Life: AD 408 – 450
- Name: Flavius Theodosius
- Born AD 401.
- Became emperor January AD 408.
- Wife: Aelia Eudocia; (one daughter; Licinia Eudoxia)
- Died at Constantinople, AD 450.
Theodosius II was born in AD 401, the son of Arcadius and Aelia Eudoxia.
Already in January AD 402 he was proclaimed co-Augustus by his father.
When in AD 408 Arcadius died his son succeeded to the throne without any violence.
With Theodosius II still an infant, the regency of Constantinople fell to the praetorian prefect Anthemius.
The very rule of Theodosius II and Anthemius began with a crisis. A serious grain shortage led to riots in the streets of Constantinople.
But Anthemius soon got the situation under control again, and now, after the death of Stilicho, even established good relations with the western empire.
A new treaty confirmed peace with the Persians and the cities along the Danube and the Balkans were granted aid to help them recover from the devastation by the Goths.
An invasion by the Huns, led by King Uldin, was repelled in Moesia.
And after seeing Rome sacked by Alaric, Anthemius took to extensively fortifying Constantinople, in AD 413 building the great ‘Wall of Theodosius’ which protected a city which had long outgrown the original Wall of Constantine.
In AD 414 Anthemius handed over the regency to Theodosius II’s sister Aelia Pulcheria who, only fifteen at the time, was proclaimed Augusta.
Pulcheria was a devout Christian, so much so that many saw her demands of chastity and asceticism as attempts to turn the court of Constantinople into a nunnery.
Then in AD 416 Theodosius II, at fifteen years of age, was declared ruler of Constantinople in his own right. However, Pulcheria continued to administer his government on his behalf for his entire reign.
The most notable event of the following years was the decision by the government of the eastern empire to establish Theodosius II’s cousin Valentinian III as the western emperor in AD 425. Theodosius II even travelled toward Italy to crown his cousin himself, but fell ill on the way, having to let Helion, his chief minister, crown Valentinian III on his behalf.
The most outstanding feature of the reign of Theodosius II arrived in AD 438, when the Theodosian Code was published. It was a compilation of imperial edicts stretching back over a century, made up of sixteen books. It had been compiled over eight years and had been agreed with Valentinian III.
In the later years of Theodosius II’s reign the Danubian provinces suffered enormously under invasions by the Huns.
Constantinople itself was more and more believed in danger by the barbarians. Particularly when in AD 447/48 earthquakes destroyed large parts of the city wall and coastal defences.
The wall was repaired within a frenzied effort during only two months. And thereafter a new wall with ninety two towers was added between the repaired wall and the moat, thereby creating the famous triple defence which should repel successive invaders for another millennium.
For a brief period Pulcheria, who earlier had forced the emperor’s wife Aelia Eudocia into exile to preserve her power, was eclipsed during the AD 440’s by the eunuch Chrysaphius Zstommas. But his influence soon waned, leaving Pulcheria to return to the very head of Theodosius II’s government.
Then, in the year AD 450, Theodosius II while riding near the river Lycus was thrown from his horse. He suffered a severe injury to his spine and died.
Theodosius II had been Augustus for forty nine years and had been the sole ruler of the eastern empire for forty two years. It had been the longest reign in Roman history. And yet in all these years he left the governing of his empire to others.
Historian Franco Cavazzi dedicated hundreds of hours of his life to creating this website, roman-empire.net as a trove of educational material on this fascinating period of history. His work has been cited in a number of textbooks on the Roman Empire and mentioned on numerous publications such as the New York Times, PBS, The Guardian, and many more.