De excidio et conquestu Britanniae ‘On the ruin/destruction and conquest of Britain’

  • Latin
  • prose
  • Cambro-Latin texts, sermons and homilies

A long Latin sermon by the British cleric Gildas (fl. first half of the 6th century) concerning the state of Britain.

De excidio et conquestu Britanniae
‘On the ruin/destruction and conquest of Britain’
The work is variously referred to as De excidio et conquestu Britanniae (Mommsen's title), De excidio Britanniae, and after Giraldus Cambrensis, De excidio Britonum (Michael Winterbottom, Karen George, et al.).
(fl. 5th–6th century)
Author of De excidio et conquestu Britanniae

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Badly mutilated during the Cotton fire (1731). Missing portions have been supplied from two sixteenth-century editions, those by Polydore Vergil and John Joscelyn below.
ff. 83r–93v (section B)
John Bale mentioned the existence of a copy in Glastonbury abbey.
Printed text of Polydore Vergil (1525).
Printed text of Joscelyn (1568) based on two manuscripts: the Cotton Vitellius MS (before the Cottonian fire) and another MS in the possession of a Kentish lawyer, which has been identified as Cambridge MS Dd I 17.
  • Latin
prose (primary)
Textual relationships
Related: Historia regum BritanniaeHistoria regum BritanniaeGeoffrey of Monmouth's pseudohistorical narrative of the kings of Britain, from the foundation of Britain to the Anglo-Saxon conquest.


Cambro-Latin textsCambro-Latin texts

sermons and homiliesreligious literature
sermons and homilies
id. 29296


Primary sources Text editions and/or modern translations – in whole or in part – along with publications containing additions and corrections, if known. Diplomatic editions, facsimiles and digital image reproductions of the manuscripts are not always listed here but may be found in entries for the relevant manuscripts. For historical purposes, early editions, transcriptions and translations are not excluded, even if their reliability does not meet modern standards.

[ed.] [tr.] Winterbottom, Michael, Gildas. The ruin of Britain and other works, History from the Sources: Arthurian Period Sources, 7, London: Phillimore, 1978. iv + 162 pp.
[ed.] Mommsen, Theodor [ed.], Chronica minora saec. IV, V, VI, VII, vol. 3, MGH Scriptores. Auctores antiquissimi, 13, Berlin: Weidmann, 1898.
Digitale-sammlungen.de: <link>  : <link> Internet Archive: <link>
1–24 (introduction); 25–85 (text); 727 (addenda for pp. 13, 17 and 43) direct link direct link
Joscelyn, John, Gildae, cui cognomentum est sapientis, de excidio & conquestu Britanniae, ac flebili castigatione in reges, principes, & sacerdotes epistola, London: Ioannes Daius, 1568.
The second printed edition and the last one to have been printed before the Cottonian fire.
Vergil, Polydore, Opus nouum: Gildas Britannus monachus cui sapientis cognome[n]tu[m] est inditum, de calamitate excidio, & conquestu Britanniae, quam Angliam nunc uocant, Antwerp, 1525.
ProQuest – EEBO: <link>
Editio princeps.

Secondary sources (select)

George, Karen, Gildas’s De excidio Britonum and the early British church, Studies in Celtic History, 26, Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2009.  
Gildas's De excidio Britonum is a rare surviving contemporary source for the period which saw the beginning of the transformation of post-Roman Britain into Anglo-Saxon England. However, although the De excidio has received much scholarly attention over the last forty years, the value of the text as a primary source for this fascinating if obscure period of British history has been limited by our lack of knowledge concerning its historical and cultural context. In this new study the author challenges the assumption that the British Church was isolated from its Continental counterpart by Germanic settlement in Britain and seeks to establish a theological context for the De excidio within the framework of doctrinal controversy in the early Continental Church. The vexed question of the place of Pelagianism in the early British Church is re-investigated and a case is put forward for a radical new interpretation of Gildas's own theological stance. In addition, this study presents a detailed investigation of the literary structure of the De excidio and Gildas's use of verbal patterns, and argues that his use of the Bible as a literary model is at least as significant as his well-documented use of the literary techniques of Classical Latin.
Turner, Peter, “Identity in Gildas's De excidio et conquestu Britanniae”, Cambrian Medieval Celtic Studies 58 (Winter, 2009): 29–48.
Lapidge, Michael, and David N. Dumville (eds), Gildas: new approaches, Studies in Celtic History, 5, Cambridge: Boydell Press, 1984.
OʼLoughlin, Thomas, Gildas and the Christian scriptures: observing the world through a biblical lens, Leiden, Boston: Brepols, 2013.  
Gildas is the earliest insular writer who has left us a substantial legacy of theological writing. He is usually, however, not seen as a theological writer but as an historical source for ‘dark age’ Britain at the time of the Germanic invasions in the mid-sixth century. Yet the deacon Gildas saw himself as a prophet charged by God to call the rulers and clergy of his society back to being a chosen people of the covenant. The form this call took was that of an indictment of those groups based on the testimonia of the Christian scriptures. This book is a study both of Gildas’s use of the scriptures (his text, his canon, his exegetical strategies) and of how, from the way he interprets sacred history, he created a distinctive theology of the church and of salvation.
(source: Brepols)
Dennis Groenewegen
Page created
April 2013, last updated: January 2024