The Adventus Saxonum in the Historia Brittonum

The Historia Brittonum contains a number of statements which allow us to date the Adventus Saxonum:

“Vortigern, however, held power in Britain in the consulate of Theodosius and Valentinian and in the fourth year of his reign the Saxons came to Britain, in the consulship of Felix and Taurus, and in the four hundredth year from the incarnation of our lord Jesus Christ.”

The first consulate of Theodosius II and Valentinian III was in the year 425. That this was the start of Vortigern’s reign is plausible since he was of gen. -3. This would suggest he was probably in his 30s when crowned king. The passage suggests the Adventus occurred in the year 428 which was, indeed, the year of the consulship of Flavius Felix and Flavius Taurus. The last element of the text may be reconciled with this date by suggesting incarnation was an error for Christ’s Passion.

In the Chronicon Britannicum we see the Adventus incorrectly placed one Metonic cycle later in the year 447, see The Adventus Saxonum in the Chronicon Britannicum. The events of 425 and 428 listed in the HB may have been swapped in the mind of the author when he wrote:

“Also, from Stilicho to Valentinian son of Placidia, and the reign of Vortigern 28 years.”

as Flavius Stilicho was consul for the first time in 400.

HB 31 states:

“It came to pass that after this war between the Britons and the Romans, in which the 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.”

Magnus Maximus was executed in 388. 40 years on from that date we arrive at 428, that is at the Adventus, which is described towards the end of the following passage of text:

“Vortigern welcomed them, and handed over to them the island that in their language is called Thanet, in British Ruoihm.”

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The Adventus Saxonum in the Chronicon Britannicum

The Chronicon Britannicum appears to indicate why there are differing dates for the Adventus suggested by the Historia Brittonum and the Historia Ecclesiastica. One of the possible dates indicated by the former is 428 and by the latter 447.

HB 66: “Vortigern reigned in Britain when Theodosius and Valentinian were consuls, and in the fourth year of his reign the Saxons came to Britain, in the consulship of Feliz and Taurus …”[1]

HE II 14: “So King Edwin, with all the nobles of his race and a vast number of the common people, received the faith and regeneration by holy baptism in the eleventh year of his reign, that is in the year of our Lord 627 and about 180 years after the coming of the English to Britain.”[2]

The CBrit inserts between the entries for the years 413 and 427 the following entry dated, out of sequence, to the year 447:

“Angli in majorem Britanniam venerunt, & Britones inde ejecerunt.”

This suggests that CCCCXLVII (447) may have been a corruption of CCCCXXVII (427), that is although the author was allocating the same date to the event as that in the HE, he was sequencing it in his list in line with a date close to that cited by the HB.

[1] Han, K. W. L., 2008.
[2] McClure, J., Collins, R., 1999, 97.

The Adventus Saxonum

The manuscript BL Cotton Tiberius A. iii states:

“Then succeeded Alfred, their brother, to the government. And then had elapsed of his age three and twenty winters, and three hundred and ninety-six winters from the time when his kindred first gained the land of Wessex from the Welsh.”[1]

396 years prior to the start of Alfred’s reign, in the year 871, suggests an Adventus Saxonum in the year 475. This, of course, was not the first arrival of Germanic peoples to Britain. However, there was an influx of Saxon invaders around this time as indicated by the chronicle entry for the year 477:

“This year Ælla, and his three sons, Cymen, and Wlencing, and Cissa, came to the land of Britain with three ships, at a place which is named Cymenesora, …”[2]

It would thus seem that the West Saxons and the South Saxons arrived at around the same time. They also appear to have landed in areas that are in close proximity, namely Cerdicesora (Southampton area) and Cymenesora (Selsey area) and then went on to expand their kingdoms westwards and eastwards respectively. Alternatively, it may be that there was no seperate South Saxon invasion and that the 477 entry refers to the West Saxon invasion. A discrepancy of two years in the Chronicles is nothing unusual. An explanation of this idea will be given in a later article entitled “The emergence of Wessex”.

I suggest that when Bede wrote:

“From that day, sometimes the natives, and sometimes their enemies, prevailed, till the year of the siege of Badon hill, when they made no small slaughter of those invaders, about forty-four years after their arrival in Britain.”[3]

his source for this information, the DEB, was referring to this later Adventus, not the one traditionally dated to the year 449. Bede’s version of the DEB is likely to have been closer to Gildas’s original text than any of our later surviving copies. Gildas was a little more precise than Bede with regards to the time interval between the Adventus and Badon when he stated:

“And this commences, a fact I know, as the forty-fourth year, with one month now elapsed; it is also the year of my birth.”[4]

The first year being 475 implies the forty-fourth year is 518, the traditional date for Badon. The battle occurred one month into that year. He states that year is when he was born. The AC tells us that Gildas died in the year 572, giving a plausible life-span of 54 years.

Gildas may have started formulating his ideas concerning the DEB around the age of 20, that is c. 538. Camlan occurred in 539 and could well have been as a result of an internecine feud amongst the Britons, since triad 84 tells us it was one of the Futile Battles of the Island of Britain[5]. Indeed, it may have been one of the triggers that set Gildas on the path to writing the DEB 10 years later, around the year 548.

The Chronicon Britannicum derived Gildas’s birthdate incorrectly by adding 43 years to the Adventus Anglorum:

CCCCXLVII. Angli in majorem Britanniam venerunt, & Britones inde ejecerunt
CCCCXC. Natus est S. Gildas. Hiis diebus fuit Arturus fortis.

[1] Adapted from Ingram, J., 1823, 20.
[2] Adapted from Giles, J.A., 1914, 8.
[3] Adapted from Giles, J.A., 1859, 26.
[4] Adapted from Williams, H., 1899, 63.
[5] Bromwich, R., 2006, 217.