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The Sources
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The Narratio
(AD 450)
Robert Vermaat

The so-called Narratio de imperatoribus domus Valentinianae et Theodosiane was an anonymous series of biographies of the emperors from Valentinian I to Honorius (364-423). The anonymous author wrote this obscure and very brief series between 423, the deaths of Honorius (which is the last event noted), and of Theodosius II (450), as the latter’s reign is mentioned as well. As we assume that the Narratio was used by the Chronicler of 452, who is assumed to have written in that year, we have another terminus for the publication of the Narratio.

Britain

There is, however, as possible interpretation that the Narratio was in fact derived from the Chronicle of 452, but as the differences between the two seem easier to account for, I side (pro Muhlberger, contra Mommsen) with the first explanation, but mainly because of the difference between both sources in the account of the loss of Britain. As Muhlberger has shown, the Chronicler of 452 not only adopted the Narratio’s faulty imperial chronology, but also used the summary of Honorius’s reign. This is particularly evident when we compare this summary with the Chronicler’s catalogue of events for the years 407-410:

Chronicle of 452

c. 93 He [Honorius] left the empire wounded by many disasters.
c. 65 (below)



c. 77 The emperor’s sister Placidia, long captive and as the wife of a king…


c. 61 At this time the Roman power was completely humbled by [a multitude of enemies] who were gaining strength.
c. 62
The British provinces were laid waste by an invasion of the Saxons.
c. 63 The Vandals and Alans devastated parts of the Gauls; what remained the usurper Constantine [III] occupied.
c. 64 The Sueves seized the greater part of the Spanish provinces.
c. 65 Finally, Rome itself, the capital of the world, suffered most foully from the depredations of the Goths.

c. 126 The British provinces, which up to this time had suffered from various defeats and catastrophes, were reduced to Saxon rule.

Narratio

In his [Honorius] reign many heavy blows befell the state, but the bitterest was that the city of Rome was captured and overthrown by Alaric, king of the Goths.

The emperor’s sister, Augusta Placidia, was first captured, then as a wife of a king, but a barbarian king, she disgraced the age.

Gaul and Spain were demolished and utterly destroyed by the barbarian nations of the Vandals, Sueves, and Alans.

Britain was forever removed from the Roman name.

Nevertheless, although this emperor [Honorius] never obtained any success against external enemies, he was successful in destruction of tyrants.

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Though we can see the similarities, it is clear from the Chronicler’s information about the fate of Britain, that he had other ideas and did not depend on the Narratio for this. Likewise, the Narratio was probably finished before 441 as it did not include the final loss of the diocese, long after the reign of Honorius. If this interpretation is correct, we can add the Narratio as another independent source to the list of sources that report the unequivocal loss of Britain in 410.

Bibliography

  • Narratio de imperatoribus domus Valentinianae et Theodosianae, ed. T. Mommsen, in: Chronica Minora Saec. IV, V, VI, VII vol. 1, pp. 629-630, (1892, repr. Berlin 1961).*
  • Muhlberger, Steven (1990): The Fifth Century Chroniclers. Prosper, Hydatius and the Gallic Chronicler of 452, (Leeds).*

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