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Portrait head of Arcadius in the Antikensammlung Berlin

Flavius ​​Arcadius ( graces Arkadios Ἀρκάδιος ; * around 377 in Hispania; † May 1, 408 in Constantinople ) was emperor of the eastern half of the Roman Empire between 395 and 408 and is therefore considered the first ruler of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire .



Arcadius was the eldest son of Emperor Theodosius I and Aelia Flacillas and thus the brother of the Western Emperor Honorius . His father, who had surprisingly been appointed co-emperor by Gratian in 379 , had already raised him to Augustus in January 383 , but in fact gave him no leeway. Theodosius, who had been responsible for the east of the empire since 379, left Arcadius at the court in Constantinople when he moved to the west in 387/88 to wage a civil war against Magnus Maximus . But the lead was the Praetorian prefect (the highest civil administrative officer). When his father moved to the west again in 394, Arcadius, unlike Honorius, stayed again on the Bosporus. After the surprising death of Theodosius and the actual division of the empire in January 395, Arcadius not only took over rule over the east at the age of 18, but also advanced to senior Augustus with the claim to suzerainty over the entire empire.


Flavius ​​Arcadius on a solidus

As emperor, Arcadius called himself Imperator Caesar Flavius ​​Arcadius Augustus and apparently tried to enforce his own course against his most powerful advisor Rufinus . He passed several laws against heresy and presented himself as a Christian emperor, although he had also received his training from pagan teachers. Instead of marrying Rufinus's daughter, on April 27, 395 he married Aelia Eudoxia , daughter of Bauto , a former magister militum under Gratian . However, Rufinus initially kept power in his hands and found himself in a position similar to that in the western empire Stilicho . Stilicho claimed that he had been appointed guardian of both sons by the dying Theodosius , thus establishing a claim to the sovereignty of the western court where he was staying over the eastern one. Both the senior Augustus Arcadius and Rufinus rejected this outraged.

Tensions arose between the two courts as early as 395, which were expressed, among other things, with regard to some provinces in the Illyricum , which Stilicho demanded for the western empire. Conversely, Arcadius demanded the transfer of strong army units that had moved west with Theodosius in 394. Stilicho had to give in and send the troops to Constantinople under the comes Gainas . Rufinus, however, was unpopular with the army and was finally killed in the autumn of 395 in the presence of the emperor at a parade of soldiers returning from the west; behind it was supposedly Stilicho, whose follower was Gainas. Rufinus' place was taken by the eunuch Eutropios , the chief chamberlain ( praepositus sacri cubiculi ) of Arcadius. But this too was overthrown in 399 with the participation of Gainas and then executed. The subsequent attempt by Gainas to dominate the eastern court as Stilicho did in the west was put down in 400 by the army master Fravitta and a popular uprising. Numerous Gothic foederati were killed in the process, which contributed to the fact that high military officials (of Roman and non-Roman origin) in the east did not subsequently play the decisive role that they should play in the west. Rather, the court kept control.

During these years the eastern empire was also under the pressure of several barbarian incursions. From 395 to 397 the Huns looted the eastern provinces. Mutinous Visigoth foederati under Alaric penetrated deeply into Eastern Roman territory several times since 395, while at the same time revolts broke out among the Germanic auxiliary troops. In 399, Yazdegerd I, a new king, ascended the Persian throne, who initially appeared hostile to the Romans. Nevertheless, in the years from 400 onwards, Arcadius was able to rule unhindered by the influence of his advisors.

The banishment of John Chrysostom , which Arcadius obtained in 403 at the instigation of Eudoxia, is of great importance in church history . Johannes had denounced the alleged dissolute lifestyle of the young empress and thus aroused her disfavor. He was the victim of a court intrigue: Johannes, one of the most important theologians of Christianity, died in exile on September 14, 407. Pope Innocent I and Honorius had previously tried in vain to have the ban lifted.

After the death of Eudoxia in 404, the energetic Praetorian prefect Anthemius emerged as the emperor's most important advisor, in whose shadow Arcadius now completely disappeared from the outside world. Anthemius performed his duties with great care and competence; In particular, after the initial tensions with Yazdegerd had been resolved, he succeeded in establishing very good relations with the Persian Sassanid Empire , which greatly improved the foreign policy situation of Eastern Europe. According to Prokopios of Caesarea, the Persian king is said to have been appointed guardian of his son by the dying Arcadius in 408. Whether this is true is very controversial in research.

In 407 a civil war broke out with Westrom when Alaric invaded eastern Roman territory on behalf of Stilichos, but the fighting was broken off when Westrom was threatened on other fronts. For 408 the two imperial courts agreed on a common pair of consuls as a sign of reconciliation .

Arcadius had four children: three daughters ( Pulcheria , Arcadia and Marina) and the son and co-emperor (since 402) Theodosius II , who was born in 401 and who, after the early death of the emperor in 408, ascended the Eastern Roman throne as Augustus as a child .


The reign of Arcadius was a time of crisis for the development of Eastern Stream. At the borders it was threatened (in the north and north-west by the Teutons , in the Illyricum initially even from West Rome, in Asia Minor by the Huns, in the east initially by the Sassanids), inside there were revolts and the western and eastern empires were distant Due to conflicts in the Balkans, they diverged more and more from each other (without this having led to the abandonment of the idea of ​​a fundamental imperial unity).

Arcadius and his advisors often only reacted instead of acting. He himself is certified in several sources as a benevolent character, but he is also described as a weak personality and weak emperor, who was not up to this situation. However, the fact must also be taken into account that he had been under the tutelage of his advisors from around the age of six. Nevertheless, Ostrom survived this period relatively well, while the western empire under Honorius already showed the first signs of dissolution after 408. This is not least owed to the extremely capable Anthemius, who still determined the fate of East Stream up to 414 and made an essential contribution to improving the external situation of the empire.


  • John B. Bury : History of the Later Roman Empire . Vol. 1. 1923, ND New York 1958.
  • Arnold Hugh Martin Jones : The Later Roman Empire (284-602) . 3 volumes, Oxford 1964.
  • John HWG Liebeschuetz : Barbarians and Bishops. Army, Church, and State in the Age of Arcadius and Chrysostom . Clarendon Press, Oxford 1990.
  • Alan Cameron , Jacqueline Long: Barbarians and Politics at the Court of Arcadius . Berkeley 1993.
  • Thomas S. Burns: Barbarians within the gates of Rome. A study of Roman military policy and the barbarians, ca. 375-425 AD . Bloomington 1994.
  • Wolfgang Hagl: Arcadius Apis imperator: Synesios of Cyrene and his contribution to the ruling ideal of late antiquity . Stuttgart 1997.
  • David Buck: The reign of Arcadius in Eunapius' Histories . In: Byzantion 68, 1998, pp. 15-46.

Web links

Commons : Flavius ​​Arcadius  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
predecessor Office successor
Theodosius I. Eastern Roman Emperor
Theodosius II