Old English Orosius


In 410 the Visigoths, a Germanic tribe led by King Alaric (r. 395–410), entered the city of Rome and spent three days pillaging it. This event, known as the ‘Sack of Rome’, may not have had a great impact on the city’s people and buildings, but it was seen as highly significant, especially by those outside Italy. 

In the Roman province of North Africa, the sack of Rome prompted two writers to compose two new historical works. St Augustine of Hippo (b. 354, d. 430) wrote De civitate Dei contra paganos (On the City of God against the Pagans) while his student Paulus Orosius (d. after 418) produced the Historiarum adversus Paganos Libri Septem (Seven Books of History against the Pagans). They sought to counter claims that the decline of Rome resulted from its adoption of Christianity. 

The manuscript you can see here is the earliest surviving version of Orosius’ work in Old English, probably copied in Winchester during the reign of King Alfred the Great (r. 871–899). It may have been a part of Alfred’s programme to translate important Latin works into the vernacular. 

The Old English version is not a translation in the strictest sense, but more of a paraphrase, which mimics the style of the original. It includes many additions from other sources, most notably the voyages of Ohthere and Wulfstan who give an account of travelling in the Baltic. The translator retains the original text’s interest in the supposed sins of the pagans and appears particularly interested in accounts of military conflict. 

Full title:
Orosius, Historia adversus paganos ('The Old English Orosius' or 'The Tollemache Orosius')
Late 9th – early 10th century, Winchester
Old English
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Add MS 47967

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