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Rescript of Honorius
#1
Does anyone know where exactly one can read the so-called "Rescript of Honorius," where the Emperor supposedly tells Britain it must look to its own defence? Is it stuck in Zosimus somewhere? If so, I can't find it.
David J. Cord
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#2
You're not the first. :wink: It's not quite so straightforward, although it usually is presented that way. Nowhere does Zosimus write that the British wrote to him and that he wrote back: "lok, folks, I can't be bothered at the moment, you'll have ta take care of yer own kitchen for a while". This is in fact a very muddled part of his history, and not a few have questioned whether he did not in fact die before he finalized the text. Seriously.

I don't have the Greek text at hand, but here's the English translation.
First, the text of the so-called 'rescript':

Quote:BOOK VI, 10
[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 [or: to defend themselves] , 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.

But before that, Zosimus wrote of how the cities of Britain freed themselves:

Quote:BOOK VI, 5
[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.


Continued in the next chapter:

Quote:BOOK VI, 6
[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.
Robert Vermaat
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FECTIO Late Romans
THE CAUSE OF WAR MUST BE JUST
(Maurikios-Strategikon, book VIII.2: Maxim 12)
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#3
Excellent! I ran across your web page while I was making google searches and expected you would have an answer. Thanks.

The whole idea is rather striking - the ancient, tottering empire can't protect its provinces any longer and tells them they have to take care of themselves. I remember the first time I read about it in Gibbon, and his wonderful writing painted the picture very well. I suppose the episode is romantic enough to have entered public consciousness, whether or not the incident is straightforward.
David J. Cord
www.davidcord.com
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#4
I went to a recent lecture at the British Museum on the end of Roman Britain, where Birley argues very understandably that
Quote:BOOK VI, 10
[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 [or: to defend themselves] , 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.
did not refer to Britain, but to the Italian provinces of Bruttium- which certainly makes sense from the contect.

However, Britons (and "some of the Celtic peoples"- an interesting differentiator- meaning Western Britain? Country people less affected by the towns?) clearly didn't wait for Imperial permission - good for them!
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aka Paul B, moderator
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#5
Quote: Birley argues very understandably that BOOK VI, 10 did not refer to Britain, but to the Italian provinces of Bruttium- which certainly makes sense from the contect.
And I agree to that. Too long has this passage been seen as 'final evidence' of the end of Roman rule in Britain. Other sources such as Gildas have been linked to this passage, cemeting it in place as pure fact.

Having said that, there are views from other sources, both pro and contra:

The Narratio (c. 450) placed the demise of Britain in the reign of Honorius:
Quote:Britain was forever removed from the Roman name.
Procopius (mid-6th c.) also was of the opinion that the loss of Britain took place close to the death of Constantine III:
Quote:Bellum Vandalicum 3.2.38
Alaric died of disease, and the army of the Visigoths ... marched into Gaul, and Constantine, defeated in battle by Honorius, died with his sons. However the Romans never succeeded in recovering Britain, but it remained from that time on under tyrants.

Two Gallic chroniclers placed the final demise of Britain in mid-century, but only one of them mentioned a major event in Britain c. 410:

Chronica Gallia a CCCCLII (AD 452):
Quote:Honorius, XVI (AD 409 or 410):
Britanniae Saxonum incursione davastatae.
The Britains were devastated by an incursion of the Saxons.
Chronica Gallia a CCCCLII (AD 452):
Quote:Theodosius, XVIII-XVIIII (AD 441)
Britanniae usque ad hoc tempus variis cladibus eventibusque latae in dicionem Saxonum rediguntur.
The Britains, which to this time had suffered from various disasters and misfortunes, are reduced to the power of the Saxons.
Chronica Gallia a DXI (AD 511):
Quote:Theodosius, Valentinianus XVI (AD 440)
Britanniae a Romanis amissae in dicionem Saxonum cedunt.

The Britains, lost to the Romans, yield to the power of the Saxons.

So it's not at all clear where we stand, even without Zosimus. :wink:

Quote:However, Britons (and "some of the Celtic peoples"- an interesting differentiator- meaning Western Britain? Country people less affected by the towns?) clearly didn't wait for Imperial permission - good for them!
Not necessarily so. Other contemporary sources refer to both Gaul and Britain as 'Celtic', so there's no real need to look for any details here. No doubt this is that age-old way of writers to hark back to anachronistic names and descriptions. Although, as we know from Sidonius, not a few provincials spoke Celtic as their first language.
Robert Vermaat
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FECTIO Late Romans
THE CAUSE OF WAR MUST BE JUST
(Maurikios-Strategikon, book VIII.2: Maxim 12)
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#6
Thanks Vorti- I always learn a lot from your posts!
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aka Paul B, moderator
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#7
Quote:BOOK VI, 5: 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.


Quote:Bellum Vandalicum 3.2.38 ...the Romans never succeeded in recovering Britain, but it remained from that time on under tyrants.

Two fascinating quotations, giving a very different picture of the end of Roman power in Britain from the old 'legions sailing away after turning out the lights and leaving us to the dark ages' story... Albeit this isn't my field at all, but I'm surprised I've never actual heard of this before. It sounds more like a successful British revolution against Roman control - surely the sort of idea that would have gained popular currency long ago?

- Nathan
Nathan Ross
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#8
Hi Nathan,

Quote: It sounds more like a successful British revolution against Roman control - surely the sort of idea that would have gained popular currency long ago?
It did, and it’s been discussed to death since. Gildas also hints at a revolt against Rome, but he never presents more details.

One side of the discussion has been about a revolt against Roman rule in general. Especially the part about the Gallic provinces made for analogies with the bacaudae, and has given rise to theories about bacaudic uprisings in Britain, although there is no positive evidence for that in the sources. But since we know of bacaudae in Gaul during that time, especially in Armorica, the discussion keeps coming back to that. It was a topic taken up in the Middle Ages as well, with authors like Geoffrey of Monmouth who saw this as some move towards independence.

The other side of the coin has been a theory about a revolt against the administration of Constantine III, who was at that time busy with his designs on Rome, Spain and southern Gaul. Of course, that’s also speculation.

I think we can agree that this passage hints at troubles in Britain, something agreed on by other sources (albeit without any detail) that warranted military action by the locals. Whether the civitates organized this action, or the administration we don’t know, but I still don’t see citizens with pitchforks, or already rearmed tribes defending the beaches. If that had been the case it would mean that Britain was totally a-typical when compared to other parts of the Western empire at the time. In my opinion it would have been more logical to see this events (events) as leading up to the hiring of foreign troops, the common practice in the rest of the Empire, which we see in Gallic history and British pseudo-history (Vortigern).
Robert Vermaat
MODERATOR
FECTIO Late Romans
THE CAUSE OF WAR MUST BE JUST
(Maurikios-Strategikon, book VIII.2: Maxim 12)
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#9
(04-25-2010, 07:25 AM)Caballo Wrote: I went to a recent lecture at the British Museum on the end of Roman Britain, where Birley argues very understandably (....) did not refer to Britain, but to the Italian provinces of Bruttium

I thought I'd just resurrect this old thread a moment to add a note about this, and some other thoughts, based on David Woods' 2012 essay (from Latomus 71) On The Alleged Letters of Honorius to the Cities of Britain in 410.

Woods argues against the idea that the text of Zosimus should read 'Bruttium' (Brouttía or Bruttía) instead of 'Britain' (Brettanía), as it does at present.

The context of the passage in Zosimus (which Robert quotes in the thread above) has Alaric and the Goths rampaging across Liguria (northern Italy) after breaking off their sieges of Ravenna and Bologna. Woods points out that Bruttium (modern Calabria) is a very long way from Liguria - in fact it's about 500 miles away as the crow flies - and cities there would be in no foreseeable danger at all from the barbarians. This seems to me a quite conclusive argument against the 'Bruttium' idea.

Woods then goes on to suggest that the word should actually read Raitía instead of Brettanía. This might seem a decent solution - Raetia was the province directly north of Liguria in the 5th century, and quite possibly the people there might have been threatened by Goths moving north and west.

However, this idea seems to me also rather unlikely. At this point (probably in early summer 410) Alaric was trying to pressurise Honorius into giving in to his demands, by drumming up support for his puppet emperor Attalus Priscus. By heading north into Raetia, he would be retreating from Italy, taking the pressure off Honorius and leaving Priscus unprotected. It would have been a gesture of surrender. Honorius would have known this, and there seems little reason why he should expect Alaric to move in this direction, or warn the cities there to look to their own defences.

The best explanation for this odd note in the very fragmented and confused text of Zosimus would seem to be that it is simply in the wrong place. It does indeed refer to Britain, Honorius really did tell the citizens of Britain to defend themselves (perhaps after they had expelled Constantine III's officials and written asking for support?) - but at some point in the copying of the original manuscript the line drifted out of its correct context and ended up somewhere else!
Nathan Ross
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