- Honorius (emperor)
Infobox Roman emperor
full name =Flavius Honorius (from birth to accession); Flavius Honorius Augustus (as emperor)
title =Emperor of the
Western Roman Empire
caption =In this silver
siliquacoin, Honorius is celebrated as the "Glory of the Romans", and has a halo
23 January 393- 395 (Augustus under his father); 395- August 15, 423(emperor in the west, with Arcadiusin the east)
spouse 1 =Maria
spouse 2 =
date of birth =birth date|384|9|9|mf=y
place of birth =
date of death =death date and age|423|8|15|384|9|9|mf=y
place of death =
place of burial =|
Flavius Honorius (
September 9, 384– August 15, 423) was Roman Emperor(393- 395) and then Western Roman Emperor from 395 until his death. He was the younger son of Theodosius Iand his first wife Aelia Flaccilla, and brother of the Eastern Emperor Arcadius.
The reign of Honorius was characterized by erosion of the
Western Roman Empireand its territories. When Honorius died, he left an empire on the verge of collapse.
After holding the
consulate at the age of two, Honorius was declared "Augustus", and thus co-ruler, on 23 January 393after the death of Valentinian IIand 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.
For the first part of his reign, Honorius depended on the military leadership of the
Vandalgeneral Stilicho. To strengthen his bonds to the young emperor, Stilicho married his daughter Maria to him. The epithalamionwritten for the occasion by Stilicho's court poet Claudiansurvives.
At first Honorius based his capital in
Mediolanum, but when the Visigothsentered 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 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
Radagaisusinvaded Italy, bringing devastation to the heart of the Empire, until Stilicho defeated them in 406.
The situation in
Britanniawas 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. [While Constantine was in Gaul, his son Constans "II" ruled over Britain.]
An invasion of
Alans, Sueviand Vandals moved from Gaul on 31 December406, and arrived in Hispaniain 409. In 408, Stilicho (after forcing the Roman Senate to pay 4,000 pounds of gold)J. Norwich, "Byzantium: The Early Centuries", 131] 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 Iinvaded 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)J. Norwich, "Byzantium: The Early Centuries", 134] , 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 Empiresent six Legions(6,000 men; late Roman legions were small units)J. Norwich, "Byzantium: The Early Centuries", 136] 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,
Jovinusrevolted in northern Gaul, with the support of Alans, Burgundians, and the Gallic nobility. Jovinus tried to negotiate with the invading Gothsof Ataulf (412), but his proclamation of his brother Sebastianusas 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
Visigothsthe 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.
Honorius died of
dropsyin 423, leaving no heir. In the subsequent interregnum Joanneswas nominated emperor. The following year, however, the Eastern Emperor Theodosius IIelected emperor his cousin Valentinian III, son of Galla Placidiaand Constantius III.
Sack of Rome
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 real capabilities to assist the distant province. According to
Zosimus, "Honorius wrote letters to the cities in Britain, bidding them to guard themselves." [Zosimus, vi.10.2]
Judgments on Honorius
In his "History of the Wars",
Procopiusmentions 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", he recalled in disbelief that the bird was just recently feeding out of his hand. It was then explained to him that the Rome in question was the city. [ [http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/History_of_the_Wars/Book_III#II Procopius, "History of the Wars", book III, section II.] ]
Summarizing his account of Honorius' reign, the historian
J.B. Burywrote, "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." [ [http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/BURLAT/6*.html#5 John Bagnall Bury, "History of the Later Roman Empire", 1923] (New York: Dover, 1958), p. 213]
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.
References to Honorius in Fiction
Honorius and the attack of the Visigoths are both mentioned by Captain
Jean-Luc Picardin the "" episode The Best of Both Worlds in the quote: "I wonder if Honorius, watching the Visigoths coming over the seventh hill, truly realized that the Roman Empire was about to fall?"
* Usurpers during Honorius reign:
Priscus Attalusin Rome (two times);
** Maximus in Hispania;
** Marcus, Gratian, Constantine "III" and Constans "II" in Gaul and Britain;
* Succession to Honorius:
Joannesand Valentinian III.
* [http://www.roman-emperors.org/honorius.htm Mathisen, Ralph, "Honorius (395-423 A.D.)", "De Imperatoribus Romanis"]
* This [http://www.fourthcentury.com/index.php/imperial-laws-chart-364 list of Roman laws of the fourth century] shows laws passed by Honorius relating to Christianity.
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