bede’s highly rated eight-century chronology for the Adventus Saxonum, dated by him to 445-6 or even 455, is too late. Bede, depending heavily on Gildas, did not know about events a decade earlier, when something occurred that appeared to mark a transition from a harassed Britain to a subjugated Britain. If this event was the revolt of the Federates against Vortigern, as Gildas described, we must accept that Bede’s computed dating of Gildas’s events is wrong.

How sure can we be of the accuracy of this event? As we have seen above, the Gallic Chronicle of 452 has many problems with dating certain events, which we can only be completely sure of after 446. However, we can deduce from the context that this disaster fitted with other disasters that befell the empire at that time, in which :

c. 124: (440) Deserted lands near the city of Valence were given to the Alans, ruled by Sambida.
c. 125: (441) The Britains, which to this time had suffered from various disasters and misfortunes, are reduced to the power of the Saxons.
c. 126: (442) The Alans…subdued by warfare those who resisted them…and obtained possession of the land by force.
c. 127: (443) Sapaudia was given to the remnants of the Burgundians to be divided with the inhabitants.
c. 128: (444) Carthage, having been captured by the Vandals…threw off the power of the Roman Empire.
c. 129: (445)
Thrace is wounded by an incursion of the Huns.

As the events in Gaul, as well as that in Britain are not attested elsewhere, it is difficult to judge how secure the dating of 441 is. We know that Carthage fell in 439 (a widely-known catastrophe) and that a Hunnic war took place in 441-2. Does this mean that the dating for 441 is wrong as well and should be placed in or before 439? Not necessarily, because in comparing these events with others in the text, it can be deduced that only the events that happen further away are misdated, while events in Gaul and Britain are almost always correct. Even so, the dating of 441 could be even earlier, thereby taking it even further away from Bede. And we can be sure that a correction to 446 or later is out of the question, since that part of the chronicle is immaculate.

As a result, placing the events around Vortigern in the 450s becomes unacceptable, as the practise of ‘inviting’ barbarians to an already overrun Britain at such a late date would be incomprehensible. It is in complete contrast with Gildas as well, who is clear about the fact that these barbarians are the first to arrive. On the other hand, this date of 441 fits with the earlier dates for Vortigern (425) and (an) Adventus Saxonum (428) that are supplied by the ninth-century Historia Brittonum.


How did the Chronicler of 452 receive his information, where other historians and chroniclers seem to have been either disinterested, misinformed or simply ignorant? Wood has (cautiously) remarked that, based on three entries relevant to the monastic culture of Lérins (c. 86, 104, 134), that he was in some way associated with Faustus, bishop of Riez. This Faustus was a leading member in the community of Lérins, which included other known fifth-century chroniclers such as Salvian and Hilary. I would dare to postulate that maybe the chronicler of 452 belonged to that group of ascetics, which would account for his hostility towards the doctrine of Augustine.

We can cast the net even wider: both the later emperor Avitus (455-7) as well as Ruricus, the bishop of Limoges, seem to have admired the writings of both Faustus and Sidonius Appolinaris, who was in fact related through marriage to Faustus and Avitus. Sidonius, whose brother was influenced by Faustus, in turn admired the writings of Faustus and knew him as a Briton. Faustus is known to have received books from Britain through a priest by the name of Riocatus. If we identify this Faustus with the Faustus, son of Vortigern, and Riocatus with Riagath, the son of Pascent and thus grandson of Vortigern, we would indeed have an important link for the transfer of information from Britain to southern Gaul. Such a link would add considerably to an understanding of how this contemporary source for Britain was composed, while, in turn, it might also be possible to be more certain of the implications of the other entries to those area.


  • Burgess, R.W. (1990): The Dark Ages Return to Fifth-Century Britain: The 'Restored' Gallic Chronicle Exploded, in: Britannia 21, pp. 185-195.*
  • Burgess, R.W. (1994): The Gallic Chronicle, in: Britannia 25, 1994, pp. 240-243.*
  • Chronica Gallica a CCCCLII et DXI (452 and 511), ed. T. Mommsen, in: Chronica Minora Saec. IV, V, VI, VII vol. 1, pp. 629-666, (1892, repr. Berlin 1961).*
  • Jones, Michael E. and John Casey (1988): The Gallic Chronicle Restored: A Chronology for the Anglo-Saxon Invasions and the End of Roman Britain, in: Britannia XIX, pp. 367-398.*
  • Jones, Michael E. and John Casey (1991): The Gallic Chronicle Exploded?, in: Britannia 22, pp. 212-215.*
  • Jones, Michael E. (1996): The End of Roman Britain, (Cornell).*
  • Miller, Molly (1978): The Last British Entry in the 'Gallic Chronicles', in: Britannia 9, pp. 315-318.*
  • Muhlberger, Steven (1983): The Gallic Chronicle of 452 and its Authority for British Events, in: Britannia 14, pp. 23-33.*
  • Muhlberger, Steven (1990): The Fifth Century Chroniclers. Prosper, Hydatius and the Gallic Chronicler of 452, (Leeds).*
  • Muhlberger, Steven (1992): Looking back from mid century: the Gallic Chronicler of 452 and the crisis of Honorius' reign, in: Drinkwater and Elton, Fifth-century Gaul, pp. 28-37.*
  • Snyder, Christopher A. (1998): An Age of Tyrants, Britain and Britons AD 400-600, (Stroud).*
  • Wood, Ian N. (1984): The End of Roman Britain: Continental Evidence and Parallels, in: Lapidge and Dumville, Gildas: New Approaches, pp. 1-26.*
  • Wood, Ian N. (1992): Continuity or Calamity: the constraints of literary models, in: Drinkwater and Elton, Fifth-century Gaul, pp. 9-18.*

The Gallic Chroniclers of 452 and 511 is Copyright © 2002, Robert Vermaat. All rights reserved.

VortigernStudies is copyright © Robert Vermaat 1999-2010. All rights reserved