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The Sources
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Olympiodorus of Thebes
(AD 425)
Robert Vermaat

Olympiodorus of Thebes was a Greek pagan historian from Thebes in Egypt, and had an interest in geography which led him to travel widely. Though he liked to describe himself as a poet, he was an active politician, or rather a diplomat whose mission took him to the Huns and other barbarians. One result is that his work is frequently based on personal observations, but lacking his own personal judgment and comments, for which we must look to Sozomen and Zosimus. Very careful about technical terms, Olympiodorus is noted for his "bare-bones" reports stressing facts and chronological accuracy.

Olympiodorus described his work not as a history, but as source material for a history. His work now survives as summarized fragments, preserved first in the Bibliotheca of Photius in the ninth century. Photius does tell us, however, that the original work covered the years 407-425, was dedicated to Theodosius II and was published not long after 425 in 20 books. It was composed in an annalistic way, with the consular years as a means of dating system.

Britain

Olympiodorus was frequently referenced by Zosimus, especially for the period between AD 400-425. On Stilicho and the subsequent tyrants in Britain, he says:

Fragment 12
There was no doubt discontent [in Britain], with the rule of the Vandal Stilicho, and with lack of attention his government paid to the defence of Britain against the Picts.

From the same fragment, on Constantine III:

Fragment 12
Constantine had been proclaimed in the provinces of Britain and brought to power by a revolt of the soldiers. Indeed, in the provinces of Britain before the seventh consulship of Honorius in 407, they had stirred the army there to revolt, and proclaimed a certain Marcus as supreme ruler.

After the short-lived rule of Gratian, killed by his own troops in AD 407, Constantine assumed command:

Fragment 12
Constantine was then raised to the position of supreme commander. He appointed Justinus and Neovigastes as generals, and leaving ...Britain, crossed with his forces to Bononia [Bologna]... He waited there and, having won over all Gaul and the Aquitanian soldiery, he became master of Gaul as far as the Alps..

This is as far as Olympiodorus gets. Either he does not mention anything about Britain being lost to the Roman empire, or this information has been lost.

Bibliography

  • Snyder, Christopher A. (1998): An Age of Tyrants, Britain and Britons AD 400-600, (Stroud).*

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