The Great Conspiracy & Late 4th Century Britain

The Great Conspiracy

As the 4th century advanced, Roman Britain faced escalating raids from the Saxons to the east and the Scoti (Irish) to the west. Despite the construction of coastal forts beginning around AD 280 to fend off these threats, the defences proved insufficient. In AD 367, a coordinated assault by Saxons, Picts, Scoti, and Attacotti, coupled with internal unrest among the troops stationed on Hadrian’s Wall, left Roman Britain in a dire state. The invasion overran the western and northern parts of Britannia, leading to widespread sacking of cities. This calamity, often referred to as the Barbarian Conspiracy or the Great Conspiracy, was eventually quelled by Count Theodosius starting in AD 368 through a series of military actions and administrative reforms. Theodosius embarked from Bononia (modern-day Boulogne-sur-Mer) to Londinium (London), where he initiated a campaign against the invaders and established his command centre. He offered amnesty to deserters, which helped him to replenish the ranks of his forces and reoccupy deserted forts. By the year’s end, Hadrian’s Wall was reclaimed, and stability was restored. The reorganization in Britain was extensive, including the formation of a new province, Valentia, likely aimed at better managing the northern territories. A new military commander, Dux Britanniarum Dulcitius, was appointed, along with Civilis to oversee the civilian governance.

The Revolt of Magnus Maximus

The situation again became turbulent in AD 383 when Magnus Maximus declared a revolt at Segontium (Caernarfon) in North Wales, crossing over to the continent. Maximus, who controlled a large portion of the western empire, conducted a victorious campaign against the Picts and Scots around AD 384. His endeavors on the continent, however, led to the withdrawal of troops from Britain, resulting in the abandonment of strategic locations such as Chester, which in turn prompted Irish raids and settlements in North Wales. Maximus’ reign concluded in AD 388, yet it’s believed not all British forces returned, as the empire’s military might was overstretched across the Rhine and Danube fronts. By AD 396, Britain faced another wave of barbarian invasions, which Stilicho addressed through a retaliatory campaign. Peace seemed to return by AD 399, with no subsequent re-garrisoning efforts reported. By AD 401, additional troops were called away to combat Alaric I, further depleting Britain’s defensive capabilities.

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