Flavius Honorius Augustus
395 – 15 August 423 CE
9 September 384 CE
15 August 423 CE
Flavius Honorius (Flavius Augustus Honorius) was born on September 9, 384 CE. He reigned in the years 395-423 CE. in the western part of the Roman Empire.
Son of Theodosius the Great and his first wife, Aelia Flacylla. Brother of Emperor Arcadius (ruled in the east in the years 395-408 CE) and half-brother of Gallia Placidia.
Honorius at the age of 2 was appointed Roman consul. After the death of Valentinian II and the usurper Eugene, on January 23, 393 CE he received the title of Augustus and thus became a co-ruler of the empire.
Reign and time of wars
In 395, after the death of his father, Honorius became emperor at the age of 10 and, together with his brother Arcadius, divided the empire into western and eastern parts. Honorius’ guardian was General Stilicho, who over time gained enormous influence at the court. For the first part of his reign, Honorius was very much subordinated to a Roman commander of vandal-Roman roots. To strengthen his position, Stilicho gave his daughter Maria to Honorius, and then to the younger Termantia – but the emperor had no offspring with any of them.
For virtually the entire reign of Honorius, the Western Empire had to repel attacks by barbarians in Gaul, Italy, and Spain. The weakness of the young emperor’s rule also encouraged ambitious politicians and military men to revolt and usurp.
The first rebellion that the emperor had to deal with was the revolt of Gildo (397-398 CE), Comes Africae and Magister uwiusque militiae per Africam in North Africa. Ultimately, thanks to Stilicho and the direct command of the Emperor’s forces by Gildo’s brother Mascezel, it was possible to crush the rebellion.
In 402 CE another crisis ensued. Italy was invaded by the Visigoths under the command of Alaric. Again, thanks to the military talent of Stilicho, the forces of Alaric at Pollentia were defeated on April 6, 402 CE. Weakened Visigoths withdrew to Illyricum. In 405 another invasion took place – led by Radagaisus – which devastated the central lands of the Western Empire. Stilicho defeated the enemy army in 406 CE. and recruited the defeated into his army.
In winter, at the turn of 405/406 CE, there was a massive invasion of the combined barbarian hordes of Ostrogoths, Alans, Vandals and Quadi. They crossed the frozen Rhine and invaded Gaul. In 406 CE Suebi, Alans and Vandals were driven out of Italy. The latter first moved to Gaul, and in 409 CE. to Spain. In Britain, further rebellions took place: Marcus (406-407 CE), Gratian (407 CE), and Constantine III.
Wanting to strengthen his position after the death of his daughter Maria in 407 CE, Stilicho gave the hand of his younger daughter – Termantia – Honorius. That same year, Stilicho persuaded the senate to pay £ 4,000 in gold to the Gotom in return for leaving Italy.
In May 408 CE Honorius’ brother, Arkadius, died. The emperor of the western part of the empire wanted to go to Constantinople to take part in the process of succession to the throne. On the advice of Stilicho, however, he refrained from his journey, and the commander personally went to the capital of the East Roman Empire. In his absence at the court of Honorius, Minister Olympius stood out, instilling in him a distrust of Stilicho. He claimed that his leader of barbaric genes was conspiring with rivals and wanted to overthrow Honorius. After Stilicho returned to Italy, the emperor had him arrested and killed in 408 CE. Honorius divorced his second wife, and Olympius took over the role of Stilicho at court. In order to avoid rivalry at court, he ordered to kill, torture and confiscate the property of all of the great leader’s supporters.
An empire without Stilicho, who had favourable contacts with some barbarians, became an easy morsel. In 409 CE Alaric supported Priscus Attalus in his struggle for the Roman throne, which led to further fighting. As a result, in 410, the city of Rome was conquered by barbarians for the first time in 800 years. Honorius made peace with Alaric’s successor – Ataulf and married his sister for him.
That same year, the emperor rejected a request for help from the Roman authorities in Britain, where a massive barbarian invasion also took place. The Roman troops on the continent were so absorbed in the fighting that it was not possible to physically support the distant province. The emperor was to send an official letter to individual governors in Roman cities in Britain, ordering him to defend himself.
In 417 CE Honorius gave the hand of his sister Gallia Placidia, the ambitious commander Constantius III. In addition, he appointed him co-ruler in the west, which the eastern emperor did not accept. This gave rise to a conflict; Constantius was preparing an expedition to the East, but eventually died in 422 CE, at a young age.
Until Honorius’ death in 423 CE, in practice, Britain, Spain, and much of Gaul came under barbarian control. At the end of his life, Honorius began to show a sexual interest in his sister; as a result, Galla Placidia, together with the children: the future emperor Valentinian III and Honoria, left for Constantinople.
Initially, Honorius and his court were located in Milan; however, when the Visigoths led by Alaric entered Italy in 401 CE. it was decided to move the headquarters to coastal Ravenna in 402. The city was well fortified and surrounded by marshes; West Roman rulers until 476 CE considered it the official capital of the Western Empire. However, the concentration of the Roman army near Ravenna meant that they had much worse positions to defend the heart of Italy – this in the future allowed barbarians to rob freely around Rome.
Ravenna has certainly grown in importance; after the fall of Rome in 476 CE, Ravenna will become the capital of the Ostrogothic Kingdom and the seat of the Byzantine exarchs.
Honorius died on August 15, 423 CE. in Ravenna, for diabetes or for oedema, leaving the empire much weaker and smaller; without an appointed successor. The emperor was buried in his own mausoleum on Vatican Hill. In the eighth century, the building was transformed into a church.
After Honorius’ death, the eastern emperor was appointed by the eastern emperor Theodosius II, a cousin of Valentinian III – son of Gallia Placidia and Constantius III.
Even for the time of the progressive decline of the Empire, Honorius’ rule was extremely chaotic and uncertain. He was supported by his commander, Stilicho, who kept him relatively stable. His execution in 408 plunged the Western Empire into an even greater crisis.
In the opinion of modern scholars, the Roman emperor Honorius is considered one of the worst rulers of Rome; it was also during his reign that the extremely shameful conquest of Rome by the Visigoths in 410 CE (for the first time in 800 years) took place. Information about the event circulated the known world of that time and many considered this event a harbinger of the final fall of Rome.
Procopius of Caesarea, a Byzantine historian, in his work “The History of Wars” tells a story (untrue according to British historian Edward Gibbon) that, according to the news of the “murder” of Rome by the Visigoths in 410, Honorius was shocked – the emperor was supposed to understand that the barbarians killed his favourite chicken named “Roma”. Regardless of whether the story is true or not, it should be noted that the ruler was not respected and was not well remembered.
The popes of Rome had a great influence on the emperor, taking advantage of his young age and insecurity. Pope Innocent I forced Honorius to condemn the removal from office of John Chrysostom – the bishop of Constantinople.
From the subject of curiosities, it is worth mentioning that it was during the reign of Honorius that the last gladiator fights took place. The emperor also introduced a law prohibiting men from wearing pants.