Europe 418: Recovery of Gaul
While Wallia’s Goths crushed the Alans and Siling Vandals in Hispaniae (416–418), the Western Roman generalissimo Flavius Constantius set about restoring Roman rule in Gaul. This was largely successful and by 418 the Romans had reestablished themselves in Armorica and northern Gaul, and possibly even mounted a brief return to Britain.
Roman return to Britain
These maps show a Roman return to Britain in 418–421. There are a number of reasons to believe this might have happened, including:
- A Roman return followed by an amicable withdrawal is mentioned by Gildas and Bede.
- The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles date a Roman withdrawal to 418/421 and, along with Nennius, tell of departing Romans burying treasure that they did not take to Gaul. This is supported somewhat by the discovery of multiple 5th century hoards in south and east Britain.
- There is evidence of work on Hadrian’s Wall dating to the 420s.
- The Notitia Dignitatum, dated to the 420s in the West, attests to Roman units in Britain.
- It makes logical sense for Constantius III’s forces to conclude their reconquest of Gaul in 418 by at least visiting Britain. It would also make sense that this visit would be unexpected and late in the year, as stated by Bede.
- Continued interactions between the Roman church and Britain from the 420s to as late as the 450s suggest ongoing ties with the Empire.
However, be aware that at the present moment (2023) only a few mainstream historians hold this view. For further arguments in favor of a Roman return, see Pace (Nov 2015, Walls and Withdrawals: Gildas’ Version of the End of Roman Britain).
417–418 Recovery of Galliae▲
In 417–418 the armies of Flavius Constantius restored Western Roman rule in most of northern Gaul and at least temporarily cowed the Franks, Burgundians, and Alemanni. However, due to manpower shortages, the revived Rhine legions were now considerably weaker than what they had been in 395, making effective control of the region difficult. As a result, the Romans chose to keep the seat of the Praetorian Prefecture of Gaul at Arelate (Arles) in the south, rather than returning it to its traditional position at Treveri (Trier), near the Rhine.
417 Recovery of Armorica▲
In 417 the Western Roman general Exuperantius either led or accompanied a force to restore Roman rule in Armorica (greater Brittany) after a popular revolt (most likely the one in 409). Exuperantius would later become Praetorian Prefect of Gaul and his son, Palladius, the first Christian bishop of Ireland.
418 Battle of Tartessos▲
In 418 Wallia’s Goths crossed into the territory of the Siling Vandals, where they faced a combined army of Silings and Alans in Tartessos (the region around the mouth of the Guadalquivir) and decisively defeated them. The Alan king Attaces was killed in this battle or shortly afterwards, forcing the Alans to flee back north while most of the Silings escaped to the south.
418 End of the Siling Vandals▲
After their defeat by Wallia’s Goths in 418, the Siling Vandals retreated south but the bulk of them appear to have ended up trapped around Mons Calpe (the Rock of Gibraltar) where they were massacred. This ended the Siling presence in Baetica and marks their last mention as an independent people, although some Siling remnants escaped north to join the Hasding Vandals.
418 Collapse of the Alans▲
After suffering heavy casualties at the hands of Wallia’s Goths in Tartessos in 418, the Alans fled northwest back into Lusitania but soon found themselves pursued by the Goths. Having lost their king Attaces in battle—and by now greatly reduced in number—the Alans escaped north into Gallaecia, where they sought asylum among the Hasding Vandals of King Gunderic. Gunderic accepted them, becoming King of the Vandals and Alans, while the Goths chose to break off their campaign at this point, effectively concluding their wars in Hispania.
418?–421? De Secunda Ultione▲
Following the recovery of Gaul in about 418, it is possible that Roman forces briefly returned to Britain. The 6th-century British monk Gildas tells of Roman legions who arrived in response to British calls for aid against barbarian invaders and levied taxes to build (restore?) the fortifications of Hadrian’s Wall and the Saxon Shore. Some literary and archaeological evidence may support this narrative, but if the Romans did indeed return, they were likely gone again by the early 420s.