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II. LESSER BRITAIN
A KNOWLEDGE of the migrations to Armorica, and the colonisation of that portion of what is now called Brittany, is essential for the appreciation of the history of Wales and all south-western Britain in the fifth and sixth centuries.
The Armorican peninsula had been occupied from prehistoric times by a non-Aryan race, probably speaking an agglutinative tongue, a people that erected the rude stone monuments strewn broadcast over the land, a people whose dominating religious sentiment was the cult of the Dead. These were subjugated by the Gauls, moving into and occupying the Armorican peninsula in five invading clans, the Veneti, the Nanneti, the Redones, the Curiosoliti, and the Ossismi. These invaders did not exterminate the natives, they reduced them to servitude, and refused them the right to bear arms.
That the religion and religious practices of the conquered race influenced the dominant Gaul is what we might expect. The influence of a conquered race never does die out so soon as the conquerors are established. It affects, moulds and modifies the religion and ritual of the conquerors. And the testimony of the sepulchres in Armorica proves that such was the case there.
Cæsar conquered Armorica, and well nigh exterminated the freeborn Gaulish Veneti. Thousands were massacred, and their wives and children were sold into foreign bondage.1
In B.C. 52, when Vercingetorix, besieged by Julius Cæsar in Alesia, appealed to all Gallic patriots to rise against the Romans, each of the Armoric tribes furnished a contingent of three thousand men, except the Veneti, too exhausted and broken, who were incapable of sending any.
The Gauls settled in Armorica as a dominant race rapidly assimilated the customs, religion, and adopted the language of their Roman conquerors. They seem even to have abandoned Celtic names for those of Rome, as among the inscriptions of the period recovered, hardly more than two preserved personal names of Celtic origin.
Under the later emperors, the fiscal exactions in the provinces became so intolerable that commerce and agriculture languished. Lactantius says :—“The number of those who received pay had become so greatly in excess of those who had to pay, that the colonials, crushed by the enormity of the imposts, abandoned the cultivation of their lands, and tillage reverted to forest.” 3 He adds details. “The fields were measured to the last clod; the vine stocks and tree boles were all counted; every beast, of whatever kind, was inscribed, each man's head was reckoned. The poor people of town and country were swept together into the towns, the market-places were crowded with families. Every proprietor, together with the free-men of his household and his serfs, was registered ; torture and the lash were applied on all sides. Sons were forced to give evidence against their fathers, and they were placed on the rack to extort this from them. The most faithful slaves were constrained by torture to testify against their masters, and wives in like manner against their husbands. In default of other evidence, men were themselves tormented to give evidence against themselves, and when at last they were overcome by pain, they were inscribed for goods they did not possess. No exception was allowed for age and infirmity. Sick and weakly men were all enrolled on the register as taxable. ... And yet full confidence was not reposed in the tax-collectors. Others were sent in their traces to find out fresh occasion for imposts. Moreover, every time the tax was raised, not as if something had been discovered which had hitherto escaped the charge, but these new agents piled up the dues so as to give proof of their own activity. The result was that the cattle dwindled, men died, and yet payment was extorted for the dead as from the living, so that finally one could neither live nor die without being taxed.” 4
1“ Itaque omni senatu necato, reliquos sub corona vendidit.” Gallico, iii, 16; Dion Cass., xxxix, 43.
2 De Bello Gallico, vii, 75.
These exactions became more oppressive as the Empire became feebler. The Gallo-Roman landed proprietors, the free-men, were constrained to abandon their villas, which they were no longer in a position to maintain, and to retire within the walls of Nantes, Rennes and Vannes.
The great towns of Aleth, Corseul, Carhaix, Vindana (Audierne), Vorganium, etc., fell into ruins. The bishops of the three cities absorbed the magisterial office, and became civic as well as ecclesiastical rulers. But their authority hardly extended beyond the walls of the towns ; and if they attempted anything towards the conversion of the aboriginal inhabitants, it was in a half-hearted, desultory fashion that produced no lasting results. To add to the general misery, bands of sea rovers, described as Frisians, probably Saxons, descended on the coast, plundering, butchering and burning. At length the tyranny of the Empire could be endured no longer, • De Mortibus Persecutorum, vii.
• Ibid., xxiii.
and just as the wave of German invasion began to wash over Eastern Gaul, the Armoricans rose in the West, and expelled the Roman magistrates, inspired, as Zozimus informs us, by the example of the insular Britons.5 Rutilius, in his Itinerary, informs us that Exuperantius, prefect of the Gauls, succeeded in reducing the Armoricans in 415-20, but this success was temporary. Sidonius Apollinaris attributes the same success to Litorius, præfectorial lieutenant in 435 or 436,6 and to Majorian, lieutenant of Aetius in 446.?
The efforts of Aetius were by no means as successful as they are represented by Sidonius, for in the very next year, 447, the same Majorian, despairing of being able to reduce the Armoricans, invited the barbarous Alans to invade the country and to exterminate a people he was himself unable to subdue. This proposal would have been carried into effect but for the intervention of S. Germanus of Auxerre.
“ In 453,” says Jornandes, “ the Armoricans supplied a contingent to the confederation that defeated Attila on the plains of Châlons.” 9 A little later, after 468, we hear of Britons in Armorica near the mouth of the Loire. In that year a certain Arvandus, prefect of Gaul, overwhelmed with debt and ripe for any expedient for recovering himself, intrigued with Euric, king of the Visigoths, and was arrested and tried for high treason in the ensuing year. At the trial a letter of his was produced, in which he exhorted Euric not to make peace with the Emperor Anthemius, but “as the Britons established upon the Loire” were the most able auxiliaries that the Empire possessed, he advised Euric to fall on them, and rid himself of them, before proceeding overtly to attack the imperial power.” 10
Anthemius then called on these Britons (solatia Britonum postulavit) to make common cause with him against the Visigoths, and they responded by sending twelve thousand men, under their King, Riothimus, up the Loire to Bourges, to the assistance of the Count Paul, who was assembling an army against Euric. But the Roman general was leisurely in his proceedings, and Riothimus remained for nearly a twelvemonth at Bourges, during which time Sidonius Apollinaris entered into correspondence with him about some captives the Britons had taken. 11 Riothimus, at last, impatient at his enforced inactivity, marched 5 Under the date of 408. 6 Carmen VIII, v. 245 et seq. ; Avitus, Panegyr., ii. 7 Carmen V, v. 211-2. 8 Prosp. Aquit., Chron., A.D. 442. De rebus Gothicis, xxxiii.
10 “ Britannos supra Ligerim sitos impugnare oportere demonstrans.” Sidon. Apollin., Epist., i, 7.
11 Ibid., iii, 9.
against the Visigoths, whom he encountered at Déols. He was defeated and compelled, along with the survivors of his host, to take refuge among the Burgundians. 12
That these Britons at the mouth of the Loire were Christians appears most probable, for at a provincial council held at Tours in 461, only a few years previous to this, appeared Mansuetus, bishop of the Britons (episcopus Britannorum), who sat with Eusebius of Nantes and Athenius of Rennes. This is the first intimation we have of British settlers in Armorica, and in sufficient numbers to send a contingent of twelve thousand men against the Visigoths.
We are not told that Britons were involved in the risings in 408, 415, 435, 446, but we are afforded the significant hint that they revolted, “ following the example of the insular Britons.” That British colonists were settled at the mouth of the Loire early in the fifth century is accordingly established.
But had they, at this time, begun to settle in other parts of Armorica ? We have no contemporary records to show that they had, but there are many indications that they had done so.
According to the Gloss on Fiacc's Hymn on S. Patrick, “ Patrick and his father, Calpurn, Concess his mother . . . and his five sisters ... his brother, the deacon Sannan, all went from Ail Cluade over the Ictian Sea (the English Channel) southward to the Britons of Armorica, that is to say, to the Letavian Britons, for there were relations of theirs there at that time.” 13
The statement is late, but it embodies an early tradition. It is not said to what part of Armorica these emigrants went, but as we hope to show, when dealing with S. Germanus the Armorican, there is some ground for supposing it was to Cornugallia.
According to the Life of S. Illtyd, he was son of Bicanys, an Armorican of British blood, driven from Armorica apparently by some family quarrel which deprived him of his land.14 Illtyd cannot have been born later than 460. So also Cadfan, with a large party of refugees, came to Wales early in the sixth century, and we can hardly suppose them to have been flying from a country recently occupied. Cadfan has left his traces in Cornouaille and in Léon.
Again, we have Budic, a king of Cornugallia, living as a refugee in South Wales, and that in the sixth century, but at the very beginning of it.15
12 Greg. Turon., Hist., ii, 18; Fernandes, De rebus Gothicis, xlv.
13 Tripartite Life of S. Patrick, Rolls Series, ii, 473-5. Liber Hymn., ii, p. 177. See also preface to Hymn of S. Sechnall, Liber Hymn., ii, 3.
14 Cambro-British Saints, p. 158. 15 Book of Llan Dâv, p. 130.
Some little weight may be allowed to the catalogue of the princes of Cornubia or Cornugallia in the Cartulary of Landevennec. 16 The Cartularies of Quimper and of Quimperlé give the same list, but obviously derived from the same source. They reckon three kings of the Britons in Cornubia as reigning before Grallo, who ruled from about 470 to about 505. Allow fifteen years for each reign, and this gives us 435 for the first.
What is more convincing is that when the colonists arrived at a later period, they found the land already parcelled out into plous and trefs. There was occasion for a great migration taking place in the fifth century, but immigration had probably begun earlier.
Under the date 364 Ammianus Marcellinus says :—“At this time the trumpet, as it were, gave signal for war throughout the Roman world ; and the Barbarian tribes on the frontier were moved to make incursions on those territories which lay nearest to them. The Picts, Scots, Saxons and Attacotti harassed the Britons with incessant invasions.”
Owing to the weakness of Britain, that had been partly Romanised, and which was ill defended by a few legions, the island became a prey to invaders. It was fallen upon from all sides. The Irish, or Scots as they were then called, poured over the western coast and occupied nearly the whole of Wales. The Picts broke over the Wall from the north, and the Germans invaded and planted themselves on the east and south-east. Large bands of Irish swept over Devon and Cornwall. Their inscribed stones with ogams, as has been already shown, can be traced into South Devon.
From Irish records we find that after 366 Crimthan the Great was warring in Alba, Britain, and exacting tribute from it.17
In 368, according to Ammianus, matters had reached a critical pass in Britain. Theodosius was sent into the island, and he drove the Picts out of London. The relief was temporary. No sooner was he gone than they returned. It is of this period of protracted misery that Gildas writes : “ Britain groaned in amazement under the cruelty of two foreign nations, the Scots from the north-west, and the Picts from the north.” According to him the Britons appealed to Rome, and a legion was sent into the island, which inflicted severe losses on the invaders. It was, however, almost immediately with
16 Cart. Land., ed. De la Borderie, Rennes, 1888, pp. 172-3.
17 “ Capessivit postea imperium Crimthanus Fidlogi filius ... qui septemdecem annos regnavit, et Albania, Britanniâ et Galliâ victorias retulisse illarumque regionum incolas vetusta documenta produnt.” (Keating, from Munster documents.)