Theodosius and Magnus Maximus
born in AD 347 at Cauca in Spain. Became emperor 19 January in AD 379. Wives: (1) Aelia Flavia Flaccilla (two sons; Arcadius; Honorius); (2) Galla (one daughter; Galla Placidia). Died in Mediolanum (Milan), January AD 395.
probably born at Callaecia, Spain. Became emperor AD 383. Died AD 388.
Theodosius took up his hard task with admirable skill and prudence, but no lack of courage. Hermanaric had fallen before the Gothic war began. The able successor who had led the united Goths to victory died, and with his death their unity departed. Theodosius made no ambitious attempt to retrieve the position by staking the fate of the empire on a pitched battle. He risked no great engagements; but while he struck minor blows against their divided forces he encouraged their internal divisions. His diplomacy attached some of their leaders to the empire, for which they had an almost superstitious reverence. In little more than four years a comparatively enduring if precarious peace was established.
Gratian meanwhile was losing the high reputation he had won. Of his courage and his private virtues there could be no question, but the appearance of high capacity may have been due to his early submission to wise direction. Further he made the mistake of abandoning much of the cares of state for amusements, which brought him into contempt with the soldiery.
Theodosius had hardly set the seal on his own reputation in AD 382 by his much applauded treaty with the Goths, when the army in Britain, as in the days of Carausius, renounced its allegiance to Gratian and proclaimed an emperor of its own choice. The Spaniard Maximus reluctantly accepted the dangerous honour.
In AD 383 Maximus crossed the Channel with a great force which depleted the garrison of the island, and marched upon Lutetia (Paris) where Gratian was residing. The soldiery in Gaul refused to move. Gratian fled, but was overtaken at Lyons, where he was treacherously assassinated, though without any connivance of the British emperor.
The successful usurper had nothing to fear from the boy Valentinian II - or rather from his mother Justina - reigning at Milan. But he hastened to send an embassy to Theodosius, repudiating and condemning the murder which had been so hastily committed in his name, but justifying his own assumption of the purple and inviting the friendly alliance of the eastern emperor. Theodosius may well have felt that the pacification he had just effected was too precarious to warrant him in plunging the empire into a civil war, whose result would be doubtful, though justice and honour demanded the punishment of Gratian's murderer. He contented himself with recognizing the title of Maximus in the Gauls and Britain as a third Augustus, provided that the souvereignty of Valentinian II in Italy, Africa and western Ilyria were unquestioned. And to those terms Maximus agreed.
But the excessive ambition of Maximus brought about his own downfall. Justina was unpopular as Italy was fanatically Christian orthodox, whereas she was an Arian heretic. Maximus seized this as an excuse to invade Italy. Justina fled to Theodosius with Valentinian II and her daughter. The emperor fell in love with the daughter and married her.
Theodosius' cautious policy was blown to the winds, Maximus was promptly wiped out and Valentinian II was restored to the empire of the west, where on his mother's death, he fell completely under the influence of the orthodox part (AD 388).
His reign was brief although he had barely emerged from boyhood. The supreme command in Gaul was conferred on the pagan Frank, Arbogast, an able captain who had stood loyal to Gratian and had taken service with Theodosius instead of Maximus. The Frank now gave way to aspirations of his own. After a quarrel with Arbogast, Valentinian II committed suicide or was murdered, and Arbogast set up in hi place his own puppet, Eugenius in AD 392.
In AD 394 Theodosius disposed of the usurper, and divided the succession in east and west between his own sons Arcadius (382-408) and Honorius (AD 384-423). The latter at once became western emperor, and on the death of Theodosius in AD 395 Arcadius succeeded him at Constantinople.
Honorius, Constantine III and Constantius III
born in AD 383. Became emperor in January AD 395. Wife: Maria. Died at Ravenna, AD 423.
Flavius Claudius Constantinus
birthdate unknown. Became emperor in AD 407. Died outside Ravenna, AD 411.
born in Naissus, birthdate unknown. Wife: Aelia Galla Placidia (one son; Flavius Valentinianus; one daughter; Justa Grata Honoria). Became emperor in AD 421. Died AD 421.
The young heirs of the powerful Theodosius were feeble and incompetent.
From the death of Theodosius to the disappearance of the western empire, mighty figures stalked across the stage, but they were not of Roman or Byzantine emperors but of barbarians: Vandal, Visigoth, Ostrogoth, Frank, or - most terrible of all - Hun.
Theodosius had named as the guardian of his sons and chief of his armies of the west a soldier of proven ability and worth, the Vandal Stilicho, who discharged his office with more loyalty than Arbogast the Frank. Virtualy the rule of the west was in his hands. While he was engaged in crushing the dangerous independence of a Moorish prince and tyrant, Gildo, in Africa, the misrule of prefect Rufinus at Constantinople brought on a great rebellion of the Visigoths - that branch of the Gothic race which had settled in Moesia and Illlyria, the Ostrogoths remaining beyond the Danube - led by Alaric the Balt.
The Goths overran Greece practically unchecked and wrought much destruction, till the appearance of Stilicho, his work in Africa accomplished, stayed their conquering career. Alaric was in danger of being enveloped, but escaped with great skill, and in fact frightened the court of Constantinople into buying him off by appointing him to the command in Illyria as an imperial officer.
The Goth accepted the position, but as a stepping stone. Italy was the objective on which he had fixed his ambitions. The were miscellaneous and for the most part barbarian troops now at his disposal were ready to follow him. And in AD 403 Honorius and Italy were terrified by an apparently wholly unexpected invasion. The genius of Stilicho, who with amazing energy gathered together troops from every possible quarter, saved the situation. in the duel between the two great captains Alaric met with a heavy defeat at Pollentia, and the caution of the Gothic chiefs compelled him for the time to abandon the contest.
Though the withdrawal of Alaric only left the way open for a fresh flood of mixed barbarians to pour into Italy in AD 406, under their chief Ragadaisus. They swept over the plain of the Po, over the Apennines into Tuscany on their way to wipe out Rome. But while they delayed to besiege Florence Stilicho again gathered troops in the north, spread them round the besieging hosts, cut off the supplies of the barbarians and reduced them by sheer starvation. Radagaisus with a third of his forces was compelled to capitulate. He himself was slain. The rest of the horde, Vandals, Sueves, Burgundians, Ostrogoths, Huns and Alans were deliberately allowed to retreat unmolested across the Alps, and their various bands were soon spoiling and looting in Gaul on their way to Spain, reinforced by their respective homelands (AD 406).
Thus it was only Italy that was spared of the invaders, who in AD 407 were harrying Gaul.
And the harrying of Gaul was the excuse for the army of Britain to proclaim its own Augustus. Constantine III, probably a native Briton, was raised to the purple and set out to Gaul to save it from the Germans and add it to his own empire, taking with him a substantial part of the British garrison. The Vandals, Sueves and Alans, however, did not seek to remain permanently in Gaul to dispute possession with Constantine, but took their devastating way through the south to Spain, where they established themselves.
On the middle Rhine the Burgundians appear to have remained in effective possession. Constantine III pushed into Spain, established his dominion in Aragon, and succeeded in extorting from Honorius his own recognition as a third Augustus.
Constantine's movement to Gaul in AD 407 is commonly referred to as the Roman evacuation of Britain.
Meanwhile Stilicho's ambitions evidently centred on the relations between the eastern and the western empires, in both of which he sought to be the power behind the throne (as he already was in the west).
The key to this position was the possession of the whole of Illyria, and he meant Alaric to be his agent.
The eastern court had no inclination to be dominated by him, and the relations between Constantinople and Ravenna (Where for greater security Honorius had fixed his residence) were strained. Stilicho could not afford to wholly neglect the rebellion of Constantine III, but he left him to Alaric, with whom he had made his own bargain, and again Alaric only took as much action as he considered sufficient.
Early in AD 408 Arcadius, leaving the throne to the six year old Theodosius II. Almost everyone believed that Stilicho, who had married the feeble Honorius to his own daughter, meant to make himself emperor. His enemies formed a plot and gained ascendancy over the mind of Honorius. At the height of his apparent power, Stilicho was suddenly arrested, condemned without trial as a brigand and an 'enemy of the state' and executed. But no evidence of any treasonable designs on his part was ever forthcoming. Among those most active in his downfall was Heraclian, who was rewarded by being made Count of Africa.
Stilicho's fall opened the way on one hand to friendly relations with Constantinople, and on the other to the ambitions of Alaric. It was the expression of the simmering hostility of Italy towards men of barbarian blood, in fact the massacre of many of the foreigners in the country, which gave the Gothic king more than adequate excuse for swooping on Italy before the year was out.
Alaric marched straight on Rome, ignoring Honorius in Ravenna. The city was rapidly reduced to starvation, and plague broke out. Alaric demanded all the treasure within it and all the barbarian slaves.
For a brief period Alaric and Honorius existed alongside each other in Italy. But in the next year the emperor's evasions irritated the Goth into setting up the prefect Attalus as puppet emperor.Honorius, however, was made safe in Ravenna by the arrival of troops from the east. Attalus was declined to be altogether a puppet and was subsequently deposed. Further negotiations with Honorius broke down. Alaric lost patience and on August 24, AD 410 he let loose his Goths and other followers on Rome, which was sacked for three days.
Though Alaric did not proclaim himself emperor. He ravaged southward, and was planning an invasion of Africa, the granary of Italy, when at the end of the year he died.
He was succeeded by his brother-in-law, Athaulf, who abandoned the designs on Africa.
In AD 412 the Visigoths crossed the Alps into Gaul.
While Athaulf was still lingering in Italy, the empire of Constantine III was collapsing. It extended from Britain to Aragon. It broke down, partly owing to the revolt of one of his officers in Spain, Gerontius, and partly because in AD 411 the place once held by Stilicho was to some extent filled by another able soldier, Constantius. Gerontius was besieging Constantine III at Arles, when Constantius intervened on the hypothesis that both were rebels.
Gerontius retreated to Spain, where he was murdered, Constantius captured Arles, and with in Constantine III, who was executed. No sooner had Constantius returned to Italy, which Athaulf was evacuating, then a new emperor, Jovinus, was proclaimed in Gaul. Yet another complication arose when in early AD 413 Heraclian, Count of Africa, proclaimed himself emperor, too. Worse still, Heraclian, having already amassed a great fleet, sailed for Italy.
Though Heraclian's rebellion proved an utter fiasco. He was captured and executed in midsummer. But meanwhile it had not been possible for Constantius and Honorius to take direct action in Gaul. Instead they had had to bargain with Athaulf, who then crushed Jovinus.
Now the princess Galla Placidia enters the stage. Being the sister of Honorius she was captured and carried off for bargaining purposes by Alaric during his sack of Rome. However, the princess had in Constantius a devoted admirer, who wanted her back. Naturally emperor Honorius also understood a stain on his honour that his sister should be a hostage of the barbarians.
It was part of the bargain with Athaulf that should be returned. But the Roman part of the bargain, the supply of corn to Athaulf's troops, had been foiled by the rebellion of Heraclian. Consequently Athaulf, instead of returning the princess, married her himself in AD 414, apparently with her own willing consent, - but without that of her brother.
The marriage failed to draw Athaulf any closer to the imperial court, and Athaulf set out with his Goths and his bride to conquer Spain. There he was murdered in AD 415, and his successor Wallia struck a bargain with Rome, to make war with the other barbarians in Spain. Placidia was at last sent back to Ravenna, where she reluctantly accepted the hand of Constantius.
The Vandals, Alans, and Sueves in Spain hastened to seek peace with the empire, which they obtained; Wallia and his Visigoths were settled in Aquitania instead as 'federates'. This meant they occupied most of the soil upon condition of military service to the empire, under their king. A similar settlement was made with the Burgundians on the Rhine. In AD 417 Wallia was succeeded by Theodoric I, probably a grandson of Alaric.
The position in Britain by this time is by no means clear. Constantine III had not left the island denuded of troops but only depleted. The Roman magistrates and the Roman government did not disappear, but hey had to make the best they could of the situation, utilizing their own resources. And the situation became progressively more difficult was the raids of the unsubdued Picts and Scots on the north, Irish Celts on the west coast and Saxon rovers on the east and south coasts increased in intensity and frequency. But many years were still to pass before the raiders established a permanent footing. In AD 421 Constantius was associated with Honorius as western emperor, but died after a few months. Princess Placidia quarrelled with her brother, who had developed an embarrassing affection for her, and retreated with her small children to Constantinople. Honorius, after a reign of twenty-five years, during which nothing whatever is recorded to his credit, died at the age of forty in AD 423.
birthdate and place unknown. Became emperor in AD 423. Died May/June AD 425.
The obvious successor to Honorius was Placidia's child Valentian III, but a usurper named John, a rival of no particular merit, had to be suppressed before Placidia could effectively take up the regency in AD 425.
Flavius Placidus ValentinianusJohannes
born AD 419. Became emperor in AD 425. Wife: Licinia Eudoxia (one daughter; Placidia). Died 16 March AD 455.
The leading figure in the west, however, for nearly thirty years to come was Aetius (AD395-454), a native of Moesia, but of Italian descent. He possessed Gothic connections, his wife being of noble Gothic house, and Hun connections because he had passed long time as a hostage among the Huns.
When John the usurper was overthrown, Aetius had been engaged in bringing a Hun force to his aid. But on John's death, Aetius made his peace with a reluctant Placidia, and was entrusted with the rule of Gaul, where he checked the aggressive expansion of the Burgundian Gunther in the east and the Goth Theodoric in the west and south, as well as the Salian Franks on the Scheldt.
But the most notable movement during Placidia's regency was that of the Vandal-Alan group which had taken possession of southern Spain. In AD 428 Boniface the Count of Africa, had broken with the imperial government, and invited the help of the Vandals in his own ambitious projects. Africa offered a more promising field than Spain. The Vandals, led by their crafty and able King Geiseric, crossed to Africa and proceeded to ravage Mauretania in a merciless fashion.
This was not what Boniface had intended. He returned to his allegiance to Rome, but when he fought the Vandals he was so heavily defeated that he threw up the contest and retired to Italy, where his rivalry with Aetius brought about an armed conflict in which he was killed (AD 432), while the entire province of Africa was at the mercy of Geiseric. The position in Gaul was too critical to permit a reconquest of Africa. But Geiseric was quite ready to make peace in AD 435, on terms which left him practically master of Mauretania and part of Numidia.
In his conflict with Boniface, Aetius was in actual rebellion. But his rival's fall restored his ascendancy, which became a virtual supremacy when Placidia had to surrender the regency on the marriage of Valentinian III, at eighteen to his cousin Licina Eudoxia at Constantinople in AD 437. The treaty had no sooner been made with the Vandals, then Aetis found himself forced to curb first the Burgundians and then the Visigoths. The former he broke by calling in aid from the Huns, with whose King Rugila he had always been on the most friendly terms. The Visigoths, who aimed at establishing themselves at the Mediterranean coast, were pushed back into Aquitania. But, stretched as he was, Aetius could not spare the forces to check the continued aggression of the Vandals in Africa.
So the Vandal Geiseric, inspite of the treaty of AD 435, extended his African dominion will he won Carthage. Then, satisfied of the weakness of Italy, he collected a fleet and attacked Sicily.
The menace brought the eastern empire to the aid of the west. The arrival of the eastern fleet, saw Geiseric willing to peacefully withdraw from Sicily, returning to Carthage in AD 442.
Had the Hun King Rugila died in AD 434 then his two nephews jointly inherited his powers. On of those sons, Attila, in AD 441 had attacked the eastern empire, overrunning the Balkans and devastating all he came across. Constantinople itself was not attempted, as it was deemed impregnable. In AD 443 Theodosius II came to terms, doubling his annual subsidy to Attila and agreeing to a no-man's-land between the two empires. The conflict erupted again in AD 447, only to be halted in AD 449 with unchanged conditions. In AD 450 Theodosius II died, succeeded by the able Marcian.
But this was no longer of interest to Attila who now had his eyes set on the west.
A curious episode had perhaps determined Attila's course. The court at Ravenna proposed to marry Valentinian III's sister Honoria to a safe and distinguished but elderly husband. She objected and sent secretly to the mighty Hun, inviting him to rescue her.
Attila accepted the message as a betrothal and claimed his bride and half her brother's empire as a dowry (AD 450). Valentinian III raged and rejected the demand. Meanwhile Attila marched on Gaul. He told Ravenna that he was coming to save the Romans from the Goths and he told the Goths that he was coming to join them against the Romans. But the diplomacy of Aelius and the intelligence of Theodoric sufficed to combine Romans and Visigoths against the Hun.
Attila swept, devastating all in his path, over the Gallic frontier, with Orléans (the city of Aurelius) as his objective. Theodoric effected a junction with Aetius; Attila began to retreat, though turned near Châlons, and suffered a crushing defeat (AD 451), while Theodoric himself was killed. Though already in the next year Attila was back, this time throwing himself at Italy to enforce his demand for Honoria's hand. Aetius, faced with a hugely superior foe, could not afford a pitched battle, leaving Atilla to destroy Aquileia, before marching on Rome. Tradition says that Attila was finally overawed by Pope Leo, another story says that the plague broke out in his camp, at any rate, Rome was miraculously delivered from the Hun as he suddenly withdrew without a fight.
In 453 Attila died and the whole terrifying, flimsy fabric of his empire dissolved. the Huns were helpless without a head. Ostrogoths, Gepids, Rugians, Herulians arose and overwhelmed them at the battle of Nedao in Pannonia in AD 454.
Aetius, often referred to as 'the last of the Romans', met with the same reward as Stilicho the Vandal. The mind of the emperor was poisoned against him and he was charged with treason and was slain by emperor Valentinian III himself in AD 455.
Flavius Petronius Maximus
born in AD ca. 396. Became emperor March AD 455. Died at Rome, 31 May AD 455.
When Valentinian III was murdered in the same year, Maximus bought the crown and forced the widowed Eudoxia to marry him.
Geiseric the Vandal - summoned to by the widowed empress - arrived two months later with a fleet. The mob tore Maximus limb from limb, which though did not prevent Geiseric from occupying Rome, sacking it with methodical and conscientious thoroughness, and retiring with a host of captives, including Eudoxia and her two daughters, the younger of whom he married to his son Hunseric.
Marcus Maecilius Flavius Eparchius Avitus
born in Gaul. Consul AD 456. Became emperor 9 July AD 455. Died on way to the Alps from Placentia, AD 456.
A few weeks later a new emperor was proclaimed by the Goths at Tolosa (Toulouse), Avitus, the lieutenant of the Aetius, who had been instrumental in forming the alliance between Romans and Goths against Attila.
Marcian in the east and Avitus in the west both threatened Geiseric , who defied them both. Avitus dispatched his armies under the generalship of Ricimer, a Sueve and grandson of the Visigoth Wallia, and Ricimer won a naval victory over the Vandals.
Meanwhile Theodoric II, posing as imperial champion, attacked the Sueves in Spain, breaking but not destroying their power. Avitus was bound closely to the Goths, while Italy detested them - and Ricimer was a Sueve !
Avitus had to beat a hasty retreat from Italy. Ricimer set up the Roman Majorian, an officer of distinction, as emperor, and the deposed Avitus was consoled with a bishopric AD 457).
Julius Valerius Majorianus
Became emperor 1 April AD 457. Died on 7 August AD 461 at Dertona.
Majorian bestowed on Ricimer the title of Patrician - in effect first minister - which had already been borne by Stilicho, Constantius and Aetius before him.
Majorian declined to be Ricimer's puppet, but the fleet he collected against the Vandals met with disaster, giving Ricimer sufficient excuse to depose him.
In his place the puppet emperor Libius Severus was set up.
Became emperor AD 461. Died on 14 November AD 465 at Dertona.
Though Libius Severus soon died and for a time there was no emperor, save Leo at Constantinople. In AD 467 Leo appointed the Greek Anthemius, son-in-law of Marcian, as western Augustus.
born in Galatia. Consul AD 455. Became emperor AD 467. Wife: Euphemia (a daughter; Alypia). Died on March/April AD 472 at Rome.
Ricimer was placated by receiving the new emperor's daughter to wife.
Then east and west combined to crush the Vandals who were masters of the Mediterranean. Though Geiseric once more managed to keep the upper hand and the joint Roman fleet under Basiliscus met with disaster in AD 468.
With the Vandal controlling the sea, he consequently held Mediterranean commerce at his mercy.
Meanwhile the Visigoths, under Euric, were bringing southern Gaul under their control. Britain had slipped away, Jutes and Saxons taking a grip of her. The same fate was befalling northern Gaul. To the east of Gaul the Burgundian kingdom was gathering ever more strength.
In AD 472 Ricimer resolved to depose Anthemius, having proclaimed Olybrius (husband of the elder daughter of Valentinian III) emperor in his place.
Became emperor March/April AD 472. Wife: Placidia (one daughter; Juliana Anicia). Died November AD 472.
Anthemius was captured and put to death. But within a few weeks Ricimer himself died.
For a time his place was taken by his Burgundian nephew Gundobad. Olybrius died, and after some delay in AD 473 Gundobad set up a puppet emperor, Glycerius, whom Leo in Constantinople declined to recognize.
Became emperor March AD 473. Deposed by Julius Nepos AD 474.
So Gundobad returned to Burgundy and Leo proclaimed Julius Nepos emperor in AD 474.
Though already the following year Julius Nepos was a fugitive from Rome, ejected by his 'master of the soldiers', Orestes, who made his own son, contemptuously known as Romulus 'Augustulus', emperor.
Became emperor 31 October AD 475. Abdicated 4 September AD 476. Date of death unknown.
At the same time Zeno, the successor to Leo, was a fugitive from Constantinople, ejected by Basiliscus. Both usurpers fell in AD 476. In the east Zeno was restored, but in the west the Germanic mercenary Odoacer seized power.
Odoacer chose not to be Augustus himself, nor to serve another western Augustus, but to be the viceroy of one Roman emperor in Constantinople.
The western Roman empire had ceased to be.