CCNet ESSAY: IMPACT AND THE END OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE IN THE
By E.P. Grondine <firstname.lastname@example.org>
BARBARIANS, VOLCANO, PLAGUE, BARBARIANS, RESPITE;
COMETS, FAMINES, PLAGUES, BARBARIANS, A SHORTER RESPITE;
EARTHQUAKE, IMPACT, FATAL INFLUENZA, BARBARIANS, VOLCANO
NOTES ON TEXT RECORDS OF THE DESTRUCTION OF BAZAS,
DEPARTMENT LA GIRONDE, BY IMPACT, CA. 580 CE
ALONG WITH TEXT RECORDS CONCERNING IMPACT, CLIMATE, PLAGUE,
AND MIGRATIONS IN THE SIXTH CENTURY
Hello Benny -
I am following with great interest and enjoyment the recent exchanges
between Melfyn Thomas, Alistair McBeath, Mike Baillie, and Bob Kobres on
possible impact references in text materials from sub-Roman Britain and
Ireland. That said, before they proceed further, perhaps sharing with them a
few observations about the use of these materials may make for a better
discussion in the future.
First, however, more pressing matters lie immediately at hand, and some
Conference participants may wish to learn of three texts from sub-Roman
Britain and Gaul pertaining to the destruction of the city of Bazas in Gaul
in 580 CE in a small impact event. These texts also contain information
pertaining to the current discussion of cometary versus volcanic dust
loading as factors in the sixth century climatic collapses which I think
some may also find of interest.
A SMALL IMPACT EVENT DESCRIBED IN ADOMNAN'S LIFE OF SAINT COLUMBA
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND TO THE IONA TEXT RECORD
There have been many histories written about events in Britain between the
first and sixth centuries; as the materials are so incredibly difficult to
work with, I think it is safe to say that no two of these histories agree,
at least in all of their details. The following short summary is my take on
the events of this period, with reference to some of the archaeological
finds recovered to date.
The fatal weakness of the Roman Empire was that it was ruled by means of a
poorly formed monarchy. Aside from this system's propensity to grant
executive powers to incompetents or to the insane, the lack of a clear means
of passing executive power led to much of the Empire's military power being
squandered in struggles for control of the state. A consequence of these
struggles for power was a constant ongoing reduction in the authority and
the respect with which the people of the Empire held their military forces.
By as early as 185 CE so much of Rome's military might had been squandered
in these political struggles that its commanders in Europe began to use the
germanic Francs as mercenaries against both the local Celtic populations as
well as against sea-borne raiders.
Around the year 220 CE, the survivors of the Romans' conquest of Brittannia
who lived in the far north of that island found themselves a new ally. The
Cruit/Chuid (Picts) of Brittannia's far north, a pre-Indo-European people
who had also survived the earlier Celtic migrations into the isles, allied
with the Scotti people. While it is not clear as of yet whether the Scotti
were of germanic or nordic descent, it is clear that whoever they were they
possessed the technology to construct large boats out of wood, as the new
allies used watercraft of this type in their first raids.
While in earlier times such attacks would have led to rather massive
retaliations by the Romans, by this date, instead of retaliating, the Romans
abandoned the area south of the Antonine Wall and north of Hadrian's Wall to
the control of their former subjects, the indigenous local tribes. This
Roman withdrawal may have been due to the fact that they had lost much of
their military strength in the battles between the different claimants for
control of the Empire; it may have been due to the fact that the eastern
areas of the Empire, with their routes to China, may have appeared to them
as a more lucrative use of their troops; or it may simply have been due to
the fact that only the grain growing areas of Brittannia which were south of
Hadrian's Wall were of any value to them; whatever the cause, withdraw they
For coin hoards from the inter-wall area, and comment on the relations
between Rome and the Celtic tribes there, see:
As has been fairly conclusively demonstrated through the use of
archaeological and text evidence by W.A. Cummins in his book "The Age of the
Picts", the local Celtic tribes' control over these abandoned areas did not
last; instead, over the next 125 or so years, the Cruit and the Scotti would
establish their dominance over these peoples. From these newly conquered
areas the Cruit and Scotti then launched raids even farther to the south of
the island, raids which the Romans appear to have by now been powerless to
stop. In 367 CE a new set of raiders, the Saxons, joined in.
This Pictish and Scottish expansion into the Celtic border lands was no
doubt was helped along by the fact that Brittannia and all of Roman Celtic
Europe had been united by different commanders in repeated attempts to
either seize control of the Empire or to found a Celtic Empire. (These are
summarized below in the historical background to Gregory of Tours work.) The
troops from this mid-wall area would have been involved in these adventures,
and thus the area would have been left open to Pict and Scot advance.
Operating from their new bases, the Cruit and Scotti did not limit their
raids to Brittannia, but also attacked the peoples living on the island of
Hibernia as well. For a quick overview of this, including the invasion of
Pictland by the Ghan people of Hibernia in response to these Pict and Scotti
The Ghan and the Chaid were peoples living in the island of Hibernia who
most likely were, like the Cruit/Chuid (Picts) of Brittannia's far north,
pre-Indo-European peoples who had survived the Celtic migrations into the
isles. Both of these peoples, the Chaid and Ghan, appear to have come under
the control of the Hibernian leader Niall of the Nine Hostages, who led them
against the Cruit and Scotti, and then onto raids into the continent:
From this account, it appears that following the slaying of Niall on the
Loire River, Niall's Chaid subjects allied themselves or were "allied" with
the Riada (Raetians?). Whoever the Riada were, they were with certainty
germanic mercenaries, and they were settled in Ireland shortly after ca. 399
CE by the Roman imperial general Stilicho, who was himself half germanic. In
his use of these germanic Riada mercenaries it is likely that Stilicho was
following the earlier example of either Valentinian I or Magnus Maximus, who
appear to have used the Deisi people in a similar fashion.
For a very early Roman military base in Ireland, see:
For early use of germanic mercenaries on the borders of Brittannia, see:
For a badly mangled account of the arrival of the Riada in Ireland as a
military force composed solely of men, wherein the writer confuses the Riada
with Picts and the Scotti with Irish, see
Through inter-marriage the Riada would become far less germanic;
importantly, they took over the Ghan foothold in Pictland. That said, for
archaeological evidence of the very early appearance of the Riada as a
germanic people in the Dal Riada area of the island of Britain proper, see:
Columba (generally dated 521-597 CE, with a believed uncertainty of 2 years)
was attributed by later Irish writers as being on his mother Eithne's side a
descendant of Cathiar Mor, a King of Leinster, though in Adomnan's Life
Columba's mother is repeatedly referred to as having come from among people
of the ships, i.l. raiders' captives from the island of Britain. On his
father's side Columba's descent was attributed to Fedlimich, a son of
Fergus, a son of Connaill Gublan, a son of Niall of the Nine Hostages.
Regardless of the degree of truth involved in the accounts of Columba's
descent, it is very likely that he was raised by Cruithnecan, son of
Cellachan, who was with certainty both a Pict and a Christian. While one
might like this individual to be Cruit Nechtan son of Erp, living in exile
among the churchmen in Ireland, a 20 year chronological discrepancy appears
with this identification. That said, that Cruithnecan may have been a
convert of St. Ninnian appears very reasonable, regardless of who exactly
Among Columba's greatest achievements was his negotiation of an agreement
(ca. 562-563 CE) between the germanic-descended feoderati of Dal Riada and
the Northern Pict King Brude against the Southern Picts. Following the
severe defeat inflicted by the Northern Pict King Brude on the Riada ca. 560
CE, Columba, operating from his base in Iona (founded ca. 563 CE),
negotiated this agreement between the Riada and the Northern Picts against
the Southern Picts, and by doing so he ensured the survival of the Dal Riada
enclave, and thus greatly affected the later course of history.
Columba also endorsed the expansion of power of the Dal Riada leader Aedan
(a variant of the germanic title "Aed") son of Gabran, including Aedan's
(and later Aedan's son Arthur's) alliance with the Celtic Rheged against
Angle immigrants in the north, Aedan's seizure of the kingship of the Dal
Riada from his brother Eogan (lit. King of the Ghan, Eo+Ghan), and Aedan's
struggle for independence from the leaders of the "UiNiall" (the Chaid) back
A life of Saint Columba was written by Adomnan, Abbott of Iona, and
according to Alan and Marjorie Anderson, Adomnan wrote it between the years
688-692 CE. The Andersons also state that Adomnan abandoned the Pelagian
heresy ca. 688 CE, and left Iona for Ireland ca. 692 CE. It may certainly
be reasonably inferred that one of Adomanan's key objectives in going to
Iona and writing his Life of Saint Columba was to remove heretical material
from a Life of Saint Columba which had been written by an earlier abbot of
Iona, Cumene, who was most likely a Pelagian. Another of Adomnan's reasons
for performing his re-write was to eliminate Cumene's earlier "less than
favorable" references to the Angles, with whose leaders Adomnan now had
THE SMALL IMPACT EVENT AS REPORTED IN ADOMNAN'S LIFE OF SAINT COLUMBA
The following impact report is contained in Admonan's Life of Saint Columba,
I.22, and the passage given here follows Alan and Marjorie Andersons'
severely flawed translation as well as their excellent Latin text: Adomnan's
Life of Saint Columba, Alan Orr Anderson and Marjorie Olgivie Anderson,
Thomas Nelson & Sons, London & Edinburgh, 1961, pages 262-263:
"THE PROPHECY OF THE HOLY MAN REGARDING THE ROMAN CITY,
BURNT BY A SULFUROUS FIRE WHICH FELL FROM HEAVEN
"Similarly at another time, on a day after the threshing of the grain,
Lugbe, of the family of mocu-Min, whom we have mentioned above, going to the
saint was unable to look upon his face, which was flushed with a marvellous
redness; and becoming greatly afraid he quickly fled away.
But the saint called him back by slight clapping of his hands. Returning,
he was at once asked why he had run away so quickly, and he made this
reply: "I fled because I was much afraid."
"And proceeding with greater confidence, after a slight pause, he took
courage to question the saint, saying: "No fearful vision has been shown to
you, has it, in this very hour?" The saint gave him this answer: "Very
terrible retribution has just now been made, in a distant part of the
world." "What kind of retribution?", said the youth, "And in what country
has it been made?"
"Then the saint spoke thus: "In this hour, sulphurous flame has been poured
down from heaven upon a city of the Roman dominion within the borders of
Italy; and close upon three thousand men, not counting the number of women
and children, have perished. And before the present year is ended, the
Gallic sailors arriving from the provinces of Gaul will tell you the same."
"After some months these words were proved to have been correct. For this
Lugbe went, along with the holy man to the chief place of the district; and
he (Lugbe) questioned the master and sailors of a ship which arrived, and
heard those things about the city and its inhabitants related by them, all
precisely as the memorable man had said."
INITIAL ANALYSIS BY THE ANDERSONS:
The Andersons refer the reader to Notker Balbalus's identification of the
city involved as Cita Nuova in Istria via a citation to Gertrud Bruning,
Adamnans Vita Columbae und ihre Abteilung, Zeitschrifte fur Celtische
Philologie volume XI, Halle, 1917, page 290. By the Andersons' use of this
device, one might assume that this lead would be a dead end, but that would
depend on whether Istria was within the borders of Italy between 563-597 CE.
Also, the possibility exists of an impact by a separate fragment of a
common parent body, an impact which Balbalus may have noted.
Most likely what occurred was that Columba received a letter about the
destruction, Lugbe mocu-Min saw Columba immediately after Columba read the
letter, and Lugbe, being illiterate himself, later confirmed the report
during a visit to the Carlisle area. The original letter probably became an
entry in the Iona annals, and during the process of writing Columba's life,
either Cumene or Adomnan tried to confirm the annal entry by interview, and
gained direct confirmation through first person interview with Lugbe. Thus
the underlying original annal entry probably dates from between 563-597 CE,
while the confirmation itself is likely first hand and is somewhat later.
WHO, WHAT, WHERE, AND WHEN????
A SMALL IMPACT EVENT IN GAUL IN 580 CE
REPORTED BY GREGORY OF TOURS
Phil Burns has noted a number of possible impact events between 580-585 CE:
and in particular Phil relayed (and a big thanks here) Gregory of Tour's
(539-594 CE) note for events ca. 580 CE, the fifth year of the reign of King
Childebert II (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, V.33, Lewis Thorpe
translation, Penguin Books, 1974, pages 295-296):
"Villages around Bordeaux were burned by a fire sent from heaven: it took so
swift a hold that homesteads and threshing floors with the grain still
spread out on them were reduced to ashes. There was no other apparent cause
of this fire, so it must have come from God.
"The city of Orleans blazed with a great conflagration. Even the richer
citizens lost their all, and if anyone managed to salvage anything from the
flames it was immediately snatched away by the thieves who crowded around."
INITIAL ANALYSIS OF GREGORY OF TOUR'S REPORT
The most important thing to note is that Orleans (Civitas Aurelianorum) is
not in the Bordeaux region - these are separate events. Perhaps the fire at
Orleans may be related to a small fragment impact, or the fall of very small
fragments of the same impactor, but on the other hand Orleans at that time
was along the focus of a power struggle in Gaul, so either arson or accident
seem far more likely. In any case, Orleans lies a small distance from
Gregory's home city of Tours, and if an impactor or small fragments had hit
there, Gregory surely would have told us much more about it.
While the date of the Bordeaux impact, 580 CE, agrees well with Columba's
stay on Iona 563-597 CE, the report does not involve a city in Italy. Of
course, it could be that this particular bit of information is an addition
made by either Cumene or Adomnan during their conversion of the Iona annals
entry to the present tense: "Sulfurea de caelo flamima super romani juris
civitatem in(tra) Italia terminos sitam (hac hora) efusa(s est)", or
"Sulfurea de caelo flamima super romani juris civitatem, inF(x)ra Italia
terminos sitam, (hac hora) efusa(s est)". As will be shown here a little
later, this is almost certainly the case.
As further confirmation that an impact occurred in Bordeaux, note that the
news of the impact was confirmed to Lugbe mocu-Min by sailors who had
arrived from Gaul. Finally, both stories share the same precise detail that
the impact occurred at threshing time: August 10 or so, anyone?
Since the number of dead given in the Iona account, 3,000, probably only
refers to free male heads of households, at a minimum the number can be
multiplied by 5 for their wives and children, arriving at at least 15,000
dead. If one can add the number of dead slaves, serfs, and other
non-citizens along with their households into this number, the number of
dead becomes several times larger, probably around 50,000. Further, if one
remembers that the local populations had recently been reduced by plague to
a level at least 1/2 of their earlier numbers, the surface area destroyed
becomes quite large indeed.
Whatever the size of the impact in Bordeaux region, it was significant
enough that from this time on Gregory would specially note major celestial
events for the following years, and in addition, he would also insert into
his history a specific account of the comets of 535 CE and their
consequences, of which more shortly.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND TO GREGORY'S REPORT
As was pointed out above, so much of Rome's military power was wasted in the
struggles for control of the Empire that it became necessary for Rome to use
mercenaries. In sum, the policy of Imperial Rome was to use the warriors of
one subject people to keep in subjection the population of a different
subject people, and this policy inevitably led to problems. The mercenary
troops would only owe their loyalty to their local commander, who could then
use that power to try to gain absolute imperial power. If the two peoples
involved, the subjugated and the subjugating, lived close enough together
geographically, then an alliance between them against Rome could occur.
Finally, if Roman military power in an area became too weak, the mercenaries
could then use their control of an area to emigrate into it.
In 260 CE the commander Posthumus allied himself with Franc mercenaries to
establish the first Gallic Empire; more to the focus of our immediate task
at hand, the Gallic city of Cenabum was specifically re-named to Civitas
Aurelianorum (Orleans) after the Emperor Aurelian, who began to put down
Posthumus's Gallic Empire in 274 CE. Demonstrating the mechanism at work,
in putting down this rebellion Aurelian brought into Gaul yet even more
Franc mercenaries. In the following period, between 276-282 CE, Emperor
Probus would drive the Francs out of some 60 cities of the 115 or so cities
Ca. 286 CE the process started afresh when Marcus Aurelius Carausius, the
admiral in charge of the Roman fleet in Brittannia, allied himself with the
Francs and declared himself Emperor. In this regard it is important to note
both that the Francs also had the technology for building large wooden
ships, and that they used these in their raids. The Francs are also
described as being blondes.
Between 306-337 CE Constantine, starting from Brittannia, would rely
extensively on Franc mercenaries to gain control of the Empire, first moving
against his rival in the west, Maxentius, and then moving against his rival
in the east, Licinius. After Constantine gained control of the Empire, he
would also seem to have been responsible for distributing the Francs
throughout it, thus reducing their regional concentration in Gaul.
Once again, between 350-353 CE Flavius Magnus Magnentius, a military
commander of British-Franc stock, would revolt against the Emperor
This process would continue until Julian used Franc troops to seize the
empire from Constanstius II in 360 CE. Following Julian's success, the
eastern imperial forces would use other germanic peoples to try to contain
the Francs, with the inevitable results: the new germanic mercenaries
gradually emigrated into Europe. Theodosius was sent to stamp out a
"barbarian conspiracy" in Britain from 367-69. Between 383-388 CE Magnus
Maximus, the Comes Brittanniae, led a successful revolt against the Emperor
In 394 CE, the Roman commander Stilicho the Vandal, who we saw above
settling the Riada people in the island of Hibernia a few years later,
brought in other germanic mercenaries to defeat the Francs.
By 406 CE the Vandals, Alans, and Sueves were pouring into the western
Empire. The Saxons made their first settlements in both Brittannia and Gaul
in 407 CE. The Vandals settled in Hispannia, ending Celtic rule there, at
least in its northern parts, and the Visigoths sacked Rome and settled in
In Brittannia three imperial usurpers, Marcus, Gratian, and Constantine III,
appeared and left in quick succession before some kind of effective defense
was organized. The Francs appear to have held onto Germania Superior and
lower Gallia Belgica, and operating from this base attacked the lines of
communication between the germanic invaders in the north and those in the
south: cutting the line of communication provided by the Seine River by
attacking Paris, and cutting the line of communication provided by the Loire
River by gaining control of some of the cities along it.
Following an outbreak of a plague between 443-446 CE, which hit particularly
hard in those areas and among those peoples who were in close contact with
the Roman trading network, the Saxons were able to greatly increase their
immigration into both Brittannia and Gaul. It appears that at this time the
Burgundians were also able to establish control over the Rhone River Basin.
A short time later the germanic Heruli mercenary Odoacer would depose the
last Emperor in the west, Romulus Augustulus, but in 488 the eastern Emperor
Zeno would send a different germanic tribe, the Ostrogoths, in to occupy
Italia, thus ending the threat presented to him of western contenders for
control of the Empire.
An amazing social phenomena which it is necessary to comment on is the fact
that the writers of most histories of Brittannia never comment on the Franc
involvement in it, even though its contribution to that history is pivotal.
It is as though events in Brittannia are completely isolated from events in
nearby Gaul, which of course is demonstrably simply not true. What appears
in the record is repeated Celtic-Franc alliances and attempts at
independence from eastern rule. While accounting for this bias is outside
the scope of the work at hand, my guess is that the formation of the
European Union is likely to change in quite fundamental ways the manner in
which these histories are written in the future.
THE RE-EMERGENCE OF THE FRANCS:
GREGORY OF TOURS' ACCOUNT OF EVENTS IMMEDIATELY PRECEDING THE FRANC CONQUEST
CLIMATE COLLAPSE DUE TO COMETARY DUST LOADING,
FOLLOWED IMMEDIATELY BY PLAGUE, CA. 537 CE:
In broad terms the Saxons by this time held control in the north of Gaul,
and the Francs, sometimes in alliance with the Burgundians of the Rhone,
stood between them and the Visigoths in the southwest of Gaul. We pick up
Gregory's account (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, IV.31, O.M.
Dalton translation, Oxford, 1927, pages 140-141):
"In like manner, before the disaster in Auvergne, mighty prodigies [signs]
affrighted all that region. For often three or four great splendours
appeared around the sun, which the country folk described as [being]
themselves suns, saying: "Behold, three or four suns in the sky!"
"And once, on the Kalends of October, the sun appeared so darkened that not
a quarter part kept its light, but it was murky and discoloured as
"Moreover, a star, by some styled a comet, which had a projection like a
sword, appeared over that region throughout the whole year, and like the
heavens seemed to burn.
[Gregory is working from annals, most likely those of Auvergne itself. The
next passage is not clear, but may relate to plague infected birds, so I
include it here.]
"Many other portents were made manifest. In the church of Clermont, while
matins were being celebrated at dawn on the occasion of some feast, the bird
called a crested lark, which had flown in, put out with its wings all the
lamps which were lit, so fast that you might have fancied them all collected
in one man's hand and suddenly plunged into water. It then passed into the
sacristy beneath the door hanging and there too would have put out the lamp,
but it was prevented [from doing so] by the doorkeepers and killed. In the
church of the blessed Andrew another bird another bird did likewise to all
the lamps that were alight.
[The plague immediately follows the appearance of the fragmenting comet.]
"At the coming of the disaster itself, there was made such slaughter of the
people of that region that the legions of men who fell there might not even
be numbered. When coffins and planks failed, ten dead or more were buried
in a common pit. In the single church of Saint Peter there were counted on
a certain Sunday three hundred corpses, for death came suddenly. There
appeared in the groin or armpit a wound like that from a snake bite, and
those who had it were [so] swiftly destroyed by the poison, that on the
second or third day they breathed their last; the strength of the poison
robbed men of their senses."
There follows detailed information on the spread of the plague. As may be
expected, it followed Roman trade routes, and the Franc conquest of
Burgundians living along the Rhone River followed shortly thereafter. The
plague also spread along the trade routes through Gaul provided by the Loire
River and the Lot and Garonne Rivers, and the Francs also gained nominal
sovereignty of the areas held by the Visigoths.
AN EXPLOSION OF THE MOUNT RAJA BASA VOLCANO CA. 416 CE AND THE PLAGUES OF
In his book "Catastrophe: An Investigation into the Origin of the Modern
World" (Ballentine Books, New York, 1999), David Keys relayed (pages
249-261) a report from a late edition of the Javanese work "The Book of
Ancient Kings" that the Mount Raja Basa volcano erupted ca. 416 CE. Keys
asserted (op cit, page 258) that the date of this eruption must have been
misdated in this Javanese work, as no major volcanic eruptions occurred ca
416 CE, an opinion which he undoubtedly must have formed based on a very
close scrutiny of the ice core and tree ring data such as has been recovered
to date. (I must insert "undoubtedly" here, because in his book Keys made no
statement as to the extent of his examination of these two data collections.)
Based on this apparent lack of physical data for a volcanic eruption ca. 416
CE (give or take 30 years), Keys then restricted his study of text records
to those cited by C.E. Britton for the period from 480-650 CE.
(Meteorological Chronology to A.D. 1450, C.E. Britton, HMSO, 1937; Keys, op
cit, page 304).
Keys' work thus leaves open the possibility of a volcanic effect on climate
as a cause for the plagues ca. 443 CE, the plagues which allowed the mass
emigration of the germanic tribes into the western Empire. Of course, his
work also leaves open the possiblity of dust loading due to impact as the
cause of theses plagues, or a combination of volcanic dust loading and
impact dust loading, or even normal cyclical climatic downturn. As it is,
we simply do not know with any certainty what caused this massive loss of
In his footnotes Keys also mentions Dr. Thomas Short's "A General
Chronological History of the Air, Weather, Seasons, Meteors, Etc." published
in London in 1749, and that this work contains unique fragments of documents
which may have been otherwise completely lost in the Cotton Library Fire of
1731. As no copy of this work is currently available to me here, a further
detailed study of events ca. 443 CE will have to wait until I can avail
myself of it.
All of above is not to say that there may not have been a volcanic eruption
which contributed to the dust load affecting the climate and man so greatly
ca. 535-536 CE; nor is it to say that any possible volcanic eruption which
may have occurred ca. 443 CE occurred in the area of Java. In fact, two
texts possibly referring to what appears to have been just such a volcanic
eruption in Java ca. 593 CE will be set out below.
THE WASTELAND: THE THIRD OUTBREAK OF THE PLAGUE 565 CE
Following the collapse of 536-544 CE, the Emperor Justinian managed to
re-establish a part of the Empire. Then the plague re-appeared. (Adapted
from the "History of the Langobards", William Dudley Foulke translation,
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1907, pages 56-58)
"In the times of this man [Narses] a very great pestilence broke out,
particularly in the province of Liguria. For suddenly there appeared
certain marks among the dwellings, doors, utensils and clothes, which
(marks), if anyone wanted to wash away, became more and more apparent.
[This appears to be the fall of atmospheric dust]
"After the lapse of a year [from 564 CE to 565 CE, in other words one year
after the climate collapse ensuing on the atmospheric dust] indeed there
began to appear in the groins of men and in other rather delicate places a
swelling of the glands, after the manner of a nut or a date, presently
followed by an unbearable fever, so that upon the third day the man died.
But if anyone should pass over the third day, he had a hope of living.
"Everywhere there was grief, and everywhere tears. For as common report had
it that those who fled would avoid the plague, the dwellings were left
deserted by their inhabitants, and the dogs only kept house. The flocks
remained alone in the pastures with no shepherd at hand. You might see
villas or fortified places lately filled with crowds of men, and on the next
day all had departed and everything was in utter silence.
"Sons fled, leaving the corpses of their parents unburied; parents forgetful
of their duty abandoned their children in raging fever. If by chance long
standing affection constrained anyone to bury his near relative, he himself
remained unburied, as while he was performing the funeral rites he perished:
while he offered obsequies to the dead, his own corpse remained without
"You might see the world brought back to its ancient silence: no voice in
the field; no whistling of shepherds; no lying in wait of wild beasts among
the cattle; no harm to domestic fowls. The crops, outliving the time of the
harvest, awaited the reaper untouched; the vineyard with its fallen leaves
and its shinning grapes remained undisturbed while winter came on.
"A trumpet as of warriors resounded through the hours of the day and night:
something like the murmur of an army was heard by many. [IS THIS A
REFERENCE TO THE REFLECTED SOUND OF A VOLCANIC ERUPTION, OR TO THE
ELECTRO-PHORENIC SOUNDS OF METEOR ENTRY?] There were not footsteps of
passers by, no murderer was seen, yet the corpses of the dead were more than
the eye could discern. Pastoral places had been turned into sepulchres for
men, while the dwellings of men had become places of refuge for wild beasts."
Paul adds that the plague only affected the Romans and those in Italy up to
its northern borders: as was seen before, the germanic tribes to the north
do not seem to have been immediately affected by an outbreak of the plague.
The Emperor Justinian died, and his limited re-establishment of the Empire
THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE IMPACT IN THE BORDEAUX REGION:
A CALENDAR OF EVENTS
By 577 CE, the Franc kingdom was divided in three parts, with King Childeric
holding the parts which were for the most part Franc, in other words
Germania Inferior and lower Belgica, King Guntram holding the parts which
were for the most part Burgundian, and King Chilperic "holding" (and I use
the term loosely) those parts which for the most part were Saxon.
Brittany was both Celtic and independent. It has been pointed out that
around 580 CE one could walk from Edinburgh to Cornwall through Celtic
lands; it is also necessary to point out that at this time one could then
continue on either across the Channel or by open ocean on to Brittany. From
there one could contact the kingdom of the Franc King Chideric along the
Loire River, and from there pass onto the Rhone River valley under the
control of the Burgundian King Guntram. From the Rhone, one could proceed to
Rome itself, and gain access to both the scant remains of the Empire and the
increasingly powerful seat of the Church.
While route along the Loire River route was removed from Saxon interference
from the north, one problem with this route was that it was under the
control of Kings who were not only Christian, but also orthodox. As the
primary concern of orthodox churchmen in Gaul were the Arian heretics, who
were tied closely to the Visigoths, they tolerated the Pelagian clerics, but
only so much. Pelagian heretics from Brittany, Hibernia, and Brittannia
were not particularly welcomed by them.
Two of the routes from the Celtic Isles to Rome ran through the Bordeaux
region. One of these routes ran up the Lot River, down the headwaters of the
Loire River, and then crossed over to the Rhone River at Lyons, while the
other ran south east, up the River Garonne, and then on to the city of
Narbonne on Mediterranean coast.
Yet a third route to Rome also passed through the Bordeaux region, as at
this time ocean going vessels were used not only for the crossing from
Brittannia to Brittany, but also for contact with the Celtic peoples living
in the south of Spain, to the south of the former Vandal area which was now
held by the Visigoths, to that small area of Hispania still under the
control of the Empire proper.
A struggle was on for control of the Church, and the routes to Rome were
vital to Pelagian churchmen such as Columba. What was at stake was the
churchmens' authority to try "civil" law cases and to control church
property, and those stakes were enormous. It seems probable that the phrase
"in(tra) Italia terminos sitam" or "inF(x)ra Italia terminos sitam" found in
the Life of Saint Columba refers specifically to these routes, with "in" or
"infra" being an awkward way of describing the city of Bazas' location on
the southern routes to the borders of Italia.
All of the oceanic trade and communication routes were of vital importance
to the Celtic peoples of Europe at this time, as they had been since the
first appearance of the Saxons in the west of Brittannia. An important
unresolved issue in archaeology is exactly what ports the Celts operated
from to deny the Saxon pirates access to their shipping traveling along
these ocean routes.
The area of Bordeaux itself was in chaos. A struggle was on between
Chilperic (Saxon), Childebert (Franc), and Gunthram (Burgundian) for control
of the areas formerly held by the Visigoths, and all three of these kings
held pockets within it. Further, to the north of the Loire River route, the
Saxons were also operating pretty much under their own leadership, and to
the south of Bordeaux the Visigoths held the north of Spain.
575 CE: AEDAN'S COALITION HOLDS THE ANGLES,
WHILE MORE SAXONS EMIGRATE INTO CHILPERIC'S HOLDINGS
By 575 CE, while Rome was still the seat of the Church, it was no longer a
great city, the capitol of an empire; it had fallen to a village of 40,000
or so, filled with the great desolate crumbling ruins of the Empire's public
buildings. While walking through the Forum of Rome, which was now simply a
marketplace, Gregory (not the Bishop of Tours, but the one later be known as
Pope Gregory "the Great") saw Angle slave boys offered for sale. It is clear
that these slave boys had to have come from somewhere, and the far north of
Brittannia presents itself as the most likely source.
Gregory was quite taken with the boys, and commented that he did not known
if he was seeing Angles or angels. He was so struck that he immediately
applied to Pope Benedict I for permission to undertake a mission to the
Angles to seek their conversion to Christianity, and succeeded, though while
he was on his way to them he was re-called by Benedict to Rome.
So much for the Angles. A large number of Saxons had joined with the
Langobards ("Long Beards") in their successful occupation of the ruins of
Italia following the plagues of 565 CE. The Langobards and Saxons had then
tried to seize control of a part of southern Gaul under Burgundian control,
but as the plague had not hit there, they had been defeated. Following this
repulse the Langobards turned on their former allies, and the Saxons began a
retrun to the north. The Saxons tried to emigrate into the Franc-controlled
lands of Gaul, but suffered two massive defeats at the hands of the Franc's
Suevian allies. Finally the remaining Saxons gained permission to pass
through Burgundian and Franc territories, and these Saxons now joined up
with their brethren already living in the north of Gaul with Chilperic.
EVENTS FOR 577 CE:
THE SAXON ATTACK ON BRITTANY
The ancestry which Gregory of Tours gives to Theuderic in the first part of
this account must be held extremely suspect; most probably it is little more
than an attempt by Gregory to try to give the Sax on attackers some air of
legitimacy - it must be remembered that Gregory was something of a
collaborateur, and owed whatever power he held as well as his own life to
the tolerance of the germanic kings. It is far more likely that both Bodic
and Theuderic were simply Saxon attackers, with Bodic being the earlier of
them. In reading this account it must also be remembered that the Bretons
were Pelagian, and thus Gregory's opponents. (Gregory of Tours, History of
the Franks, V.16, O.M. Dalton translation, Oxford, 1927, page 184-185):
"The following events befell in Brittany. Macliav and Bodic, Counts of the
Bretons, had sworn a mutual oath that whichever of them survived the other
would defend the sons of the deceased like his own son. Bodic died, leaving
a son named Theuderic; him Macliav, forgetting his oath, drove from his
country. (Macliav) then usurped (Bodic's) kingdom, and for a long time
Theuderic lived the life of an exile.
"But (then) God had compassion upon him; (Theuderic) gathered about him a
band of Bretons and fell upon Macliav, putting him to the sword, together
with his son Jacob. (Theuderic) thus brought back into his own power (that)
part of the kingdom which his father had ruled; Waroch, son of Macliav
maintained his right to the rest."
In response to this Saxon attack in Brittany, King Guntram and King
Childebert formed an alliance, and sought an agreement with King Chilperic,
but Chilperic declined to treat with them.
CELESTIAL PHENOMEMA FOR 577 CE
Gregory also reported unusual celestial phenomena in 577 CE (the second year
of King Childebert, the sixteenth of Chilperic and Guntram), including what
appears to be a lunar impact (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, V.23,
O.M. Dalton translation, Oxford, 1927, page 198):
"Thereafter, on the night of the third day of the Ides of November, while we
were celebrating the vigil of the Holy Martin, there appeared to us a great
wonder. A glittering star was seen to shine in the center of the Moon;
above and below the Moon appeared other stars all near to it, and round
about it was the circle which is wont to portend rain. [This appears to be
impact debris and an impact plume - epg.] We know not what these things
"And often in this year we saw the Moon darkened, and before Christmastide
there was a loud thunder. Moreover, there appeared around the sun the
meteors which the country people also call suns, such as those described by
me as visible before the calamity in Auvergne.
"It was declared that the sea had risen beyond its usual bounds, and many
other signs were seen."
As we have seen above, Gregory specifically identified these "meteors" as
comets in his description of the calamity in Auvergne. As for the rising of
the sea, the text is simply too weak to raise the possibility of small
EVENTS FOR 578 CE: THE BRETON DEFENSE CONTINUES
The Breton attack continued (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, V.26,
O.M. Dalton translation, Oxford, 1927, page 200):
"Now by the command of King Chilperic the men of Touraine, Poitou, the
Bessin, Maine, and Anjou, (along) with many others, marched into Brittany, and encamped
on the banks of the Vilaine River [over] against Waroch, the son of the dead
Macliav. But the enemy (note especially Gregory's use of the word "enemy"
here) in a surprise attack fell at night upon the Saxons of the Bessin and
slew the greater part of them.
"Three days later Waroch made peace with the leaders of King Chilperic's
forces, gave up his son (to them) as a hostage, and bound himself by an oath
of fealty (to Chilperic). For his part, he would pay all the annual tribute
due from the city (of Vannes) without waiting for any demand. These terms
having been made, the army withdrew from the region.
"Immediately thereafter, King Chilperic ordered the ban (a ban on the
services of the church may be meant here, but it is not certain-epg) to be
enforced against the poor and the servants of the Cathedral and the Church
of Martin for not marching with the army, even though it was not the usage
for these men to do any public service. After this, Waroch, disregardful of
his promise and wishing to annul his act, sent Eunius, Bishop of (the city
of Vannes) to King Chilperic. But the King was wroth, and after chiding the
Bishop, (he) ordered him sent into banishment."
578 CE: A PELAGIAN POPE
Following the Langobards' defeat by the Burgundians, they had chosen a new
king, one "Arthur". Pope Benedict I now died, and the local tribes were
able to install Pelagius II as the new pope, without gaining consent from
the Emperor in the east. It can safely be asserted that Pope Pelagius II
was not unsympathetic to the Pelagian Celt Christians, if he was not
downright supportive of them.
EVENTS FOR 579 CE: THE BRETON DEFENCE CONTINUES
Chilperic now raised "taxes" to finance the war, and when this caused
rioting, he began terrorizing the local population and raised his demands
The Bretons took control of the trade route along the Loire River (Gregory
of Tours, History of the Franks, V.26, O.M. Dalton translation, Oxford,
1927, page 201):
"The Bretons sorely ravaged the district of Rennes, burning, spoiling, and
takng prisoners. They advanced, destroying as they went, as far as the
village of Cornus. Bishop Enius, restored from banishment, was sent to be
supported at Angers and forbidden to return to his city of Vannes. Duke
Beppolen was sent against the Bretons and ravaged diverse places with fire
and sword, which but incited the people to greater fury."
And again, working from a separate annals, Gregory reports (Gregory of
Tours, History of the Franks, V.31, O.M. Dalton translation, Oxford, 1927,
"In this year, the Bretons sorely harassed the tract round about the cities
of Nantes and Rennes. They carried off immense spoils, overran the fields,
stripped the vineyards of grapes, and took away many prisoners. Bishop
Felix sent envoys to them and they promised to amend their ways, but would
not keep any of their promises."
580 CE: THE SOUND OF IMPACT
That the upcoming destruction of the Bordeaux region was by impact receives
further support by Gregory's statement a little earlier in the same passage
on the signs of 580 CE. (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, V.33,
Lewis Thorpe translation, Penguin Books, 1974, pages 295-296, via Phil
"In this year, in Touraine, one morning before the day had dawned, there was
seen a great light traversing the heaven and sinking towards the east,
Moreover, a sound as of a tree crashing was heard all over that country,
which could not be attributed to a tree, because it was heard over fifty
miles away." By this Gregory appears to mean that the sound was by at least
two different observors separated by fifty miles, which seems entirely too
far apart to have been thunder, given the intensity of the sound; it is also
interesting to note the west to east flight path of this particular
The Life of Saint Columba also contains a report of a loud noise, once again
delivered by Admonan in his own peculiar style. (Adomnan's Life of Saint
Columba, I.29, Andersons' translation, op cit, pages 288-289, and Latin
"This too should not remain untold, which as an instance of this
incomparable uplifting of his voice, is said to have happened once before
the fortress of King Brude. While the saint himself with a few brothers was
celebrating according to custom the praises of God at vespers, outside the
King's fortress, certain magicians came close to them, and tried to prohibit
it to the best of their power, lest the sound of divine praise from their
lips should be heard among the heathen peoples. Understanding this, the
saint began to sing the forty-fourth Psalm. And in the same moment his
voice was, in a marvelous manner, so raised in the air like a terrible peal
of thunder, that both the King and the people were filled with intolerable
Those caring to can try their hand at parsing out Adomnan's annal source:
"in aera (eodum momento instar) alicujus formidabilis tonitru elevata (est),
(ut) et rex et populus intolerabili (essent) pavore perterriti." As usual,
the timing details of the annal entry are likely to have been confirmed by
either Cumene or Adomnan through first hand interview of participants, and
then to have been expanded upon. Psalm 44 is given in Appendix I here.
580 CE - THE IMPACT IN THE BORDEAUX REGION OCCURRED NOW
The first two passages describing this impact have been given above, and
other passages absolutely identifying the destroyed city as Bazas in La
Gironde will be set out below.
After the impact, an epidemic of what possibly was a severe influenza struck
all of Gaul - this perhaps an influenza developed in the devastated regions
of Bordeaux. While the Bretons would survive as an independent kingdom, it
appears that the Saxons, relatively unaffected by the influenza, went on to
conquer the former Visigoth holdings in south west Gaul. With all of their
routes though Gaul to Rome cut off, and the ports necessary for the travel
to southern Spain no longer available to them, the Celts of Brittannia and
Hibernia were now completely isolated from what remained of the Empire, and
from the Pope at Rome.
581 CE - THE COMET, AND PLAGUE
"The Moon was darkened, and a comet appeared in the sky. A great pestilence
followed among the people." (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, V.41,
O.M. Dalton translation, Oxford, 1927, page 213)
582 CE - A DESCRIPTION OF THE COMET AND DUST FALLS
"In the seventh year of King Childebert, which was the twenty-first of
(King) Chilperic and (King) Guntram, there were rains, lightenings, and
great thunder-claps in the month of January. Trees blossomed.
"The star, which I have above named comet, appeared in such a way that round
about it there was a great blackness: it shown through the dark as if set
in a cavity, glittering, and spreading abroad its hair. And there issued
from it a tail of wonderous size which from afar appeared as the great smoke
of a fire. It was seen in the western quarter of the heavens at the first
hour of the night.
"And on the holy day of Easter, in the city of Soissons, men saw the heavens
aflame, in such a ways that there appeared two fires, the one greater, the
other less. But after the space of two hours they were joined together,
making a great beacon light before they vanished away." [This may refer to
a display of the aurora borealis, heightened by the cometary dust.]
"In the territory of Paris there rained real blood from the clouds, falling
upon the garments of many men, who were so stained that they stripped
themselves of their clothing in horror. This portent was seen in three
places within the territory of that city. In the territory of Senlis, a
certain man, rising in the morning, found his house all scattered with
blood." [This may relate to a dust fall.]
"A great pestilence raged among the people during this year; great numbers
were carried off by various malignant diseases, the symptoms of which were
pustules and tumours; but many, taking precautions, escaped.
"We heard in this year also of a malady of the groin which raged fiercely at
Narbonne; it was of such a kind that if a man was once attacked, all was
over with him."
(Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, VI.14, O.M. Dalton translation,
Oxford, 1927, page 249)
AN ANNAL ENTRY FOR 580 CE IDENTIFYING THE CITY OF BAZAS IN THE BORDEAUX
REGION AS THE CITY DESTROYED BY IMPACT
It has been known for some time that Gregory worked from two sets of annals,
as was seen earlier in his two separate passages given above on the Breton
revolt for 579 CE. While Gregory placed the following annal entry for 582
CE, the analysis immediately following demonstrates that it does not agree
with Gregory's other annal entry for 582 CE (which was set out immediately
above), but instead matches the events of the annal entry for 580 CE.
(Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, VI.21, O.M. Dalton translation,
Oxford, 1927, page 253):
"In this year again appeared the following portents. The Moon was eclipsed.
In the territory of Tours real blood flowed from broken bread. The walls
of Soissons fell down. The earth quaked at Angers. Wolves entered the walls
of Bordeaux, and without any fear of men, devoured dogs. A fiery light was
seen to traverse the sky. The city of Bazas was burned, so that the
churches and the houses belonging to them were destroyed. We learned,
however, that all the sacred vessels were saved from the flames.
COMPARISON OF GREGORY'S SECOND 582 CE ANNAL ENTRY
WITH HIS FIRST 582 CE ANNAL ENTRY, AND WITH THAT OF 580 CE
There are no similarities between Gregory's second and first annal entries
for 582 CE, between those of H.F. VI.14 and H.F. VI.21. There are marked
similarities between Gregory's second annal entry for 582 CE (VI.21) with
the first annal entry which he earlier gave for 580 CE (V.33):
Annal entry for 580 CE, H.F. V.33, Lewis Thorpe translation, Penguin Books,
1974, pages 295-296, via Phil Burns:
"In the fifth year of King Childebert's reign great floods devastated parts
of the Auvergne. The rain continued for twelve days and the Limage was
under such a depth of water that all sowing had to cease. The River Loire,
the River Allier (which used to be called the Flavaris) and the
mountain-streams which run into this latter were so swollen that they rose
higher above the flood-level than ever before. Many cattle were drowned,
the crops ruined and buildings inundated. The River Rhone, at the spot
where it meets the Saone, overflowed its banks and brought heavy loss to the
inhabitants, undermining parts of the city of Lyons.
"When the rains stopped, the trees came out in leaf once more, although by
now it was September."
"In Touraine this same year, one morning before the day had dawned, a bright
light was seen to traverse the sky and then disappear in the East. A sound
as of trees crashing to the ground was heard throughout the whole region,
but it can hardly have been a tree for it was audible over fifty miles and
Annal entry purportedly for 582 CE from H.F. VI.21: "A fiery light was seen
to traverse the sky."
Returning to the annal entry for 580 CE, H.F. V.33: "In this same year again
the city of Bordeaux was sadly shaken by an earthquake. The city walls were
in great danger of collapsing. The entire populace was filled with the fear
of death, for they imagined that they would be swallowed up with their city
unless they fled. Many of them escaped to neighboring townships. This
terrible disaster followed them to the places where they had sought refuge
and extended even into Spain, but there it was less serious. Huge rocks
came cascading down from the mountainpeaks of the Pyrenees, crushing in
their wake the local inhabitants and their cattle.
Annal entry purportedly for 582 CE from H.F. VI.21: "The walls of Soissons
fell down. The earth quaked at Angers. Wolves entered the walls of
Bordeaux, and without any fear of men, devoured dogs."
Returning to the 580 CE annal entry from H.F. V.33: "Villages around
Bordeaux were burned by a fire sent from heaven: it took so swift a hold
that homesteads and threshing floors with the grain still spread out on them
were reduced to ashes. There was no other apparent cause of this fire, so
it must have come from God.
Compare the annal entry purportedly for 582 CE from H.F. VI.21: "The city of
Bazas was burned, so that the churches and the houses belonging to them were
destroyed. We learned, however, that all the sacred vessels were saved from
This is the first of the text passages identifying Bazas as the city
destroyed by impact. A second one will be given here later.
Returning to the 580 CE entry from V.33: "The city of Orleans blazed with a
great conflagration. Even the richer citizens lost their all, and if anyone
managed to salvage anything from the flames it was immediately snatched away
by the thieves who crowded around.
"Somewhere near Chartres blood poured forth when a loaf of bread was broken
Compare the annal entry purportedly for 582 CE from H.F. VI.21: "In the
territory of Tours real blood flowed from broken bread."
Returning to the 580 CE entry: "At the same time the city of Bourges was
scourged by a hailstorm."
THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF BAZAS IN LA GIRONDE IN
A brief survey of the archaeological evidence for signs of impact
destruction was conducted by examining the Carte Archeologique de la Gaule,
Volume 33/1, La Gironde, Fondation Maison des Sciences De l'Homme, Paris,
1994. As this pre-inventory focuses on finds, rather than on destruction
levels, it is possible to say no more than that both Bazas and the entire
area around the city were re-built immediately following 580 CE. Further
comment will have to await detailed examination of the underlying excavation
reports and interviews with the excavators themselves about any observed
destruction levels. If the impact event was an air blast, then it is quite
likely that a situation exists similar to that found at Key Marco, where
organic remains appear to have been instantly buried by the air blast of an
This impact event should also show up in the tree ring series for the area
of Bazas, if any are available. If the impact event was an air blast caused
by cometary impact, as seems very likely, then trees should have been felled
by that blast and immediately buried, and thus remain preserved.
585 CE - AN INTERSECTION WITH A COMET'S DUST STREAM?
As Phil Burns has noted, Gregory Of Tours also described an event dated ca.
October of 585 A.D.
(Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, VIII.17, Lewis Thorpe translation,
Penguin Books, 1974, page 455, via Phil Burns):
"While I was staying in Carignan, I twice during the night saw portents in
the sky. These were rays of light towards the north, shining so brightly
that I had never seen anything like them before: the clouds were blood-red
on both sides, to the east and the west. On a third night these rays
appeared again, at about seven or eight o'clock. As I gazed in wonder at
them, others like them began to shine from all four quarters of the earth,
so that as I watched they filled the entire sky. A cloud gleamed bright in
the middle of the heavens, and these rays were all focused on it, as if it
were a pavilion the coloured stripes of which were broad at the bottom but
became narrower as they rose, meeting in a hood at the top. In between the
rays of light there were other clouds flashing vividly as if they were being
struck by lightning. This extraordinary phenomenon filled me with
foreboding, for it was clear that some disaster was about to be sent from
THE SECOND ANNAL ENTRY FOR 585 CE:
THE DESTRUCTION OF TWO ISLANDS IN THE SEA
Phil Burns also alerted conference participants to Gregory's other annal
entry of events for the year 585 CE, and it is worth recounting this annal
entry in full. (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, VIII.23-25, O.M.
Dalton translation, Oxford, 1927, pages 347-348)
"23. This year there were great rains, and the rivers were swollen to such a
height that many boats were wrecked. They overflowed their banks, and
covering the near fields and crops, wrought much destruction.
"24. In the same year two islands in the sea were burned by fire from
heaven. For seven days they were consumed, even to destruction, with all the
inhabitants and herds of cattle then upon them. For those who took refuge
in the sea, and flung themselves into the deep, were drowned beneath the
waters into which they had plunged; and all those on shore who did not meet
instant death were burned in yet greater torment. All was reduced to ashes,
and the sea covered everything. There were many who said that the fiery
signs of which I have told above (VIII.17 & VIII.8), seen in the month of
October, and making the heavens seem aflame, were reflections of this
"25. In another island, near the city of Vannes (in Brittany), there was a
large pond full of fish, which was changed into blood to the depths of an
ell; for many days countless dogs and birds congregated there and drank the
blood, returning sated in the evening."
INITIAL ANALYSIS OF THE REPORTED DESTRUCTION OF THE TWO ISLANDS,
AND SEARCH FOR ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE
The main "sea" known to Gregory, who lived at Tours on the Loire River, was
the Bay of Biscay into which the Loire empties. The account of the fish
kill on an island off Vannes may be a further indicator of the two islands'
location, and the mention of cattle may be important in attempts at initial
The volumes of the Carte Archeological de La Gaul which cover these islands:
Vol 17, Charente Maritime; Vol 85, Vendee; 44, Loire Atlantique; and 55,
Morbihan were only partially available to me here. From those available, it
is clear that all of the islands were vital waypoints in the Celtic
Christian routes to Rome, and thus the destruction of any two of them,
following on that of the city of Bazas in 580 CE, must have been
587 CE - REPORT OF A LARGE BOLIDE PRESERVED BY FREDEGAR
Adapted from "The Fourth Book of Fredegar", J.M. Wallace-Hadrill, Thomas
Nelson and Sons, London, 1960, page 6, both Latin text and translation:
"In the twenty seventh year of the same reign, (that is the reign of
Guntramm, and year 27 of it is set at 587 CE - epg), Guntramm appointed
Leudisclus to be a patrician for part of Provence. The birth of Theodebert,
son of King Childebert, was announced.
"6 In that same year, there were floods which inundated the rivers in
Burgundy, and these over-flowed their banks. Also in that same year, Count
Syragius went on a mission to Constantinople at Guntram's order, and there
was fraudulently made a patrician. This was done, but the treachery was not
permitted to succeed.
"This year a sign appeared in the skies, a fiery globe which descended to
earth with sparkling and thunder.
"In this same year Leobildus King of Spain died, and his son Richard
obtained the throne."
589 CE - PAUL THE DEACON'S REPORT OF FLOODS, BOLIDES?, AND PLAGUE
From the "History of the Langobards", William Dudley Foulke translation,
University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1907, pages 126-127, with
reference to Latin text of Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Vol. 48, reprint
Hahnsche Buchhandlug, Hannover, 1978, pages 127-128.
"III. 23 At this time there was a deluge of water in the territories of
Venetia and Liguria, and in other regions of Italy, such as is believed not
to have existed since the time of Noah. Ruins were made of estates and
country seats, and at the same time a great destruction of men and animals.
The paths were obliterated, the highways demolished, and the Athesis (Adige)
River then rose so high that around the Church of the Blessed Martyr Zeno,
which is situated outside the walls of the city of Verona, the water reached
the upper windows, although as Saint Gregory, afterwards Pope, has written,
the water did not enter into that church. Likewise the walls of the city of
Verona itself were partly demolished by the same inundation.
"And this inundation occurred on the 16th of the calends of November
(October 17), yet there were so many flashes of lightening and peals of
thunder as are hardly wont to occur even in the summer time. Also, two
months after this, the city of Verona was in great part consumed by fire.
"III.24 In this outpouring of the flood the Tiber River at the city of Rome
rose so much that its waters flowed in over the walls of the city and filled
great regions in it.
"While through the bed of this river flowed many serpents, many comets
(draco=comet; bolides in this particular case?) were seen by large numbers
to pass over the city and then descend into the sea."
["Tunc per alveum euisdem fluminis cum multa serpentium multitudine draco
(ms var multitudinem draconem) etiam mirae magnitudinis per urbem transiens
usque ad mare descendit (ms var descendita).", for which Foulke gives, "Then
through the bed of the same stream a great multitude of serpents, and a
dragon also of astounding size, passed by the city and descended to the
"Straightaway a very grievous pestilence (plague) called iguinal (of the
groin) followed this inundation. By such a destruction were the people
devastated, that of the inestimably (large) number of people barely a few
remained. First it struck Pope Pelagius, a venerable man, and quickly killed
him. Then when their pastor was taken away, it spread among the people."
The Pelagian sympathizer Pelagius II was dead, the Langobard King Arthur
would soon die, and Gregory, who was orthodox and had been serving at the
Emperor's court in Constantinople, would be appointed as pope. Gregory
quickly made contact with the Angles.
590 CE - AURORA BOREALIS, COMETS OR BOLIDES, AND PLAGUE -
AND AN ECLIPSE AND A SEMI-ABSOLUTE DATE
(Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, X.23, O.M. Dalton translation,
Oxford, 1927, page 459)
"23. In this same year so great a splendor shone upon the earth in the night
season, that you might deem it noonday; and in like manner fiery globes were
often seen traversing the heavens and lighting up the earth...
[omitting an early anti-semitic passage on the date of easter - epg]
"There was a great earthquake at dawn on Wednesday, the fourteenth of June,
[XVIII Kalendas mensis V, die IIII] when daylight was just beginning to
"In the middle of October there was an eclipse of the sun, and its
brightness was so diminished that it gave no more light than the horned
Moon at five days old."
This eclipse is believed to date at 4th October, 590 CE - Dalton cites
"L'art de verifier les dates", page 61. The passage immediately following
is dated to the sixteenth year of King Childebert's reign and the 30th year
of King Guntram's reign, but it is unknown whether the annals entry given
here finishes the previous year's account or if it applies to the account of
the new year.
Even more confusing is the fact that Fredegar assigns this eclipse to the
32cd year of King Guntram's reign (op cit, page 10): "In the thirty-second
year of Guntram's reign the sun was in eclipse from dawn to midday to the
extent that the third part of it was scarcely visible. In autumn fell most
heavy rains, there were great thunderings, and the waters rose in flood. The
plague ravaged the cities of Viviers and Avignon."
594 CE - A MASSIVE VOLCANIC EVENT?
Unfortunately, so many bright lights show up in Adomnan's Life Of Saint
Columba in such obscure ways that it is difficult to tie any of them
conclusively to Gregory of Tours reports for 585 CE or 590 CE. However,
while trying to confirm an annal record of a bright light seen at the time
of Columba's death, either Adomnan or Cumene gathered the two following
first hand accounts, and these thus can be reliably used. The accounts
describe an entirely different event which occurred on the day of Columba's
death, usually set as ca. 593 CE. Note that the pillar of light here is
seen in the east, while Gregory's rays in H.F. VIII.17 come from the north.
Note also that Gregory had finished his History of the Franks and was dying
by this time. (From Adomnan's Life of Saint Columba, Book 3, Chapter 24,
"Another vision also given at the same hour under a different form was
related to me, Adomnan, who was a young man at the time, by one of those who
had seen it, and who solemnly assured me of its truth. He was a very old
man, a servant of Christ, whose name may be called Ferreol, but in the
Scotic tongue Ernene, of the race of Mocufirroide, who, as being himself a
holy monk, is buried in the Ridge of Tomma amidst the remains of other monks
of St. Columba, and awaits the resurrection with the saints. He said:
"On that night when St. Columba, by a happy and blessed death, passed from
earth to heaven, while I and others with me were engaged in fishing in the
valley of the river Fend, which abounds in fish, we saw the whole vault of
heaven become suddenly illuminated. Struck by the suddenness of the miracle,
we raised our eyes and looked towards the east, when, lo! there appeared
something like an immense pillar of fire, which seemed to us, as it ascended
upwards at that midnight, to illuminate the whole earth like the summer sun
at noon; and after that column penetrated the heavens darkness followed, as
if the sun had just set. And not only did we, who were together in the same
place, observe with intense surprise the brightness of this remarkable
luminous pillar, but many other fishermen also, who were engaged in fishing
here and there in different deep pools along the same river, were greatly
terrified, as they afterwards related to us, by an appearance of the same
The same chapter Adomnan's Life of Saint Columba contains another first hand
account of the effects of this event, whether volcanic or impact (cit. as
"And now, near the close of this book, we shall relate what hath been told
us by persons cognisant of the facts, regarding the above mentioned three
days during which his obsequies were celebrated in due ecclesiastical form.
It happened on one occasion that a certain brother speaking with great
simplicity in the presence of the holy and venerable man, said to him,
"After thy death all the people of these provinces will row across to the
Iouan island, to celebrate thine obsequies, and will entirely fill it."
Hearing this said the saint immediately replied: "No, my child, the event
will not turn out as thou sayest; for a promiscuous throng of people shall
not by any means be able to come to my obsequies: none but the monks of my
monastery will perform my funeral rites, and grace the last offices bestowed
"And the fulfillment of this prophecy was brought about immediately after
his death by God's almighty power; for there arose a storm of wind without
rain, which blew so violently during those three days and nights of his
obsequies, that it entirely prevented every one from crossing the Sound in
his little boat. And immediately after the interment of the blessed man, the
storm was quelled at once, the wind ceased, and the whole sea became calm."
Given the earlier destruction of Bazas, and the other phenomena which he had
witnessed during his life, it seems possible to me that the shock of
witnessing this event was enough to kill Columba.
594 CE - LIGHTS AND A COMET?
Fredegar mentions a comet in 594 CE (op cit, IV.15, page 11):
"In the third year of Childebert's reign in Burgundy, many signs were seen
in the sky. A comet was seen"
In his discussion of this passage, J. M. Wallace Hadrill noted: "[Bruno]
Krush (Chronologica regum Francorum stirpis Merowingicae, Monumenta Germania
Historica, Scriptorum Rerum Merovingicarum, VII, 1920, pages 548-516, the
essential chronological study) assigns the comet to the year 594 on the
strength of W.J. Williams, Observations of Comets (London, 1871), who
reports a comet seen in China on 10 November 594. But H.H. Plaskett assures
me that the comet reported by Fredegar would be that [one] also reported by
Paul [the Deacon], Hist[oria] Lang[obardae Book] IV, chap[ter] 10 and
assigned by him to January 595. The two comets were distinct."
It is open to discussion whether the lights mentioned by both Adomnan and
Fredegar might not refer to those from a volcanic explosion which occurred
in addition to Fredegar's comet.
599 CE and 600 CE - BOLIDES AND METEORS
Fredegar continues (op cit, page 13):
"In the fifth year of Theuderic's reign the same signs were observed in the
western skies that had been observed in the preceding year: fiery balls
racing across the sky, and what looked like a great number of glowing
Note the western approach of the bolides and meteors.
645 CE - ADOMNAN'S PERSONAL BIAS: AN IMPACT IN DYFED?
On yet another hand, and I don't know if we've run out of hands yet or not,
the Annales Cambriae record "645 (CE) The hammering of the region of Dyfed,
when the monastery of David was burnt."
The Welsh/Bretons appear to have retained memories of this, as both Melfyn
and Alistair McBeath noted:
Phil Burns earlier noted this entry from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: "A.D.
679. This year Elwin was slain, by the river Trent, on the spot where
Everth and Ethelred fought. This year also died St. Etheldritha; and the
monastery of Coldingiham was destroyed by fire from heaven."
At the time of his re-write of Cumene's Life, Adomnan would have been aware
of both of these events, if either or both of them actually did indeed
occur. Given the accuracy of the chronologies for this period, both of
these reports may refer to the same event - but then again they may not.
But these matters are beyond the scope of this survey.
PROBLEMS IN THE USE OF SUB-ROMAN TEXTS
This seems an appropriate place to repeat my earlier warnings about the use
of text records from the isles in sub-Roman times, and to add to them. For
my earlier warnings, see:
To these earlier cautions must be added the following caveats. It must
always be remembered that the leaders of the Church were also political
leaders, and that they were politically very active both in temporal as well
as in "spiritual" matters, in other words in the struggles for the control
of both government as well as church assets. Since text records were only
created by the literate, in other words by those trained by the churches,
these documents will reflect political activity, and will always have
political and "religious" biases. In addition to the original biases, other
biases will have been introduced into these texts during the process of
their transmission, and these biases must be watched out for as well.
It follows that one of the keys to the use of these records is a clear
understanding of both the political situation at the time of their creation
as well as the political situations which occurred along their routes of
transmission. In this regard, I would like to call particular attention to
W. A. Cummins ground-breaking work "The Age of the Picts". To my knowledge,
it stands alone as a tribal history in the isles, and there are no other
histories of comparable quality for any of the other individual tribes who
lived in either Brittannia or Hibernia during these times.
Since all political activity during these times was essentially tribally
based, one consequence of this lack of tribal studies is that there are no
reliable chronologies for any periods much earlier than the establishment of
the orthodox Catholic church. A second consequence of this lack of tribal
histories is that it is very difficult to separate the history from the myth
in these text records. This particularly applies to texts preserving the
poems of the bards of the different Celtic tribal courts.
DEMONSTRATION OF THE PROBLEMS IN THE USE OF SUB-ROMAN TEXT MATERIALS:
THE STORY OF THE JEWEL OF BAZAS
In addition to his "History of the Franks", Gregory of Tours also wrote a
collected Lives of the Saints, a collection of miracles ascribed to Saint
Martin, as well as a small astronomical work. These works are partially
available in "Les Livres des miracles et autres opuscules de Georges Florent
Gregoire, eveque de Tours, J. Renouard, Paris, 1857-1864, Johnson Reprint
Company, New York, 1965", without latin manuscript variants. The
astronomical work was last studied in 1854, and at that time the Vatican
either could not locate its own manuscript of it or was unwilling to provide
access to it. The available text is of doubtful authenticity and is of
The following little tale comes from this series' edition of the Book of
Miracles attributed to Gregory of Tours, and what follows is a somewhat free
translation into English of the absolutely remarkable french translation of
the latin text there. (Vol 1, pages 38-43, with limited Latin text opposite)
"CHAPTER 13 - Of the Jewel of Bazas produced by Divine Virtue
"Since we have spoken of the city of Bazas, [in the preceding passage it was
claimed that Bazas had a vial of John the Baptist's blood], I think that is
appropriate to recount here a miracle here which was the work of God. At
the time of a long siege which was held by Bazas against the Huns [!], the
priest who was governing the church went around the city each night while
praying, by chanting the Psalms, and not attending to the schedule of the
daily services for God. He exhorted the inhabitants to pray without
stopping, assuring them that truly humble prayers would be able to force
open the gates of the heavens.
"During these times, all around the city, the enemy was ravaging the
inhabitants, burning the house, devastating the fields and vineyards in
which their troops stayed. But the Divine virtue did not delay in coming to
the comfort of the priest and it found him persisting in his good work
[latin text varies].
"One night, the King of the Barbarians himself to see the men clothed in
white who made the tour of the walls, chanting the Psalms and carrying the
lit candles. His indignation grew. [s'alluma in fr text]
""What is this, that you are crying, the insanity of these people and their
vain security? They are under siege, and while they are mocking us, they
fill the air with I don't know what kind of chants and hymns of triumph.
They are truly damned to hell."
"Soon he sent envoys to Bazas to ask what this signified. The envoys
returned and saying that they could not find in the city those with whom
the King wished to speak, and that they had not seen anyone resembling them.
"On another night, he saw a great globe of fire descend on the city, and
then exclaimed, "If those besieged resist us so stubbornly and do not
surrender to us now, then the anger of the heavens will surely burn them
"But, not seeing any fire rising from the city, he sent a new envoy to learn
what was happening. He told him again that he saw nothing.
Then the King, Gauseric, cried out, "If these men see nothing of that which
I have seen, it is manifest that their God accompanies them." [ahem, the
latin text appears to vary significantly with this-epg] "And, on the quick,
he raised the siege.
"At last the priest, calling together all the citizens [for civibus]
celebrated the vigils and the mysteries of the mass, giving thanks for the
deliverance of his people. While he was celebrating these, as he was raising
his eyes, he saw fall, as from the vault of a temple, three drops of equal
size and brightness, and more transparent than crystal. As all the faithful
were so plunged into admiration and stunned that that they did not wish to
touch these drops, a priest, by the name of Pierre, and who, as events had
demonstrated, was of great merit, sought to catch these on a silver plate.
The drops which were rolling here and there fell onto the plate, and
reuniting, formed a magnificent jewel.
"It is seen evident that this was done against the Arian heresy, a heresy
impious and hated by God, which was swarming about then [and was the
religion of the Visigoths-epg], and this proved that the Holy Trinity,
unified in a sole and equal omnipotence, was not able to be separated by any
of the futile arguments raised against it.
"So the people, joyful and knowing that this was a divine gift, sought about
to gather gold and precious stones to make into a cross on which to place
this jewel. But when finally it was emplaced, all the other stones fell
"Finally the pontiff, understanding that it was not possible to mix together
heavenly things with earthly things, sought to make a cross of gold the most
pure; at the crossing of the cross's arms he placed the jewel, and offered
it in adoration to the people.
"It was a little after that, the enemy went to take flight, as we have said,
and the city was saved. [note the temporal problem with this-epg]
"From this moment a great number of the ill, after having drunk water or
wine into which this jewel has been plunged, have been entirely returned to
health. Finally, if when one comes to worship it, they come without sin, it
appears clear; but if to the contrary, which has happened often, they have
fallen to human frailty, it appears to them totally opaque, thus
demonstrating a marvellous difference between the innocent and the guilty,
by its hazing or its brilliant shining."
whew... If the real Gregory of Tours, whose absolute knowledge of the
destruction of Bazas by impact was demonstrated in the passages of his
History of the Franks given above, had anything to do with this latin text,
it is going to be extremely difficult to parse it out of it. And while one
could hope for more positive working conditions, given some of the simply
stunning correspondences between the latin text and the french translation,
it is distinctly possible that some of the more faithful may still actually
resent any such effort undertaken in the future. If the "jewel" of Bazas
exists today, my guess is that it is glass melted together in the fire which
destroyed the city following the impact.
RESEARCH MATERIALS UNAVAILABLE OR NOT EXAMINED IN THIS SURVEY
The Third Book of the Chronicle of Fredegar is likely to contain additional
information regarding the impact in Bazas, but it is unavailable here.
As mentioned earlier, Dr. Thomas Short's "A General Chronological History of
the Air, Weather, Seasons, Meteors, Etc." published in London in 1749,
contains unique fragments of documents which were otherwise completely lost
in the Cotton Library Fire of 1731, and no copy of this work is currently
The archaeological field reports for the city of Bazas, as well as the
excavators' reports for the islands of the Bay of Biscay, are unavailable
here, as are the archaeologists themselves.
The bardic materials were not examined for this initial survey, as they are
both voluminous and have become severely distorted in transmission. This
impact should show up at least once if not several times in these materials,
specifically in those records relating to Guntramnus (also known as
Gunthramnus, Contran, Gontran, Gontram, Gunthrammus, Gontranno), with
particular care taken to separate the records of Guntram from those of
Guntram Boso, and any records of Columba from those of Columban.
A useful technique for working with these texts must also be mentioned here.
In using these text records, one should always examine them closely for
hints as to the personal predilections of some of the individuals, as for
example those of "Cabin Boy", Patrick, or those of Columba, whose "small ink
horn" is spilled by a young novitiate, or Gregory in the Forum. These hints
are often key indicators of a document's authenticity. The same holds for
text reports of other activities which may appear to be out of character for
either a people or a leader.
A final problem with the use of text records from this period is the
destruction of many of them which occurred in the Cotton Library Fire; for
this destruction and William Whiston's role in the recovery efforts, see:
It may be that one or another of the Conference participants may be
intimately familiar with the materials not examined so far, and will perform
an intensive search through them and relay any information found in them on
to us, but this remote possibility is really no substitute for a fully
funded intensive search through these texts, any more than the amateur
astronomers' efforts are a substitute for fully funded NEO observation
Well, Benny, that's it. No beer, no sunbathing on the lake, no cocktails on
the sand, but... The Latin materials relating to the destruction of the
Etruscan city of Volsinii remained piled on my desk, and new readings from
texts recovered from Ugarit will enable a precise conversion to metric units
of the some of the terms used in the Hurrian Song of Ullikummi to describe
that impact's blast.
"Some say the world will end in fire;
Some say in ice...
APPENDIX I: PSALM 44
"We have heard with our own ears, O God - our fathers have told us - what
work you did in their days, in the times of old: How you drove out the
heathen with your hand, and planted themselves instead: how you afflicted
those people, and drove them out.
"For our fathers did not get possession of the land by their own sword, nor
did their own arm save them, but instead your right hand and your arm, and
THE LIGHT OF YOUR COUNTENANCE did this, because you had favor for them.
"You are my king, O God - so now command deliverances for Jacob: Through
your name we will tread under those who rise up against us. For I will not
trust my bow, nor will my sword save me; but you have saved us from our
enemies, and have shamed those who hated us.
"In God we boast all day long, and praise your name forever: Selah! But you
have cast us off, and put us to shame, and do not go forth with our armies.
You make us turn back from the enemy, and those who hate us despoil us for
"You have given us like sheep for the slaughtering, and have scattered us
among the heathen. You have sold your people for nothing, and have not
increased your wealth by the price of their sale. You have made us a
reproach to our neighbors, a scorn and a derision to those who are about us.
You have made us a byword among the heathen, a shaking of the head among the
"My confusion is continually before me, and the shame of my face has covered
me, for the voice of him who reproaches and blasphemes - this caused by the
enemy and avenger.
"All of this has come upon us, yet we have not forgotten you, and neither
have we dealt falsely in your convenant. Our heart has not turned back, nor
have our steps fallen from you path - even though you have sore broken us in
THE PLACE OF DRAGONS, and covered us with the shadown of death.
"If we have forgotten the name of our God, or stretched out our hands to a
strange god, shall not God search this out? For he knows the secrets of the
"Behold! For your sake we are killed all day long. We are counted as sheep
for the slaughter.
"Awake! Why do you sleep, O lord?
"Arise! Do not cast us off forever!
"Why do you hide your face, and forget our affliction and oppression? For
our soul is now bowed down to the dust: our stomach cleaves to the earth.
"Arise for our help, and redeem us for your mercies' sake."
Saint Columba, ca. 580 CE
CCCMENU CCC for 2002
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