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Arcadius, Flavius

The Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity
David NatalDavid Natal

Arcadius, Flavius (c.377–408) Eastern Roman emperor (395–408). 

The elder son of Theodosius I and Aelia Flaccilla, Arcadius was born in Spain and educated in Constantinople under the pagan Themistius and the Christian Arsenius. He became Augustus in 383 and was appointed regent in Constantinople in 394, when Theodosius marched to Italy to suppress Eugenius. After Theodosius’ death (395), Arcadius shared imperial power with his brother Honorius, but his reluctance to accept Stilicho’s claims to be guardian over the East intensified the tensions between both courts, leading to episodes of open confrontation such as Gildo’s revolt (397). Described as a feeble personality (Philostorgius, XI, 6; Zosimus, V, 12, 1), Arcadius was dominated by several civilian ministers in quick succession: Rufinus fell in a plot orchestrated by the eunuch Eutropius (395), who arranged Arcadius’ wedding with Eudoxia (395) and dominated until 399, when Gainas succeeded and had Eutropius executed; Gainas, however, fell a year later in a plot orchestrated by Eudoxia, who held control until her death in 404, being succeeded by the prefect Anthemius (consul 405). This pattern of intrigue and court politics is depicted in Synesius’ De Regno and De Providentia. Till recently it was explained in terms of tension between anti-barbarian and traditionalist senatorial parties; more recent research has emphasized personal ambitions and enmities. Despite its political instability, Arcadius’ rule survived internal insurgencies, such as Tribigild’s revolt (399), and different barbarian threats such as Alaric’s incursions in Greece and the Balkans (395–404), the Hun offensive in Cappadocia, Syria, and Thrace (397–8), and the frequent raids of the Isaurians in Anatolia. A committed Christian emperor, Arcadius legislated against paganism (CTh XVI, 10, 13–14) and heresy (CTh XVI, 5, 30–4), and ordered the closure and demolition (CTh XVI, 10, 16) of pagan temples. His reign also set precedents in the association of Christian piety with images of imperial power, an example of which is the column depicting Arcadius’ victory over Gainas (Müller-Wiener, Bildlexikon, 250–2). A backlash to imperial promotion of Nicene Christianity was the clash between Eudoxia and the Patriarch of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, exiled to the East in 404. Arcadius and Eudoxia had one son, Theodosius II, who succeeded Arcadius as emperor, and three daughters, Pulcheria, a consecrated virgin, and Arcadia and Marina, who followed Pulcheria’s example and never married (Sozomen, IX, 1).

David Natal


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