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Flavius Eutropius - Historiae Romanae Brevarium
( ca AD 370)

Robert Vermaat

Flavius Eutropius was a contemporary of Ammianus Marcellinus, and went with him on campaign in Julian’s disastrous Persian war. Eutropius later became the court historian for the emperor Valens (364-378), until the latter’s tragic death at the hands of the Goths at Adrianople. We know little else about his life, but he should not be confused with Eutropius the Eunuch, his more notorious contemporary, who was an advisor to the Emperor Arcadius and Consul in 399.

During his time at Valens’ court, Eutropius wrote a ten-book compendium of Roman history entitled Historiae Romanae Breviarium (A Concise History of Rome). Eutropius was translated into Greek in AD 380 by Paeanius as well as by a certain Capito (whose writings are now lost). Besides Orosius and Bede, Eutropius was used both by Jerome (early 5th century) and Hincmar of Reims (ca AD 806-882).


Eutropius provides details of the British campaigns of Caesar, Claudius, Nero, Vespasian and Trajan, as well as later happenings in Gaul. His description of Claudius' conquest of Britain in AD 43 is based partly on Tacitus:

Historiae Romanae Breviarium VII, 13
He made war upon Britain, which none of the Romans after Julius Caesar had meddled with; and conquering it by Cnaeus Centius and Aulus Plautius, illustrious and noble gentlemen, he had a famous triumph. He added likewise some islands, lying in the ocean beyond Britain, to the Roman Empire, which are called Orcades; and gave the name of Britannicus to his son.

Eutropius also provides details on the successful campaign of Vespasian in Britain:

Historiae Romanae Breviarium VII, 19
[Vespasian] having been sent by Claudius into Germany, and from there into Britain, engaged thirty-two times with the enemy, and added two very potent nations [gentes], twenty towns, and the Isle of Wight [Insulam Vectam], near Britain, to the Roman Empire.

In discussing Nero's reign, Eutropius refers to Boudicca's almost successful rebellion:

Historiae Romanae Breviarium VII, 14
He [Nero] attempted no conquest in the military way, and very nearly lost Britain. Under him two very famous towns were there taken and destroyed" [i.e. London and St. Albans, or Colchester]

Hadrian’s wall

Eutropius is partly responsible for the mistaken references by later historians about the construction and appearance of Hadrian’s Wall. Eutropius attributes the construction of the Antonine Wall to Septimius Severus (who did in fact refurbish it):

Historiae Romanae Breviarium VIII, 18
Septimius had his final campaign in Britain, and in order to secure the lines, he had built a palisade stretching 32 miles from sea to sea.

This inaccuracy was picked up by Orosius in his Historium adversum paganos libra VII, who was later used by Gildas in his de excidio et conquestu Britanniae. Gildas dated the wall even later, to the times of Stilicho, but he might have had a reconstruction in mind. This reference had its consequences. Bede also copied this mistake in his 8th century Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, dating the wall again back to Severus:

Bede, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, 11
They resided within the rampart, which, as we have mentioned, Severus made across the island, on the south side of it..

But Bede had become even more confused by Gildas, who, through Orosius, in fact invented another wall. Bede, who knew through Eutropius from the (mistaken) ‘trench of Severus’, by which he even might refer to the Vallum, mentioned in a later chapter the building of the Antonine (turf) wall, but then also (again!) the building of Hadrian’s wall:

Bede, Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, 12
…thinking that it might be some help to the allies, whom they were forced to abandon, they built a strong stone wall from sea to sea, in a straight line between the towns that had been there built for fear of the enemy, and not far from the trench of Severus. This famous wall, which is still to be seen, was built at the public and private expense, the Britons also lending their assistance. It is eight feet in breadth, and twelve in height, in a straight line from east to west, as is still visible to beholders.

Thus the building of Hadrian’s wall in the second century did become a wall of the third and finally the late fourth or even early fifth century.

A full text (Latin) of Eutropius at: http://www.gmu.edu/departments/fld/CLASSICS/eutropius.html


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