Empire division of 395

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The division of the Roman Empire into western and eastern Rome after the death of Emperor Theodosius I in 395

The so-called division of the empire of 395 AD refers to the division of the Roman Empire into a western and an eastern half after the death of Theodosius I , each with an emperor. The first Eastern Roman emperor was Theodosius' older son Arcadius , the first Western Roman emperor his younger son Honorius . The imperial residence of the east was Constantinople , in the west the court first resided in Milan , later mostly in Ravenna and occasionally in Rome .

In the 5th century the western and eastern rivers were not two independent empires, but continued to form the indivisible Roman Empire according to the understanding of the time . So there was still only one single Roman citizen right ( civitas Romana ). It is therefore more appropriate to speak of a division of rule in the Roman Empire instead of a division of the empire, even if after 395 there was a slow divergence between the two halves of the empire in many respects.


The idea of ​​distributing power in the Roman Empire among several rulers who were assigned different regional areas of responsibility was old: Remarkably, the dividing line 395 ran almost exactly where the border between the areas of power of Octavian and Mark Antony had been established almost 450 years earlier was, namely in Europe on the Drina River and in Africa on the ancient Arae Philaenorum near the Great Syrte . In the 3rd century at the latest, this idea was taken up again under Emperor Valerian , who had shared the rule with his son Gallienus and assigned the western half of the empire to him. In late antiquity , multiple empires had become the rule since Diocletian , and there were at least two imperial courts in the empire since 364. Everything indicates that the “division” of 395 also belongs in this series.

Consular diptych of Flavius ​​Constantius from the year 420. The two seated figures in the upper section represent the Western Emperor Honorius and the Eastern Emperor Theodosius II , flanked by the personifications of Rome and Constantinople.

In this context, the talk of a "division of the empire" is therefore basically misleading: De Jure was only a division of power, because even after 395 the Roman Empire continued to form a unit under constitutional law: the image of the emperor of the other half of the empire was in the Senate Curia of Rome and Constantinople, most of the laws (as long as they were officially communicated to the other court) generally applied across the empire, and it was not uncommon for one emperor to intervene in the policy of the other half. The last known law, which was enacted in the name of both emperors at the same time, dates from the year 472. For practical, especially military reasons, the rule in 395 had to be divided between two Augustis - moreover brothers - to split the empire into two independent halves one did not think. The late antique historian Eunapios von Sardis said: "The emperors rule a single empire in two bodies." Around 400, rivalries between the two imperial courts almost led to a war between East and West Rome; Such civil wars had already occurred repeatedly in the 4th century, without thereby calling into question the unity of the empire. On the contrary: even after 395, the disputes sparked not least because of the problem of which imperial court should have the last word on questions relating to the entire empire.

The Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II (408 to 450), the son of Arcadius, placed greater emphasis on the cohesion of the two halves of the empire, and therefore put his cousin Valentinian III in 424 . a new ruler in Ravenna, married him to his daughter Licinia Eudoxia and in 438 also initiated the promulgation of the Codex Theodosianus in the west. In this context, his chancellery referred to the Roman Empire as the coniunctissimum imperium , that is, as a “most closely connected empire”. Already in 437 Valentinian III. also visited Constantinople. Theodosius' successors, Markian and Leo I , repeatedly sent soldiers and two Augusti , Anthemius and Iulius Nepos , to the west. Above all, there is an enormously costly joint attack by western and eastern Roman troops on the Vandal Empire in 468. Conversely, the western emperor Valentinian III. 450 had a say in the succession in the Eastern Empire, which he was unable to enforce due to the threat from the Huns of Attila . A look at careers like the Aspars shows that soldiers and other officials in the 5th century could still switch back and forth between Eastern and Western Roman service.

The administrative division of the Roman Empire after 395.

Nevertheless, the regulation of 395 gained importance in retrospect: Since the Western Roman Empire was extinguished in 476/480 before a single emperor ( Augustus ) could have reigned, it turned out to be in fact final. Quite a few ancient historians are of the opinion that already in the course of the 4th century a stronger cultural, religious and above all economic divergence between the Greek-influenced East and the Latin West became apparent. This was strengthened and strengthened by the separation of 395 and the growing rivalry between the two imperial courts. The administrations in East and West actually functioned independently and each developed special features. Above all, it seems to have been a disadvantage that moving money and troops from east to west was not impossible, but much more complicated than before; this factor may have contributed to the continued existence of the economically much stronger east and the final collapse of western Rome. Misunderstandings, mistrust and jealousy between the two imperial courts could also have contributed to this.

From the point of view of contemporaries, however, the time of the division of the empire seems to have ended in 476 - from then on there was again only one Roman emperor, the one in Constantinople. After the extinction of the western empire, rule over the west lay with him as a matter of course, even if it was inevitably delegated to the rulers of the Germanic empires until further notice. Western authors like Hydatius von Aquae Flaviae therefore spoke of a monarchía of the Eastern Emperor over the whole empire. Even 140 years after the division of the empire, Emperor Justinian made it clear that he was willing to actually enforce these claims again, and waged wars of reconquest against Vandals, Ostrogoths and Visigoths.

The idea of ​​imperial unity ultimately outlived the division of 395 by at least 200 years. In 597, Emperor Maurikios seems to have had the concept applied two centuries earlier in mind, when he decreed that after his death his eldest son should reside in Constantinople, but his second-born in Rome - however, this plan was made in 602 by the extermination of the imperial ones Family destroyed by the usurper Phocas . A little later, the Latin administrative and command language as well as numerous other Roman traditions were given up in the east, and the now completely Graecised Byzantine Empire withdrew almost completely from the west from the 7th century. Even in the Middle Ages , the emperors in Constantinople were never to give up their claim to sovereignty in the entire former Roman sphere of influence .

See also


  • Paul S. Barnwell: Emperors, Prefects and Kings. The Roman West 395-565 . London 1992.
  • William Bayless: The political unity of the Roman Empire during the disintegration of the West, AD 395-457 . Providence 1972.
  • Heinz Bellen : Fundamentals of Roman History III. Late Antiquity from Constantine to Justinian . Darmstadt 2003.
  • Henning Börm : Westrom. From Honorius to Justinian . 2nd edition, Stuttgart 2018.
  • Émilienne Demougeot: De l'unité à la division de l'empire Romain (395-410) . Paris 1951.
  • Carola Föller, Fabian Schulz: The drifting apart of East and West. A new look at the threshold between late antiquity and the early Middle Ages . In: Carola Föller, Fabian Schulz (eds.): East and West 400-600 AD. Communication, cooperation and conflict . Stuttgart 2016, pp. 9-14.
  • Ferdinand R. Gahbauer: The division of the Roman Empire as the cause of the east-west church division . In: Ostkirchliche Studien 34, 1985, pp. 105–127.
  • Klaus Martin Girardet : Ancient wills of rulers - Political intentions and consequences. In: Brigitte Kasten (Hrsg.): Testaments of rulers and princes in the Western European Middle Ages . Cologne / Vienna 2008, pp. 83–124.
  • Jens-Uwe Krause : The late antiquity (284-565 AD) . In: Hans-Joachim Gehrke , Helmuth Schneider (Hrsg.): History of antiquity . Stuttgart / Weimar 2006, pp. 409–477.
  • Hartmut Leppin : Theodosius the Great . Darmstadt 2003.
  • Mischa Meier : The division of the Roman Empire into East and West . In: Matthias Puhle, Gabriele Köster (Hrsg.): Otto the Great and the Roman Empire. Empire from antiquity to the Middle Ages . Regensburg 2012, pp. 189–195.
  • John Moorhead: The Roman Empire divided, 400–700 . 2nd edition, London 2013.
  • Kaj Sandberg: The So-Called Division of the Roman Empire. Notes On A Persistent Theme in Western Historiography . In: Arctos 42, 2008, pp. 199-213.


  1. Cod. Iust. 1.11.8.
  2. Eunapios , Historien , Fragment 85. Cf. also Orosius , Historia adversum paganos , 7.36.
  3. See Henning Börm: Westrom . 2nd edition, Stuttgart 2018, pp. 42–53.
  4. Cod. Theod. 1,1,5.
  5. ^ Meaghan McEvoy: Between the old Rome and the new. Imperial co-operation approx. 400-500 CE . In: Danijel Dzino, Ken Parry (ed.): Byzantium, its Neighbors and its Cultures . Brisbane 2014, pp. 245-268.
  6. Priskos , Historien , Fragment 30.
  7. On the discussion, cf. the contributions in Roald Dijkstra, Sanne van Poppel, Daniëlle Slootjes (eds.): East and West in the Roman Empire of the Fourth Century. An End to Unity? Leiden / Boston 2015.
  8. See Henning Börm: Hydatius von Aquae Flaviae and the unity of the Roman Empire in the fifth century. In: Bruno Bleckmann , Timo Stickler (ed.): Greek profane historians of the fifth century AD ( Historia-Einzelschriften Volume 228). Stuttgart 2014, pp. 195-214.