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Updated:  Aug 12, 2013
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Flavius Honorius

Roman Emperor, d. August 26, 423

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* Published by Encyclopedia Press, 1913.

Honorius, FLAVIUS, Roman Emperor, d. August 26, 423. When his father, the Emperor Theodosius, divided up the government of the empire in the year 395, the western half was allotted to Honorius, while the eastern went to his brother Arcadius. The boundary line was drawn in such a manner that the provinces of Dalmatia, Pannonia, and Noricum still belonged to Western Rome. The eleven year old Honorius was under the guardianship of the able Vandal general Stilicho whom Theodosius had placed in command of the troops stationed in northern Italy. When the Arian Visigoths revolted under their young King Alaric, of the family of Balthi (i.e. the Bold), and invaded the Western Roman Empire, Stilicho first marched against them in northern Greece but was obliged to withdraw his troops from the territory of the Eastern Roman Empire by order of Arcadius. Not until the Goths overran the Peloponnesus was his help accepted. He surrounded Alaric's hordes with his legions but, when the Byzantine rulers sought to come to an understanding with Alaric, he suffered the Goths to retreat into Illyria. As a consequence the division of the Roman Empire now led to positive hostility between its parts. Stilicho endeavored to eradicate abuses in the administration, remained on good terms with the Senate and, in order to keep the young emperor under his influence, married him to his daughter Maria. When Honorius was menaced by Alaric in Milan early in 402, Stilicho hastened to his assistance from Rhaetia with legions summoned for that purpose from Britain and Germany; he rescued the emperor from his precarious situation and repulsed the Goths with great loss at Pollentia (April 4, 402) and Verona (403). Honorius marched with Stilicho under a triumphal arch erected in Rome in honor of the victories, and held brilliant festivals after the ancient Roman custom.

Meanwhile German tribes under the leadership of the Ostrogoth Radagais invaded Italy (405). Honorius and the court took refuge within the fastnesses of Ravenna, impregnable in its marshy surroundings, which now became the capital of the Emperor of Western Rome, and later of the Ostrogoth kings and the viceroys of Eastern Rome. Stilicho conquered the invaders in the mountains of Faesulae (Fiesole) near Florence, 12,000 Goths being impressed into the service of Rome. As the empire had no Roman legions to oppose them, the Vandals, Alani, and Suevi now poured over the Rhine into the interior of Gaul, followed by Franks, Burgundians, and Alemanni, who settled permanently on the left bank of the Rhine. Stilicho entered into negotiations with Alaric, holding out promises of Eastern Illyria to secure his aid. Thereupon the Roman general Constantine, who had crossed over from Britain, appeared in Gaul, and proclaimed himself emperor. The negotiations with Alaric failed and, when Alaric demanded an indemnity of 4000 pounds in gold, Stilicho who had twice saved Italy, was suspected by the court of entertaining treasonable plans. The weak emperor listened to the insinuations of the chancellor Olympius and had Stilicho put to death. Alaric now marched unopposed on Italy in 408, whilst the emperor tried to fortify himself in Ravenna. The Romans concluded a treaty and bought peace. The Senate also recommended that Honorius accept Alaric's terms. Upon his refusal Alaric made the senate declare him deposed and had Attalus, prefect of Rome, proclaimed emperor for the time being. As Honorius repeated his rejection of the demand for pay and quarters for the Goths, Alaric took the city of Rome by storm on August 24, 410, leaving it to be sacked by his warriors for three days, but sparing the lives of the inhabitants and treating the churches with respect. Then he marched down into southern Italy in order to cross over to Africa, to found a Visigoth empire there and terrorize the emperor by cutting off the grain supplies. While carrying out this plan the warrior hero died at the age of thirty-four on the Busento, being buried in the bed of that river. His brother-in-law Ataulph was elected in his stead and, after negotiations with Honorius, led the Goths into Gaul. At the same time the Vandals, Suevi, and Alani crossed the Pyrenees into Spain and overran the peninsula.

During these campaigns Honorius had recognized Constantine as imperator, but the latter was besieged at Arelatum by his ambitious lieutenant, Gerontius. Honorius dispatched the valiant Illyrian Constantius, who defeated the usurper and drove him to suicide. Constantine was now forced to capitulate, but Hon-onus refused to accept this submission and had his rival put to death. Ataulph who had occupied Aquitania, subdued Jovinus, the third rival imperator in Gaul, who relied on the Germans on the Rhine for support. Ataulph then married Honorius's step-sister, Galla Placidia, at Narbonne in 414; she had been taken captive by Alaric. Thereby he aroused the bitter enmity of Honorius, in whose behalf Constantius waged war against Ataulph, the latter being assassinated on account of a private feud at Barcelona. His successor, Wallia, surrendered Placidia to Honorius. Constantius, who had effected the outward reclamation of the Roman provinces that were occupied by Germans, was appointed co-ruler with the emperor in 420 and received the hand of Placidia. Their son, Flavius Placidus Valentinian III, whose energetic mother wielded the scepter for him, was invested with the purple after a brief interregnum of the usurper John, following the death of Honorius on August 26, 423.


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