Arthur, Cerdic, and the Formation of Wessex

APPENDIX C: Discussion of Aetius and his possible involvement with Britain.

   Aetius had lived many years among the Huns, and he understood them well. He gained control of the western empire in 433, and from then on demonstrated a policy of settling powerful barbarian tribes--Alans, Franks, Saxons, and Burgundians within the Roman empire, probably to improve security and stability.
   Around 441, he began to prepare for the invasion of the Huns, whom he knew would eventually come. (Salway, 1985, p442) The Hunnish hordes were very large compared to the Roman armies of the era, and were much more mobile than any forces in the west. If Aetius had any hope of defending the west against the Huns, he had to forge a largely Germanic barbarian alliance, and then had to execute a difficult plan requiring perfect timing and the coordination of many actions. To achieve the victory, Aetius needed to be a brilliant strategist, tactician, diplomat, and logistician, and he needed to be lucky as well. He had some advantages. For one, he was an educated Roman, which meant that he had read of the tactics of Hannibal and Julian. For another, he knew his enemy, and had a good idea of how Attila would respond to various situations. Finally, he had planted on Attila not one, but two secretaries. Curiously enough, one was Oerestes--the father of Romulus Augustus who would be the last Roman emperor-- and the other was Edico--the father of Odoacer, the barbarian king who deposed Romulus Augustus. These two were in a position to both inform Aetius of Attila's plans, and to help guide Attila according to Aetius' purposes. (Gordon, 1960, p 70).
   What was the problem Aetius faced? It was not sufficient to eliminate Attila, because the Huns would select a new king and continue. The only hope of saving the west from Hunnish domination was to trap and annihilate the Hunnish horde as Hannibal had done to the Romans at Cannae. For this he had to equip and gather a large army; but not too early, for it would be impossible to maintain an army of young warriors from so many diverse peoples for more than a few weeks without quarreling. Second, he needed secure bases and supplies. When the Huns broke into Gaul, their divisions would be everywhere. No cities, no supplies, no command centers would be safe. He needed to be able to absorb the Hunnish attack, and then present them with a large enough army that Attila would concentrate his forces. Aetius then would have to trap and destroy those forces. Julian had faced similar problems in the great barbarian revolts of 360 AD. To supply the armies of Gaul in their campaigns against the Germans, he gathered a fleet of 600 ships, 400 of them built for the purpose, and reopened the supply routes from Britain. To restore order in Britain and to suppress the raids by Picts and Scots, he sent four legions to the Island. Julian's fleet came from the lower Rhine, and quite possibly many of the sailors of that fleet had descendants living in the same region when they were needed by Aetius for the same purpose. (Salway, 1984, p360)
   Aetius knew how Julian had solved the problem of supplying and equipping his army, and it is reasonable that he too turned to Britain. But Britain had expelled the Romans thirty years earlier, and was now ruled by adamantly independent tyrants. Now Aetius desperately needed Britain, which had supplied the Roman army for three hundred years. Britain--with its twenty mile wide barrier of water barring Hunnish cavalry. Britain--rich in cattle, grains, and metals, with ports on every side. (Salway, 1985, p630). Aetius may have used churchmen such as Germanus to initiate negotiations and establish contacts. Aetius worked closely with the bishop of Orleans in preparing and maintaining that city's defence against Attila's siege, and from this same city Germanus went to Britain in 446 or 447, and possibly Ambrosius Aurelianus came from this city as well. If, on his mission, Germanus failed to establish good relations with Vortigern, then his opportunity to cure the crippled son of a powerful British prince and merchant, who worked closely with Saxons as well, can only be described as a godsend. By this era, most western Roman soldiers were mercenaries, primarily Germanic. The forces which Aetius may have sent to Britain would have to be mostly such troops, though Gildas might validly refer to them as Roman. Gildas specifically refers to cavalry and ships, and these would well describe Aetius' Alans and Saxons, who may have included the sons of Hengist. It would have been natural for the son of Llyr Merini to share in the command of the seaborn forces.

John C. Rudmin, 864 Chicago Av, Harrisonburg, VA, 22801
Joseph W. Rudmin, Physics Dept., James Madison Univ., Harrisonburg, VA, 22807
(First submitted for publication in Oct 1993)

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