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The Text of Zosimus' Historia Nova,
Book VI.1-13.
(early sixth century AD)
Robert Vermaat


[1] Accordingly Alaric, his equitable demands having been thoroughly rebuffed, marched upon Rome with his entire army, intent upon besieging it. At this juncture there came to Honorius a legate from Constantinus (he who had entered upon tyranny among the Celts), Jovius, a man conspicuous for his education and other virtues. He asked that the peace previously agreed upon[1] be confirmed , and at the same time sought the Emperor Honorius’ forgiveness for the murder of his kinsmen Didymus and Verenianus (he apologised by saying that they had been killed contrary to Constantinus’ wishes). Noticing that Honorius was thoroughly unsettled, he told him ‘he would be well advised , occupied as he was with problems in Italy, to give in to Constantinus. If he (Jovius) were permitted to go back to Constantinus and announce to him Italy’s calamities, he would not long thereafter return with all the Celtic, Spanish and British forces bringing aid to Italy and to Rome.’ And Jovius upon these conditions secured permission to depart.

Celtic affairs have not yet been given above the treatment they deserve; it is right that I relate them now in detail.


[2] While Arcadius was still reigning and Honorius and Theodosius were in their seventh and second consulships, respectively[2], the soldiers stationed in Britain revolted, placed Marcus upon the imperial throne, and submitted to his authority as master of affairs in those regions. Having then murdered him because he did not suit their temperament, they introduced Gratianus, decked [him out in the purple and crown, and with spears attended him as they would an Emperor. Having then murdered him because he did not suit their temperament, they introduced Gratianus, decked] him out in the purple and crown, and with spears attended him as they would an Emperor. But they became disenchanted with him also, after a reign of four months killing him and handing over the throne to Constantinus. This man, having placed Justinianus and Nebiogastes in charge of the Celtic soldiery, crossed the Channel. When he reached Bononia (a city of lower Germany[3] hard by the sea) he stayed there several days. He won over to his side all the armies as far as the Gallic and Italian Alps, and appeared to have a secure hold upon his realm. At this point Stilicho dispatched an army commanded by Sarus against Constantinus. Sarus marched out his forces against the general Justinianus and in an encounter killed him and the greater part f his soldiery. He gained control of a vast amount of booty and, having learned that Constantinus had betaken himself to Valentia, a suitable refuge for his purposes, he set about besieging it. Nebiogastes, the other troop commander, while conducting peace talks with Sarus, was received by him amicably, but after an exchange of oaths was forthwith murdered, Sarus taking no account of said oaths. Constantinus now appointed Edobinchus, a Frank, and Gerontius, a Briton, as his new generals, men for whose military experience and courage Sarus had respect. After a seven-day siege he withdrew from Valentia. Constantinus’ generals ran out after him with all their might and main, and it was only with great difficulty that he escaped. All of his booty he forfeited to the Bacaudae, who met him at the Alps, in exchange for right-of-way into Italy. Sarus in this fashion returned safely. But Constantinus collected his entire force, determined to set up sufficient garrisons in the Alps. He set up three altogether (in the Cottian, the Pennine, and the Maritime Alps) which shut off all access between Italy and the Celtic peoples. He considered these matters worthy of attention for the following reasons:


[3] Prior to this, when the consuls were Arcadius for the sixth time and Probus[4], the Vandals had joined forces with the Suebi and the Alans, overrun the trans-Alpine regions and destroyed the peoples. Having wrought much slaughter, they became formidable even to the armies in Britain, which, being afraid they might march against Britain, they drove to the point of choosing tyrants, the aforesaid Marcus and Gratianus and, thereafter, Constantinus. Against this last[5] the Romans joined fierce battle and gained the victory, slaughtering the greater part of the barbarians; but they did not chase after those who had escaped (else they would have massacred them all to a man) and so gave them opportunity to repair their loss by collecting another host of barbarians worthy to do battle. For these reasons then Constantinus was establishing garrisons in the Alpine regions, so that they[6] might not have free access into Gaul. He also was setting safeguards along the Rhine, which had been neglected since the reign of the Emperor Julian.


[4] Having settled matters throughout Gaul thus, he despatched to Spain the elder of his two sons, Constans, having decked him out in the dress of a Caesar. For he wanted to bring all the Spanish nations under his sway so as both to extend his rule and to wipe out the dynasty of Honorius’ kinsmen there. Indeed, he was growing fearful lest these latter might some day collect a force of soldiers there, cross the Pyrenees and attack him while the Emperor Honorius simultaneously might dispatch his armies from Italy, encircle him on all sides, and remove him from his tyranny. Accordingly Constans crossed over into Spain together with Gerentius[7] the general and Apollinaris the praetorian prefect; he had in addition appointed leaders, both civil and military, of the palatine orderso[8]. Through the agency of these men he moved against those who, related by birth to the Emperor Theodosius, were upsetting the state of affairs in Spain. Even before they had joined battle with their Lusitanian armies against Constans they realised that they would be worsted, and so they fielded a host of slaves and farmers and came very close to bringing him into extreme danger. But, frustrated in these hopes, they along with their wives were handed over into Constans' custody. After their brothers Theodosiolus and Lagodius had learned of this, the former fled to Italy, the latter got away safely through to the East.


[5] Having accomplished these deeds in Spain, Constans returned to his father Constantinus, bringing with him Verenianus and Didymus. He had left behind the general Gerontius together with his Gallic soldiers to guard the road between France and Spain, even though the soldiers in Spain had begged that this duty be entrusted, according to custom, to them and that the safekeeping of the region not be entrusted to foreigners. And Verenianus and Didymus, having been conducted before Constantinus were forthwith killed. Thereupon Constans was again dispatched to Spain, taking with him Justus as general. On this account Gerontius was incensed and, having won to his side the soldiers in those regions, he raised the Celtic barbarians in revolt against Constantinus, who could not withstand them because the greater part of his own soldiery was in Spain. The barbarians above the Rhine, assaulting everything at their pleasure, reduced both the inhabitants of Britain and some of the Celtic peoples to defecting from Roman rule and living their own lives disassociated from the Roman law. Accordingly the Britons took up arms and, with no consideration of the danger to themselves, freed their own cities from barbarian threat; likewise all of Armorica and other Gallic provinces followed the Britons’ lead: they freed themselves, ejected the Roman magistrates, and set up home rule at their own discretion.


[6] Now, the defection of Britain and the Celtic peoples took place during Constantinus’ tyranny , the barbarians having mounted their attack owing to his carelessness in administration. But in Italy Alaric, not having received the peace terms which he sought nor having received hostages, again set upon Rome, threatening to take it by storm unless the citizens sided with him and marched against the Emperor Honorius. When they hesitated to do what he demanded, he laid siege to the city and, proceeding to the port, spent several days in beleaguering it before he made himself its master. Having found the city’s entire grain supply stored there, he issued threats that he would expend it upon his own army unless the Romans moved swiftly to carry out his proposals. Thereupon all the senators convened and, having debated the issue, gave in completely to Alaric's bidding. Indeed, since no supplies were forthcoming to the city via the harbor, there was no other recourse available to avoid destruction.


[7] Thereafter they received Alaric’s embassy and invited him to come before the city and, just as they had been ordered, they set Attalus, the urban prefect, upon the Emperor’s throne and placed the purple and the crown upon him. Straightaway they proclaimed Lampadius his praetorian prefect and Marcianus his urban prefect. He handed over one military command to Alaric himself and the other to Valens, who had previously been leader of the Dalmatian legions, and he similarly filled the other magistracies in order. Then he marched off with his imperial body guard to the palace, under many unfavorable omens. The following day he entered the Senate and delivered a harangue teeming with arrogance, boasting that he would procure for the Romans the entire world, and other things even more grandiloquent. At such statements the the Deity would almost certainly take offence, and not long afterwards the man was toppled.
The Romans were in transports of delight because they had obtained magistrates who were successful, experienced administrators, especially the consul Tertullus. Only the family known as the Anicii were aggrieved that all things seemed to be going well for the commonweal, since they alone, possessing the riches of nearly everyone, were unhappy when the populace was happy.
Alaric had advised Attalus, correctly, to send a good-sized force to Africa and Carthage for the purpose of dissolving Heraclianus’ rule, lest some impediment to his undertakings come from that quarter (Heraclianus was a partisan of Honorius). But Attalus did not heed this admonition, instilled as he was with hopes raised by seers that he would become master of Carthage, indeed, of all Africa, without a struggle. And so he did not dispatch Druma
[9], who, with the force of barbarians at his disposal could very easily have put down Heraclianus from power; but, thinking Alaric’s plan of secondary importance, he entrusted the command of the soldiers in Africa to Constans and sent off with him no fighting force worth mentioning. Meanwhile, with the situation in Africa still in doubt, he took it upon himself to march against the Emperor, who was at Ravenna.


[8] The latter was thoroughly terrified. He had sent an embassy asking for a joint reign between himself and Attalus; Jovius, Attalus’ appointed praetorian prefect[10], replied that Attalus would not leave Honorius even the name of Emperor nor yet a sound body, but would mutilate some part of his person and banish him thus maimed to an island. Everyone was horrified at the arrogance of this statement, and the Emperor Honorius was poised for flight, for which purpose he had brought together into the harbour of Ravenna no small fleet of ships. Six cohorts of soldiers had brought the fleet to anchor, cohorts totalling 4,000 soldiers who had been expected while Stilicho was still alive but now for the first time had arrived from the East. Honorius, as if aroused from a deep torpor, upon their arrival from the East put them in charge of guarding the walls and decided to remain in Ravenna for the time being, until the situation in Africa clarified itself: ‘then, if Heraclianus should come off the victor and affairs there be in safe hands, he would wage war against Attalus and Alaric with his entire army; on the other hand, if those whom he had sent to Africa should be defeated, he would set sail in the ships at his disposal to Theodosius in the East and abdicate from his Western Empire.’


[9] This was the state of Honorius affairs. But Jovius, who as I have already related had been sent on an embassy to Honorius, began to entertain thoughts of betrayal as the Emperor worked on him through agents. Accordingly he told the Senate, addressing to it certain indecorous words, that he would not carry out his mission further. He said that ‘it was altogether right and fitting to send barbarians to fight Heraclianus, since those who had been dispatched to Africa had failed of success and since with Constans killed their cause for hope in that region was shaken.’ Attalus was stirred to anger, and indicated through informants what had to be done: fresh troops were sent to Africa with money to bolster the situation there. When Alaric learned what had happened he was displeased and began to despair of the fortunes of Attalus because the latter facilely undertook unprofitable ventures owing to his folly and lack of organisation. With these thoughts in his mind he decided to withdraw from Ravenna, even though he had originally intended to persist in the siege until he captured the city. Indeed, he was exhorted to this change by Jovius, who, realising that the leader sent to Africa had failed, turned around completely to Honorius’ side and incessantly spoke ill of Attalus in Alaric’s presence, anxious to persuade him that Attalus, once his Empire was secured, would lay plots first against him and then against all those related to him by race.


[10] But Alaric was willing still to abide by his oaths of allegiance to Attalus. When Valens, the master of the horse, was killed after falling under suspicion of treason, Alaric attacked all the cities of Aemilia that had refused to accept promptly Attalus’ rule. He brought over with no trouble at all every one of them except Bononia, which he besieged for several days but could not capture as it held firm. He then proceeded to the Ligurians and compelled them to recognise Attalus as Emperor. Honorius, however, wrote letters to the cities in Britain urging them to be on their guard, and he distributed rewards to the soldiers from moneys supplied him by Heraclianus. Thus he gained complete relief, having won over the good will of the soldiers on every side.


[11] Heraclianus held all the harbors of Africa under full guard, and so neither grain nor oil nor any other necessity of life were being conveyed to the port of Rome. A famine fell over the city more severe than the preceding one, the market speculators hiding whatever they had in the hope of eventually appropriating everyone’s money by getting any price they might choose to set. The city had come to such a pass that at the circus games those who hoped to taste the contestants’ corpses let out the following cry: “Pretium inpone carni humananae,” that is, “Set a price on human flesh.”


[12] At this point Attalus arrived at Rome and convoked the Senate, laying before it a plan. Nearly everyone agreed that barbarians should be sent to Africa along with Roman soldiers and that the command of these forces should be given to Druma[11], a man who had already demonstrated very many proofs of trustworthiness and good will. Only Attalus plus a few others dissented from the majority opinion, since he wanted no barbarian dispatched with the Roman army. Thereupon Alaric looked to Attalus’ downfall, having long since been made the more ready for this by Jovius’ incessant accusations. Putting his scheme into execution, he led Attalus out in front of Ariminium, where he was staying, removed his crown and stripped off his purple (these he sent to the Emperor Honorius), and reduced him before the eyes of all to private status. However, he did keep him and his son Ampelius at his own house until, peace having been concluded with Honorius, he could obtain safety of life and limb for them both. The Emperor’s sister Placidia was also staying at Alaric’s house, filling the role of a hostage, as it were, but enjoying dignified, indeed, regal courtesy.


[13] This, then, was the situation in Italy. Constantinus, however, having crowned his son Constans and raised him from a Caesar to an Augustus, installed him in the office of praetorian prefect, removing Apollinaris therefrom. Meanwhile, Alaric set out with his troops for Ravenna in the hope of making a firm peace treaty with Honorius; but fortune, advancing down the road leading to the ruination of the State, found another impediment to dash that hope. For Sarus, who had allied himself with neither the Emperor Honorius nor Alaric, was by chance staying with a small force of barbarians in Picenum, and Ataulphus, who was angry with him as a result of some long-standing grievance, was en route with his entire army to that very region. Sarus, having been made aware of his approach and thinking that the mere three hundred men he had would be no match to do battle against him, decided to flee to Honorius and to ally himself in common cause against Alaric.

Note: the narrative ends abruptly here.


[1] Cf. Book V, chapter 44 above.
[2] That is, the year 407.
[3] Actually, it was a Belgic city (modern Bologne).
[4] That is, the year 406.
[5] So the MSS.; but Zosimus really means the Vandals, Suebi and Alans - one of many signs that Book VI was not redacted.
[6] “They” can only refer to the Romans.
[7] Undoubtedly Zosimus meant “Gerontius” .
[8] The passage is mutilated.
[9] This man is mentioned again in chapter 12, below, as if for the first time - one more instance of the fact that book VI did not undergo redaction (cf. chapter 3 n.2)
[10] Contra chapter 7 immediatly above, where Lampadius is stated to be Attalus’ appointee.
[11] See the note to chapter 7, above.


  • Buchanan, James J., and Davis, Harold T. (1967): Zosimus' Historia Nova, (Trinity University press, San Antonio, Texas), pp. 249-58.
  • Pearse, Roger ed.: Early Church Fathers - Additional Texts, at: http://www.ccel.org/p/pearse/morefathers/home.html (scroll down to page bottom for Zosimus).

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