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Avitus on a tremissis .

Eparchius Avitus (* around 385 in Auvergne ; † beginning of 457 ) was Western Roman Emperor from 455 to 456 .


Origin and political activity

Avitus was born in the Auvergne around the year 385 as the offspring of an elegant Gallo-Roman senatorial family rich in tradition . His father's name was Agricola, had been Gaulish Praetorian prefect twice and was the consulate in 421. Avitus had a daughter, Papianilla, and two sons, Ecdicius and Agricola.

Around 419/20 Avitus served the army master and brief emperor Constantius III. and made first contacts with the Visigothic court in Toulouse ; his son-in-law was Sidonius Apollinaris , to whom we also owe important news for this time and with regard to the Avitus, so that the previous education of the Avitus was shaped by law ( civilia iura secutus ). In 430 and 435 Avitus worked under the "Reichsfeldherrn" ( patricius ) Flavius ​​Aëtius , before he himself took over the prestigious and influential office of master of Gaul in 437 . After this activity he became unusually Praetorian Prefect for Gaul two years later - unusual because the civil and military careers were actually very strictly separated in late antiquity .

Although Gaul was a constant crisis and war zone at that time due to the so-called migration of peoples , after the fall of Britain and North Africa and the widespread devastation of Hispania it was the most important area of ​​the empire after Italy . Above all, the Gallic tax payments, which now secured almost the entire western Roman state budget, were extremely important. That is why the prefecture which Avitus occupied and which was responsible for collecting taxes was a particularly important political office. Avitus helped the de facto ruler Aëtius, as whose partisan he may be considered, to secure the control of the government in Ravenna over Gaul and Hispania.

Avitus achieved his first great success as prefect when he was able to persuade the marauding Visigoth federates , who had recently defeated Roman troops who had attacked them, to a new alliance under their rex Theodoric I through clever negotiations in 439, despite the previous breach of contract . After this diplomatic success, Avitus, meanwhile a personal friend of the Visigothic ruling family, withdrew into private life for the time being (around 440).

Activity as a diplomat

Political activities on his part were only handed down to us more than ten years later, when he in 451 at the request of the Western Roman emperor Valentinian III. and Aetius used his contacts and, as a diplomat, got the Visigoths to join a military alliance against Atilla , who had intervened in the internal Roman power struggles and had marched into Gaul. Actually there was tension between Aetius and the Visigoths; Avitus mastered this task, and Theodoric I allied himself with the Ravennatic troops under the leadership of Aetius. The Visigoth himself led his army in the famous battle of the Catalaunian fields , in which he commanded the right wing, but was killed in the process.

In the autumn of 454, Emperor Valentinian III killed. hand-handed to Aetius in order to free himself from his dominance, and in March 455 the emperor himself was murdered by followers of Aetius. With their help, Petronius Maximus became emperor after the death of Valentinian. He tried to secure his unstable rule, and therefore brought experienced senators who had been among the supporters of Aetius back into politics, including Avitus. This was raised to the rank of patricius and should deal again diplomatically with the Visigoths, who should support the new regime militarily. In addition, after the death of Emperor Valentinian, with whom they had made their alliance, the Visigoths apparently no longer felt bound by the treaty with the Romans. Avitus' son-in-law, the poet Sidonius Apollinaris, reports that a war could only have been prevented through the mediation of Avitus, who immediately went to the Goths.

But only shortly afterwards the events came thick and fast: Petronius Maximus tried to defeat the vandals who landed near Rome as well as the city population, who made him responsible for the murder of Valentinian III. blamed and despised to flee, but this failed; he was recognized and killed on May 31, 455. Since Geiserich, the leader of the Vandals, did not raise his own emperor, the throne was vacated. The young Visigoth rex Theodoric II , who once perhaps even learned Latin from Avitus, now allegedly urged him to be raised to the rank of emperor and promised the support of his warriors.

Imperial rule

Avitus did not hesitate long and accepted the offer; It is quite conceivable that the initiative came from himself anyway. In any case, this step was also in the interests of influential circles of the Gallo-Roman senate aristocracy , which wanted to gain more influence on imperial politics. At the request of the Visigoth king - which made clear the weakness of the Western Roman part of the empire - an extraordinary meeting of the Gallic convent was called in Beaucaire from the Roman notables of the entire prefecture, which Avitus gave her consent on July 9, 455. Thereupon he was proclaimed emperor by the local Roman troops. Approval also came from the now almost completely devastated region of Pannonia . However, the Eastern Roman emperor Markian refused to recognize Avitus.

At first the rule of Avitus seemed to be secure: at least tacitly tolerated by Ostrom and supported by the Visigoths, he believed he had sufficient support. He appointed the Visigoth Remistus as the first army master and patricius , i.e. the de facto head of government. But when he went to Italy , he realized that the opponents of his party were violently opposed to him and attacked him with slander. The Italian senators, who had been in the shadow of the Gallo-Roman aristocracy in the fourth century, had come to the fore again for about 30 years and were now unwilling to relinquish this role to their Gallic rivals. The urban Roman population was just as hostile to him as Petronius Maximus had been before.

At first, however, there was a much more direct threat from the Vandals, whose war fleet of around 60 ships made the Tyrrhenian Sea unsafe and attacked the coasts of the Italian peninsula. Their king Geiseric demanded the installation of Olybrius as the new western emperor. At the same time, the Suebi raged in Hispania and Pannonia feared further devastation. Under the impression of all these dangers, Avitus tried to achieve a solution based on the division of labor: he asked his ally Theodoric II for support in Spain, who, on imperial order, defeated the Suebi that had invaded the province of Tarraconensis in 456 , and wanted to personally Dedicate to conditions in Pannonia.

In order to cope with the maritime threat posed by Geiserich, he appointed an officer with Germanic roots working in the Roman army as second master for Italy: Flavius ​​Ricimer . When he won a naval victory over a vandal fleet at Agrigento in Sicily, this threat was briefly contained.

Descent and end

At the same time, however, a severe famine had broken out in Rome because Geiseric had interrupted the important grain deliveries from North Africa. Avitus recognized that the state's free grain donations ( annona civica ) were no longer affordable under these conditions, especially since the foederati in the Roman army stationed near Rome also claimed these services. The emperor apparently decided to dismiss these troops, but in doing so he made a serious mistake: To finance the dismissals, he had numerous bronze statues melted down in and around Rome to mint coins, which angered the starving citizens even more against him. The senators also believed Italy was being plundered in favor of Gaul. At the same time, with the dismissal of the predominantly Gothic soldiers, he lost an important means of exerting pressure on the city population, who now turned to Ricimer.

In any case, he did not agree that Avitus wanted to disband the greater part of the army that Italy had to protect. He therefore took advantage of the situation and concluded a political alliance with some senators and the comes domesticorum (prefect of the guards) Iulius Valerius Maiorianus (Majorian) to disempower Avitus. Remistus was defeated and killed by them. Avitus then tried to go to Gaul, where his power base was. But now it turned out to be fatal that his Visigoth allies were fighting in Spain and therefore could not come to his aid: On October 26, 456 Avitus and his remaining followers were arrested at Piacenza ; his troops lost the battle and he was forced to abdicate. The subsequent ordination as bishop of this city was not able to save Avitus, because he was violently killed in January 457 at the latest. Whether he was killed at Ricimer's instigation remains open; Majorian is also blamed for this in some sources.

According to Gregory of Tours , Avitus is said to have found his final resting place in Brioude . In Gaul, many of his followers initially refused to join Majorian, who himself ascended the throne in 457, and had to be compelled to obey by military force. The Avitus family was spared and initially remained influential in their homeland. Avitus' son Ecdicius even rose to the position of army master in Gaul under Emperor Iulius Nepos in 474 and fought against the Goths there until he was deposed.


  • Henning Börm : Westrom. From Honorius to Justinian (= Urban pocket books. Vol. 735). Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 2013, ISBN 978-3-17-023276-1 , pp. 99-102.
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  • John Drinkwater, Hugh Elton (Eds.): Fifth-Century Gaul. A Crisis of Identity? Cambridge University Press, Cambridge et al. 1992, ISBN 0-521-41485-7 .
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  • Ralph W. Mathisen: Sidonius on the Reign of Avitus: A Study in Political Prudence. In: Transactions of the American Philological Association. Vol. 109, 1979, ISSN  0360-5949 , pp. 165-171, JSTOR 284055 .
  • Ralph W. Mathisen: Avitus, Italy and the East in AD 455-456. In: Byzantion. Vol. 51, 1981, ISSN  0378-2506 , pp. 232-247.
  • Ernst Stein : History of the late Roman Empire. Volume 1: From the Roman to the Byzantine state. (A.D. 284-476). Seidel, Vienna 1928, pp. 543–551.

Web links

Commons : Avitus  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Written in earlier literature by Marcus Maecilius Avitus , but only Eparchius has come down to us. ICVR-08, 20823: Locus Geronti presb (yteri) / depositus XIIII Kal (endas) Iul (ias) / cons (ulatu) Eparchi Aviti .
  2. Avitus took on a political task for the first time around 420. Sidonius Apollinaris calls him iuuenis , something in his thirties ( Carmen VII, 208).
  3. Detlef Liebs : The jurisprudence in late antique Italy (260-640 AD) (= Freiburg legal-historical treatises. New series, volume 8). Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1987, p. 68 f.
  4. ^ Gregory of Tours, Historiae , II 11.
predecessor Office successor
Petronius Maximus Western Roman Emperor