22 August 392 – 6 September 394 CE
c. 350 CE
6 September 394 CE
Flavius Eugene was a professor of Latin literature and rhetoric. In 389 he was met by Rychomeres, then the commander of the troops of Theodosius. Rychomeres then recommended Eugene to his relative Arbogast – Comes Valentinian II, who, before his expedition to Gaul, was looking for a candidate for the head of the imperial secretariat. The fates of the Roman intellectual and the leader of Germanic origin intertwined forever.
On May 15, 392, Valentinian II ended his life. Surprised, Theodosius was in no hurry to react – he did not want to make a mistake and lose the western provinces over which Frank Arbogast actually controlled. He recognized the official cause of his brother-in-law’s death and decided to bury his mortal remains in Milan, thanks to which the celebration could be more modest than if it had been held in Constantinople. However, caution did not bring the emperor the expected results – on August 22, 392, Arbogast proclaimed Flavius Eugene emperor.
Researchers are still arguing about the reason for this extraordinary alliance of two extraordinary figures – Eugenius and Arbogast. While the opinions about the ambitions of the German are consistent, the attitude of Eugene is assessed differently. The two personalities seem to have been linked by a genuine will to work to repair the state.
The new emperor of the West, already as Emperor Caesar Flavius Eugenius Augustus, immediately sent envoys to Constantinople – he hoped that he would be able to prevent a civil war. Theodosius, however, sent the envoys back with gifts, but without defining a clear position towards the usurper. At the same time, he began preparations for the war.
Proper actions were preceded by the emperor with repressions against pagans occupying prominent positions. In November 392, he also issued a law threatening draconian penalties for making sacrifices to traditional Roman gods.
Meanwhile, Eugene was busy with matters important to the entire Empire – securing the border against German invasions. In the winter of 392/393 – so at an unusual time of the year – the Roman army crossed the Rhine in the area of Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium and ravaged the territories of the Franks, forcing them to make peace on conditions favourable to the Roman state. A similar arrangement was imposed on the Alamans.
Defender of the Gods
In the spring of 393, Eugene entered Italy – no one resisted, on the contrary – the Emperor was greeted with hope, especially by the pagans who still dominated the Western elite. The faithful senators, most of all, hoped for a change in religious policy. The new ruler did not disappoint – he restored the plundered goods to the temples. Thus, the traditional Romans became the backbone of Euganius’s reign. prefects of Italy and Rome – father and son of the Flavians. This war, therefore, became a conflict between the defenders of traditional Roman culture and expansive Christianity. After taking control of Britain, Gaul, Spain, and Italy, Eugene and Arbogast stopped and waited for Theodosius.
The emperor of the east gathered a huge army, headed by Gajnas (Gota) and Stilichon (Vandal). They set off in May 394. News of the appearance of these forces on the other side of the Alps forced Eugene and Arbogast to act. In July, Western troops were deployed between Aquileia and Emona, with their main camp on the Frigidus River. The camp was surrounded by a palisade and towers. The help of the Gods was also taken care of – statues of Jupiter were placed on the mountain tops.
On September 5, Theodosius ‘army attempted to cross the river valley, but the Gods apparently helped their soldiers – the attack of the Christian troops was bloodily repulsed, and Theodosius’ leaders were inclined to withdraw to the East. However, then there were dramatic events that determined the fate of Europe and the imminent decline of ancient culture. Eugene’s soldiers, drunk with the victory and convinced that the rest of the opponents would march away, began a celebration that lasted all night. Unfortunately, this did not go unnoticed by the Germans commanding the Eastern Roman troops – under the cover of darkness and with the lack of vigilance of the opponents, they threw considerable forces into the valley.
The final clash took place on September 6. The attackers attacked the Western army taking advantage of favourable weather conditions. The defence of the troops faithful to Eugenius collapsed, the emperor himself was captured and then beheaded. Arbogast managed to escape, but after two days without hope, he committed suicide. Theodosius repaid the pagan elite of the West – bloody repression began, priests were expelled, and traditional Roman culture was doomed to extermination.