Sidonius Apollinaris

Gaius Sollius Modestus Apollinaris Sidonius, better known as Saint Sidonius Apollinaris (5 November[1] of an unknown year, c. 430 – August 489 AD), was a poet, diplomat, and bishop. Sidonius is "the single most important surviving author from fifth-century Gaul" according to Eric Goldberg.[2] He was one of four Gallo-Roman aristocrats of the fifth- to sixth-century whose letters survive in quantity; the others are Ruricius bishop of Limoges (died 507), Alcimus Ecdicius Avitus, bishop of Vienne (died 518) and Magnus Felix Ennodius of Arles, bishop of Ticinum (died 534). All of them were linked in the tightly bound aristocratic Gallo-Roman network that provided the bishops of Catholic Gaul.[3] His feast day is 21 August.

Saint Sidonius Apollinaris
Bornc. 430
Lugdunum, Gaul, Western Roman Empire
Diedc. 489
Kingdom of the Burgundians
Venerated inEastern Orthodox Church
Roman Catholic Church
Feast21 August


Sidonius was born in Lugdunum (Lyon). His father Apollinaris was the Prefect of Gaul under Valentinian III; he recalls with pride being present with his father at the installation of Astyrius as consul for the year 449.[4] Sidonius' grandfather was Praetorian Prefect of Gaul sometime prior to 409 and a friend of his successor Decimus Rusticus. Sidonius may be a descendant of another Apollinaris who was Prefect of Gaul under Constantine II between 337 and 340.

Sidonius married Papianilla, the daughter of Emperor Avitus, around 452.[5] This union produced one son, Apollinaris, and at least two daughters: Sidonius mentions in his letters Severina and Roscia, but a third, Alcima, is only mentioned much later by Gregory of Tours, and Theodor Mommsen has speculated that Alcima may be another name for one of his other daughters.[6] His known acquaintances include bishop Faustus of Riez and his theological adversary Claudianus Mamertus; his life and friendships put him in the center of 5th-century Roman affairs.

In 457 Majorian deprived Avitus of the empire and seized the city of Lyons; Sidonius fell into his hands. However, the reputation of Sidonius's learning led Majorian to treat him with the greatest respect. In return Sidonius composed a panegyric in his honour (as he had previously done for Avitus), which won for him a statue at Rome and the title of count. In 467 or 468 the emperor Anthemius rewarded him for the panegyric which he had written in honour of him by raising him to the post of Urban Prefect of Rome until 469, and afterwards to the dignity of Patrician and Senator. In 470 or 472, he was elected to succeed Eparchius in the bishopric of Auvergne (Clermont, now Clermont-Ferrand).

When the Goths captured Clermont in 474 he was imprisoned, as he had taken an active part in its defense; but he was afterwards released from captivity by Euric, king of the Goths, and continued to shepherd his flock as he had done before; he did so until his death.

Sidonius's relations have been traced over several generations as a narrative of a family's fortunes, from the prominence of his paternal grandfather's time into later decline in the 6th century under the Franks. Sidonius's son Apollinaris, who was a correspondent of Ruricius of Limoges, commanded a unit raised in Auvergne on the losing side of the decisive Battle of Vouille, and also was bishop of Clermont for four months until he died.[7] Sidonius's grandson Arcadius, on hearing a rumor that the Frankish king Theuderic I had died, betrayed Clermont to Childebert I, only to abandon his wife and mother when Theuderic appeared; his other appearance in the history of Gregory of Tours is as a servant of king Childebert.[8]


Caii Sollii Apollinaris Sidonii Opera
Opera (1598)

His extant works are his Panegyrics on different emperors (in which he draws largely upon Statius, Ausonius and Claudian), which document several important political events. Carmen 7 is a panegyric to his father-in-law Avitus on his inauguration as emperor. Carmen 5 is a panegyric to Majorian, which offers evidence that Sidonius was able to overcome the natural suspicion and hostility towards the man who was responsible for the death of his father-in-law. Carmen 2 is a panegyric to the emperor Anthemius, part of Sidonius' efforts to be appointed Urban Prefect of Rome; several samples of occasional verse; and nine books of Letters, about which W.B. Anderson notes, "Whatever one may think about their style and diction, the letters of Sidonius are an invaluable source of information on many aspects of the life of his time."[9] While very stilted in diction, these Letters reveal Sidonius as a man of genial temper, fond of good living and of pleasure. A letter of Sidonius's addressed to Riothamus, "King of the Brittones" (c. 470) is of particular interest, since it provides evidence that a king or military leader with ties to Britain lived around the time frame of King Arthur. The best edition is that in the Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Berlin, 1887), which gives a survey of the manuscripts. An English translation of his poetry and letters by W.B. Anderson, with accompanying Latin text, have been published by the Loeb Classical Library (volume 1, containing his poems and books 1-2 of his letters, 1939 [10]; remainder of letters, 1965). Among his lost works, is the one on Apollonius of Tyana.[11]

Gregory of Tours speaks of Sidonius as a man who could celebrate Mass from memory (without a sacramentary) and give unprepared speeches without any hesitation.[12]


  1. ^ Apollinaris alludes to the date of his birthday in a short poem addressed to his brother-in-law Ecdicius, Carmen 20.
  2. ^ The Fall of the Roman Empire Revisited: Sidonius Apollinaris and His Crisis of Identity Archived September 2, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Ralph W. Mathisen, "Epistolography, Literary Circles and Family Ties in Late Roman Gaul" Transactions of the American Philological Association 111 (1981), pp. 95-109.
  4. ^ Epistulae, VIII.6.5; translated by W.B. Anderson, Sidonius: Poems and Letters (Harvard: Loeb Classical Library, 1965), vol. 2 p. 423
  5. ^ Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, 2.21. This is confirmed by the otherwise oblique allusion in Sidonius' own Epistuale 2.2.3.
  6. ^ Severina, Epistulae II.12.2; Roscia, Epistulae V.16.5; Alcima, Gregory of Tours Decem Libri Historiarum, III.2
  7. ^ Gregory of Tours, 2.37, 3.2
  8. ^ Gregory of Tours, 3.9, 11
  9. ^ In his introduction to Sidonius: Poems and Letters (Cambridge: Loeb, 1939), vol. 1, p. lxiv.
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Gregory of Tours, 2.22

Sources and further reading

  • C.E. Stevens, Sidonius Apollinaris and his Age. Oxford: University Press, 1933.
  • K.F. Strohecker. Der senatorische Adel im spätantiken Gallien. Tübingen, 1948.
  • Nora Chadwick, Poetry and Letters in Early Christian Gaul London: Bowes and Bowes, 1955.
  • Jill Harries (1994). Sidonius Apollinaris and the Fall of Rome, AD 407-485. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 978-0-19-814472-4.
  • Sigrid Mratschek, "Identitätsstiftung aus der Vergangenheit: Zum Diskurs über die trajanische Bildungskultur im Kreis des Sidonius Apollinaris", in Therese Fuhrer (hg), Die christlich-philosophischen Diskurse der Spätantike: Texte, Personen, Institutionen: Akten der Tagung vom 22.-25. Februar 2006 am Zentrum für Antike und Moderne der Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg (Stuttgart, Franz Steiner Verlag, 2008) (Philosophie der Antike, 28),
  • Johannes A. van Waarden and Gavin Kelly (eds): New Approaches to Sidonius Apollinaris, with Indices on Helga Köhler, C. Sollius Apollinaris Sidonius: Briefe Buch I. Leuven, 2013.

External links

Agricola (vir inlustris)

Agricola (fl. 466–485) was a Arverni noble and son of the Western Roman Emperor Avitus.

Agroecius (Bishop of Sens)

Agroecius or Agroetius was an ancient Gaul who was bishop of Sens. He was also a grammarian, and the author of an extant work in Latin, De Orthographia et Differentia Sermonis, intended as a supplement to a work on the same subject by Flavius Caper. It was composed around 450, and dedicated to the bishop Eucherius of Lyon, who apparently had earlier given Agroecius a copy of Caper's work. He is supposed to have lived in the middle of the 5th century. His work is reprinted in Putschius' Grammaticae Latinae Auctores Antiqui, pp. 2266—2275.Agroecius was the addressee of one extant letter from Sidonius Apollinaris, who sought Agroecius' aid in the dispute over who would inherit the vacant bishop's see in Bourges in 470 (Agroecius indeed traveled to Bourges to render his assistance); and he is probably alluded to (although not named) in another of Apollinaris' letters, which speaks of a bishop of great eloquence and learning. There was also at that time a bishop "Agrycius", the addressee of a letter of Salvian apologizing for his disrespectful behavior, who is generally taken to be this Agroecius.Agroecius was possibly a descendant of the rhetorician Censorius Atticus.

Alcimus Alethius

Alcimus (Avitus) Alethius was the writer of seven short poems in the Latin Anthology. Classical scholar J. C. Wernsdorf believed him to be the same person as Alcimus, the rhetorician in Aquitania, in Gaul, who is spoken of in terms of high praise by Sidonius Apollinaris and Ausonius. It is possible however that Apollinaris was referring to his contemporary, Avitus of Vienne, also known as Alcimus Ecdicius Avitus.

The date of this Alcimus is determined by Jerome in his Chronicon, who says that Alcimus and Delphidius taught in Aquitania in 360 AD.

Amabilis of Riom

Saint Amabilis redirects here. There is a female saint (also known as Saint Mable) with this name who died in 634 AD; she was the daughter of an Anglo-Saxon king and became a nun at Saint-Amand monastery, Rouen. Her feast day is July 11.Saint Amabilis of Riom (or Amabilis of Auvergne) (French: Saint Amable, Italian: Sant'Amabile) was a French saint. Sidonius Apollinaris brought Amabilis to serve at Clermont.He served as a cantor in the church of Saint Mary at Clermont and as a precentor at the cathedral of Clermont and then as a parish priest in Riom. He acquired a reputation for holiness in his lifetime.

Arbogast (Count of Trier)

Arbogast was a comes (Count) of Trier of Frankish origin in the late fifth century.


Marcus Maecilius Flavius Eparchius Avitus c. 380/395 – after 17 October 456 or in 457) was Western Roman Emperor from 8 or 9 July 455 to 17 October 456. He was a senator and a high-ranking officer both in the civil and military administration, as well as Bishop of Piacenza.

A Gallo-Roman aristocrat, he opposed the reduction of the Western Roman Empire to Italy alone, both politically and from an administrative point of view. For this reason, as Emperor he introduced several Gallic senators in the Imperial administration; this policy, however, was opposed by the Senatorial aristocracy and by the people of Rome, who had suffered from the sack of the city by the Vandals in 455.

Avitus had a good relationship with the Visigoths, in particular with their king Theodoric II, who was a friend of his and who acclaimed Avitus Emperor. The possibility of a strong and useful alliance between the Visigoths and Romans faded, however, when Theodoric invaded Hispania at Avitus' behest, which rendered him unable to help Avitus against the rebel Roman generals who deposed him.

Claudianus Mamertus

Claudianus Ecdidius Mamertus (died c. 473) was a Gallo-Roman theologian and the brother of Saint Mamertus, Bishop of Vienne.

Decimus Rusticus

Decimus Rusticus (sometimes Rusticus Decimus) of Treves (then Augusta Treverorum) and Lyon (Lugdunum) (ca 370 – before 423) was a Master of the Offices and the praetorian prefect of Gaul between 409 and 410 or 413. He was one of those responsible for the withdrawal from Britannia.


Ecdicius Avitus (c. 420 – after 475) was a Gallo-Roman aristocrat, senator, and magister militum praesentalis from 474 until 475.

As a son of the Emperor Avitus, Ecdicius was educated at Augustonemetum (modern Clermont-Ferrand), where he lived and owned some land. In the 460s he was one of the richest and most important persons in the western Empire and he was present at the court of Anthemius until 469.Ecdicius and his brother-in-law Sidonius Apollinaris, the Bishop of Clermont, took charge of the defence of the Auvergne against the Visigoths from 471 to 474. The Visigothic king Euric besieged many cities, but Ecdicius, with a private army of horsemen paid for out of his own wealth, brought provisions to those cities, lifted their sieges, and fed a multitude of poor. The size of his warband seems to have been quite small --- he broke a Visigothic siege of Clermont-Ferrand with only eighteen horsemen, or ten according to the non-contemporary account of Gregory of Tours.Ecdicius also obtained the submission of Chilperic II of Burgundy on behalf of the Empire.In 471 Anthemius sent an army into Gaul under the command of his son Anthemiolus against the Visigoths, but he was defeated near Arles; by 473 the Visigoths had captured Arles and Marseille, and they appeared poised for an invasion of Italia itself. Ecdicius was elevated to the rank of patrician by the new emperor Julius Nepos, and invested with the title magister militum praesentialis, apparently with the intent to wage war against the Visigoths; when Sidonius learned of this promotion, he shared his hopes with his wife Papianilla that Ecdicius might gain victories and be rewarded with the Consulate.However, just as Ecdicius embarked on his campaign against the Visigoths (475), he was recalled to Italy by Julius and Flavius Orestes replaced him as head of the Roman army. The emperor then exchanged the Auvergne for Provence, giving the Visigoths the territories they had long desired. The reason for Nepos's about face is puzzling, as Ralph W. Mathisen admits before accusing the Senate in Rome of being responsible.After he was replaced, Ecdicius practically vanishes from the historical record. A letter written by Sidonius Apollinaris survives, in which he pleads with his brother-in-law to return to the Auvergne; but if Ecdicius did return – or even if Sidonius sent the letter – is unknown. Some evidence suggests that he remained in Italy: there is a letter in the Variae of Cassiodorus (2.4.22), written after the Battle of Vouillé in 507, concerning the sons of one Ecdicius who wanted to return to Gaul where they had property; in a 1984 article Matthisen argued for the identification, pointing out that "not only is the Arvernian Ecdicius known to have been in Rome earlier, but Ecdicius also is a rare name."

Flavius Probus, Senator

Flavius Probus (born c. 420, 430 or 435), a Roman Senator and a v. nob. (vir nobilis) of Narbonne, then Narbo, was a man of literary taste and precocious ability. His father was Flavius Magnus, Consul of Rome in 460. He was a friend of Sidonius Apollinaris from their schooldays.

He married before 450 Eulalia (?), born c. 425, a cousin of Sidonius Apollinaris, daughter of Thaumastus. They were perhaps the parents of:

Industria of Narbonne, then Narbo, born c. 450 or 465, married before 475 to Tonantius Ferreolus

Firminus (455 or 460 – c. 503), v. inl. at Arles, then Arelate, and a propinq. of Magnus Felix Ennodius

Probatius (certain son), Bishop of Uzès in 506

Lac d'Aydat

Lac d'Aydat is a lake in Aydat, Puy-de-Dôme, France. At an elevation of 837 m, its surface area is 0.65 km². It is suggested by some historians that it is the site of Avitacum, the location of the villa belonging to the fifth-century senator and bishop Sidonius Apollinaris, as described in detail in one of his letters.


Flavius Julius Valerius Majorianus (c. AD 420 – August 7, 461), usually known simply as Majorian, was the Western Roman Emperor from 457 to 461.

A prominent general of the Late Roman army, Majorian deposed Emperor Avitus in 457 and succeeded him. Majorian was the last emperor to make a concerted effort to restore the Western Roman Empire with its own forces. Possessing little more than Italy, Dalmatia, and some territory in northern Gaul, Majorian campaigned rigorously for three years against the Empire's enemies. His successors until the fall of the Empire, in 476/480, were actually instruments of their barbarian generals, or emperors chosen and controlled by the Eastern Roman court.

After defeating a Vandal attack on Italy, Majorian launched a campaign against the Visigothic Kingdom in southern Gaul. Defeating king Theodoric II at the Battle of Arelate, Majorian forced the Goths to abandon their possessions in Septimania and Hispania and return to federate status immediately. Majorian then attacked the Burgundian Kingdom, defeating them at the Siege of Lugdunum, expelling them from the Rhone valley and reducing them to federate status.

In 460, Majorian left Gaul to consolidate his hold on Hispania. His generals launched a campaign against the Suebic Kingdom in northwest Hispania, defeating them at the battles of Lucus Augusti and Scallabis and reducing them to federate status as well. His fleet for his planned campaign to recover Africa from the Vandals was destroyed due to treachery.

Majorian sought to reform the imperial administration in order to make it more efficient and just. The powerful general Ricimer deposed and killed Majorian, who had become unpopular with the senatorial aristocracy because of his reforms.

According to historian Edward Gibbon, Majorian "presents the welcome discovery of a great and heroic character, such as sometimes arise, in a degenerate age, to vindicate the honour of the human species".

Papianilla (wife of Sidonius Apollinaris)

Papianilla (floruit 455) was an aristocrat of Roman Gaul.

She was the daughter of Eparchius Avitus, who rose from the Gallo-Roman senatorial aristocracy to become Western Roman Emperor from 455 to 456. Papianilla had two brothers, Agricola and Ecdicius, and possibly some sisters; she was related to another Papianilla (wife of the prefect Tonantius Ferreolus).

Before her father's rise to the throne (455), she married Sidonius Apollinaris, another aristocrat, with whom she had three or four children: Apollinaris, Severiana, Roscia and Alcima (the latter, mentioned only in Gregory of Tours and not in Sidonius letters, being possibly another name for Severiana or Roscia).

Papianilla brought her husband the estate called Avitacum in Auvergne. Her husband gave away silver vessels from their home to the poor, but she criticised him so he bought them back.

Papianilla (wife of Tonantius Ferreolus)

Papianilla was a Roman noblewoman

She was the wife of Tonantius Ferreolus. Another Papianilla, the wife of the poet Sidonius Apollinaris, was a relative of hers.She had Tonantius Ferreolus and other sons.


Riothamus (also spelled Riutimus or Riotimus) was a Romano-British military leader, who was active circa AD 470. He fought against the Goths in alliance with the declining Roman Empire. He is called "King of the Britons" by the 6th-century historian Jordanes, but the extent of his realm is unclear. Some Arthurian scholars identify Riothamus as one of the possible sources of the legendary King Arthur.


Ruricius I (c. 440 – c. 510) was a Gallo-Roman aristocrat and bishop of Limoges from c. 485 to 510. He is one of the writers whose letters survive from late Roman Gaul, depicting the influence of the Visigoths on the Roman lifestyle. He should not be confused with his son-in-law, Saint Rusticus (Archbishop of Lyon).


For the bishop of Mainz, martyr and saint, see Theonistus. For the snail genus, see Thaumastus (gastropod).Thaumastus (born c. 400) was a friend and uncle of Sidonius Apollinaris. His brother, the elder Apollinaris was born around 405 and was the praetorian prefect of Gaul under Valentinian III between 425 and 455. Thaumastus and his brother were both sons of another Apollinaris, praetorian prefect of Gaul before 409 and were friends with his successor Decimus Rusticus. Thaumastus was associated with Tonantius Ferreolus in the impeachment of Arvandus. He was the father of Eulalia, born in 425, married before 450 to Flavius Probus, Roman Senator.

He seems to be a descendant of yet another Apollinaris, praetorian prefect of Gaul under Constantine II between 337 and 340.

Theodoric I

Theodoric I (c. 390 or 393 – 20 or 24 June 451) was the King of the Visigoths from 418 to 451. An illegitimate son of Alaric, Theodoric is famous for his part in defeating Attila at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in 451, where he was killed on June 20.

Tonantius Ferreolus (prefect)

Tonantius Ferreolus (c. 390 – 475) was the praetorian prefect of Gaul (praefectus praetorio Galliarum) from 451.

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