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Honorius
Emperor of the Western Roman Empire
Honorius - Miliariense - RIC 0369.1.jpg
In this silver siliqua coin, Honorius is celebrated as the "Glory of the Romans", and has a halo
Reign 23 January 393 – 395 (Augustus under his father);
395 – August 15 423 (emperor in the west, with Arcadius in the east)
Full name Flavius Honorius (from birth to accession);
Flavius Honorius Augustus (as emperor)
Born 9 September 384(384-09-09)
Died 15 August 423 (aged 38)
Predecessor Theodosius I
Successor Valentinian III
Wives Maria
Thermantia
Dynasty Theodosian
Father Theodosius I
Mother Aelia Flaccilla

Flavius Honorius (9 September 384 – 15 August 423) was Roman Emperor (393–395) and then Western Roman Emperor from 395 until his death. He was the younger son of Theodosius I and his first wife Aelia Flaccilla, and brother of the Eastern Emperor Arcadius.

Even by the standards of the rapidly declining Western Empire, Honorius' reign was precarious and chaotic. His throne was guarded by his principal general, Flavius Stilicho, who was successively Honorius's guardian (during his childhood) and his father-in-law (after the emperor became an adult). Stilicho's generalship helped preserve some level of stability, but with his execution, the Western Roman Empire moved closer to collapse.

Contents

Rule

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Early reign

The Western Roman Emperor Honorius, Jean-Paul Laurens (1880). Honorius became Augustus on 23 January 393, at the age of nine.

After holding the consulate at the age of two, Honorius was declared Augustus, and thus co-ruler, on 23 January 393 after the death of Valentinian II and the usurpation of Eugenius. When Theodosius died, in January 395, Honorius and Arcadius divided the Empire, so that Honorius became Western Roman Emperor at the age of ten.

During the first part of his reign Honorius depended on the military leadership of the general Stilicho, who was of mixed Vandal and Roman ancestry. To strengthen his bonds with the young emperor, Stilicho married his daughter Maria to him. The epithalamion written for the occasion by Stilicho's court poet Claudian survives.

At first Honorius based his capital in Mediolanum, but when the Visigoths entered Italy in 402 he moved his capital to the coastal city of Ravenna, which was protected by a ring of marshes and strong fortifications. While the new capital was easier to defend, it was poorly situated to allow Roman forces to protect central Italy from the increasingly regular threat of barbarian incursions.

Erosion of the Western Roman Empire

Honorius' reign was plagued by many threats: from the barbarians entering within the Empire's borders to several usurpers.

A revolt led by Gildo, comes Africae, in Northern Africa lasted for two years (397-398). In 405, a barbarian army led by Radagaisus invaded Italy, bringing devastation to the heart of the Empire, until Stilicho defeated them in 406.

Christian pendant of Empress Maria, daughter of Stilicho, and wife of Honorius. Musée du Louvre. The pendant reads, around a central cross (clockwise):
HONORI
MARIA
SERINA
VIVATIS
STELICHO.

The situation in Britannia was even more problematic. The British provinces were isolated, lacking support from the Empire, and the soldiers supported the revolts of Marcus (406 - 407), Gratian (407), and Constantine "III". Constantine invaded Gaul in 407, occupying Arles.[1]

An invasion of Alans, Suevi and Vandals moved from Gaul on 31 December 406, and arrived in Hispania in 409. In 408, Stilicho (after forcing the Roman Senate to pay 4,000 pounds of gold)[2] was arrested and executed by the order of Honorius, probably because of a court conspiracy against the Arian general. The Visigoths under their King Alaric I invaded Italy in 408, besieged Rome, and extorted from the city a ransom of 5,000 pounds of gold, 30,000 pounds of silver, 4,000 silken tunics, 3,000 hides dyed scarlet, and 3,000 pounds of pepper)[3], while Honorius in Ravenna did nothing.

In 409, Alaric returned, and with the agreement of the Senate supported the usurpation of Priscus Attalus. In 410, the Eastern Roman Empire sent six Legions (6,000 men; late Roman legions were small units)[4] to aid Honorius. To counter Priscus, Honorius tried to negotiate with Alaric. Alaric withdrew his support for Priscus in 410, but the negotiations with Honorius broke down. Alaric again entered Italy and sacked Rome.

The revolt of Constantine III in the west continued through this period. In 409, Gerontius, Constantine III's general in Hispania, rebelled against him, proclaimed Maximus Emperor, and besieged Constantine at Arles. Honorius now found himself an able commander, Constantius, who defeated Maximus and Gerontius, and then Constantine, in 411.

Gaul was again a source of troubles for Honorius: just after Constantius' troops had returned to Italy, Jovinus revolted in northern Gaul, with the support of Alans, Burgundians, and the Gallic nobility. Jovinus tried to negotiate with the invading Goths of Ataulf (412), but his proclamation of his brother Sebastianus as Augustus made Ataulf seek alliance with Honorius. Honorius had Ataulf settle the matter with Jovinus, and the rebel was defeated and executed in 413.

In 414, Constantius attacked Ataulf, who proclaimed Priscus Attalus emperor again. Constantius drove Ataulf into Hispania, and Attalus, having again lost Visigoth support, was captured and deposed.

Northeastern Gaul became subject to even greater Frankish influence, while a treaty signed in 418 granted to the Visigoths the southwestern portion, the former Gallia Aquitania.

In 417, Constantius married Honorius' sister, Galla Placidia. In 421, Honorius recognized him as co-emperor Constantius III, but he died early in 422.

In 420-422, another Maximus (or perhaps the same) gained and lost power in Hispania.

Death

Honorius died of dropsy in 423, leaving no heir. In the subsequent interregnum Joannes was nominated emperor. The following year, however, the Eastern Emperor Theodosius II elected emperor his cousin Valentinian III, son of Galla Placidia and Constantius III.

Sack of Rome

The Favorites of the Emperor Honorius, by John William Waterhouse, 1883.

The most notable event of his reign was the assault and Sack of Rome on August 24 410 by the Visigoths under Alaric.

The city had been under Visigothic siege since shortly after Stilicho's deposition and execution in the summer of 408. Lacking a strong general to control the by-now mostly barbarian Roman Army, Honorius could do little to attack Alaric's forces directly, and apparently adopted the only strategy he could in the situation: wait passively for the Visigoths to grow weary and spend the time marshalling what forces he could. Unfortunately, this course of action appeared to be the product of Honorius' indecisive character and he suffered much criticism for it both from contemporaries and later historians.

Whether this plan could have worked is perhaps debatable. In any case it was overtaken by events. Stricken by starvation, somebody opened Rome's defenses to Alaric and the Goths poured in. The city had not been under the control of a foreign force since an invasion of Gauls some eight centuries before. The sack itself was notably mild as sacks go; Churches and religious statuary went unharmed for example. The psychological blow to the Romans was considerably more painful. The shock of this event reverberated from Britain to Jerusalem, and inspired Augustine to write his magnum opus, The City of God.

The year 410 also saw Honorius reply to a British plea for assistance against local barbarian incursions. Preoccupied with the Visigoths, Honorius lacked any military capability to assist the distant province. According to Zosimus, "Honorius wrote letters to the cities in Britain, bidding them to guard themselves."[5]

Judgments on Honorius

Honorius on the consular diptych of Anicius Petronius Probus (406)

In his History of the Wars, Procopius mentions a story (which Gibbon disbelieved) where, on hearing the news that Rome had "perished", Honorius was initially shocked; thinking the news was in reference to a favorite chicken he had named "Roma".

"At that time they say that the Emperor Honorius in Ravenna received the message from one of the eunuchs, evidently a keeper of the poultry, that Rome had perished. And he cried out and said, 'And yet it has just eaten from my hands!' For he had a very large cock, Rome by name; and the eunuch comprehending his words said that it was the city of Rome which had perished at the hands of Alaric, and the emperor with a sigh of relief answered quickly: 'But I thought that my fowl Rome had perished.' So great, they say, was the folly with which this emperor was possessed." Procopius, The Vandalic War (III.2.25-26)

Summarizing his account of Honorius' reign, the historian J.B. Bury wrote, "His name would be forgotten among the obscurest occupants of the Imperial throne were it not that his reign coincided with the fatal period in which it was decided that western Europe was to pass from the Roman to the Teuton." After listing the disasters of those 28 years, Bury concludes that Honorius "himself did nothing of note against the enemies who infested his realm, but personally he was extraordinarily fortunate in occupying the throne till he died a natural death and witnessing the destruction of the multitude of tyrants who rose up against him."[6]

Honorius issued a decree during his reign, prohibiting men from wearing trousers in Rome [Codex Theodosianus 14.10.2-3, tr. C. Pharr, "The Theodosian Code," p. 415]. The last known gladiatorial fight took place during the reign of Honorius.

See also

References

Notes

  1. ^ While Constantine was in Gaul, his son Constans "II" ruled over Britain.
  2. ^ J. Norwich, Byzantium: The Early Centuries, 131
  3. ^ J. Norwich, Byzantium: The Early Centuries, 134
  4. ^ J. Norwich, Byzantium: The Early Centuries, 136
  5. ^ Zosimus, vi.10.2
  6. ^ John Bagnall Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire, 1923 (New York: Dover, 1958), p. 213

External links

Preceded by
Theodosius I
Western Roman Emperor
Served alongside: with Constantius III (AD 421)
Succeeded by
Valentinian III

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