Theodosius I - Roman Emperor: 379-395 A.D. -
Bronze AE4 11mm (1.58 grams) Struck 388-392 A.D.
DNTHEODOSIVSPFAVG - Diademed, draped and cuirassed bust right.
GLORIAREIPVBLICE Camp gate with two turrets.
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Flavius Theodosius ( 11 January 347 – 17 January 395),
also called Theodosius I and Theodosius the Great (Greek:
Θεοδόσιος Α΄ and Θεοδόσιος ο Μέγας), was
Emperor from 379 to 395. Reuniting the eastern and western portions of the
empire, Theodosius was the last emperor of both the
Western Roman Empire. After his death, the two parts split permanently. He
is also known for making
Christianity the official
state religion of the Roman Empire.
Theodosius was born in
Spain) or, more
probably, in or near
to a senior military officer,
Theodosius the Elder.
He accompanied his father to
Britannia to help quell the
Great Conspiracy in 368. He was military commander (dux)
Roman province on the lower
Danube, in 374.
However, shortly thereafter, and at about the same time as the sudden disgrace
and execution of his father, Theodosius retired to Spain. The reason for his
retirement, and the relationship (if any) between it and his father's death is
unclear. It is possible that he was dismissed from his command by the emperor
Valentinian I after the loss of two of Theodosius' legions to the
in late 374.
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 where he adapted to the life
of a provincial aristocrat.
From 364 to 375, the Roman Empire was governed by two
co-emperors, the brothers
Valentinian I and
Valentinian died in 375, his sons,
Valentinian II and
succeeded him as rulers of the Western Roman Empire. In 378, after
killed in the
Battle of Adrianople, Gratian appointed Theodosius to replace the fallen
emperor as co-augustus for the East. Gratian was killed in a rebellion in
383, then Theodosius appointed his elder son,
his co-ruler for 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
Augustus as his co-ruler for the West (Milan,
on 23 January 393) and defeating the usurper
6 September 394, at the
Battle of the Frigidus (Vipava
Slovenia) he restored peace.
By his first wife, the probably Spanish
Aelia Flaccilla Augusta, he had two sons,
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 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; a third child, John, died with his mother
in childbirth in 394.
policy with the Goths
Goths and their
and the native
Carpi) entrenched in the
Pannonia Inferior consumed Theodosious' attention. The Gothic crisis was so
dire that his co-Emperor Gratian relinquished control of the
provinces and retired to
Gaul to let
Theodosius operate without hindrance. A major weakness in the Roman position
after the defeat at
Adrianople was the recruiting of
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 to 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.
Theodosius was reduced to the costly expedient of shipping
his recruits to
and replacing them with more seasoned Romans, but there were still switches of
allegiance that resulted in military setbacks. Gratian sent generals to clear
of Illyria (Pannonia
Dalmatia) of Goths, and Theodosius was able finally to enter
Constantinople on 24 November 380, after two seasons in the field. The final
treaties with the remaining Gothic forces, signed 3 October 382, permitted large
contingents of primarily
Goths to settle along the southern
largely govern themselves.
The Goths now settled within the Empire had, as a result of
the treaties, military obligations to fight for the Romans as a national
contingent, as opposed to being fully integrated into the Roman forces.
However, many Goths would serve in Roman legions and others, as
for a single campaign, while bands of Goths switching loyalties became a
destabilizing factor in the internal struggles for control of the Empire.
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
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.
In the last years of Theodosius' reign, one of the emerging
leaders of the Goths, named
participated in Theodosius' campaign against
394, only to resume his rebellious behavior against Theodosius' son and eastern
Arcadius, shortly after Theodosius' death.
wars in the Empire
The administrative divisions of the
Roman Empire in 395, under Theodosius I.
After the death of
383, Theodosius' interests turned to the
Western Roman Empire, for the usurper
Magnus Maximus had taken all the provinces of the West except for Italy.
This self-proclaimed threat was hostile to Theodosius' interests, since the
Valentinian II, Maximus' enemy, was his ally. 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 when Maximus
began an invasion of Italy in 387, Theodosius was forced to take action. The
armies of Theodosius and Maximus met in 388 at Poetovio and Maximus was
defeated. On 28 August 388 Maximus was executed.
Trouble arose again, after Valentinian was found hanging in
his room. It was claimed to be a suicide by the
Arbogast. Arbogast, unable to assume the role of emperor, elected
former teacher of rhetoric. Eugenius started a program of restoration of the
faith, and sought, in vain, Theodosius' recognition. In January 393, Theodosius
gave his son
Honorius the full rank of Augustus in the West, citing Eugenius'
Theodosius campaigned against Eugenius. The two armies faced
Battle of Frigidus in September 394.
The battle began on 5 September 394 with Theodosius' full frontal assault on
Eugenius' forces. Theodosius was repulsed and Eugenius thought the battle to be
all but over. In Theodosius' 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'
forces were aided by a natural phenomenon known as the
which produces cyclonic winds. The Bora blew directly against the forces of
Eugenius and disrupted the line.
Eugenius' camp was stormed and Eugenius was captured and soon
after executed. Thus Theodosius became the only emperor.
Theodosius oversaw the removal in 390 of an Egyptian
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
engines. The obelisk, still recognizably a
had been moved from
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 Pagan
Christianity had only just been adopted as the new state religion.
The Forum Tauri in Constantinople was renamed and redecorated
Forum of Theodosius, including a
column and a
triumphal arch in his honour.
Christianity becomes the state religion
Theodosius promoted Nicene Trinitarianism within Christianity
and Christianity within the Empire. On 27 February 380, he declared "Catholic
Christianity" the only legitimate imperial religion, ending state support for
the traditional Roman religion.
In the 4th century, the
Christian Church was wracked with controversy over the divinity of
the Father, and the nature of the
Constantine I convened the
Council of Nicea, which asserted that Jesus, the Son, was equal to the
Father, one with the Father, and of the same substance (homoousios in
Greek). The council condemned the teachings of the theologian
Arius: that the
Son was a created being and inferior to God the Father, and that the Father and
Son were of a similar substance (homoiousios in Greek) but not identical
Nontrinitarian). Despite the council's ruling, controversy continued. By the
time of Theodosius' accession, there were still several different church
factions that promoted alternative
While no mainstream churchmen within the Empire explicitly
(a presbyter from Alexandria, Egypt) or his teachings, there were those who
still used the homoiousios formula, as well as those who attempted to
bypass the debate by merely saying that Jesus was like (homoios in Greek)
God the Father, without speaking of substance (ousia). All these non-Nicenes
were frequently labeled as
Arians (i.e., followers of Arius) by their opponents, though they would not
have identified themselves as such.
The Emperor Valens had favored the group who used the
homoios formula; this
was prominent in much of the East and had under the sons of Constantine the
Great gained a foothold in the West. Theodosius, on the other hand, cleaved
closely to the
Creed which was the interpretation that predominated in the West and was
held by the important
of Nicene Orthodoxy
On 26 November 380, two days after he had arrived in
Constantinople, Theodosius expelled the non-Nicene bishop,
Demophilus of Constantinople, and appointed
Meletius patriarch of Antioch, and
Gregory of Nazianzus, one of the
Cappadocian Fathers from
(today in Turkey), patriarch of Constantinople. Theodosius had just been
baptized, by bishop
Acholius of Thessalonica, during a severe illness, as was common in the
early Christian world.
On 27 February 380 he,
Valentinian II published an edict in order that all their subjects should
profess the faith of the bishops of Rome and Alexandria (i.e., the Nicene
faith). The move was mainly a thrust at the various beliefs that had arisen out
of Arianism, but smaller dissident sects, such as the
Macedonians, were also prohibited. The exact text of this decree, gathered
in the Codex Theodosianus XVI.1.2, was:
It is our desire that all the various nations which
are subject to our Clemency and Moderation, should continue to profess that
religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter, as
it has been preserved by faithful tradition, and which is now professed by
the Pontiff Damasus and by Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic
holiness. According to the apostolic teaching and the doctrine of the
Gospel, let us believe in the one deity of the Father, the Son and the Holy
Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity. We authorize the
followers of this law to assume the title of Catholic Christians; but as
for the others, since, in our judgment they are foolish madmen, we decree
that they shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall
not presume to give to their conventicles the name of churches. They will
suffer in the first place the chastisement of the divine condemnation and in
the second the punishment of our authority which in accordance with the will
of Heaven we shall decide to inflict.
Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church, Oxford University
Press, 1967, 2nd. (1st. 1943), p. 22).
In May 381, Theodosius summoned a new ecumenical council at
First Council of Constantinople) to repair the schism between East and West
on the basis of Nicean orthodoxy.
"The council went on to define orthodoxy, including the mysterious Third Person
of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost who, though equal to the Father, 'proceeded' from
Him, whereas the Son was 'begotten' of Him."
The council also "condemned the Apollonian and Macedonian heresies, clarified
church jurisdictions according to the civil boundaries of dioceses and ruled
that Constantinople was second in precedence to Rome."
death of Valens, the Arians' protector, his defeat probably damaged the
standing of the Homoian faction.
with Pagans during the reign of Theodosius I
of Western Roman Emperor Valentinian II
On 15 May 392,
Valentinian II was found hanged in his residence in the town of
Gaul. The Frankish
soldier and Pagan
Arbogast, Valentinian's protector and
magister militum, maintained that it was suicide. Arbogast and Valentinian
had frequently disputed rulership over the Western Roman Empire, and Valentinian
was also noted to have complained of Arbogast's control over him to Theodosius.
Thus when word of his death reached Constantinople Theodosius believed, or at
least suspected, that Arbogast was lying and that he had engineered
Valentinian's demise. These suspicions were further fueled by Arbogast's
elevation of a
Eugenius, pagan official to the position of Western Emperor, and the veiled
Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, spoke during his funeral oration for
Valentinian II's death sparked a civil war between Eugenius
and Theodosius over the rulership of the west in the
Battle of the Frigidus. The resultant eastern victory there led to the final
brief unification of the Roman Empire under Theodosius, and the ultimate
irreparable division of the empire after his death.
For the first part of his rule, Theodosius seems to have
ignored the semi-official standing of the Christian bishops; in fact he had
voiced his support for the preservation of temples or pagan statues as useful
public buildings. In his early reign, Theodosius was fairly tolerant of the
pagans, for he needed the support of the influential pagan ruling class. However
he would in time stamp out the last vestiges of paganism with great severity.
His first attempt to inhibit paganism was in 381 when he reiterated
Constantine's ban on sacrifice. In 384 he prohibited
on pain of death, and unlike earlier anti-pagan prohibitions, he made
non-enforcement of the law, by Magistrates, into a crime itself.
In 388 he sent a prefect to Syria, Egypt, and Asia Minor with
the aim of breaking up pagan associations and the destruction of their temples.
Serapeum at Alexandria was destroyed during this campaign.
In a series of decrees called the "Theodosian decrees" he progressively declared
that those Pagan feasts that had not yet been rendered Christian ones were now
to be workdays (in 389). In 391, he reiterated the ban of
blood sacrifice and decreed "no one is to go to the sanctuaries, walk
through the temples, or raise his eyes to statues created by the labor of man".
The temples that were thus closed could be declared "abandoned", as Bishop
Theophilus of Alexandria immediately noted in applying for permission to
demolish a site and cover it with a Christian church, an act that must have
received general sanction, for
mithraea forming crypts of churches, and temples forming the foundations
of 5th century churches appear throughout the former Roman Empire. Theodosius
participated in actions by Christians against major Pagan sites: the destruction
of the gigantic
Serapeum of Alexandria by soldiers and local Christian citizens in 392,
according to the Christian sources authorized by Theodosius (extirpium malum),
needs to be seen against a complicated background of less spectacular violence
in the city:
Eusebius mentions street-fighting in Alexandria between Christians and
non-Christians as early as 249, and non-Christians had participated in the
struggles for and against
Athanasius in 341 and 356. "In 363 they killed
Bishop George for repeated acts of pointed outrage, insult, and pillage of the
most sacred treasures of the city."
By decree in 391, Theodosius ended the subsidies that had
still trickled to some remnants of Greco-Roman civic Paganism too. The
eternal fire in the Temple of
Vesta in the
Forum was extinguished, and the
Vestal Virgins were disbanded. Taking the
auspices and practicing
were to be punished. Pagan members of the
in Rome appealed to him to restore the
Altar of Victory in the Senate House; he refused. After the last
Olympic Games in 393, it is believed that Theodosius cancelled the games
although there is no proof of that in the official records of the Roman Empire,
and the reckoning of dates by
soon came to an end. Now Theodosius portrayed himself on his coins holding the
The apparent change of policy that resulted in the "Theodosian
decrees" has often been credited to the increased influence of
bishop of Milan. It is worth noting that in 390 Ambrose had excommunicated
Theodosius, who had recently given orders which resulted in the
massacre of 7,000 inhabitants of
in response to the assassination of his military governor stationed in the city,
and that Theodosius performed several months of public penance. The specifics of
the decrees were superficially limited in scope, specific measures in response
to various petitions from Christians throughout his administration.
Some modern historians question the consequences of the laws
Theodosius died, after battling the vascular disease
on 17 January 395. Ambrose organized and managed Theodosius's lying in state in
Milan. Ambrose delivered a
titled De Obitu Theodosii
in which Ambrose detailed the suppression of heresy and paganism by Theodosius.
Theodosius was finally laid to rest in Constantinople on 8 November 395.