This rescript of Honorius has achieved an almost mythic status in the history of Roman Britain. Believed to be a response to a request for assistance from Britain it is supposed to show that Honorius was abandoning Britain to its fate and that this marks the point at which Britain "left" the Roman Empire.
The only real evidence concerning the rescript comes from Zosimus, who says;
Honorius wrote letters to the cities in Britain, bidding them to take precautions on their own behalf.
This statement however, appears right in the middle of the description of the war in Italy
and therefore, given Zosimus
' predeliction for confusing place names it is more than likely that he actually meant the province of Brittii
Even if this was a response to a request from Britain, it amounts to nothing more than a recognition that Honorius was unable to proffer any assistance at that time. With the usurper Constantine III still active in Gaul and the Goths rampaging through Italy, Honorius was not really in a position to do anything else. It hardly amounts to a statement of policy, nor is it a recognition of the Romano-British Revolt of 409, as some have argued.
Or as the historian Peter Salway (*) put it,
I see no cause to assume that Honorius was deliberately abandoning Britain for ever.
Of course, with the benefit of a few centuries worth of hindsight, we can see that the Roman Empire was never in a position to consider the reoccupation of Britain, and it therefore might seem that that issue is slightly academic. It does however matter in terms of how the leaders of the revolt considered their relationship with the Roman Empire. To those who sought independence from Rome, the threat of reoccupation, however slight, remained.
(* author of Roman Britain - Oxford University Press 1991 p443)
Part of the Sub-Roman Britain project, where sources are detailed.