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Sunday, 21 August 2011

Riothamus and the Visigoths

Where did the battle that Riotimus / Riothamus, king of the Britons, fought in around 470AD against Euric and his Visigoths in Gaul, take place? It has always been said by many scholars that this was the battle of Bourges Deols, just south of the Loire river, but nowhere in any source is Riotimus linked with this battle.

This blog post examines the evidence and reveals that Riotimus did not fight the battle at Deols, had nothing to do with the treachery of Arvandus, nor did Riotimus flee to Avallon after the battle. Instead the battle took place much further south in Auvergne, now Clermont Ferrand. All these points are central to the theory of Riothimus by Geoffrey Ashe in his book The Discovery of King Arthur, where he makes the suggestion that the tales of Arthur developed from those of Riotimus. Using the primary sources and details concerning Sidonious, Arvandus, Anthemius and Euric I feel I can now piece together successfully what happened and dispell any associations with King Arthur.

The four primary sources for the events of the time are works by Gregory of Tours, Jordanes, Hydatius and Sidonius:

Gregory, writing about period 463 - 467/8 AD:

Childeric I
Now Childeric fought at Orleans and Adovacrius came with the Saxons to Angers. At that time a great plague destroyed the people. Egidius died and left a son, Syagrius by name. On his death Adovacrius received hostages from Angers and other places. The Britanni were driven from Bourges by the Goths, and many were slain at the village of Déols. Count Paul with the Romans and Franks made war on the Goths and took booty. When Adovacrius came to Angers, king Childeric came on the following day, and slew count Paul, and took the city. In a great fire on that day the house of the bishop was burned. After this war was waged between the Saxons and the Romans; but the Saxons fled and left many of their people to be slain, the Romans pursuing. Their islands were captured and ravaged by the Franks, and many were slain. In the ninth month of that year, there was an earthquake.  

Odovacrius made an alliance with Childeric, and they subdued the Alamanni, who had overrun that part of Italy.

Jordanes, writing about period 466 - 476:

"Euric, the king of the Visigoths, observing the frequent changes of the Roman princes, attempted to seize the Gauls for his own. Anthemius, the Emperor, receiving intelligence of this, immediately invited the aid of the Britons,whose King Riothimus, coming with twelve thousand by way of ocean, and disembarking from his ships, was received into the city/state of the Bituriges. Euric, king of the Visigoths, came against them leading an innumerable army, and fighting for a long time, overcame Riothimus, the king of the Britons, before the Romans had joined company with him. Having lost a great part of his army, he fled with all whom he could save, and came to the neighbouring nation of the Burgundians, then confederate with the Romans. But Euric, king of the Visigoths, seized Auvergne, a city of Gaul.....When Eurich, as we have already said, beheld these great and various changes, he seized the city of Arverna, where the Roman general Ecdicius was at that time in command. He was a senator of most renowned family and the son of Avitus, a recent emperor who had usurped the reign for a few days--for Avitus held the rule for a few days before Olybrius, and then withdrew of his own accord to Placentia, where he was ordained bishop. His son Ecdicius strove for a long time with the Visigoths, but had not the power to prevail. So he left the country and (what was more important) the city of Arverna to the enemy and betook himself to safer regions."

His Letter to Riothamus (circa 471 or 475/6)

“I will write once more in my usual strain, mingling compliment with grievance. Not that I at all desire to follow up the first words of greeting with disagreeable subjects, but things seem to be always happening which a man of my order and in my position can neither mention without unpleasantness, nor pass over without neglect of duty. Yet I do my best to remember the burdensome and delicate sense of honour which makes you so ready to blush for others' faults. The bearer of this is an obscure and humble person, so harmless, insignificant, and helpless that he seems to invite his own discomfiture; his grievance is that the Britons are secretly enticing his slaves away. Whether his indictment is a true one, I cannot say; but, if you can only confront the parties and decide the matter on its merits, I think the unfortunate man may be able to make good his charge, if indeed a stranger from the country unarmed, abject and impecunious to boot, has ever a chance of a fair or kindly hearing against adversaries with all the advantages he lacks, arms, astuteness, turbulences, and the aggressive spirit of men backed by numerous friends. Farewell.”

Sidonius as Bishop from Clermont Ferrand.
To his friend Vincentius (circa 470AD)

"THE case of Arvandus distresses me, nor do I conceal my distress, for it is our emperor's crowning praise that a condemned prisoner may have friends who need not hide their friendship. I was more intimate with this man than it was safe to be with one so light and so unstable, witness the odium lately kindled against me on his account, the flame of which has scorched me for this lapse from prudence.
At the Capitol, the Count of the Imperial Largess, his friend Flavius Asellus, acted as his host and jailer, showing him deference for his prefectship, which seemed, as it were, yet warm, so newly was it stripped from him. Meanwhile, the three envoys from Gaul arrived upon his heels with the provincial decrees empowering them to impeach in the public name. They were Tonantius Ferreolus, the ex-prefect, and grandson, on the mother's side, of the Consul Afranius Syagrius, Thaumastus, and Petronius, all men practised in affairs and eloquent, all conspicuous ornaments of our country. They brought, with other matters entrusted to them by the province, an intercepted letter, which Arvandus' secretary, now also under arrest, declared to have been dictated by his master.
It was evidently addressed to the King of the Goths, whom it dissuaded from concluding peace with 'the Greek Emperor', + urging that instead he should attack the Britons north of the Loire, and asserting that the law of nations called for a division of Gaul between Visigoth and Burgundian."

Hydatius (chronicle):

In Armorica, Frederic, the brother of King Theoderic [II], rose up against Aegidius, count [and master] of both services, a man who enjoyed an excellent reputation and who pleased God with his good works. Frederic and his men were defeated and killed.

In the month of May, envoys of the above-mentioned Aegidius sailed by way of the Ocean (note the same term as Jordanes uses for Riotimus) to the Vandals and returned to where they came from in September by the same route. The Vandals were slaughtered in Sicily and driven from the island.
Aegidius died as a result of deception: some say that he was the victim of a trap, some that he was poisoned. With him gone, the Goths soon fell upon the regions he had protected in the name of Rome. . .

We also have other letters of Sidonius, a Roman noble of Gaul who became bishop of Clermont in 470 and was Urban Prefect of Rome between 468-470.
Arvandus was the Praetorian Prefect (PP) of Gaul from 464-65 and 467-468.
Aegidius was magister militum of Gaul from 454 until his death in 464/5.
Euric was King of the Visigoths 466-484,
Anthemius was Roman Emperor from 467 until 472.
Childeric was King of the Frankish Federates and Saliens from around 465-486/491.
Adovacrius, Saxon leader who attacked Angers.
Odovacrius, Germanic Roman officer from 470 and then King of Italy from 476-493. Allied with Childeric at some point.
Ricimer - Roman general and defacto ruler of the western empire from 457-472
Ecdicius - Friend of Sidonius and hero of Clermont who single handedly defeated thousands of Goths (a myth/exaggeration as will be shown below) 

Gaul 470, showing proposed route of Riothamus. In this map, by 'Romans' is meant Gallic Romans plus Germanic federates, ie Franks and Alans and possibly federate Britons.

The sequence of the events that I will show proves that the testimony of Gregory has nothing whatsoever to do with Riotimus and his campaign and has been erroneously attached to the story of Riotimus. So let’s start with Gregory to show the chronology of events he describes. Scholars are of the opinion that this section comes from some ‘year chronicle’ (MacGeorge 2002, p.102-103) that Gregory had access to, possibly from Angers:

"Now Childeric fought at Orleans and Adovacrius came with the Saxons to Angers".

This took place in 463. Childeric appears to have fought in the same campaign with Aegidius that saw the defeat of Frederic's Visigoths as described by Hydatius above. Adovacrius appears to be a leader of Saxons. Penny MacGeorge, author of Late Roman Warlords (pg 105) has examined the manuscripts of Gregory of Tours and has shown that Adovacrius was the correct spelling of the Saxon leader. Gregory's later spelling in the last paragraph is Odovacrius, concerning Childerics alliance with the Roman King (from 472), showing that Gregory had two differing sources that mentioned Childeric, with similar sounding Germanic leaders as well, one Saxon, one possibly Thuringian. 

"At that time a great plague destroyed the people."

The plague was in 464. Also mentioned by Gildas (DE.22).

"Egidius died and left a son, Syagrius by name. On his death Adovacrius received hostages from Angers and other places.

Egidius died then in 464/5 and Count Paul appears to have taken command. Syagrius would have been too young at this time. From The chronicle of Hydatius above, we can see that the Goths 'soon' moved against the territories that Aegidius had protected.

"The Britanni were driven from Bourges by the Goths, and many were slain at the village of Déols"

This then occurs in around 465/66. Coincides with the death of Theoderic and the rise to power of Euric in 466, King of the Visigoths. Euric though in the first two years of his reign turned his attentions to Spain so the defeat of the British garrison of Bourges had probably taken place before he even took power and obviously had nothing to do with him. 

Euric may have been dissatisfied with his brothers' attempts at expanding Visigothic influence northwards and hence took the crown for himself. It will be shown therefore that this battle of Bourges-Deols took place before Riotimus had even set foot in Gaul. Euric did not turn his ayttention to Gaul until 470 after destroying the last Roman possession in Spain, Tarraco (Tarragona) in 468.

"Count Paul with the Romans and Franks made war on the Goths and took booty.

This then must have occurred sometime in 466/67. It looks like Count Paul assumed command after the death of Aegidius. The Gallo Romans (Armoricans?) with Frankish auxiliaries, defeated the Goths who had raided Bourges and had headed towards north of the Loire threatening Angers.

"When Adovacrius came to Angers, king Childeric came on the following day, and slew count Paul, and took the city. In a great fire on that day the house of the bishop was burned. "

This is the confusing part. Adovacrius with his Saxons comes to Angers...then Childeric turns up with his army the next day and must have driven off the Saxons . He then attacks Count Paul with an unknown army and kills him. The story goes on to include Childeric slaughtering Saxons at the mouth of the Loire river sometime then in 466/67. This must have been near Nantes. Penny MacGeorge, however, translates this part slightly differently which probably makes more sense: 

"...and king Childeric arrived the next day; the comes Paulus being killed, he occupied the city..."

This may imply that Paulus had been killed fighting the Saxons and Childeric had merely assumed command of the city, but it's still a tad ambiguous. The solution to this may lie in Gregory's allusion to Childeric having been expelled to Thuringia as a young man. If he was the young prince that Aetius adopted in Rome in 449/50 and made a federate, in the 450's he would only have been a teenager and so was probably sent to Thuringia to be tutored or fled the power of Aegidius. He would have been too young to lead the Frankish Federate army. So Aegidius assumed this role as did count Paul after him. The death of first, Aegidius and then Count Paul suggests that Childeric arrived back on the scene in the early 460's, now in his mid 20's and consolidated his position as leader of the Frankish federate troops stationed in Gaul. Guy Halsall (p.182) puts it this way:
 " Nonetheless Childeric appears to have eliminated all his rivals .."

"After this, war was waged between the Saxons and the Romans; but the Saxons fled and left many of their people to be slain, the Romans pursuing. Their islands were captured and ravaged by the Franks, and many were slain. In the ninth month of that year, there was an earthquake 

This last part then gives us our last confirmed date in the sequence, which must be 467/8 when Hydatius also mentions Earthquake ("In the second year of the emperor Anthemius blood burst forth from the ground in the middle of Toulouse and continued to flow for an entire day." "Medio Tolosae civitatis hisdem diebus e terra sanguinem erupisse, totoque diei fluxisse curriculo") and Victor of Tonnena tells of a comet that appeared for forty days in 467; the chronicler Marcellinus noted that Ravenna was struck by an earthquake in the same year (467) (Mathisen 1998, Epilogue). MacGeorge  comments :

"..Marcellinus comes noted an earthquake in the Ravenna region and an eruption of  Vesuvius; and the Fasti Vindobonenses an outbreak of cattle disease in AD 467. There was pestilence in Italy, particularly in Campania. In both East and West this was a time of disasters and unusual events including: the fire in Constantinople in AD 465; earthquakes and floods in the eastern Mediterranean; celestial phenomena in AD 467; and famines. All this may have contributed to a general feeling of insecurity, even of doom."
"Odovacrius made an alliance with Childeric, and they subdued the Alamanni, who had overrun that part of Italy."

This part then, as MacGeorge has pointed out, belongs to a separate source used by Gregory which has been tagged onto the chronicle entries and refers to Odovacer the King of Italy from 476. Odovacer then, in the early 470's a Roman officer, was in Italy siding with Ricimer against Anthemius in the civil war in Rome. Whether Childeric and his Franks were part of the barbarian armies that supported Ricimer is difficult to say but it was probably after 476 that he helped Odovacer.
     With Childeric in Italy in 476 for a few years, Syagrius, with his Gallo Roman army and possibly Visigothic help was able to take Paris, Soissons and the south of Belgica Secunda in northern Gaul, not sacrificing it until the time of Clovis. The relationship between Childeric and Syagrius is difficult to ascertain but the Franks appear to have been settled mainly in Belgica Prima and Germania Secunda at this time (yellow area in map below). The domain of Syagrius was not challenged until five years into Clovis' reign suggesting that Childeric did not have the strength of arms to overcome Syagrius but he remained a Roman federate officer probably based in Tournai. In support of this Childerics grave shows evidence of a late Roman officers badge that he wore. As well as Federate Franks he also appears to have commanded a force of Alans, or Thuringians as his burial also shows strong links with their burial practices and horse trappings (Wood 2003). The Alans had been settled near Orleans in 442 to deal with the rebellious Armoricans and their settlements had spread northwards to Paris and into Belgica Secunda; this based on name places and some archaeology (Bachrach pgs.61,70).The Alans also feature in early pseudo-genealogical material concerning Frankish ancestors, along with Aetius, Aegidius and Syagrius.

That's Gregory's testimony. What's evident is that Gregory has no knowledge of Riotimus as this period only covers up to 467/8,  so Riotimus' campaign must have been outside of his scope of Northern Gaul and the early Merovingian dominions. Hydatius, whose chronicle ends in 468 also has no knowledge of Riotimus. The above also shows that the battle in Bourges and Deols had nothing to do with Riotimus as it took place in 465/66. This then places Riotimus' campaign much further south. So for that we now need to study the testimony of Jordanes (writing circa 551), who used a lost source by Cassiodorus (writing circa 519) for his work:

"Euric, the king of the Visigoths, observing the frequent changes of the Roman princes, attempted to seize the Gauls for his own"

Euric became King of the Visigoths in around 466. It may have been at this time that Arvandus wrote to Euric encouraging him to attack the Britons, upset at losing his prefectorship as Arvandus was no longer a Pretorian Prefect of Gaul at this time. It’s more likely though that he wrote in 467/68 when he became a PP again, hoping Euric would attack north of the Loire (as the Britons south of the Loire at Bourges had already been defeated by this time). The letter never got to Euric though and Euric in fact moved south instead consolidating his position in Toulouse and instead attacking Roman possessions in Iberia and didn't turn his focus to Gaul again until 470. He was probably not tempted to move north due to having seen his brother defeated and killed by Egidius in around 464 and Count Paul and his Franks defeating the Goths in around 467 soon after the battles at Bourges Deols against the British garrison there.
"Anthemius, the Emperor, receiving intelligence of this, immediately invited the aid of the Britons, whose King Riothimus, coming with twelve thousand, and disembarking from his ships, was received into the state of the Bituriges"

Now the original Latin says the `state (or city) of the Bituriges', which is usually translated as Bourges, formally known as Avaricum but it could equally well apply to Aquitania with it's capital Bordeaux which was the main city of the southern Bituriges in Aquitania. The best landing place of Saintes (Mediolanum), 100km north of Bordeaux, was also a sea port whilst Bourges lays well inland and in no way could be described as by the sea. The only other way if Bourges/Avaricum was meant was to sail up the Loire as far as Angers and then go overland or transfer to hundreds of smaller boats. But this would appear to be a strange route to take if you were either in Britain or Armorica. The overland route from Armorica would have been much easier. In fact Bourges itself, in a reorganisation of the Gallic provinces earlier in the century, had become part of Aquitania again, so the state of the Bituriges was indeed Aquitania. Lastly as Bourges was part of Aquitania, its possible Riothamus may have landed at Nantes and proceeded eastwards from there and then southwards towards Euric.

Aqiuitania  would make much more sense of Riotimus arriving in Ships from either Armorica or Britain. Anthemius became Emperor in 467, so it can only be after this time that Riotimus was called. So lets say Riotimus arrived in 469 (Hydatius nor Gregories sources for the time before this mention him). The ‘intelligence’ that Anthemius received was probably the betrayal of Arvandus in 468.

Anthemius had withdrawn the Fedorati troops (or rather Ricimer had) that formed the barrier between the Goths below the Loire and the Armoricans and Gauls north of the Loire and so this caused a power vacuum that the Goths wanted to fill . Following the Gothic attack on Bourges, the slaughter of the Britons at Déols and the threat to Angers and other cities Anthemius decided on a grand plan to take on the Goths.  He therefore called on Riotimus from Britain to launch a two pronged attack on Euric as discussed below.

"Euric, king of the Visigoths, came against them leading an innumerable army, and fighting for a long time, overcame Riothimus, the king of the Britons, before the Romans had joined company with him. 

So the battle took place sometime around 469/70 (Mathisen 1998, Gaul and the Visigothic War) (Higham, 2002, P.76). That's a good 3-4 years difference between the Britons being defeated at Déols. It can only be reconciled if Gregory's chronology is incorrect but that doesn't appear to be so. Note that Riotimus had expected a Roman army to meet up with him ( “before the Romans had joined company with him”)

"Having lost a great part of his army, he fled with all whom he could save, and came to the neighbouring nation of the Burgundians, then confederate with the Romans. But Euric, king of the Visigoths, seized Auvergne(*), a city of Gaul."

469/470. But why go to the Burgundians, why not head north back to Britain? It implies Riotimus knew the Burgundians were federates and the battle was farther south and east. In his book, The Britons, Christopher Snyder makes the same conclusion, translating civitatem Bituriges as the state of Aquitania. (2003, P.148) and has Riotimus land in Aquitania. The ideal place to land in Aquitania to pick up the Roman road to Auvergne would be Saintes which is just 100km north of Bordeaux. From Saintes the road leads to Limoges and then onto Auvergne/Clermont. The distances say it all. From Saintes to Clermont is about 220 miles. From Armorica overland its about 400 miles. From Nantes its a fair way as well but can't be discounted.

As I have mentioned earlier above, Arvandus was prosecuted for trying to betray the Britons north of the Loire and did not have anything to do with betraying Riotimus. Riotimus was not even in the country. So we need not locate Riotimus north of the Loire at all. It is most likely he landed in Aquitania.

The letter of Sidonius to Riotimus places Riotimus near Auvergne possibly some time before 468 (as Sidonius was in Rome as Urban Prefect from 468 until 470 and Clermont was under siege from 471-474) or after 476 when Sidonius returned from exile. The letter intimates that Sidonius and Riotimus had exchanged letters on previous occasions, meaning Riotimus may either have been in Gaul before and had returned to Britain on a previous occasion before returning once more for Anthemius, or Riotimus was in northern Gaul/Armorica all along, or as I believe, all the communication was post battle, either just after the battle in 470/71 or after Sidonius returned from exile in 476. 

Sidonius did not become bishop of Clermont until he returned in 470 from Rome. So if the letter intimates that he has the position of a Bishop or clergy, which appears to be so ("which a man of my order" ) we then know that it couldn't have been written before 468. That only leaves a small window in 470/1 when Euric had defeated Riotimus and turned to face Anthemiolus in Arles when the letter could have been written, or it was after the seige of Auvergne and the exile of Sidonius until 476. The letter to Riotmius appears in a sequence that shows it was written post battle and post seige as before this letter comes one where Sidonius writes of the heroics of Ecidicius as though it were quite some time ago and shouldn't be forgotten. However, scholars are of the opinion that these letters do not always appear in sequence. So a dating in 470/71 may not be out of the question, post battle.

It appears that Anthemius had planned to take out the Vandals and the Goths with grand attacks in 469/70. His plan for Euric was a two pronged attack (MacGeorge 2002, p.243) and so landed Riotimus in Aquitania, probably near Saintes and sent his son's (Athemiolus') army to link up with Riotimus from the south. From Aquitania Riotimus made his way across land towards Auvergne/Clermont where Euric had gone to lay siege to it, as indicated above(*) . So the battle most likely took place somewhere near modern day Clermont Ferrand with Burgundy just a short distance away towards the east. 

The story of Ecdicius and his heroics against the Goths beseiging Auvergne belongs to this time when Riotimus was approaching in 469/70.  But the story of Ecdicius is exaggerated as the Goths had withdrawn from Clermont to a nearby hill due to the approach of Riotimus, and Ecdicius had only killed some slow stragglers (Ecdicius was known to be in Clermont from 469 after leaving the court of Anthemius). To those inside the city Ecdidcius with his eighteen men had incredibly defeated thousands of Goths and so the myth was created. Here is part of the letter of Sidonius to Ecdicius which confirms Ecidicus had merely chased off the rearguard as Euric was withdrawing : 

"At midday, and right across the middle of the plain, you brought your little company of eighteen safe through some thousands of the Goths, a feat which posterity will surely deem incredible. At the sight of you, nay, at the very rumour of your name, those seasoned troops were smitten with stupefaction; their captains were so amazed that they never stopped to note how great their own numbers were and yours how small. They drew off their whole force to the brow of a steep hill; they had been besiegers before, but when you appeared they dared not even deploy for action. You cut down some of their bravest, whom gallantry alone had led to defend the rear."

So, Riotimus approached, probably sometime in 470 hoping that the Roman army under the command of Anthemiolus, son of the Emperor Anthemius would arrive at the same time to help defeat the Goths of Euric. Unfortunately Anthemiolus was late or Rio was early , Euric broke the siege of Auvergne and attacked Riotimus and defeated him after a long battle. Riotimus fled eastwards to the nearby Burgundians who were short hop over the border towards Lyon. MacGeorge again puts it like this :
"Assuming that the Romans were Anthemius' forces from Italy, they were possibly delayed in setting out. One would not normally place much value on this bit of Jordanes, but it certainly would have made sense for the two armies to attack Euric simultaneously, and this might have been the plan. If the army's arrival in Gaul was delayed, thus preventing them from co-operating effectively with Riothamus, the cause could well have been Ricimer's rebellion or lack of co-operation. It is obviously speculation, but Anthemius may have blamed Ricimer in part or full for his son's death, accentuating the personal bitterness of the conflict
Euric returned to besiege Auvergne again in 471 after defeating the army of Anthemiolus near Arles. We can only assume he obtained intelligence from captured Britons that informed him that Anthemiolus was on the way as Euric was able to meet Anthemiolus practically as he got off his ships near Arles, southern France.  The city of Auvergne/Clermont was ceded in 474 and Sidonius was exiled to the Pyrenees. All these events show the timing is crucial for the battle. It could only have happened sometime around 469-470 at the latest. It is also evident that as Arvandus had been arrested in 468 he could have had nothing to do with `betraying' Riotimus as is so often said. He tried to betray the Romanised Britons of Northern Gaul yes, but not Riotimus.

If Riotimus did land at in the state of Aquitania somewhere then the possibility of ships from Armorica is more plausible, possibly from Vannes, Nantes or Quimper but this would admit the presence of Britons in Armorica in 469 which is certainly possible as the exodus had begun by this time . The only way for 12,000 men though is if there were many more settlements in Northern Gaul of Britons following Constantine's campaign in 409-411 and possibly British forces in the army of Aetius in the mid 450's and possible exodus following the Saxon incursions. In 469 I am doubtful whether that many Britons could be raised in Armorica from the early British settlements. So Riotimus most likely came from southern Britain. Perhaps a middle way could be suggested though. Riothamus could have stopped on route and collected men from the Britons of Armorica to augment his British force.

For Riotimus to have been based in Britain and raise upwards of 12000 men the implication is that the Saxons were under control/defeated. This is evident from Gildas who shows that the Britons had indeed defeated the Saxons auxiliaries who had rebelled in the early 460's. So it's quite possible that Riotimus was from Britain. It is evident though that as the battle was near Auvergne/Clermont then we can discard the link with Avalon which was much further North and hence discard the association of Riotimus with Arthur. Indeed, if Riothamus was defeated at Deols, how would he then ‘retreat’ by going eastwards through lands just lost to the Goths. It’s ludicrous, he would just have popped over the Loire to safety. So he was nowhere near this battle or even in the country at the time and more to the point, neither was Euric!!

If Sidonius' letter to Riotimus was after the siege of Clermont (when Sidonius had returned from exile in the confines of the fortress of Livia, near Carcassonne and then after in Bordeaux), ie 476, then it indicates that Riothamus was now settled in the region with the remnants of his British army. The indication that his men are tempting slaves away from other landowners suggests the Britons needed workers for their new found land on the borders of Clermont and Lyon. Lyon since 458 was Burgundian. However at this time in 476 Sidonius was no longer a Bishop of Auvergne but he may still have been under Holy Orders. This leaves then only one other possibility, when the letters to Riothamus could have been written, and that was in 470/471, the short time after Riothamus was defeated and Euric had travelled south to take on Anthemiolus. Which it was is debatable, but due to the deference shown to Riothamus by Sidonius in the existing letter I would place it after his return from exile.

Where did Riothamus settle with his Britons after defeat? Just east of Clermont/Auvergne towards Lyon is the small town of Montbrison (mount of the Britons?), which even has a 'rue de Bretagnia' - road of the Britons. Perhaps this is where he ended up.

The main arguments presented here are that:

  1. The battle of Bourges Deols took place in 465/6 long before Riotimus was called to Gaul. It couldn't have been any later than 467 as this is when Gregory's sequence of events ends, with earthquake mentioned in 467.
  2. Arvandus was under arrest in 468, again before Riotimus had entered Gaul.
  3. The letter from Sidonius to Riotimus couldn't have been written before 470/71 when Sidonius was made Bishop. So the letter was post battle.
  4. The battle that Riotimus fought with Euric was near Auvergne, now Clermont Ferrand and he fled towards the nearby border of Burgundy in the direction of Lyon.
  5. Riotimus landed in the state of Bituriges which is Aquitania, that included Bourges.
  6. The myth of Ecdicius defeating thousands of Goths is just that a myth. Euric was withdrawing to a hill to face Riotimus and Ecdicius only took out some stragglers.

History of the Franks, Gregory of Tours, 6thC

Hydatius, Latin 5thC:

Life of St Genevieve, 6thC

Jordanes, 6thC:

Letters of Sidonius, 5thC

Life of Sidonius - Lecture, Lynn Harry Nelson, Emeritus Professor of
Medieval History, The University of Kansas.

Anthemius - By Ralph W. Mathison Ph.D, University of South Carolina 1998 

King Arthur: Myth-Making and History By N. J. Higham, 2002, Routledge.

Late Roman Warlords, 2002 Penny MacGeorge, Oxford University Press

Cemeteries and Society in Merovingian Gaul: Selected Studies in History and Archaeology, 1992-2009 (Brill's Series on the Early Middle Ages) by Guy Halsall 2010 

Franks and Alamanni in the Merovingian Period: An Ethnographic Perspective. By Ian N. Wood, Boydell Press; New edition edition (20 Nov 2003)

A History of the Alans in the West: From Their First Appearance in the Sources of Classical Antiquity Through the Early Middle Ages (Minnesota Monographs in the Humanities) by Bernard S. Bachrach (25 Jul 1973)

Copyright 2011 Dane Pestano. All rights reserved.


  1. Hi Dane, I suspect most of us are only familiar with the account of Riothamus as promoted by Geoffrey Ashe, but I think he gets a little tangled in the Arthurian mythos.
    This is a refreshing account, convincingly argued.
    I must add, your book looks tempting.

  2. Hi Clas, thanks. Yes, the reason I researched and wrote this piece was that I was dissapointed at the lack of a systematic look at the evidence by any scholarly work.
    As to the book, its backed up by 200 references and footnotes so is a good introduction to Arthuriana of this fascinating character of Mac Erca.

    1. Dane I think the Ercs were very real; I am pretty sure he is the Loarn Mac Erc people refer to when they talk about the ancient King Fergus Mac Fergusson. I can even trace my ancestors to Alice Of Normandy and to a period of 1140AD where an Norman heir whom is assassinated is replaced by a mysterious girl whom is gotten from Briton by a family whom is related to the Norman Kings of France, so if there were no heir in France at that time then there would be non Brehons there in Briton.

  3. Hello Dane.

    I can see the logic behind your arguments. However I'm not convinced for a number of reasons.

    1. I think it is too much of a coincidence that two references to British expeditions into the state of the Birutiges in the 460s refer to different expeditions, a few years apart, in different places.

    2. An expedition into the state of the Bituriges on the Atlantic seaboard would have meant landing in the heart of Visigothic territory. Riotimus would hardly have been "recieved" into this territory except by the spears of the Visigoths.

    3. Following on from 2., how would Riotimus have crossed Visigohic territory without incident, only to battle with them outside their territory, in the Auvergne?

    4. Gregory of Tours is not at all reliable when it comes to ordering of events before he was born. He seems to figure out roughly when things happened, and then put them together in whatever order makes it easiest for him to tell his story. In fact, he even makes gross errors of fact and timing for events during his youth. e.g. he says Theudebert's army, led by Buccelin, conquered the whole of Italy, including Sicily. Actually, Buccelin's invasion of Italy was in the year 553, five years after Theudebert's death, and got only as far as Capua, north of Naples, before his entire army was slaughtered by Narses.

    5. Guy Halsall, "WARFARE AND SOCIETY IN THE BARBARIAN WEST, 450–900" gives in my mind a very plausible explanation for Ecdicius' feat: that he was breaking a Visigothic blockade to get into the city. Thus the Visigoths would have been spread out all around the city, at some distance, and he only had to break through their line at one point to get in. There might even have been thousands of Visigoths present, but the 19 Romans would have only fought a small fraction.

    6. I'm not familiar enough with the evidence about Sidonius to comment, but certainly other authors give different dates from yours, so it seems to me there is enough uncertainty for the letter to have dated from 469. Also how do we know Sidonius was not in Rome when he wrote the letter?


    p.s. Just bought your book on the Irish Arthurian link, after your comment on Arthurnet.

  4. Hi Howard,
    Thanks for the feedback....

    1. There is no evidence that the battle at Bourges was an expedition. "The Brittani were driven from Bourges" and some slaughtered at Deols. This was a but a Romano British garrison of the town.

    2 Not quite into the heart of Visigothic territory. Saintes is 100KM north of Bordeaux on the borders of Roman territory, so an ideal place that historcially was often used to raid the area. The Roman road leads straight from there to Auvergne. Also, the Visigoths would have taken practically all their forces to lay seige to Auvergne. Hence why Riothamus was ultimately defeated. As even with 12,000 men he couldnt beat them.

    3. As above, the Visigoths were surrounding Auvergne, every man would be needed for such a feat.

    4. Indeed but the part about the attack on Bourges etc comes in a series of statements that suggests it was from a year chronicle of some sort that Gregory had access to. Combine this with the words of Hydatius that the Goths attacked the posessions of Armorica soon after the death of Agidius and we have then timing for the battle of Bourges -Deols in 465/6

    5. The actual words of Sidonius, as given in the article explains the exact movements of the Goths. They were takig up positions on a high hill and had broken the seige of Auvergne. Why do this? Only if another army was approaching. Sidonius was an eye witness to events of the time.His testimony carries the most weight, he confirms that Ecdicius had merely attacked a rear guard!

    6.Sidonius was in Rome when there was a shortage of Food and he was in charge of getting it supplied in the most difficult of situations with the cisitizens of Rome almost revolting.. Why would he involve himself with local land issues of a poor peasant who lived hundreds of miles away. Thats not even worth considering. No author that I have read has looked at the evidence systematically to determine the movements and events of all the players involved. Once this is done, the letter could only be post battle.


  5. Hi Dane,
    Interesting. But
    1) Whether it is a garrison or an expedition, I still find it hard to believe that there were two British forces in the state of the Bituriges, completely independent, within 10 years of one another.
    2) Your hypothesis requires that Sidonius wrote about Ecdicius' part in the siege without ever mentioning that there was another army, many thousand strong, involved.
    3) And surely the populace would not have been so overjoyed to see Ecdicius break through if he was just involved in a tiny side-skirmish, and the overall outcome of the battle was that the Visigoths were victorious and the last hope of the Arvernians, Riothamus' British army, was destroyed.

  6. Hi Howard,

    1. I dont see this as a problem. These are just Romano-British garrisons of frontline areas of Armorica which streteched beyond the Loire.

    2. Indeed. Sidonius was holed up in Auvergne so would not know what had occured outside.

    3. Ecidicus broke through early on in around 470. It was four more years before Auvergne was ceded to Euric so the people would not have known much of the defeat of Riotimus which must have happeend some distance away on this hill that Euric defended. But yes, I agree his silence about Rio's battle is puzzling, but Sidonius was silent about many other matters too that he could have mentioned.

    The point is that in 470 Eurics forces were surrounding Auvergne. This was when Riotimus fought him. Where else could the battle have taken place? The only answer may be that Euric went beyond that hill and met Riotimus somewherre further west. But that still leaves the problem of Rio making his way to the nearby Burgundians. So we come in a circle again back to Auvergne.

  7. :) - excellent, 'am only writing to query
    a) Howards point 1)wether.....garrison or....difficult to believe...two Brittish forces..... ??? why not?
    and secondly
    b) Having seen references to 4 Pictish regiments that fought with the Hun.. (assoc. with Rio.)
    - anyone any thoughts or refs. ? Ta :)

  8. HI Brian. Re my my first point, I just meant that applying Occam's razor ("don't multiply entities unnecessarily") says that one British force in one state of the Bitiruges is a simpler explanation of the textual sources and so should be preferred. But I admit that history is not always simple. -- Howard.

  9. Well, the textual sources already tell us there was more than one British force in the area. We have the Britons of Bourges/Deols defeated, and we know that Arvandus mentioned other Britons living North of the Loire. Whether by these he meant the western Armoricans is difficult to gauge.

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  11. This doesn't seem to add up. The critical passage quoted "Anthemius, the Emperor, receiving intelligence of this, immediately invited the aid of the Britons, whose King Riothimus, coming with twelve thousand, and disembarking from his ships, was received into the state of the Bituriges" is separated it seems from immediately following the passage before in regards to the actions of Euric that says "Euric, the king of the Visigoths, observing the frequent changes of the Roman princes, attempted to seize the Gauls for his own". If I am not mistaken, the two follow one another without separation and so The Emporer could only be responding to the intelligence of Euric's movements and invasion plan and not the news of Arvandus's letter. The letter by that time and the trial it ignited became publicly known by then. Riothamus as stated by his communication with Sidonius earlier in Northern France seems to show that his force was in place before the letter of Arvandus was found and as was pointed out by Geoffrey, it seems very unlikely that Arvandus would only be pointing out the Breton settlements and existing forces there as a target rather than a newly arrived army meant to counter Euric. The letter also from Sidonius regarding the grievances of a landowner seems to be addressed to a leader adn force who has not experienced defeat but one that is in a position of power and influence.