Theodosius I

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Theodosius I
Disco o Missorium Teodosio MPLdC.jpg
Emperor of the Roman Empire
Reign19 January 379 – 15 May 392 (emperor in the East;
15 May 392 – 17 January 395 (whole empire)
Predecessor Valens in the East
Gratian in the West
Valentinian II in the West
Successor Arcadius in the East;
Honorius in the West
Co-emperors Gratian (Western Emperor, 379–383)
Valentinian II (Western Emperor, 379–392)
Magnus Maximus (Western Emperor, 384–388)
Flavius Victor (Western Emperor, 384–388)
Arcadius (383–395)
Honorius (393–395)
Born11 January 347
Coca or Italica, modern Spain
Died(395-01-17)17 January 395 (aged 48)
Mediolanum, modern Italy
Spouse1) Aelia Flaccilla (?–385)
2) Galla (?–394)
Issue Arcadius
Galla Placidia
Full name
Flavius Theodosius
Regnal name
Imperator Caesar Flavius Theodosius Augustus
Dynasty Theodosian
Father Theodosius the Elder
Religion Nicene Christianity

Theodosius I (Latin : Flavius Theodosius Augustus; [1] Greek : Θεοδόσιος Αʹ; 11 January 347 – 17 January 395), also known as Theodosius the Great, was a Roman Emperor from 379 to 395, and the last emperor to rule over both the Eastern and the Western halves of the Roman Empire. On accepting his elevation, he campaigned against Goths and other barbarians who had invaded the Empire. His resources were not sufficient to destroy them or drive them out, which had been Roman policy for centuries in dealing with invaders. By treaty, which followed his indecisive victory at the end of the Gothic War, they were established as foederati , autonomous allies of the Empire, south of the Danube, in Illyricum, within the Empire's borders. They were given lands and allowed to remain under their own leaders, a grave departure from Roman hegemonic ways. This turn away from traditional policies was accommodationist and had grave consequences for the Western Empire from the beginning of the century, as the Romans found themselves with the impossible task of defending the borders and dealing with unruly federates within. Theodosius I was obliged to fight two destructive civil wars, successively defeating the usurpers Magnus Maximus in 387–388 and Eugenius in 394, though not without material cost to the power of the Empire.

Greek language Language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

Western Roman Empire Independently administered western provinces of the Roman Empire

In historiography, the Western Roman Empire refers to the western provinces of the Roman Empire at any time during which they were administered by a separate independent Imperial court; in particular, this term is used to describe the period from 395 to 476, where there were separate coequal courts dividing the governance of the empire in the Western and the Eastern provinces, with a distinct imperial succession in the separate courts. The terms Western Roman Empire and Eastern Roman Empire are modern descriptions that describe political entities that were de facto independent; contemporary Romans did not consider the Empire to have been split into two separate empires but viewed it as a single polity governed by two separate imperial courts as an administrative expediency. The Western Roman Empire collapsed in 476, and the Western imperial court was formally dissolved in 480. The Eastern imperial court survived until 1453.

Roman Empire Period of Imperial Rome following the Roman Republic (27 BC–476 AD)

The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of ancient Rome, consisting of large territorial holdings around the Mediterranean sea in Europe, North Africa and West Asia ruled by emperors. From the accession of Caesar Augustus to the military anarchy of the third century, it was a principate with Italy as metropole of the provinces and its city of Rome as sole capital. The Roman Empire was then ruled by multiple emperors and divided into a Western Roman Empire, based in Milan and later Ravenna, and an Eastern Roman Empire, based in Nicomedia and later Constantinople. Rome remained the nominal capital of both parts until 476 AD, when it sent the imperial insignia to Constantinople following the capture of Ravenna by the barbarians of Odoacer and the subsequent deposition of Romulus Augustus. The fall of the Western Roman Empire to Germanic kings, along with the hellenization of the Eastern Roman Empire into the Byzantine Empire, is conventionally used to mark the end of Ancient Rome and the beginning of the Middle Ages.


He issued decrees that effectively made Nicene Christianity the official state church of the Roman Empire. [2] [3] He neither prevented nor punished the destruction of prominent Hellenistic temples of classical antiquity, including the Temple of Apollo in Delphi and the Serapeum in Alexandria. He dissolved the Order of the Vestal Virgins in Rome. In 393, he banned the pagan rituals of the Olympics in Ancient Greece. After his death, Theodosius's young sons Arcadius and Honorius inherited the east and west halves of the empire respectively, and the Roman Empire was never again re-united, though Eastern Roman emperors after Zeno would claim the united title after Julius Nepos's death in 480.

Nicene Christianity A set of Christian doctrinal traditions reflecting the Nicene Creed

Nicene Christianity is a set of Christian doctrinal traditions which reflect the Nicene Creed, which was formulated at the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325 and amended at the First Council of Constantinople in AD 381.

State church of the Roman Empire a form of Christianity in the Roman Empire

With the Edict of Thessalonica in 380 AD, Emperor Theodosius I made Nicene Christianity the Empire's state religion. The Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodoxy, and the Catholic Church each claim to stand in continuity with the church to which Theodosius granted recognition, but do not look on it as specific to the Roman Empire.

Hellenistic religion

Hellenistic religion is the late form of Ancient Greek religion, covering any of the various systems of beliefs and practices of the people who lived under the influence of ancient Greek culture during the Hellenistic period and the Roman Empire. There was much continuity in Hellenistic religion: the Greek gods continued to be worshipped, and the same rites were practiced as before.

Theodosius is considered a saint by the Armenian Apostolic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church [4] , and his feast day is on January 17. [5]

Armenian Apostolic Church National church of Armenia

The Armenian Apostolic Church is the national church of the Armenian people. Part of Oriental Orthodoxy, it is one of the most ancient Christian communities. The Kingdom of Armenia was the first state to adopt Christianity as its official religion under the rule of King Tiridates in the early 4th century. The church originated in the missions of Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus in the 1st century, according to tradition.

Eastern Orthodox Church Christian Church

The Eastern Orthodox Church, officially the Orthodox Catholic Church, is the second-largest Christian church, with approximately 260 million baptised members.It operates as a communion of autocephalous churches, each governed by its bishops in local synods, although roughly half of Eastern Orthodox Christians live in Russia. The church has no central doctrinal or governmental authority analogous to the Bishop of Rome, but the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople is recognised by all as primus inter pares of the bishops. As one of the oldest surviving religious institutions in the world, the Eastern Orthodox Church has played a prominent role in the history and culture of Eastern and Southeastern Europe, the Caucasus, and the Near East.


Flavius Theodosius was born in Cauca, Carthaginensis, Hispania (according to Hydatius and Zosimus) [6] or in Italica, Baetica, Hispania (according to Themistius, Claudius Claudianus, or Marcellinus Comes), [7] to a senior military officer, Theodosius the Elder [8] and his wife Thermantia. [9] Theodosius learned his military lessons by campaigning with his father's staff in Britannia where he went to help quell the Great Conspiracy in 368.

Coca is a municipality in the province of Segovia, central Spain, part of the autonomous community of Castile and Leon. It is located 50 kilometres northwest of the provincial capital city of Segovia, and 60 kilometres from Valladolid. Castillo de Coca, a 15th-century Mudéjar-style castle is located in the town. It was also the birthplace of Roman Emperor Theodosius I in 347 CE. The town had a population of 2,131 in 2009.

Hispania Roman province

Hispania was the Roman name for the Iberian Peninsula and its provinces. Under the Republic, Hispania was divided into two provinces: Hispania Citerior and Hispania Ulterior. During the Principate, Hispania Ulterior was divided into two new provinces, Baetica and Lusitania, while Hispania Citerior was renamed Hispania Tarraconensis. Subsequently, the western part of Tarraconensis was split off, first as Hispania Nova, later renamed "Callaecia". From Diocletian's Tetrarchy onwards, the south of remaining Tarraconensis was again split off as Carthaginensis, and probably then too the Balearic Islands and all the resulting provinces formed one civil diocese under the vicarius for the Hispaniae. The name Hispania was also used in the period of Visigothic rule.

Hydatius, also spelled Idacius, bishop of Aquae Flaviae in the Roman province of Gallaecia was the author of a chronicle of his own times that provides us with our best evidence for the history of Hispania in the 5th century.

In about 373, he became governor of Upper Moesia and oversaw hostilities against the Sarmatians and thereafter against the Alemanni. [10] He was military commander ( dux ) of Moesia, a Roman province on the lower Danube, in 374, when the empire faced a formidable eruption of the Quadi and Sarmatians, the neighboring province of Illyricum being in fact briefly overrun. [11] Theodosius is reported to have defended his province with marked ability and success. [11] However, shortly thereafter, and at about the same time as the sudden disgrace and execution of his father, Theodosius retired to Hispania. The reason for his retirement, and the relationship (if any) between it and his father's death is uncertain, though probable.

Sarmatians ethnic group

The Sarmatians were a large Iranian confederation that existed in classical antiquity, flourishing from about the 5th century BC to the 4th century AD.

Alemanni ancient and early-medieval confederation of Germanic tribes on the upper Rhein river

The Alemanni were a confederation of Germanic tribes on the Upper Rhine River. First mentioned by Cassius Dio in the context of the campaign of Caracalla of 213, the Alemanni captured the Agri Decumates in 260, and later expanded into present-day Alsace, and northern Switzerland, leading to the establishment of the Old High German language in those regions, by the eighth century named Alamannia.

<i>Dux</i> dux could refer to anyone who commanded troops

Dux is Latin for "leader" and later for duke and its variant forms.

The death of Valentinian I in 375 created political pandemonium. Fearing further persecution on account of his family ties, Theodosius abruptly retired to his family estates in the province of Gallaecia (present day Galicia, Spain and northern Portugal) where he adopted the life of a provincial aristocrat.

Gallaecia Roman province

Gallaecia, also known as Hispania Gallaecia, was the name of a Roman province in the north-west of Hispania, approximately present-day Galicia, northern Portugal, Asturias and Leon and the later Suebic Kingdom of Gallaecia. The Roman cities included the port Cale (Porto), the governing centers Bracara Augusta (Braga), Lucus Augusti (Lugo) and Asturica Augusta (Astorga) and their administrative areas Conventus bracarensis, Conventus lucensis and Conventus asturicensis.

Norte Region, Portugal NUTS II Region in Portugal

Norte or Northern Portugal is the most populous region in Portugal, ahead of Lisboa, and the third most extensive by area. The region has 3,689,173 inhabitants according to the 2011 census, and its area is 21,278 km². It is one of five regions of Mainland Portugal. Its main population center is the urban area of Porto, with about one million inhabitants; it includes a larger political metropolitan region with 1.8 million, and an urban-metropolitan agglomeration with 2.99 million inhabitants, including Porto and a number of urban areas in Northwestern Portugal, ranging from Braga to Aveiro. The Commission of Regional Coordination of the North (CCDR-N) is the agency that coordinates environmental policies, land-use planning, cities and the overall development of this region, supporting local governments and associations.

Nummus of Theodosius I Nummus of Theodosius I (YORYM 2001 12133) obverse.jpg
Nummus of Theodosius I

From 364 to 375, the Roman Empire was governed by two co-emperors, the brothers Valentinian I and Valens; when Valentinian died in 375, his sons, Valentinian II and Gratian, succeeded him as rulers of the Western Roman Empire. In 378, after the disastrous Battle of Adrianople where Valens was killed, Gratian invited Theodosius to take command of the Illyrian army. As Valens had no successor, Gratian's appointment of Theodosius amounted to a de facto invitation for Theodosius to become co-Augustus of the eastern half of the Empire. After Gratian was killed in a rebellion in 383, Theodosius appointed his own elder son, Arcadius, to be his co-ruler in the East. After the death in 392 of Valentinian II, whom Theodosius had supported against a variety of usurpations, Theodosius ruled as sole Emperor, appointing his younger son Honorius Augustus as his co-ruler of the West (Milan, on 23 January 393) and by defeating the usurper Eugenius on 6 September 394, at the Battle of the Frigidus (Vipava river, modern Slovenia) he restored peace. [12]


By his first wife, the probably Spanish Aelia Flaccilla Augusta, he had two sons, Arcadius and Honorius, and a daughter, Aelia Pulcheria; Arcadius was his heir in the East and Honorius in the West. Both Aelia Flaccilla and Pulcheria died in 385.

His second wife (but never declared Augusta) was Galla, daughter of the emperor Valentinian I and his second wife Justina. Theodosius and Galla had a son, Gratian, born in 388 and who died young, and a daughter, Aelia Galla Placidia (392–450). Placidia was the only child who survived to adulthood and later became an Empress.

Successful conclusion of the Gothic War (379–382)

The Goths and their allies (Vandals, Taifals, Bastarnae and the native Carpians) entrenched in the provinces of Dacia and eastern Pannonia Inferior consumed Theodosius's attention. The Gothic crisis was so dire that his co-Emperor Gratian relinquished control of the Illyrian provinces and retired to Trier in Gaul to let Theodosius operate without hindrance. A major weakness in the Roman position after the defeat at Adrianople was the recruiting of barbarians to fight against other barbarians. In order to reconstruct the Roman Army of the West, Theodosius needed to find able bodied soldiers and so he turned to the most capable men readily at hand: the barbarians recently settled in the Empire. This caused many difficulties in the battle against barbarians since the newly recruited fighters had little or no loyalty to Theodosius. It did not help that Theodosius himself was dangerously ill during many months after his elevation, being confined to his bed in Thessalonica during much of 379. [13]

Roman provinces along the Ister (Danube), showing Dacia, Moesia and Thrace, with Sarmatia to the north and Germania to the northwest. Roman provinces of Illyricum, Macedonia, Dacia, Moesia, Pannonia and Thracia.jpg
Roman provinces along the Ister (Danube), showing Dacia, Moesia and Thrace, with Sarmatia to the north and Germania to the northwest.
Federico Barocci, Saint Ambrose forces Emperor Theodosius I to make penance for the Thessaloniki massacre (1603), left-side nave, Saint Ambrose Altar, Milan Cathedral. 3814 - Milano, Duomo - Federico Barocci (1603) - Ambrogio impone penitenza a Teodosio - Foto Giovanni Dall'Orto - 9-July-2007.jpg
Federico Barocci, Saint Ambrose forces Emperor Theodosius I to make penance for the Thessaloniki massacre (1603), left-side nave, Saint Ambrose Altar, Milan Cathedral.

Theodosius was reduced to the costly expedient of shipping his recruits to Egypt and replacing them with more seasoned Romans, but there were still switches of allegiance that resulted in military setbacks. Gratian sent generals to clear the dioceses of Illyria (Pannonia and Dalmatia) of Goths, and Theodosius was able finally to enter Constantinople on 24 November 380, after two seasons in the field. Though the weakness of his forces and the terror which filled them of the victorious Goths after Adrianople prevented Theodosius from hazarding a pitched battle to clear the enemy from the provinces, Theodosius ultimately prevailed by offering highly favorable terms to such chiefs as would desert their countrymen and agree to be enrolled under the standard of the empire. [14] His task was rendered much easier when Athanaric, one of the most famous and powerful of the Visigothic chiefs, who had hitherto refused to enter the empire, crossed the Danube and assumed command of his countrymen. Athanaric, an aged and cautious leader, accepted Theodosius's invitation to a conference in the capital, Constantinople, and the splendor of the imperial city reportedly awed him and his fellow-chiefs into accepting Theodosius' offers. [15] Athanaric himself died not long after, but his followers were impressed by the honorable funeral arranged for him by Theodosius into prolonging the alliance. One by one, Theodosius brought all the Visigothic chieftains into the alliance, destroying by skilled ambushes and hit-and-run tactics those who refused, until the entire nation was brought to peace. [16]

After the settlements with the Visigoths Theodosius turned his attention against the Ostrogoths under Alathaeus and Saphrax who had headed north-west into Germany after Adrianople only to reappear on the upper Danube sometime in 381 or 382. By using skilled misinformation activities in the enemy camp, Theodosius lured their chieftains into hazarding the passage of the river with a make-shift fleet of rafts and canoes, and attacked them during their passage with the war-ships of the Imperial navy. Their king Alathaeus, and most of the Ostrogothic warriors were slain, and the rest sued for clemency. [17] According to sources prejudiced in Theodosius's favor, the emperor personally distinguished himself in the fierce fighting on the opposite bank of the river. [18]

The final treaties with the remaining Gothic forces, signed 3 October 382, permitted large contingents of barbarians, primarily Thervingian Goths, to settle in Thrace south of the Danube frontier, while the remaining Ostrogoths were settled in Asia-Minor, not initially subject to taxes, and allowed to govern themselves, on condition of supplying a fixed number of soldiers to serve in the Imperial armies. [19]

The Goths now settled within the Empire would largely fight for the Romans as a national contingent, as opposed to being fully integrated into the Roman forces. [20] However, many barbarians, including other tribes such as Franks and Scythians, were enrolled for service in the Roman Legions, and bands of Goths switching loyalties or deserting for the sake of plunder would vex barbarian military service for the empire in Theodosius's civil wars and thereafter. [21]

In 390 the population of Thessalonica rioted in complaint against the presence of the local Gothic garrison. The garrison commander was killed in the violence, so Theodosius ordered the Goths to kill all the spectators in the circus as retaliation; Theodoret, a contemporary witness to these events, reports:

... the anger of the Emperor rose to the highest pitch, and he gratified his vindictive desire for vengeance by unsheathing the sword most unjustly and tyrannically against all, slaying the innocent and guilty alike. It is said seven thousand perished without any forms of law, and without even having judicial sentence passed upon them; but that, like ears of wheat in the time of harvest, they were alike cut down. [22]

Theodosius was excommunicated by the bishop of Milan, Saint Ambrose, for the massacre. [23] Ambrose told Theodosius to imitate David in his repentance as he had imitated him in guilt; Ambrose readmitted the emperor to the Eucharist only after several months of penance.

In the last years of Theodosius's reign, one of the emerging leaders of the Goths, named Alaric, participated in Theodosius's campaign against Eugenius in 394, only to resume his rebellious behavior against Theodosius's son and eastern successor, Arcadius, shortly after Theodosius' death.

Civil wars in the Empire (383–394)

The administrative divisions of the Roman Empire in 395, under Theodosius I. Roman empire 395.jpg
The administrative divisions of the Roman Empire in 395, under Theodosius I.

In 383, Theodosius's interests turned to the western Roman Empire, where the usurper Magnus Maximus had deposed and murdered Gratian, proclaiming himself emperor of the west. [24] This revolution of Imperial power was adverse to Theodosius' interests, since he was indebted to Gratian for his elevation and responsible for the safety of Gratian's half-brother Valentinian II, who was Augustus in Italy. Theodosius, however, was unable to do much about Maximus due to his still inadequate military capability and he was forced to keep his attention on local matters. However, he managed to assure the safety of Valentinian, extracting from Maximus a promise to respect his position in Italy. [25] But when Maximus took advantage of the Arian Valentinian's conflict with his catholic subjects in Milan to invade Italy in 387, Theodosius felt compelled to take action. [26] Both sides raised large armies which were composed largely of barbarians.

The armies of Theodosius and Maximus fought at the Battle of the Save in 388, which saw Maximus defeated. On 28 August 388 Maximus was executed. [27] Now the de facto ruler of the Western empire as well, Theodosius celebrated his victory in Rome on June 13 389 [28] and stayed in Milan until 391, installing his own loyalists in senior positions including the new magister militum of the West, the Frankish general Arbogast. Valentinian II was a very young man, little more than a figurehead, with Arbogast the Frank as the true power behind the throne, controlling the appointment of the emperor's ministers and guiding by his influence the western empire's public policy. [29]

Trouble arose again, after Valentinian quarreled publicly with Arbogast, and was found hanging in his room. Arbogast announced that this had been a suicide. Arbogast, unable to assume the role of Emperor because of his non-Roman background, elected his creature Eugenius, a former teacher of rhetoric whom he had made Valentinian's master of offices. Eugenius made some limited concessions to the Roman religion; like Maximus he sought Theodosius's recognition in vain. In January 393, Theodosius gave his son Honorius the full rank of "Augustus" in the West, citing Eugenius' illegitimacy. [30]

Theodosius gathered a large army, including the Goths whom he had settled in the Eastern empire as Foederati, as well as Caucasian and Saracen auxiliaries, [31] and marched against Eugenius. The two armies faced at the Battle of Frigidus in September 394. [32] The battle began on 5 September 394, with Theodosius' full frontal assault on Eugenius's forces. Theodosius was repulsed on the first day, and Eugenius thought the battle to be all but over. In Theodosius's camp, the loss of the day decreased morale. It is said that Theodosius was visited by two "heavenly riders all in white" who gave him courage. The next day, the battle began again and Theodosius's forces were aided by a natural phenomenon known as the Bora, which produces cyclonic winds. The Bora blew directly against the forces of Eugenius and disrupted the line.

Eugenius's camp was stormed; Arbogast committed suicide and Eugenius was captured and soon after executed. Thus Theodosius became sole Emperor.

Art patronage

Theodosius offers a laurel wreath to the victor, on the marble base of the Obelisk of Thutmosis III at the Hippodrome of Constantinople. Theodosius colum, Istanbul.jpg
Theodosius offers a laurel wreath to the victor, on the marble base of the Obelisk of Thutmosis III at the Hippodrome of Constantinople.

Theodosius oversaw the removal in 390 of an Egyptian obelisk from Alexandria to Constantinople. It is now known as the obelisk of Theodosius and still stands in the Hippodrome, the long racetrack that was the center of Constantinople's public life and scene of political turmoil. Re-erecting the monolith was a challenge for the technology that had been honed in the construction of siege engines. The obelisk, still recognizably a solar symbol, had been moved from Karnak to Alexandria with what is now the Lateran obelisk by Constantius II.

The Lateran obelisk was shipped to Rome soon afterwards, but the other one then spent a generation lying at the docks due to the difficulty involved in attempting to ship it to Constantinople. Eventually, the obelisk was cracked in transit. The white marble base is entirely covered with bas-reliefs documenting the imperial household and the engineering feat of removing it to Constantinople. Theodosius and the imperial family are separated from the nobles among the spectators in the imperial box, with a cover over them as a mark of their status. The naturalism of traditional Roman art in such scenes gave way in these reliefs to conceptual art: the idea of order, decorum and respective ranking, expressed in serried ranks of faces. This is seen as evidence of formal themes beginning to oust the transitory details of mundane life, celebrated in Roman portraiture.

The Forum Tauri in Constantinople was renamed and redecorated as the Forum of Theodosius, including a column and a triumphal arch in his honour.

Nicene Christianity becomes the state religion


In 325, Constantine I convened the Council of Nicaea, which affirmed the doctrine that Jesus, the Son, was equal to God the Father and "of one substance" with the Father ( homoousios in Greek). The Council condemned the teachings of Arius, who believed Jesus to be inferior to the Father.

Despite the council's ruling, controversy continued for decades, with several christological alternatives to the Nicene Creed being brought forth. Theologians attempted to bypass the Christological debate by saying that Jesus was merely like (homoios in Greek) God the father, without speaking of substance (ousia). These non-Nicenes were frequently labeled as Arians (i.e., followers of Arius) by their opponents, though not all would necessarily have identified themselves as such. [33] For lack of a better name, they are known to history as Semi-Arians . [34]

The Emperor Valens had favored the group who used the homoios formula; this theology was prominent in much of the East and had under Constantius II gained a foothold in the West, being ratified by the synod of Rimini, though it was later abjured by a majority of the western bishops (after Constantius II's death in 361). [35] The death of Valens damaged the standing of the Homoian faction, especially since his successor Theodosius steadfastly held to the Nicene Creed which was the interpretation that predominated in the West and was held by the important Alexandrian church.

Definition of orthodoxy

On 27 February 380, together with Gratian and Valentinian II, Theodosius issued the decree "Cunctos populos", the so-called Edict of Thessalonica, recorded in the Codex Theodosianus xvi.1.2. This declared the Nicene Trinitarian Christianity to be the only legitimate imperial religion and the only one entitled to call itself Catholic. Other Christians he described as "foolish madmen". [36] He also ended official state support for the traditional polytheist religions and customs. [37]

On 26 November 380, two days after he had arrived in Constantinople, Theodosius expelled the Homoian bishop, Demophilus of Constantinople, and appointed Meletius patriarch of Antioch, and Gregory of Nazianzus, one of the Cappadocian Fathers from Cappadocia (today in Turkey), patriarch of Constantinople. Theodosius had just been baptized, by bishop Ascholius of Thessalonica, during a severe illness.[ citation needed ]

In May 381, Theodosius summoned a new ecumenical council at Constantinople to repair the schism between East and West on the basis of Nicene orthodoxy. [38] The council went on to define orthodoxy, including the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, as equal to the Father and 'proceeding' from Him, whereas the Son was 'begotten' of Him. [39] The council also "condemned the Apollonarian and Macedonian heresies, clarified jurisdictions of the bishops according to the civil boundaries of dioceses and ruled that Constantinople was second in precedence to Rome." [39]

Proscription of pagan religion

Saint Ambrose barring Theodosius from Milan Cathedral, Anthony van Dyck, c. 1620 Anthonis van Dyck 005.jpg
Saint Ambrose barring Theodosius from Milan Cathedral, Anthony van Dyck, c. 1620

The Christian persecution of Roman religion under Theodosius I began in 381, after the first couple of years of his reign in the Eastern Roman Empire. In the 380s, Theodosius I reiterated Constantine's ban on some practices of Roman religion, prohibited haruspicy on pain of death, decreed magistrates who did not enforce laws against polytheism were subject to criminal prosecution, broke up some pagan associations and tolerated attacks on Roman temples.

Between 389–392 he promulgated the Theodosian decrees [40] (instituting a major change in his religious policies), [41] :116 which removed non-Nicene Christians from church office and abolished the last remaining expressions of Roman religion by making its holidays into workdays, banning blood sacrifices, closing Roman temples, confiscating Temple endowments and disbanding the Vestal Virgins. [42] The practices of taking auspices and witchcraft were punished. Theodosius refused to restore the Altar of Victory in the Senate House, as asked by non-Christian senators. [41] :115

In 392 he became sole emperor. From this moment till the end of his reign in 395, while non-Christians continued to request toleration, [43] [44] he ordered, authorized, or at least failed to punish, the closure or destruction of many temples, holy sites, images and objects of piety throughout the empire. [45] [46] [47] [48] [49] [50]

In 393 he issued a comprehensive law that prohibited any public non-Christian religious customs, [51] and was particularly oppressive to Manicheans. [52] He is likely to have discontinued the ancient Olympic Games, whose last record of celebration was in 393, though archeological evidence indicates that some games were still held after this date. [53]

Death and legacy

Theodosius died, after suffering from a disease involving severe edema, in Milan on 17 January 395. Ambrose delivered a panegyric titled De Obitu Theodosii [54] before Stilicho and Honorius in which Ambrose praised the suppression of paganism by Theodosius. Theodosius was finally buried in Constantinople on 8 November 395. [55]

Theodosius's army rapidly dissolved after his death, with Gothic contingents raiding as far as Constantinople. As his heir in the Eastern Roman Empire he left Arcadius, who was about eighteen years old, [56] and in the Western Roman Empire Honorius, who was ten. [57] Neither ever showed any sign of fitness to rule, and their reigns were marked by a series of disasters. As their guardians Theodosius left Stilicho, who ruled in the name of Honorius in the Western Empire, and Flavius Rufinus who was the actual power behind the throne in the East. Several historians mark the day of Theodosius' death as the beginning of the Middle Ages. [58]

See also

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Stilicho 4th-century Ancient Roman general and consul

Flavius Stilicho was a high-ranking general in the Roman army who became, for a time, the most powerful man in the Western Roman Empire. He was half Vandal and married to the niece of Emperor Theodosius I; his regency for the underage Honorius marked the high point of Germanic advancement in the service of Rome. After many years of victories against a number of enemies, both barbarian and Roman, a series of political and military disasters finally allowed his enemies in the court of Honorius to remove him from power, culminating in his arrest and subsequent execution in 408. Known for his military successes and sense of duty, Stilicho was, in the words of historian Edward Gibbon, "the last of the Roman generals."

Eugenius Roman usurper

Flavius Eugenius was a usurper in the western Roman Empire (392–394) against Emperor Theodosius I. He was a Pagan, and the last Emperor to support Roman polytheism.

Victor (emperor) emperor of the Western Roman Empire

Victor was a Western Roman Emperor from either 383/384 or 387 to August 388. He was the son of the Magister militum per Gallias Magnus Maximus, who later became an usurper of the Western Roman Empire, in opposition to Gratian. Maximus rose up in 383, and was recognized as the legitimate emperor in the west by Theodosius I. Victor was elevated to augustus of the Western Roman Empire in either 383/384 or mid-387, making him co-emperor with his father. Maximus invaded Italy, in 387, to depose Valentinian II, the brother and successor of the late Gratian. Because of Maximus' invasion, Theodosius invaded the Western Roman Empire in 388. Theodosius defeated Maximus in two battles in Pannonia, before crushing his army at Aquilea, and capturing Maximus. Maximus was executed on 28 August 388. His death was followed quickly by Victor's, who was executed where he had stayed in Trier by the Frankish General Arbogast.

The Theodosian dynasty was a Roman family that rose to eminence in the waning days of the Roman Empire.

The office of Roman Emperor underwent significant turbulence in the fourth and fifth centuries, particularly under the period of the Dominate. In the West, where the fall of the Western Roman Empire was underway, its holders became puppets of a succession of barbarian kings. In the East, it began to assume autocratic trappings.

Outline of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire Overview of and topical guide to The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

The six-volume work The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, authored by English historian Edward Gibbon (1737–1794) has been reprinted many times over the years in various editions.

Aelia Flaccilla Roman empress

Aelia Flavia Flaccilla, was a Roman empress and first wife of the Roman Emperor Theodosius I. She was of Hispanian Roman descent. During her marriage to Theodosius, she gave birth to two sons – future Emperors Arcadius and Honorius – and a daughter, Aelia Pulcheria. She was titled Augusta, as her coinage shows.

Battle of the Frigidus battle

The Battle of the Frigidus, also called the Battle of the Frigid River, was fought between 5–6 September 394, between the army of the Eastern Emperor Theodosius I and the army of Western Roman ruler Eugenius in the eastern border of Regio X in Roman Italia.

Flavius Arbogastes, or Arbogast, was a Frankish general in the Roman Empire. It has been stated by some ancient historians that he was the son of Flavius Bauto, Valentinian II's former magister militum and protector before Arbogast, but modern scholars largely discount this claim.

The Battle of Pollentia was fought on 6 April 402 (Easter) between the Romans under Stilicho and the Visigoths under Alaric I, during the first Gothic invasion of Italy (401–403). The Romans were victorious, and forced Alaric to retreat, though he rallied to fight again in the next year in the Battle of Verona, where he was again defeated. After this, Alaric retreated from Italy, leaving the province in peace until his second invasion in 409, after Stilicho's death.

Sack of Rome (410) Visigoth siege and looting of Rome in 410

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Gainas was a Gothic leader who served the Eastern Roman Empire as magister militum during the reigns of Theodosius I and Arcadius.

Flavia Galla was an empress of the Roman Empire and a princess of the Western Roman Empire. She was the second empress consort of Theodosius I. She was the daughter of Valentinian I and his second wife Justina.

Byzantine Empire under the Theodosian dynasty

The Eastern Roman Empire was ruled by the Theodosian dynasty from 379, the accession of Theodosius I, to 457, the death of Marcian. The rule of the Theodosian dynasty saw the final East-West division of the Roman Empire, between Arcadius and Honorius in 395. Whilst divisions of the Roman Empire had occurred before, the Empire would never again be fully reunited. The reign of the sons of Theodosius I contributed heavily to the crisis that under the fifth century eventually resulted in the complete collapse of Roman control in the West.


  1. In Classical Latin, Theodosius' name would be inscribed as FLAVIVS THEODOSIVS AVGVSTVS.
  2. Cf. decree, infra.
  3. "Edict of Thessalonica": See Codex Theodosianus XVI.1.2
  6. Hydatius Chronicon, year 379, II.
  7. Alicia M. Canto, "Sobre el origen bético de Teodosio I el Grande, y su improbable nacimiento en Cauca de Gallaecia", Latomus 65/2, 2006, 388-421. The author points out that the city of Cauca was not part of Gallaecia, and demonstrates the probable interpolations of the traditional texts of Hydatius and Zosimus.
  8. Zos. Historia Nova 4.24.4.
  9. Alcibiades (31 January 2018). "Theodosius I (392-395) the Last Roman Emperor of East and West". About History. Retrieved 24 May 2019.
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  11. 1 2 Williams & Friell 1995, p. 13.
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  13. Williams & Friell 1995, p. 136.
  14. Gibbon, 949, 950.
  15. Gibbon, p. 950
  16. Gibbon, p. 951
  17. Gibbon, p. 952
  18. Gibbon, p. 952-3; reference is to the poet Claudian
  19. Gibbon, p. 953-55
  20. Williams and Friell, p34.
  21. Gibbon, p. 954
  22. Theodoret, Ecclesiastical History
  23. Attwater, Donald and Catherine Rachel John. The Penguin Dictionary of Saints. 3rd edition. New York: Penguin Books, 1993. ISBN   0-14-051312-4.
  24. Edward Gibbon, The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, (The Modern Library, 1932), chap. XXVII., 959, 960
  25. Gibbon, pp. 961-2,
  26. Gibbon, p. 980
  27. Williams and Friell, p 64.
  28. "Theodosius I – Livius".
  29. Edward Gibbon, The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire, (The Modern Library, 1932), chap. XXVII., p. 994
  30. Williams and Friell, p129.
  31. Gibbon, p. 997
  32. Williams and Friell, p 134.
  33. Lenski, Noel, Failure of Empire, University of California Press, 2002, ISBN   0-520-23332-8, pp235–237.
  34. Gibbon, chap. XXI., p. 690
  35. Gibbon, p. 697; chap. XXIII., p. 793
  36. "Medieval Sourcebook: Theodosian Code XVI".
  37. Noel Harold Kaylor; Philip Edward Phillips (3 May 2012), A Companion to Boethius in the Middle Ages, BRILL, pp. 14–, ISBN   978-90-04-18354-4 , retrieved 19 January 2013
  38. Williams and Friell, p54.
  39. 1 2 William and Friell, p55.
  40. N Lewis; Reinhold Meyer (1990). Empire. Columbia University Press. pp. 614–. ISBN   978-0-231-07133-8 . Retrieved 1 April 2013.
  41. 1 2 Charles Freeman (26 January 2010). A.D. 381: Heretics, Pagans, and the Christian State. Penguin. ISBN   978-1-59020-522-8 . Retrieved 1 April 2013.
  42. Madeleine Pelner Cosman; Linda Gale Jones (1 January 2009). Handbook to Life in the Medieval World, 3-Volume Set. Infobase Publishing. pp. 4–. ISBN   978-1-4381-0907-7 . Retrieved 1 April 2013.
  43. Zosimus 4.59
  44. Symmachus Relatio 3.
  45. Grindle, Gilbert (1892) The Destruction of Paganism in the Roman Empire, pp.29–30. Quote summary: For example, Theodosius ordered Cynegius (Zosimus 4.37), the praetorian prefect of the East, to permanently close down the temples and forbade the worship of the deities throughout Egypt and the East. Most of the destruction in the East was perpetrated by Christian monks and bishops.
  46. "Life of St. Martin".
  47. Gibbon, Edward The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ch28
  48. R. MacMullen, Christianizing The Roman Empire A.D.100–400, Yale University Press, 1984, ISBN   0-300-03642-6
  49. Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1912). "Theophilus (2)"  . Catholic Encyclopedia . 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  50. Ramsay McMullen (1984) Christianizing the Roman Empire A.D. 100–400, Yale University Press, p.90.
  51. "A History of the Church", Philip Hughes, Sheed & Ward, rev ed 1949, vol I chapter 6.
  52. "The First Christian Theologians: An Introduction to Theology in the Early Church", Edited by Gillian Rosemary Evans, contributor Clarence Gallagher SJ, "The Imperial Ecclesiastical Lawgivers", p68, Blackwell Publishing, 2004, ISBN   0-631-23187-0
  53. Tony Perrottet (8 June 2004). The Naked Olympics: The True Story of the Ancient Games. Random House Digital, Inc. pp. 190–. ISBN   978-1-58836-382-4 . Retrieved 1 April 2013.
  54. Williams and Friell, p.139.
  55. Williams and Friell, p. 140.
  56. "Arcadius".
  57. "Honorius – Roman emperor".
  58. Norwich, John Julius, (1996). Byzantium (First American ed.). New York: Knopf. p. 120. ISBN   0394537785. OCLC   18164817.


Further reading

Regnal titles
Preceded by
Roman Emperor
Served alongside: Gratian, Valentinian II, Arcadius and Honorius
Succeeded by
Arcadius and Honorius
Political offices
Preceded by
Quintus Clodius Hermogenianus Olybrius
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Gratian
Succeeded by
Flavius Syagrius,
Flavius Eucherius
Preceded by
Valentinian II,
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Maternus Cynegius and Magnus Maximus
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Consul of the Roman Empire
with Eugenius and Abundantius
Succeeded by
Imp. Caesar Arcadius Augustus III,
Imp. Caesar Honorius Augustus II,
Virius Nicomachus Flavianus