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Chronology of Britain

in the 5th Century CE




402 Events on the continent force Stilicho to recall one of the two British legions to assist with the defense of Italy against Alaric and the Visigoths. The recalled legion, known as the Sixth Victrix, was said by Claudian (in "De Bello Gallico," 416) to be "that legion which is stretched before the remoter Britons, which curbs the Scot, and gazes on the tattoo-marks on the pale face of the dying Pict." The barbarians were defeated, this time, at battle of Pollentia


403 Victricius, Bishop of Rouen, visits Britain for the purpose of bringing peace to the island's clergy, who were in the midst of a dispute, possibly over the Pelagian heresy.


405 The British troops, which had been recalled to assist Stilicho, do not return to Britain as they have to stay in Italy to fight off another, deeper penetration by the barbarian chieftain,Radagaisus.


406 In early January, 406, a combined barbarian force (Suevi, Alans, Vandals & Burgundians) sweep into central Gaul, severing contact between Rome and Britain. In autumn 406, the remaining Roman army in Britain decides to mutiny. One Marcus is proclaimed emperor in Britain, but is

immediately assassinated.


407 In place of the assassinated Marcus, Gratian is elevated "to the purple," but lasts only four months. Constantine III is hailed as the new emperor by Roman garrison in Britian. He proceeds to follow the example of Magnus Maximus by withdrawing the remaining Roman legion, the Second Augusta, and crossing over into Gaul to rally support for his cause.


Constantine's departure could be what Nennius called "the end of the Roman Empire in Britain. . ."


408 With both Roman legions withdrawn, Britain endures devastating attacks by the Picts, Scots and Saxons.


409 Prosper, in his chronicle, says, "in the fifteenth year of Honorius and Arcadius (409), on account of the languishing state of the Romans, the strength of the Britons was brought to a desperate pass."


Under enormous pressure, Britons take matters into their own hands, expelling weak Roman officials and fighting for



410 Britain gains "independence" from Rome. The Goths, under Alaric, sack Rome.


413 Pelagian heresy said to have begun, by Prosper (Tiro) of Aquitaine in his "Chronicle."


420 – 30 Pelagian heresy is outlawed in Rome (418), but in Britain, enjoys much support from "pro-Celtic" faction. Traditionalists (pro-Romans) support Roman church. During this time, according to Prosper, Britain is ruled by petty "tyrants."


421 Honorius issues a decree forbidding any Pelagians to come nearer to Rome than the one-hundredth mile marker.


429 At the request of Palladius, a British deacon, Pope Celestine I dispatches bishops Germanus of Auxerre and Lupus of Troyes to Britain to combat Pelagian heresy. While in Britain, Germanus, a former military man, leads Britons to "Hallelujah" victory in Wales.


c. 432 Traditional dating for the beginning of St. Patrick's mission to Ireland


c. 438 Birth of Ambrosius Aurelianus, scion of the leading Romano-British family on the island.


c. 440 – 50 Period of civil war and famine in Britain, caused by ruling council's weakness and inability to deal with Pictish invasions; situation aggravated by tensions between Pelagian/Roman factions. Vacated towns and cities in ruin. Migration of pro-Roman citizens toward west. Country beginning to be divided, geographically, along factional lines.


c. 441 Gallic Chronicle records, prematurely, that "Britain, abandoned by the Romans, passed into the power of the Saxons."


c. 445 Vortigern comes to power in Britain.


446 Britons (probably the pro-Roman party) appeal to Aetius, Roman governor of Gaul, for military assistance in their struggle against the Picts and the Irish (Scots). No help could be sent, at this time, as Aetius had his hands full with Attila the Hun.


c. 446 Vortigern authorizes the use of Saxon mercenaries, known as foederati, for the defense of the northern parts against barbarian attack.


To guard against further Irish incursions, Cunedda and his sons are moved from Manau Gododdin in northern Britain to northwest Wales.


447 Second visit of St. Germanus (this time accompanied by Severus, Bishop of Trier) to Britain. Was this visit spiritually motivated, to combat a revived Pelagian threat, or was Germanus sent in Aetius' stead, to do whatever he could to help the desperate Britons?


c. 447 Britons, aroused to heroic effort, "inflicted a massacre" on their enemies, the Picts and Irish, and are left in peace, for a brief time. Could this heroic effort have been led, again, by St. Germanus?


c. 448 Death of St. Germanus in Ravenna. Civil war and plague ravage Britain.


c. 450 In the first year of Marcian and Valentinian, Hengest arrives on shores of Britain with "3 keels" of warriors, and are welcomed by Vortigern. This event is known in Latin as the "adventus Saxonum," the coming of the Saxons.


c. 452 Increasing Saxon settlement in Britain. Hengest invites his son, Octha, from Germany with "16 keels" of warriors, who occupy the northern lands, to defend against the Picts. Picts never heard from, again.


c. 453 Increasing Saxon unrest. Raids on British towns and cities becoming more frequent.


c. 456 Probably fictitious, but entirely believable, event in which Saxons massacre 300 leading British noblemen at phony "peace" conference. Ambrosius' father, who may have been the leader of the pro-Roman faction, is probably killed either during the Saxon uprising or this massacre.


c. 457 Death of Vortigern. Vitalinus (Guitolinus) new leader of pro-Celtic Pelagian faction. Battle of Aylesford (Kent) in which Ambrosius, along with sons of Vortigern, Vortimer and Cateyrn, defeat Hengest for the first time.


c. 458 Saxon uprising in full-swing. Hengest finally conquers Kent, in South Eastern Britain.


c. 458 – 60 Full-scale migration of British aristocrats and city-dwellers across the English Channel to Brittany, in North Western Gaul (the "second migration"). British contingent led by Riothamus (perhaps a title, not a name), thought by some to be the original figure behind the legends of Arthur.


c. 460 – 70 Ambrosius Aurelianus takes full control of the pro-Roman faction and British resistance effort; leads Britons in years of back-and-forth fighting with Saxons. British strategy seems to have been to allow Saxon landings and to then contain them, there.


c. 465 Arthur probably born around this time.


c. 466 Battle of Wippedesfleot, in which Saxons defeat Britons, but with great slaughter on both sides. Mutual "disgust and sorrow" results in a respite from fighting "for a long time."


c. 466 – 73 Period of minimal Saxon activity. Refortification of ancient hillforts and construction of the Wansdyke probably takes place during

this time.


c. 469 Roman emperor, Anthemius, appeals to Britons for military help against Visigoths.


c. 470 Battle of Wallop (Hampshire) where Ambrosius defeats Vitalinus, head of the opposing faction. Ambrosius assumes High-kingship of Britain.


473 Men of Kent, under Hengest, move westward, driving Britons back before them "as one flees fire."


477 Saxon chieftain, Aelle, lands on Sussex coast with his sons. Britons engage him upon landing but his superior force drives them into the forest (Weald). Over next nine years, Saxon coastal holdings are gradually expanded in Sussex.


c. 480 Vita Germani, the Life of St. Germanus, is written by a continental biographer, Constantius.


c. 485 – 96 Period of Arthur's "twelve battles" during which he gains reputation for invincibility.


486 Aelle and his sons overreach their normal territory and are engaged by Britons at battle of Mercredesburne. Battle is bloody, but indecisive, and ends with both sides pledging friendship.


c. 490 Hengest dies. His son, Aesc, takes over and rules for 34 years.


c. 495 Cerdic and Cynric, his son, land somewhere on the south coast, probably near the Hampshire-Dorset border.


c. 496 Britons, under overall command of Ambrosius and battlefield command of the "war leader" Arthur, defeat Saxons at the Siege of Mount Badon.


c. 496 – 550 Following the victory at Mt. Badon, the Saxon advance is halted with the invaders returning to their own enclaves. A generation of

peace ensues. Corrupt leadership, more civil turmoil, public forgetfulness and individual apathy further erode Romano-British culture over next fifty years, making Britain ripe for final Saxon "picking."


c. 500 – 50 Spread of Celtic monasticism throughout Europe




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