After the death of Constantine ‘the Great’, in 337, the Roman Empire was divided between his three sons, each of whom held the rank of Augustus. Constantius II ruled the East; Constantine II, the eldest, ruled Britain, Spain and Gaul; Constans, the youngest, ruled Italy, the Balkans and Africa. In 340, Constantine II invaded Italy and was killed. Constans absorbed his territory.
Early in 343, for some unknown reason, Constans made a surprise visit to Britain:
“... he [Constans] did not sit and wait upon the beach until when the fair weather came the ocean would calm the storm, but immediately just as things were, with the winter at its height and everything roused by the season to a peak of fury – clouds, icy chills and surf – without giving prior word to the cities there and without announcing the launch in advance, not wishing to be admired for his purpose before achieving his objective, he embarked a hundred men, so it is reported. He loosed the mooring cables and began cutting through the ocean, and all immediately changed to calm. The ocean flattened its wave and made itself smooth for the emperor's passage, and that usual ebbing of the sea then confuted its law and held on to the land.
It did not happen then that while his passage to the island went so calmly, the return voyage turned out differently, but the second went better than the first in keeping with the proverb, so that there can be no dispute that this youthful undertaking was not without the blessing of God. If therefore after the island had rebelled, its inhabitants were holding an uprising, and the empire was being plundered, the news had arrived, and he had been seized with rage on hearing it and had thrown the die for the voyage, to report his act of daring would not have been to the credit of his resolve, but the crisis deriving from the rebels would have taken away the greater part of the glory. But in fact affairs in Britain were settled. He was completely free to enjoy the wonders of the ocean from the land. There was no cause of anxiety compelling him to make the voyage greater than the harm he would have to suffer if he refused the trip. This was the situation and there was no necessity present, or rather there was only one necessity present, in his desire to set his hand to everything. He willingly gave himself over to the greatest dangers, as though going to suffer the greatest losses if he did not take the greatest risks.”
Libanius ‘Oration LIX: Panegyric of Constantius and Constans’
“You [Constans] conquered your enemies; you have extended your authority, and so that greater glory might be added to your virtues, you have changed and scorned the order of the seasons, trampling underfoot the swelling, raging waves of Ocean in winter time, a deed unprecedented in the past, and not to be matched in the future. Beneath your oars trembled the waves of a sea still scarcely known to us, and the Briton trembled before the face of an emperor he did not expect.”
Julius Firmicus Maternus ‘De Errore Profanarum Religionum’ Chapter 28
As we shall soon see, the historian Ammianus Marcellinus refers to Constans having visited Britain, but unfortunately his record of the circumstances is lost. It seems clear, however, that it was the intrepid emperor's winter Channel-crossing that excited the imagination of writers, rather than anything he achieved once he had arrived – and Libanius would appear to rule out a military campaign: “in fact affairs in Britain were settled”. At some stage before 350, mentioned briefly by Ammianus, Gratian ‘the Elder’ (father of, future emperors, Valentinian and Valens) was posted to Britain:
“... with the title of count ... he commanded the army in Britain ...”
Ammianus Marcellinus ‘Res Gestae’ Book XXX Chapter 7
It is generally assumed that Gratian, since he had the rank of count (comes), brought units of the mobile field-army (comitatenses) from the Continent to Britain, to reinforce the resident garrison (limitanae) during some unrecorded crisis.*
In 350 Constans was overthrown by the usurper Magnentius, who retained control of the West until 353, when he in turn was overthrown by Constantius II. Ammianus Marcellinus, within the first few extant pages of his history, writes:
“... his [Constantius'] harsh cruelty, whenever the majesty of the empire was said to be insulted, and his angry passions and unfounded suspicions were increased by the bloodthirsty flattery of his courtiers, who exaggerated everything that happened and pretended to be greatly troubled by the thought of an attempt on the life of a prince on whose safety, as on a thread, they hypocritically declared that the condition of the whole world depended... Prominent among these was the state secretary Paulus, a native of Spain, a kind of viper, whose countenance concealed his character, but who was extremely clever in scenting out hidden means of danger for others. When he had been sent to Britain to fetch some officers who had dared to conspire with Magnentius, since they could make no resistance he autocratically exceeded his instructions and, like a flood, suddenly overwhelmed the fortunes of many, making his way amid manifold slaughter and destruction, imprisoning freeborn men and even degrading some with handcuffs; as a matter of fact, he patched together many accusations with utter disregard of the truth, and to him was due an impious crime, which fixed an eternal stain upon the time of Constantius. Martinus, who was governing those provinces on behalf of the prefects,* deeply deplored the woes suffered by innocent men; and after often begging that those who were free from any reproach should be spared, when he failed in his appeal he threatened to retire, in the hope that, at least through fear of this, that malevolent man-hunter might finally cease to expose to open danger men naturally given to peace. Paulus thought that this would interfere with his profession, and being a formidable artist in devising complications – for which reason he was nicknamed ‘The Chain’ – since the vicar [Martinus] continued to defend those whom he was appointed to govern, Paulus involved even him in the common peril, threatening to bring him also in chains to the emperor's court, along with the tribunes and many others. Thereupon Martinus, alarmed at this threat, and thinking swift death imminent, drew his sword and attacked that same Paulus. But since the weakness of his hand prevented him from dealing a fatal blow, he plunged the sword which he had already drawn into his own side. And by that most ignominious death there passed from life a most just ruler, who had dared to lighten the unhappy lot of many. After perpetrating these atrocious crimes, Paulus, stained with blood, returned to the emperor's camp, bringing with him many men almost covered with chains and in a state of pitiful filth and wretchedness. On their arrival, the racks were made ready and the executioner prepared his hooks and other instruments of torture. Many of the prisoners were proscribed, others driven into exile; to some the sword dealt the penalty of death. For no one easily recalls the acquittal of anyone in the time of Constantius when an accusation against him had even been whispered.”
Ammianus Marcellinus ‘Res Gestae’ Book XIV Chapter 5
On 6th November 355, Constantius II appointed his cousin, Julian, Caesar. Julian was despatched to Gaul:
“... at a time when the barbarians had stormed many towns and were besieging others, when there was everywhere direful devastation, and when the Roman empire was tottering in evident distress.”
Eutropius ‘Breviarium Ab Urbe Condita’ Book X Chapter 14
Roman Britain, though, must have been at this time, by and large, free of predation by German pirates, since it was able to export large quantities of grain to Gaul. Just how vital these supplies were is revealed in several literary references to Julian's campaigns against the German barbarians – including one by Julian himself:
“Then followed the second and third years of that campaign [358 and 9], and by that time all the barbarians had been driven out of Gaul, most of the towns had been recovered, and a whole fleet of many ships had arrived from Britain. I had collected a fleet of six hundred ships, four hundred of which I had had built in less than ten months, and I brought them all into the Rhine, no slight achievement, on account of the neighbouring barbarians who kept attacking me... I marched against them, and since the gods protected me and were present to aid,* I received the submission of part of the Salian tribe, and drove out the Chamavi and took many cattle and women and children. And I so terrified them all, and made them tremble at my approach that I immediately received hostages from them and secured a safe passage for my food supplies.”
‘Letter to the Athenians’


“He [Julian] took thought for the largest island under the sun [i.e. Britain], which Ocean surrounds, and sent accountants to examine the expenditure that in theory was devoted to military operations, but in fact formed a source of income for the generals. Those guilty of this he brought to heel, and in addition he effected another far greater benefit, especially from the point of view of Gaul. In earlier times corn was shipped from the island, first over the sea and then up the Rhine, but since the barbarians had become a force to be reckoned with, they had blocked its transport and the cargo vessels had long been hauled ashore and had rotted away. A few still plied, but since they discharged their cargo in coastal ports, it was necessary to transport the grain by waggon instead of by river, and this was a very expensive affair. Julian therefore revived the practice and considered it a serious matter should he not put the carriage of grain on its former footing. He quickly produced more ships than before and examined the ways the river might be opened up for corn.”
Libanius ‘Oration XVIII: Funeral Oration for Julian’ (365)
“... Julian, since the season of the year was favourable [359], called together his soldiers from all quarters for a campaign, and set forth; and he thought that above all things he ought betimes to attend to this, namely, before the heat of battle to enter the cities long since destroyed and abandoned, regain and fortify them, and even build granaries in place of those that had been burned, in which he could store the grain which was regularly brought over from Britain; and both things were accomplished sooner than anyone expected. For not only did the granaries quickly rise, but a sufficiency of food was stored in them; and the cities were seized, to the number of seven ...”
Ammianus Marcellinus ‘Res Gestae’ Book XVIII Chapter 2
“When Julian invaded enemy territory and the Chamavi begged him to spare it as though it were friendly territory, Julian agreed... Since they were prepared to carry out all his instructions, and Julian saw that from his own point of view peace was opportune and necessary – for without the cooperation of the Chamavi it was impossible for grain from the island of Britain to be transported to the Roman garrisons – he was induced by necessity to grant them peace, demanding hostages as a surety of their good faith.”
Eunapius ‘Fragment 12 (Mueller)’
“As the Rhine discharges itself in the furthest part of Germany, which is a Gallic province, into the Atlantic Ocean, and the island of Britain is about nine hundred stadia [approx. 103 miles/166 kilometres] from its mouths, he cut timber from the woods on the banks of the river, and built eight hundred vessels, larger than galleys, which he sent into Britain for a supply of corn, and brought it up the Rhine. This was so often repeated, the voyage being short, that he abundantly supplied those who were restored to their cities with sufficiency for their sustenance ...”
Zosimus ‘Historia Nova’ Book III Chapter 5
The south of Roman Britain may have been, for the time being, free from barbarian raids, but in the north of the diocese it was a different story:
“But in Britain in the tenth consulship of Constantius and the third of Julian [i.e. in 360] raids of the savage tribes of the Scots and the Picts, who had broken the peace that had been agreed upon, were laying waste the regions near the frontiers, so that fear seized the provincials, wearied as they were by a mass of past calamities. And Julian, who was passing the winter in Paris and was distracted amid many cares, was afraid to go to the aid of those across the sea, as Constans once did (as I have told), for fear of leaving Gaul without a ruler at a time when the Alamanni were already roused to rage and war. Therefore he decided that Lupicinus, who was at that time commander-in-chief, should be sent to settle the troubles either by argument or by force; he was indeed a warlike man and skilled in military affairs, but one who raised his brows like horns and ranted in the tragic buskin (as the saying is), and about whom men were long in doubt whether he was more covetous or more cruel. Therefore, taking the light-armed auxiliaries, to wit the Aeruli [Heruli], the Batavians, and two companies of Moesians, in the dead of winter the leader aforesaid came to Bononia [Boulogne], and after procuring ships and embarking all his troops, he waited for a favourable breeze and then sailed to Rutupiae [Richborough], which lay opposite, and went on to London, intending there to form his plans according to the situation of affairs and hasten quickly to take the field.”
Ammianus Marcellinus ‘Res Gestae’ Book XX Chapter 1
Meanwhile, in Paris, in February 360, Julian was acclaimed Augustus by his troops. Julian feared Lupicinus' opposition, and had him arrested as soon as he set foot back in Gaul. There is no record of what Lupicinus achieved in Britain, but, in a letter written in 361, Julian summarized his own achievements in Gaul:
“It would take too long to enumerate everything and to write down every detail of the task that I accomplished within four years. But to sum it all up: Three times, while I was still Caesar, I crossed the Rhine; twenty thousand persons who were held as captives on the further side of the Rhine I demanded and received back; in two battles and one siege I took captive ten thousand prisoners, and those not of unserviceable age but men in the prime of life; I sent to Constantius four levies of excellent infantry, three more of infantry not so good, and two very distinguished squadrons of cavalry. I have now with the help of the gods recovered all the towns, and by that time I had already recovered almost forty.”
‘Letter to the Athenians’
Julian rejected Christianity – he is commonly called Julian the Apostate – and he is the only pagan Roman emperor after the time of Constantine the Great. In 361, he marched east to confront Constantius, but, as luck would have it, Constantius died before the two emperors could meet in battle. It is alleged that he nominated Julian as his successor with his last words.* In 363, Julian mounted an ambitious campaign against the Persians. He was mortally wounded on 26th June.
Jovian – an army officer who had been hastily acclaimed emperor following Julian's death in the field – died after a reign of not quite eight months. Another officer, Valentinian, was selected to be Jovian's successor. His inauguration took place on 26th February 364, at Nicaea (now İznik, Turkey). A month later, at Constantinople (Istanbul), Valentinian made his brother, Valens, co-Augustus. Both emperors then suffered a lengthy illness.
“At this time, as if trumpets were sounding the war-note throughout the whole Roman world, the most savage peoples roused themselves and poured across the nearest frontiers. At the same time the Alamanni were devastating Gaul and Raetia, the Sarmatae and Quadi Pannonia, while the Picts, Saxons, Scots and Attacotti were harassing the Britons with constant disasters. The Austoriani and other Moorish tribes raided Africa more fiercely than ever and predatory bands of Goths were plundering Thrace and [ ? ]. The king of the Persians was laying hands on Armenia, hastening with mighty efforts to bring that country again under his sway, under the false pretext that after the death of Jovian, with whom he had concluded a treaty of peace, nothing ought to prevent his recovery of what he claimed had formerly belonged to his forefathers.”
Ammianus Marcellinus ‘Res Gestae’ Book XXVI Chapter 4
In the spring of 365, Valentinian and Valens divided the Empire – Valens ruling the East, Valentinian the West.
“... [Valentinian] had no sooner begun to reign than he went to Gaul, to fortify the strongholds and cities lying near the rivers; for these were exposed to the raids of the Alamanni, who were raising their heads higher after learning of the death of the emperor Julian, who was absolutely the only one whom they feared after the death of Constans.”
Ammianus Marcellinus ‘Res Gestae’ Book XXX Chapter 7
In 367 Roman Britain faced a crisis, often called, after Ammianus' phraseology, the ‘Barbarian Conspiracy’:
“Having set out then from Ambiani [Amiens] and hastening to Treveri [Trier], Valentinian was alarmed by serious news which showed that Britain was brought into a state of extreme need by a barbarian conspiracy, that Nectaridus, count of the seacoast region,* had been killed, and that the duke, Fullofaudes, had been ambushed by the enemy and taken prisoner. This report aroused great horror, and the emperor sent Severus, who at that time was still count of the household troops,* to set right the disasters, if chance should offer the desired opportunity. But he was recalled a little later, and Jovinus - - - having set out for the same regions, [Valentinian?] allowed them to return at quick step, intending to seek the support of a strong army; for he declared that this was demanded by the pressing necessities of the situation. Finally, because of the many alarming things which constant rumours reported about that same island, Theodosius, a man most favourably known for his services in war, was chosen to be sent there with all speed, and having enrolled legions and cohorts of courageous young men, he hastened to depart, preceded by brilliant expectations.*
And, since in giving an account of the history of the emperor Constans I described the ebb and flow of the ocean and the situation of Britain, as well as my powers permitted, I have thought it superfluous to unfold again what has once been set forth, just as Homer's Ulysses among the Phaeacians shrinks from repeating the details of his adventures because of the excessive difficulty of the task.
It will, however, be in place to say, that at that time the Picts, divided into two tribes, called Dicalydones and Verturiones, as well as the Attacotti, a warlike race of men, and the Scots, were ranging widely and causing great devastation; while the Gallic regions, wherever anyone could break in by land or by sea, were harassed by the Franks and their neighbours, the Saxons, with cruel robbery, fire, and the murder of all who were taken prisoners.
In order to prevent these outrages, if favourable fortune gave an opportunity, that most energetic leader hastened to the world's end, and reached the coast of Bononia [Boulogne], which from the spacious lands opposite is separated only by a narrow space of sea wont in turn to swell with dreadful surges, and again, without any danger for sailors, to sink to the form of a level plain. From there he quietly crossed the strait and landed at Rutupiae [Richborough], a quiet haven on the opposite coast.
When the Batavi, Heruli, Jovii, and Victores, who followed him, had arrived, troops confident in their strength, he began his march and came to the old town of Lundinium, which later times called Augusta [i.e. London]. There he divided his troops into many parts and attacked the predatory bands of the enemy, which were ranging about and were laden with heavy packs; quickly routing those who were driving along prisoners and cattle, he wrested from them the booty which the wretched taxpayers had lost. And when all this had been restored to them, except for a small part which was allotted to the wearied soldiers, he entered the city, which had previously been plunged into the greatest difficulties, but had been restored more quickly than rescue could have been expected, rejoicing and as if celebrating an ovation.
While he lingered there, encouraged by the successful outcome to dare greater deeds, he carefully considered what plans would be safe; and he was in doubt about his future course, since he learned from the confessions of the captives and the reports of deserters that the widely scattered enemy, a mob of various tribes and frightfully savage, could be overcome only by secret craft and unforeseen attacks. Finally, he issued proclamations, and under promise of pardon summoned the deserters to return to service, as well as many others who were wandering about in various places on furlough. In consequence of this demand and strongly moved by his offer, most returned, and Theodosius, relieved of his anxious cares, asked that Civilis be sent to him to govern Britain as deputy-prefect [i.e. vicar], a man of somewhat fiery temper, but steadfast in justice and uprightness, and also Dulcitius, a general distinguished for his knowledge of the art of war.”
Ammianus Marcellinus ‘Res Gestae’ Book XXVII Chapter 8
The next year:
“... Theodosius, that leader of celebrated name, filled with courageous vigour sallied forth from Augusta, which was earlier called Lundinium, with a force which he had mustered with energy and skill, and rendered the greatest aid to the troubled and confused fortunes of the Britons. He secured beforehand everywhere the places suitable for ambushing the barbarians, requiring nothing of the common soldiers in which he himself did not smartly take the first tasks. In this way, while he performed the duties of an active common soldier and observed the care of a distinguished general, after having routed and put to flight tribes which an insolence fostered by impunity was inflaming with a desire to attack the Romans, he completely restored the cities and forts which had been founded to secure a long period of peace, but had suffered repeated misfortunes.


In later panegyrics on Theodosius' grandson, Honorius (emperor of the West, 395–423), the poet Claudian (Claudius Claudianus) makes references to Theodosius' accomplishments in Britain:
“And the more to inflame thy heart with love of battle he [Honorius' father] would recount to thee the deeds of thy grandsire, object of dread to Libya's sun-scorched shores and Thule whither no ship can sail. He conquered the fleet Moors and the well-named Picts; his roaming sword pursued the flying Scot; his adventurous oars broke the surface of the northern seas.”
‘Panegyric on the Third Consulship of Honorius’ (396)
“Hence [from Spain] came Theodosius, grandfather of Honorius, for whom, exultant after his northern victories, Africa twined fresh laurels won from the Massylae. 'Twas he who pitched his camp amid the snows of Caledonia, who never doffed his helmet for all the heat of a Libyan summer, who struck terror with the Moors, brought into subjection the coasts of Britain and with equal success laid waste the north and the south. What avail against him the eternal snows, the frozen air, the uncharted sea? The Orcades [Orkneys] ran red with Saxon slaughter; Thule was warm with the blood of Picts; ice-bound Hibernia [Ireland] wept for the heaps of slain Scots.”
‘Panegyric on the Fourth Consulship of Honorius’ (398)
Though varnished with a good layer of hyperbole, Claudian must have based his remarks on fact. It seems, then, that naval forces played a large part in Theodosius' campaign.
But while he was thus engaged, a dread event had taken place, which would have resulted in grave danger, if it had not been crushed in the very beginning of its attempt. A certain Valentinus, born in Valeria, a part of Pannonia, a man of haughty spirit ... had been exiled to Britain because of a serious crime. There, impatient of quiet like a noxious beast, he roused himself to new and destructive plans, nursing a certain grudge against Theodosius, since he perceived that he was the only one who could resist his abominable designs. However, after a good deal of looking about secretly and openly, driven by the swelling gale of his vast ambition, he began to tempt exiles and soldiers by promising for bold deeds as enticing rewards as his circumstances at the time permitted. And already the time for carrying out the plans was near at hand, when that leader, eager for deeds of daring, learning of this from a prearranged source, resolved with lofty heart to punish those who were found guilty: Valentinus indeed, along with a few of his closest associates, he had consigned to the general Dulcitius, to be punished with death; but with the military knowledge in which he surpassed all his contemporaries, he divined future dangers, and as to the rest of the conspirators forbade the carrying on of investigations, lest by spreading fear among many the disturbances in the provinces, which had just been lulled to sleep, should be revived.
Then, after the danger had been wholly removed, since it was common knowledge that propitious fortune had failed him in none of his undertakings, he turned his attention to making many necessary improvements, restoring the cities and forts of the garrison, as we have said, and protecting the frontiers with watch-posts and defence-works. And so completely did he recover a province which had passed into the enemy's hands and restore it to its former condition, that, in the words of his report, it had a legitimate governor; and it was henceforth called Valentia, in accordance with the emperor's wish, who, one might almost say, celebrated an ovation in his joy on hearing the priceless news.
In the midst of such important events the areani, a class of men established in early times, about which I said something in the history of Constans, had gradually become corrupted, and consequently he removed them from their posts. For they were clearly convicted of having been led by the receipt, or the promise, of great booty at various times to betray to the barbarians what was going on among us. For it was their duty to hasten about hither and thither over long spaces, to give information to our generals of the clashes of rebellion among neighbouring peoples.


The word areani is only found in this text. Clearly, Ammianus had discussed these men in the now missing part of his work, and they would appear to have been scouts who operated beyond Hadrian's Wall. The Wall itself seems to have undergone some reconstruction around this time, as do other military installations and town defences, though the outpost-forts beyond the Wall were apparently abandoned. Nothing, however, can be said with certainty to have been the product of the widespread rebuilding Ammianus attributes to Theodosius – archaeology rarely produces such pinpoint accuracy. There is, though, general confidence that Theodosius was responsible for a series of signal-stations along the east coast of, what is now, northern England – the sites of five are known, at: Filey, Scarborough, Ravenscar, Goldsborough and Huntcliff. Their central tower, thought to have been about 100 feet high, was protected by defensive walls with semi-circular corner-towers, and a ditch. A crudely executed inscription from Ravenscar announces that “Justinianus, commander, and Vindicianus, master, built this tower and fort from the ground up”.
The British provinces depicted in a copy of the ‘Notitia Dignitatum’ made in 1436 (Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Canon. Misc. 378).
The location of Valentia is unknown, but it would seem, from Ammianus, that it was an existing province which, following its retrieval from barbarian occupation by Theodosius, was renamed after Valentinian and Valens.* Following reforms instigated by Diocletian (see: New Empires), the British diocese comprised four provinces. These are named in the ‘Verona List’, dating from about 314: Britannia Prima, Britannia Secunda, Flavia Caesariensis and Maxima Caesariensis. In the ‘Notitia Dignitatum’, dating from roughly 400, however, there are five British provinces – the four named in the ‘Verona List’ plus Valentia. Valentia and Maxima Caesariensis (which is believed to have been based on London) have governors of higher rank (consularis) than the governors of the other three British provinces (praeses). On the face of it, then, a fifth province, of unknown name, must have been created at some stage between c.314 and 368. A commander featuring in the ‘Notitia Dignitatum’ is titled dux Britanniarum, that is ‘duke of the Britains’. The implication is that the duke's command covered more than one province, but, as the ‘Notitia’ text survives, all the units under his control were based in northern England. It is possible to speculate, therefore, that the most northerly British province of the ‘Verona List’ – believed to be Britannia Secunda, based on York – was subsequently divided, to create a fifth province, likely based on Carlisle just to the south of Hadrian's Wall. Indeed, it is conceivable that it was Constans who imposed this division during his mysterious visit to Britain of 343 – after all, Ammianus does link Constans with the areani, who seem to have operated in that vicinity.
After the above-mentioned affairs and other similar ones had been so brilliantly managed, Theodosius was summoned to the court, leaving the provinces dancing for joy, after distinguishing himself by many helpful victories like Furius Camillus or Cursor Papirius. And because of his general popularity he was escorted as far as the strait, where he crossed with a light wind, and came into the emperor's company. He was received with joy and words of praise, and succeeded to the position of Jovinus, commander of the cavalry forces, whom the emperor Valentinian considered to be lacking in energy.”
Ammianus Marcellinus ‘Res Gestae’ Book XXVIII Chapter 3
In his handbook ‘De Re Militari’ (Concerning Military Matters), Vegetius gives a brief, but vivid, description of the tactics employed by the Roman navy to prevent barbarian incursions into the British provinces:
“Scouting skiffs are attached to the large warships, having about twenty oarsmen on each side; these the Britons call picati. They are used on occasion to perform descents or to intercept convoys of enemy ships or by studious surveillance to detect their approach or intentions. Lest patrol vessels be betrayed by their brightness, the sails and rigging are dyed Venetian blue, which resembles the ocean waves; the wax used to pay the ships' sides is also dyed. The sailors and marines put on Venetian blue uniforms also, so as to lie hidden with greater ease when scouting by day as by night.”
Book IV Chapter 37
In 372, Valentinian:
“... made Fraomarius king of the Bucinobantes, a tribe of the Alamanni dwelling opposite Mogontiacum [Mainz]. And soon afterwards, since a recent invasion had utterly devastated that canton, he transferred him to Britain with the rank of tribune, and gave him command of a troop of the Alamanni which at that time was distinguished for its numbers and its strength.”
Ammianus Marcellinus ‘Res Gestae’ Book XXIX Chapter 4
Valentinian died on 17th November 375, at Brigetio in Pannonia (now part of Komárom in Hungary), having had an apoplectic fit during negotiations with the Quadi, against whom he had been campaigning.* To ensure an orderly succession, he had previously, in 367, elevated his son Gratian to the rank of Augustus. Gratian, now aged sixteen, had not accompanied him on campaign, and was in Trier. Valentinian's officers, off their own bat, decided that Gratian should share his rule with his four-year-old half-brother, Valentinian. Accordingly, young Valentinian, who was living with his mother only a hundred miles from Brigetio, was sent for and acclaimed Augustus (Valentinian II):
“And although, while this was being done, there was some thought that Gratian would take it amiss that another emperor was chosen without his permission, this fear later vanished and men lived free from care, since Gratian, besides being a kindly and righteous man, loved his kinsman with great affection and saw to his education.”
Ammianus Marcellinus ‘Res Gestae’ Book XXX Chapter 10
Soon after the death of the elder Valentinian, Theodosius (who was serving in Africa) was, for uncertain reasons, executed – Ammianus does not record the event.* His son, also called Theodosius and also an accomplished general, retired to the family estates in Spain.
In 378, flushed with success at having soundly defeated the Lentienses, a tribe of the Alamanni, Gratian set out to help Valens inflict a decisive defeat on the Goths. Valens, however, was envious of his young nephew's victory over the Germans. The upshot was that he didn't wait for Gratian's forces to arrive and, on 9th August 378, met the Goths in battle near Adrianople, Thrace (now Edirne, European Turkey). Valens' army was routed. Valens was killed – his body was never found. Gratian summoned Theodosius from Spain, and, on 19th January 379, at Sirmium (now Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia), he was appointed Augustus.
“Having given him [Theodosius] the government of Thrace and the eastern provinces, Gratian himself proceeded to the west of Gaul, in order, if possible, to compose affairs in that quarter.”
Zosimus ‘New History’ Book IV Chapter 24
Eunapius ‘Fragment 12’ by S. Ireland
Libanius ‘Oration XVIII’ by S. Ireland
Claudian panegyrics by Maurice Platnauer
Vegetius ‘De Re Militari’ by R.S.O. Tomlin
Zosimus ‘New History’ anonymous translation
Jerome ‘Against Jovinianus’ by W.H. Fremantle
Ammianus Marcellinus ‘Res Gestae’ by John C. Rolfe
Julian ‘Letter to the Athenians’ by Wilmer Cave Wright
Eutropius ‘Breviarium Ab Urbe Condita’ by John Selby Watson
Julius Firmicus Maternus ‘De Errore Profanarum Religionum’ by S. Ireland
Libanius ‘Oration LIX’ by M.H. Dodgeon, revised by Mark Vermes and Sam Lieu
Libanius was a Syrian Greek (a native of Antioch) pagan sophist and rhetorician. The date of his ‘Oration LIX’ is disputed. There seems to be two main camps – those who favour a date of 344/5 and those who prefer 348/9.
Julius Firmicus Maternus, a Sicilian, wrote his ‘De Errore Profanarum Religionum’ (On the Error of Profane Religions) in about 346. Firmicus Maternus, apparently an ardent convert to Christianity (it is generally accepted that he wrote a work on astrology before his conversion), repeatedly addresses Constans and Constantius II, encouraging them to suppress paganism.
See: The Roman Army in Britain, Part II.
At this time, Roman Britain formed an administrative unit called a ‘diocese’, which was administered by an official called a ‘vicar’. The Diocese of the Britains probably comprised five provinces (of which more later), each of which had its own governor who reported to the vicar. In turn, the vicar (Martinus in this case) reported to a ‘praetorian prefect’. By around the year 400, as recorded in the ‘Notitia Dignitatum’, the Empire was formally divided into four praetorian prefectures – from west to east: Prefecture of the Gauls; Prefecture of Italy; Prefecture of Illyricum; Prefecture of Oriens. The Diocese of the Britains was in the Prefecture of the Gauls (as was Spain), and was administered from Trier (in modern Germany).
Eunapius' ‘Chronicle’ (early-5th century) only exists as fragments. It was, however used as a major source by Zosimus (quoted below).
Ammianus' account of Constans' visit to Britain is now lost.
The Picts of northernmost Britain are first recorded in connection with Constantius I (also called Constantius Chlorus – the father of Constantine the Great), indeed, Constantius died in York, in 306, after a successful campaign against the Picts (see: An Instructive Example of Godliness). The mention by Ammianus here is the first time the Scots (Scotti), from Ireland, appear as an enemy of Roman Britain – assuming, that is, Ammianus actually meant the Scots. The beginning of the word is not present in the manuscript. Generally, it is restored as [Sco]ttorum, i.e. the Scotti, but it is conceivable that it should be [Attaco]ttorum, i.e. the Attacotti (of whom more later).
See: Origins of the Picts and Scots.
Constantius died in Cilicia (now in southern Turkey).
“... while his mind was still unimpaired he is said to have designated Julian as the successor to the throne. Then the death-rattle began and he was silent ...”
Ammianus Marcellinus ‘Res Gestae’ Book XXI Chapter 15
Julian was at Naissus (Niš in Serbia), when news of Constantius' death reached him. Julian considered Greece his “true fatherland” (‘Oration III’), and, whilst he was based at Naissus, he had written letters to various Greek cities justifying his actions – only the ‘Letter to the Athenians’ survives intact. It was also in Naissus that Julian appointed the historian Aurelius Victor governor of Pannonia Secunda.
Julian was writing in 361, when he was confident enough to express his pagan beliefs. At the time of his campaigns against the Germans, though, he was posing as a Christian.
Another reference to Ammianus', now lost, record of Constans' visit to Britain in 343.
Before his report of the Barbarian Conspiracy, Ammianus gives an account of how Valentinian, having suffered a near-fatal illness, raised his eight-year-old son, Gratian, to the rank of Augustus. This took place on 24th August 367, and Severus had the rank of “commander of the infantry [magister peditum]”. When he was despatched to Britain, though, he “was still count of the household troops [comes domesticorum]”, that is to say, he had not yet been promoted to magister peditum. It seems reasonable to assume, then, that the two stories are transposed. Roger Tomlin proposed (‘Britannia’, 1974) that Valentinian received news of the Barbarian Conspiracy in June 367, and this appears to have been generally accepted.
There would appear to be another location missing here. In translations: John C. Rolfe (1940) offers “Pannonia”; Walter Hamilton (1986) hazards “Moesia”; C.D. Yonge (1862) simply drops the “and”.
The Attacotti (various spellings) are a mysterious people who flit through history at this time. In a famous and much discussed passage, St Jerome (Hieronymus, c.347–419/20) apparently accuses the Attacotti of cannibalism:
“... I myself, a youth on a visit to Gaul, heard that the Atticoti, a British tribe, eat human flesh, and that although they find herds of swine, and droves of large or small cattle in the woods, it is their custom to cut off the buttocks of the shepherds and the breasts of their women, and to regard them as the greatest delicacies.”
‘Against Jovinianus’ Book II Chapter 7
Jerome also asserts (‘Letter LXIX’) that “the Scots and the Atacotti and the people of Plato's republic” shared wives and had communal families. It is suspected that the Attacotti came either from Ireland (despite Jerome, who calls them “a British tribe”) or the Western Isles. The ‘Notitia Dignitatum’ (c.400) mentions Attacotti units stationed in Gaul, Italy and Illyricum.
In particular, a Germanic people occupying territory adjoining the North Sea coast between the Elbe and Weser. Roman sources, however, clearly use the name in a general way. These Saxons could just as well come from Friesland, to the west of the Saxon heartland, or the Jutland Peninsula, to the east.
Saxon pirates were first recorded in 285, raiding along the coast of Gaul. It seems certain that they also targeted Britain (see: New Empires), but Ammianus' report here is actually the first to specifically connect the Saxons with Britain.
The most northerly known place on earth – probably Shetland.
The dating of Theodosius' activities in Britain is the subject of debate. Assuming the idea that news of the Barbarian Conspiracy reached Valentinian in June 367 is correct, then it is possible that the whole story so far related by Ammianus belongs to 367. On the other hand, that might be too ambitious a time scale. The expeditions of Severus and Jovinus could well have occupied the remainder of 367, and Theodosius not sailed until the spring of 368. In which case, Theodosius' exploits up to this point should be assigned to 368. Since Ammianus places the following report in his next book, it almost certainly belongs to the next year, i.e. 368 or 369, depending on which year Theodosius crossed the Channel.
It is generally supposed that Nectaridus' command, comes maritimi tractus (count of the seacoast region), as given by Ammianus, equates to the office of comes litoris Saxonici (Count of the Saxon Shore), recorded in the ‘Notitia Dignitatum’.
Ammianus completed his ‘Res Gestae’ (c.390) during the reign of Theodosius the Great – son of the general sent to Britain by Valentinian. It is perhaps, therefore, unsurprising that Ammianus' report on the elder Theodosius' activities has a somewhat hagiographical flavour.
Vegetius compiled ‘De Re Militari’ (also known as ‘Epitoma Rei Militaris’) some time between 383 and 450 – exactly when within this timeframe is a matter of continued debate.
The word areani is only found in this text. Clearly, Ammianus had discussed them in the now missing part of his work. They would appear to have been scouts who operated beyond Hadrian's Wall.
‘Notitia Dignitatum’ (Register of Dignitaries): A list of Roman civil and military posts, originating from c.400. No surviving manuscript, however, is earlier than the 15th century. All extant copies are believed to derive from a single, c.10th century, copy, which was apparently lost in the late-16th century.
The ‘Notitia Dignitatum’ titles a finance official of the British provinces praepositus thesaurorum Augustensium, so, presumably, he was, based in London. The modern name, London, is derived (via, the Anglo-Saxon, Lundenwic) from Londinium (spelled Lundinium by Ammianus), not Augusta, so this new designation plainly didn't supplant the original name.
In his summary of the achievements of Valentinian's reign, Ammianus mentions that:
“... when the Britons could not resist the hordes of enemies that were overrunning their country, he restored them to freedom and quiet peace with the hope of better conditions, and allowed almost none of the plunderers to return to his home.
With like effectiveness he also crushed Valentinus, the exile from Pannonia, who was trying to disturb the public peace in that province, before his design came to a head.”
Ammianus Marcellinus ‘Res Gestae’ Book XXX Chapter 7
Ammianus does, however, compare Theodosius with Domitius Corbulo and Lusius Quietus (‘Res Gestae’ Book XXIX Chapter 5), both of whom were, in earlier times, successful generals who fell victim to suspicious emperors.
This appears to be the generally accepted reading of Ammianus today. There is an old-fashioned notion that Theodosius re-annexed the territory between Hadrian's Wall and the, long abandoned, Antonine Wall (see: At the Empire's Edge) to create the province of Valentia, but this is clearly not the case. Another idea, that, not just a province, but the whole diocese was titled Valentia, does not sit comfortably with the evidence. Peter Salway (‘The Oxford Illustrated History of Roman Britain’, 1993) agrees that Theodosius renamed a pre-existing province, but argues that Ammianus' phraseology implies that the province had not been lost to barbarian invaders, but was in the clutches of an internal rebel faction (though not Valentinus, since his rebellion had been nipped in the bud).