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Victorius of Aquitaine - Cursus Paschalis annorum DXXXII
(AD 457)
Robert Vermaat

Victorius of Aquitaine, a countryman of Prosper and also working in Rome, produced in 457 an Easter Cycle, which was based on the consular list provided by Prosper’s Chronicle. This dependency caused scholars to think that Prosper had been working on his own Easter Annals for quite some time. In fact, Victorius published his work only two years after the final publication of Prosper's Chronicle. Victorius finished his Cursus Paschalis in A.P. 330 (A.D. 457); from that date onwards he left blank the column giving the names of the consuls, but his lunar tables were extended to the year A.D. 559 or A.P. 532 - hence the name, Cursus Paschalis annorum DXXXII (Easter Table up to the year 532). This first version was later continued by other authors, who filled in the names as the years passed.

Consul Basilius (541 AD) celebrating his new office, accompanied by Roma as an allegorical figure - Ivory memorial plaque The Victorian system of the Cursus Paschalis was made official by synod in Gaul in 541 and was still in use for historical work in England by 743, when an East Anglian king-list was created, which doube-dated by Victorian and Dionysian eras. Also, it was used for a letter to Charlemagne in 773. Victorius was, probably in its continued form, a source for both Bede (who found here that Aetius was consul for the third time in A.D. 446) and the Historia Brittonum. However, by this time the Cursus Paschalis was probably obsolete both in England and Wales.

As with all sources from Antiquity, Victorius is not a totally reliable source of information. For instance, between the years AD 276 and AD 345 the consuls mentioned by Victorius are one year off with the consuls named in the 'Chronochraphy of 354' (also named 'Calendar of 354'), a 4th century illuminated manuscript, which was produced in 354 AD for a wealthy Roman Christian named Valentius. This MS contains (part VIII) a list of Roman consuls up to 354 AD. These problems do not influence the theory below, however. But it once more illustrates that sources must be studied and compared, not taken at face value as too often happens in 'genealogical studies' seen on the internet.

The text of the Cursus Paschalis begins with Year 1, which is the year A.P. 1 and hence the year A.D. 28. As noted above, Victorius' entries ended with A.P. 330 (A.D. 457).

Historia Brittonum

‘Nennius’ the supposed author of the Historia Brittonum, probably used Victorius' Cursus for the consuls that were active in the yearsof certain events that he had found earlier. These consuls he then apparently inserted into his own work for the embellishment of his history. Dumville suggested that 'Nennius' used a copy of the Cursus that was probably of irish descent, which contained synchronisms of consular dates with some important Irish events. This might have inspired him to do the same for his British history. Miller suggested that the author was trained in the north (probably York) and had thus aquainted himself with the Victorian system.

Though it has been proposed that ‘Nennius’, by looking for the consuls and then supplying the year (especially when looking for the dates of Vortigern), in fact misused Victorius’ Cursus, I have tried to challenge that opinion. Though the full discussion is printed elsewhere, some of it is printed here as well, because of its strong reliance on the consuls presented in the Cursus Paschalis. The Computus (a.k.a. chapter 66 of the Historia Brittonum) presents us with three highly important dates. This passage purports to date three crucial events in fifth-century Britain; the accession of Vortigern (in A.D. 425) and the arrival of the Saxons in the fourth year of Vortigern (A.D. 429). This is the full text of chapter 66:

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.
From the beginning of the world to Constantinus and Rufus are 5658 years.
Also, from the Two Twins Rufus and Rubelius, to the consulship of Stilicho, 373 years.
Also, from Stilicho to Valentinian, son of Placidia, and the reign of Vortigern, are 28 years.
And from 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, and in the fourth year of his reign the Saxons came to Britain, in the consulship of Felix and Taurus, in the 400th year from the Incarnation 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.

All dates are embellished with regnal years of consuls, found in the Cursus Paschalis, apart from the last one.

  • The first entry is taken literally from Victorius, with A.D. 457 being the last entry to which he added consuls. This already shows that 'Nennius' was using Victorius to look up his dates and consuls as a reference for other historical information in his posession. The 'beginning of the world' would be B.C. 5201, a date taken from Eusebius' lost Chronicon. This source, preserved in Jerome's Chronicon, reckons from the bginning to the world to Valens' 14th year (A.D. 378) the number of 5579 years.
  • The second entry is also literally from Victorius, with A.D. 28 being the first entry in the Cursus Paschalis. The 'Twins' Rufus and Rubelius, are in fact not mentioned (but added in a later MS which 'Nennius' must have used); the entry for 'year one' being "anno I - duobus Geminis" (that's Anno Passio 1 and hence Anno Domini 28). The calculation apparently points to the first consulship of Stilicho in A.D. 400 (the second being in 405). That 28 + 373 is not 400 but 401 may be due to a simple miscalculation which made 'Nennius' add 373 to 27, the difference between AP and AD dates.
  • The third entry also seems not quite right. Valentinian III succeeded to the throne in A.D. 424, and if we distract 28 years from that we get 396, which is one year after Stilicho came to power (A.D. 395). Since that is not a consular year but a real date, it is possible that 'Nennius' had a source before him which counted 28 'real' years between Stilicho's promotion to Valentinian being endowed with the purple. Alternatively, he counted 28 years from Stilicho's promotion to Honorius' death in A.D. 423, or a source which told him that Valentinian's reign began in A.D. 425. Anyway, the difference is too small to discount the entry. However, 'Nennius' also mentions that year as the beginning of the reign of Vortigern.
  • The fourth entry counts from the acccession of Vortigern to a point twelve years later, the Battle of Guoloph. According to the previous entry this date should accordingly be A.D. 437, or maybe A.D. 438, see below.
  • The fifth entry links Vortigern's accession to the consulship of Theodosius and Valentinian. This can point to several consulships, but 'Nennius' has just established a connection with Valentinian's accession in A.D. 424. The first consulship of both names together is in A.D. 425. Which means 'Nennius' now changes his mind about Vortigern's accession or, which is more likely, possibly made a mistake before. This view is confirmed by the next statement, being that the Adventus Saxonum occurred in the fourth year of Vortigern's reign in A.D. 428, which he confirms with the correct consuls for that year from the Cursus Paschalis. However, the final part of this entry is a clear mistake, as he errs with the 400 years, which are not counted from the Incarnation (A.D.), but from the Passion (A.P.) of Christ.
  • The last entry, adding 69 years to the year of A.D. 428, takes us to A.D. 497. This entry is clearly not based on Victorius (he stopped at A.D. 457), is a bit of a mystery. Though no Decius and Valerian occur together anywhere in the Cursus Paschalis, there is a Valerian (or Valerius) in A.D. 521 (A.P. 494). This may be the explanation for this error, which might have been due to a scribal error as well (89 instead of 69 years). In any case, why this year would have been important to 'Nennius' is not clear. Dumville proposed that the Cursus used for the Historia Brittonum might not have been the final version, but one which final entry was this year A.P. 494. However, there's also a Valerian in 458 (431 AP). And there's a Decius in 480 (453 AP). And in 486 (459 AP). And in 529 (502 AP).  Nothing that would help with the riddle of the 69 years, or tells us why this date would have any meaning to 'Nennius'. Apart from a postulated interpolation from a later editor. We will never know.

However, none of these dates agree with the more traditional dates for these events presented by Bede and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. 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.

This apparent discrepancy led David Dumville to conclude that 'Nennius' was attempting to write a synthetic history 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. After he had made the calculation as to the date he wanted, 'Nennius' subsequently would have added the necessary references to the contemporary Roman consuls from Victorius' Cursus Paschalis to add authority to his text. For the full discussion, see Forty years of Fear. What remains clear is that, though 'Nennius' certainly used the Cursius of Victorius, he completely misunderstood the difference between A.P. and A.D. dates, and often mistook the one for the other.

Vortigern’s Accession - 425

The Cursus Paschalis was first used for the establishment of Vortigern’s accession. Dumville saw the statement in chapter 31 as the key:

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... 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...

According to Dumville, '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 (the period mentioned in chapter 31) to arrive at the date for the Adventus Saxonum. According to Dumville, a statement in chapter 29 showed that 'Nennius' believed that emperors gave way to consuls:

Post multum intervallum temporis a Valentiniano et Theodosio consulibis in tertio ab Avviluea lapide spoliatus indumentis regiis sistitur et capite damnatur. 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.

This is a quotation from Prosper’s Chronicle (c. 1191, AD 388), though altered by the substitution of the word consulibus for imperatoribus, which was 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).

Adventus Saxonum - 428

Based on this, Dumville also rejected the calculation of the Adventus Saxonum. As 'Nennius' supposedly wished to establish the accession of Vortigern, he would have turned again to the Cursus Paschalis 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 supposedly 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.

Since my rejection of Dumville’s method is printed in full elsewhere, I will concentrate here on the involvement of Victorius’ Cursus Paschalis only.

Dumville seems to assume that 'Nennius' failed to distinguish the emperors of the fourth from their successors of the fifth century, confusing the emperors Theodosius I and Valentinian II of the fourth century, with Theodosius II and Valentinian III. But 'Nennius' used Prosper's chronicle for one of the sources, who ascribed the fall of Maximus to Theodosius and Valentinian ‘sub anno’ 388. ‘Nennius’ would therefore have surely noticed that in the Victorian Cursus Paschalis, the names of Stilicho and Aetius appeared before the year that 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 emperors that ended Maximus’ reign!

Furthermore, Dumville assumes that 'Nennius' looked in the Victorian Cursus Paschalis for the first appearance of Theodosius and Valentinian together to deduce the accession of Vortigern. But Dumville fails to explain why 'Nennius' supposedly 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. The names of Theodosius and Valentinian also appear in several other years by themselves, as they of course do before the death of Maximus. 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.

To illustrate this, I have printed here a large part of the Cursus Paschalis, from the year AD 367 to AD 497, the last date mentioned in chapter 66 of the Historia Brittonum.

Bibliography

  • Dumville, David N. (1972-4): Some aspects of the chronology of the Historia Brittonum, in: Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies 25, pp. 439-445.*
  • Dumville, David N. (1975-6): 'Nennius' and the Historia Brittonum, in: Studia Celtica 10/11, pp. 78-95.*
  • Dumville, David N. (1977): Sub-Roman Britain: History and Legend, in: History 112, pp. 173-192.*
  • Dumville, David N. (1986): The historical value of the Historica Brittonum, in: Arthurian Literature 6, pp. 1-26.*
  • Jones, Michael E. (1996): The End of Roman Britain, (Cornell).*
  • Miller, Molly (1980): Consular Years in the Historia Brittonum, in: Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies 29, part 1 november pp. 17-34.*
  • Mommsen, Theodor ed. (1894-8): Chronica Minora Saec. iv, v, vi, vii, 3 vols., in: Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi, vols. 9, 11, 13, (Berlin repr. 1961). Online at http://mdz11.bib-bvb.de/dmgh_new/index.html
  • Muhlberger, Steven (1990): The Fifth Century Chroniclers. Prosper, Hydatius and the Gallic Chronicler of 452, (Leeds).*
  • Prosperi Tironis: Epitoma chronicon ed. primum a. CCCCXXXIII (433), continuata ad a. CCCCLV (455), ed. T. Mommsen, in: Chronica Minora Saec. IV, V, VI, VII vol. 1, pp. 341-501, (1892, repr. Berlin 1961). Online at http://bsbdmgh.bsb.lrz-muenchen.de/dmgh_new/.
  • Victorii Aquitani: Cursus Paschalis annorum DXXXII (532), ed. T. Mommsen, in: Chronica Minora Saec. IV, V, VI, VII vol. 1, pp. 666-735, (1892, repr. Berlin 1961). Online at: http://bsbdmgh.bsb.lrz-muenchen.de/dmgh_new/.

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