Orosius, as it is known, is a book by Paulus Oroius, a churchman and scholar of early fifth century Roman Hispania, which he named "Seven Books of History Against the Pagans"

The book was translated and adapted by or at the command of King Alfred and contains a rich source for Englisc words and place-names.

The World of Paulus OrosiusEdit

The original work by Paulus Orosius, “Seven Books of History against the Pagans” begins not with history but with geography; a brief description of the world. It describes the world as it stood at the fall of the Roman Empire, though without commentary. Europe and North Africa, the Roman World as was, are described from common knowledge and no doubt the author’s own travels from Spain to Africa. The section on Spain is more extensive than others, as one would expect as Orosius was from Spain. For lands further afield, in particular India, he relies on classical sources whose descriptions might be as old as Alexander the Great.

It is fascinating to see this glimpse of the world at a turning point of history but it is limited because this description of the world is background only, a Roman literary convention, and geography is not the author’s primary intention for his work.

Alfred’s worldEdit

The translation of Orosius was ordered by King Alfred and may even have been carried out by the King, at least in part. It includes a translation of the geographical sections, but the world was somewhat different almost five hundred years after the days of Paulus Orosius, so the translators freely reshaped the text in an attempt to bring it up to date.

As in the original, there is no commentary about the peoples of any land, not even whether any tribe or people listed be Christian or heathen. The only diversions from this are in the inserted narratives of Ohthere and Wulfstan, and in particular the latter’s account of the peculiar customs of the Ests.

The Old English Orosius retains the original text as its basis.


The book begins with a description of the world, and uses many place-names not found elsewhere in Englisc, mostly translated from the original Paulus Orosius text but adapted in an attempt to update it. It also includes though an entirely new description of Germanic and Slavic nations as they stood in the ninth century, and the famous digression incorporating the accounts of Wulfhere and Ohthere.

Geographical parts include:


The history is ambitious; from Ninus Assyria Cyning to the fall of Rome to Alaric the Goth, who is portrayed as a blessing to the city as it fell to a merciful Christian prince and not to one of the utter barbarians from which Rome has suffered in ancient days nor one with the remorseless cruelty which the Romans themselves had inflicted on others and on themselves repeatedly throughout the pagan ages.