This my second article in English, after a first one dealing with my late roman army finally displayed (well, not even half of it, like seven hundred miniatures).
Checking my stats time to time, i wondered how i can answer the needs of foreign visitors (aka non french speakers) coming on my website (maybe thousand/month). Hard to figure it out, because my site is not only a blog on 1/72 figurines, but a place dealing with that particular timeframe too, obviously on late roman warfare. Every single article took me more than three hours to write, doing research before, taking picture, editing it with instagram…
And as you can notice reading this words, i’m not very fluent with english, so there is no way i can translate all the articles i wrote on every single unit i’ve painted. For those interested in particular unit (like jovians for instance), i can only warmly give you the advice of browsing on my website, you fill find more than 30 units !
I’ve had many feedbacks from the visitors, mainly from France, Belgium and Switzerland. Nothing amazing. But the few englishmen’s were almost on the same topic : what about King Arthur ?
Well, i won’t tell you guys that King Arthur is a legend, even if like every legend it has been build with historic characters and events.
Modern scholars agree on one point : late roman officers in duty in Britannia are the source of the Legend.
The most popular King Arthur is Ambrosius Aurelianus (Emrys Wledic in welsh) a britto-roman (or romano-brittish ) warlord, leader of an unknowned roman faction (Britannia wasn’t united anymore, any farmer with a little retinue called himself king during those times) at least between 435 and 460, who fought against saxon invaders, crushing those germanic pagans during a major battle in 455.
His background is uncertain, but Ambrosius was roman for sure, son of the roman establishment in Britannia : officers or governors, some scholars taking for granted the obscur Gildas who gave him even an Imperial parenthood, wich is totally unlikely i think. Or maybe with usurpers like Marcus, Gratian or Constantinus III, but who will proove it ?
Let’s back to the (few) facts we know for sure : At the beginning of the fifth century, Italy was under threat : first Alaric with his romano-gothic army, based in Illyricum and who invaded Italy, blockading the Emperor Honorius in Mediolanum until Stilicho came back. Then Radagaisus, King of a major hord, composed of many ethnic groups, who invaded Italy two years after with an entire people (some scholars are even keen to accept the figure of 200 000 people !).
For reasons hard to understand 1500 years after, the roman army was really reduced in numbers. It seems that Stilicho had only 15000-20000 regular legionnaires. Not so ridiculous number for a late roman army, if it wasn’t composed by almost all regular legions of the western part. Stilicho recalled all the legions based on the Rhine… and in Britannia. Claudian, the official poet of the Court specifically deals about britons legionnaires, feared by the barbarians.
Around 410, Britain was left on his own, the Empire officially admits its uncapicity to provide a real defense of the provincia. Off course, it doesn’t means that no roman troops were located in Britannia, but that the core of shock troops were gone, and the others left behind were not paid anymore by the imperial treasury.
Even for a land who had been considered as the less romanized of the western empire, their citizens proove to be very attached and proud of their roman way of living…and fight. Politically the province failed in mantaining its cohesion : cities, landlords, churches, even abandonned regular units, every local political power tried to protect its territory, sometimes in collaboration with other self-proclamed authorities.
A character like Ambrosius Aurelianus, was certainly a dux : in those time the grade wasn’t granted by the imperial authorities for sure, more probably given by consensus to a successfull lord of war, who prooved his valour in battle. Attecotti, Picts, saxons, ennemies were not rare, and possibilities to gain fame in combat too. At the end of the roman empire, every local roman commander, even the most insignificant, was Dux of its territory, even a small city.
Ambrosius was without doubt a commander of huge importance, and it is not completely impossible that he commanded the roman forces against the saxon invaders, crushing them at the mons badonicus battle.
An another character who could be a « draft » of a future King Arthur was Riothamus (also spelled Riutimus or Riotimus). His name was more a title than an actual name : a latinization of Rigotamos, supreme king. He’s at least attested by a letter written to him by Sidonius Appolinaris. He has surely had a great power to received a letter from one of the most important gallic noble of the century. His importance is given by the battle we know he fought againt Euric, king of the Wisigoths in 469. The chronics told us that the late roman officer bring 12 000 soldiers from Britannia (hardly possible, but in any way he certainly muster a very large force), and met the wisigothic army on the Loire, near Bituriges (actual Bourges). After a long battle, he has been routed, betrayed by Arvandus, the Praetorian prefect of Gaul who managed to prevent the meeting between the briton forces and the gallic ones, wich came too late.
Constantinus III, Ambrosius, Riothamus, all those roman generals prooved that Britannia never was undefended : it is just the contrary, with armies coming from the island and fighting on the continent, despite some many units recalls.
If you want to read an another article in English on late roman warfare with pictures of hundreds of painted miniatures, click here !