A British legion stationed near Orléans c. 530?
Howard M. Wiseman (Centre for Quantum Dynamics, Griffith University)
Journal of the Australian and Early Medieval Association: Volume 7 (2011)
Several recent books lead the reader to believe that Vita sancti Dalmatii, written in c. 800, records a legio Britannica (a British army) stationed near Orléans in c. 530. As this paper demonstrates, the only correct detail of this purported record is the word legio, and this may well have a non-military connotation. This paper includes the first English translation of the relevant sections of Vita sancti Dalmatii, and a discussion of its possible interpretations in the context of Franco-Brittonic relations. It also examines more broadly the evidence for Brittonic military activity in Gaul proper from 450 to 560, and suggests that, irrespective of the interpretation of Vita sancti Dalmatii, the importance of the Britons in late antique Gaul has been overlooked.
In The Britons, Christopher Snyder, a renowned historian of this gens in the post-Roman period, states, “… as late as 530 a legio Britannica was stationed at Orléans, according to the Life of St. Dalmas, bishop of Rodez.” One would expect such a remarkable piece of evidence for sixth- century British military activity in the heart of Gaul, written c. 800, to be due more than a cursory mention in books dealing with the post-Roman Britons, or with late-antique Gaul. Contrary to this expectation, Snyder gives no further comment in The Britons, and cites only The Bretonsby Patrick Galliou and Michael Jones. The latter book contains no further information and fails to give any citation. Penny MacGeorge gives exactly the same information, and while she cites Vita sancti Dalmatii itself, her real source is evidently The Bretons (which is listed in her bibliography). The ultimate source for this information would seem (see sec. 4.2 below) to be Léon Fleuriot, whose work appears in the bibliography of The Bretons. Fleuriot translates a few of the relevant sentences of the uita, and very briefly .