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The Family of Vortigern
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Sevira, wife of Vortigern
Robert Vermaat

Who was Vortigern married to? Apart from the legendary connection with the daughter of hengist, a single source makes Vortigern the son-in-law of a Roman Emperor!

The Pillar of Elise is the only source mentioning Vortigern's original wife, Sevira (or Severa or Servilla).

Pillar of Elise

Maximus of Britain [Conce]nn, Pascen[t], Mau[n], An[n]an [+] Britu, moreover, (was) the son of Guorthi(girn), whom Germanus blessed and whom Severa bore to him, the daughter of Maximus the king, who slew the king of the Romans +

 

MAXIMUS BRITTANNIAE [Conce]NN PASCEN[t] MAU[n?]AN(N)AN [+] BRITU A[u]T[e]M FILIUS GUARTHI[girn] QUE(m) BENED[Iixit] GERMANUS QUE(m) [qu]E PEPERIT EI SE[v]IRA FILIA MAXIMI [re]GIS QUI OCCIDIT REGEM ROMANORUM +

Pillar of Elise in the Vale of LlangollenA marriage between them could be rejected as an attempt to link the dynasty of Powys with the emperor Magnus Maximus, but it might have been historical. Maximus might have been the patron of Vortigern, who could rise in power under his brief reign from 383 until his death in 388.

Welsh sources give Maximus two wives, a number of sons and at least one other daughter. More historical sources (St Ambrose) tell us of at least two more daughters who survived him and were beneficiaries of the emperor Theodosius. We know of another daughter of Magnus Maximus (Maxima) who was married to a powerful man (Ennodius, proconsul Africae).

coin of Magnus MaximusWhen did Vortigern get married to Sevira? If the marriage took place before the downfall of Maximus, all depends on what was to be gained. Since the value of such a marriage would have dropped sharply after 388, at least seen from the perspective of a member of a noble provincial family (with ambitions) to a fast rising star in the empire, it should have taken place earlier. But that would take Vortigern probably too far back into the 4th century (see the House of Vortigern). The other alternative is that Vortigern married Sevira after 388, as a favor from the House of Theodosius, as mentioned above, in a position of an already powerful man. I like this solution the best, for the birth of their sons Vortimer, Pascent and Catigern is best explained after 400. But since hardly any material does exist on these matters, all this remains speculation.

Bibliography

  • Bonedd y Saint, Lineage of the Saints, in: Vitae Sanctorum Britanniae et Genealogiae, ed. A.W. Wade-Evans, pp. 320-323.*
  • Drinkwater, J.F. and Hugh Elton (eds.): Fifth-century Gaul: a Crisis of Identity?, (Cambridge 1992).*
  • Martindale, J.R., A.H.M. Jones and John Morris (eds.): The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire.Vol. 1, A.D. 260-395, (Cambridge1971).
  • Wade-Evans, A.W.: Vitae Sanctorum Britanniae et Genealogiae, (Cardiff 1944).*
  • Ward, J.H.: Vortigern and the End of Roman Britain, in: Britannia III, 1972, pp. 277-289.*

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