Honorius (emperor)

Honorius (emperor)

Infobox Roman emperor
name =Honorius
full name =Flavius Honorius (from birth to accession);
Flavius Honorius Augustus (as emperor)
title =Emperor of the Western Roman Empire

caption =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)
predecessor =Theodosius I
successor =Valentinian III
spouse 1 =Maria
spouse 2 =Thermantia
issue =
dynasty =Theodosian
father =Theodosius I
mother =Aelia Flaccilla
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 I and his first wife Aelia Flaccilla, and brother of the Eastern Emperor Arcadius.

The reign of Honorius was characterized by erosion of the Western Roman Empire and its territories. When Honorius died, he left an empire on the verge of collapse.


Early reign

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.

For the first part of his reign, Honorius depended on the military leadership of the Vandal general Stilicho. To strengthen his bonds to 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 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.

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. [While Constantine was in Gaul, his son Constans "II" ruled over Britain.]

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)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 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)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 Empire sent 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, 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.


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 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 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", 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", 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. 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." [ [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 Picard in 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?"

ee also

* Usurpers during Honorius reign:
** Priscus Attalus in Rome (two times);
** Maximus in Hispania;
** Marcus, Gratian, Constantine "III" and Constans "II" in Gaul and Britain;
** Jovinus and Sebastianus.
* Succession to Honorius:
** Joannes and Valentinian III.


* [http://www.roman-emperors.org/honorius.htm Mathisen, Ralph, "Honorius (395-423 A.D.)", "De Imperatoribus Romanis"]


External links

* 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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