Massacre of Thessaloniki


Massacre of Thessaloniki

The Massacre of Thessaloniki was a retaliatory action by the Roman Emperor Theodosius I in 390 against the inhabitants of the Greek city of Thessaloniki, who had risen in revolt.

The cause of the uprising had been Butherich or Botheric, a Gothic "magister militum" in the Emperor's army, ordered to arrest a popular charioteer for trying to seduce and have sex with a servant of the emperor or even the magister militum himself. The charioteer was locked up in prison, but the citizens of Thessaloniki demanded his release. Butherich was murdered in the following turmoil, and so the Emperor intervened and ordered executions. However, the command was too little too late, and in the hippodrome in Thessaloniki angry Gothic troops allegedly massacred 7,000 people - the number is probably exaggerated, but gives a sense of the scale of the massacre. This incident aroused the wrath of the Bishop of Milan, Ambrose, and the church urged the Emperor to repentance. Ambrose in particular stated that the Emperor should imitate David in the scale of his repentance as he had imitated him in the scale of his guilt, and excommunicated him until he did, only readmitting him to the Eucharist only after several months of public penance.

Although Imperial authority did not come into question in this process, the increased moral importance of the church's representatives was nevertheless clear, as was the fact that the Emperor could no longer readily ignore their views. It also shows the strong position of a bishop in the Western part of the Empire, even when facing a strong Emperor and that, despite abolishing the pagan cults, the Emperor was not head of the church but limited by it - as Ambrose put it, "the Emperor is in the church, not over the church."

ources

The massacre is treated in all accounts of Theodosius' reign, including:
*de icon Adolf Lippold: Theodosius der Große und seine Zeit. 2. 2nd Aufl., München 1980, S. 40ff. Ed, Munich 1980, p. 40ff.
*J. Norwich, Byzantium: The Early Centuries, p112
*Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ch.27 2:56
*de icon Alexander Demandt: Magister Militum. In: Pauly-Wissowa. Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft (neue Bearbeitung). Supplementband XII, Sp. 717 - "Butherichh and "Theodosius"


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