Emperor Arcadius

Life: AD c. 377 – 408

Flavius Arcadius Bust
  • Name: Flavius Arcadius
  • Born AD ca. 377 in Spain.
  • Became emperor in January AD 395.
  • Wife: Aelia Eudoxia; (one son Theodosius)
  • Died at Constantinople, AD 408.

Early Life

Arcadius was born in Spain around AD 377, the son of Theodosius the Great and Aelia Flavia Flaccilla. His father raised him to the rank of co-Augustus of the East in AD 383, though due to his young age, it was a solely ceremonial title at first.

But, when in AD 395 Theodosius died, Arcadius succeeded him as emperor of the East at the age of eighteen. Meanwhile, his brother Honorius became emperor of the West.

The Division of the Roman Empire

This division of the empire into Eastern and Western parts was the decisive one, which sent the two on separate ways. Had the empire effectively been split by Valentinian, it would have still functioned as a unit. One of the two emperors had always enjoyed seniority over the other. However, the accession of Arcadius and Honorius is widely seen as the division of the Roman empire into two completely separate parts. Arcadius is, therefore, often quoted as the first ‘Byzantine’ ruler.

The Ruling of Flavius Rufinus

Though at first, it was not so much Arcadius who held the reins of power, but the praetorian prefect of the east, Flavius Rufinus. Rufinus was a determined Christian who passed severe laws against pagans, heretics, and adulterers.

His attempt to marry his daughter off to Arcadius and so further cement his power failed, as the emperor instead married Aelia Eudoxia, who was the daughter of the Frankish general Bauto. While Rufinus was the strong man in the east, Stilicho, the man left in charge to guard over the affairs of young Honorius, effectively controlled the west.

Both were highly ambitious, unscrupulous men, and Stilicho claimed that he had been asked by the late Theodosius not only to guard over Honorius but so too, at least in part, over Arcadius. This meant it was almost impossible for the two powers behind the thrones to avoid conflict sooner or later.

Clash Between Stilicho and Rufinus

The inevitable collision of the two came about as the Visigoths, under the leadership of Alaric, rebelled in their territory in which Theodosius had settled them along the Danube. The barbarians smashed their way through the Balkans into Macedonia and Greece, devastating all that was in their path. Stilicho now intervened, marching into northern Greece (and thereby crossing the line between the two empires, as defined by Theodosius).

Emperor Arcadius

This all appeared to be a plan of Stilicho’s to take over the prefecture of Illyricum (roughly consisting of the diocese of Moesiae as defined by Diocletian), which by Theodosius had been defined as part of the eastern empire. But Rufinus protested against this infringement and demanded Stilicho’s immediate withdrawal. Surprisingly, Stilicho withdrew, leaving behind, under the command of his Gothic general Gainas, several legions which were to be restored to eastern command.

Death of Rufinus

Gainas marched these troops to Constantinople, where Rufinus awaited them, apparently expecting to be hailed Augustus himself by the troops. But instead, he met with a violent death, being stabbed to death by soldiers of the newly arrived army. It appears obvious that this was a plot of Stilicho’s, and it did irreparable damage to the relationship between the Eastern and the Western empires.

The position of Rufinus as ‘power behind the throne’ now fell to Eutropius, an old, bald eunuch, who was the court chamberlain at Constantinople. Despite markedly strained relations, in AD 397, the East, weakened by the Visigoth rampage, asked Stilicho to intervene anew and aid them against Alaric. Stilicho did intervene, but in Greece, Alaric managed to avoid being pinned down by his forces and escape from Greece unharmed.

Eutropius saw in this Stilicho’s intent of letting Constantinople’s greatest menace run free so that he could continue harassing the East. Angrily, he declared Stilicho a public enemy. Meanwhile, the threat of Alaric was such that Eutropius bribed him to make peace by making him ‘Master of Soldiers’ in the Balkans.

Uprising in Africa

Next came in the same year (AD 397), an uprising in Africa led by the military commander called Gildo. Gildo revolted against the Western empire, of which his territory was a part, and declared his allegiance to the Eastern throne instead. This, though, meant that the valuable African grain supply to Rome fell into the hands of the East. Clearly, this had been the work of Eutropius, who had connived with the rebels.

Stilicho was not prepared to accept this, though he did not follow the manyfold advice of starting an open war with the East. Instead, he engaged in systematic diplomatic intrigue, which eventually, in AD 399, saw Eutropius discredited, thrown from office, and banished into exile.

The vacant position of government now (AD 400) fell to a certain Gainas and, after six months, to Arcadius’ strong-minded wife, Aelia Eudoxia, who received the rank of Augusta. In January AD 402, Arcadius’ son, Theodosius II, was elevated to the rank of Augustus at the age of one.

Emperor Arcadius

Death of Arcadius

Eudoxia now encouraged Alaric to act against the West. The Goth did so in AD 403, invading Italy and terrifying its population until Stilicho could drive him back out. In about AD 404, Eudoxia died due to a miscarriage, and Arcadius’ government fell to the praetorian prefect Anthemius. Then, in AD 408, Arcadius died a natural death, having never really ruled his own empire.

People Also Ask:

Who is Arcadius in mythology?

He was the eldest son of Augustus Theodosius I ( r. 379–395) and his first wife Aelia Flaccilla, and the brother of Honorius ( r. 393–423). Arcadius ruled the eastern half of the empire from 395, when their father died, while Honorius ruled the west.

Who was the emperor Arcadius?

Arcadius (born 377/378—died May 1, 408) was an Eastern Roman emperor conjointly with his father, Theodosius I, from 383 to 395, then solely until 402, when he associated his son Theodosius II with his own rule.

When did Arcadius rule?

Arcadius (Greek: Ἀρκάδιος Arkadios; c. 377 – 1 May 408) was Roman emperor from 383 to 408.

What did Arcadius do?

Arcadius was the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, son of Theodosius I, and the elder brother of Honorius. Like his father and brother, Arcadius was an incompetent ruler who barely knew how to speak and mostly ruled by his courtiers.

How old was Arcadius when he became emperor?

In January of 395, Theodosius the Great died, and his two sons took theoretical control of the two halves of the Roman Empire. Arcadius was eighteen when he assumed the throne in the east.

Who were Honorius and Arcadius?

Honorius and Arcadius were the sons of Theodosius the Great. After his death, both assumed roles as emperors over Eastern and Western Rome. Arcadius took the East, and Honorius the West.