Theodosius I.

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Depiction of Theodosius I on a Roman coin

Theodosius I ( Greek Θεοδόσιος Α' , actually Flavius Theodosius * January 11 347 in Cauca , Spain ; † 17 January 395 in Mediolanum ), also known as the Great Theodosius (Latin Theodosius Magnus ), was 379-394 Emperor in East of the Roman Empire and from September 394 de facto last sole ruler of the entire empire for a few months.

The reign of Theodosius was connected with radical changes for the Roman Empire . So a large group of was 382 for the first time Germans (the Goths ) as an autonomous organization under their own rulers as federates settled on the floor of the Empire, while Theodosius inside the Christianity in fact the sole state religion rose and laws against paganism and especially against Christian heresies issued . After a civil war, Theodosius achieved the unity of the empire one last time for a short time. After his death in 395, the associated division of the empire into two domains under his two sons ultimately led to the de facto final separation into a Western Roman and an Eastern Roman Empire , although contemporaries did not perceive this as such and the Roman Empire continued to exist as a unit under constitutional law .


The early years

Flavius ​​Theodosius was born on January 11, 347 in Cauca, today's Coca , a small town in the northwestern Hispanic province of Gallaecia . His father, who was also called Flavius ​​Theodosius and was a successful military man under Emperor Valentinian I , owned larger estates here. His paternal grandparents, Honorius and Thermantia, were probably Nicene Christians, as were his father and himself. Theodosius had a brother, Honorius, whose daughter Serena he later adopted. This was to achieve great influence through the marriage with the army master Stilicho .

The young Theodosius grew up in his Hispanic homeland. Little is known about his education, except that he showed an interest in historical studies and is said to have been very open-minded in other ways. Due to his upscale origins, he should have received a befitting education. From 368 he is attested in the entourage of his father. There he embarked on a military career and took part with him in the campaigns in Britain 368/369, in the campaign against the Alemanni 370 on the Rhine (his father already held the rank of magister equitum praesentalis at this time , so he was commander of the Cavalry of the court army) and against the Sarmatians 372/373 in the Danube region.

Presumably through the influence of his father, Theodosius was promoted to dux Moesiae superioris (later: dux Moesiae primae ), with which he was subordinate to his own military province in the Balkans. This kind of patronage was by no means uncommon at the time, and the younger Theodosius seemed quite up to the task. In 373 the father was finally to submission of the usurper Firmus for Africa recalled, while his son 374 the Sarmatians , in which had crossed the Danube Pannonia (about today's Hungary ) beat. Thus, he had proven himself as a commander and was well regarded as a military.

Valentinian I died at the end of 375, and in 376 Theodosius suddenly ended his military career and withdrew to his home possessions in Hispania. The reasons for this are extremely complex and also contradictory. In any case, the withdrawal is obviously closely connected to the death of his father, who was accused (probably wrongly) of high treason and sentenced to death in connection with the revolt of the Firmus and the subsequent investigation against the respected African governor Romanus . He was likely the victim of a power struggle for control of the young Emperor Gratian . In the same year, the younger Theodosius married Aelia Flaccilla , a woman from the Hispanic provincial nobility who gave birth to his eldest son Arcadius in 377 . Otherwise he devoted himself to the administration of his property. As things stood, Theodosius could hardly count on ever being active in the military again. But the situation changed dramatically when the Battle of Adrianople took place on August 9, 378 .

Theodosius' first years of reign in the East

In this battle, near today's Edirne , the Augustus of the East, Valens , fell in battle against a great warrior group called the Goths . Under their leader Fritigern, they had evaded the Huns and crossed the Danube in 376 after Valens, who wanted to use their combat strength, had granted them admission to the eastern part of the empire, where, however, they soon rebelled because of bad treatment by the local Roman functionaries. The so-called three peoples' confederation fought with them near Adrianople. It consisted of Alanic warriors who had fled their old homeland north of the Caucasus before the Huns , as well as rebellious Huns and Gothic greutings who had also evaded the Huns and actually wanted to serve the Romans. Two thirds of the imperial movement army , i.e. the powerful task forces in the east, went down with Valens.

The Balkans were now open to the Goths to plunder, even if Valens' widow Albia Domnica apparently succeeded in preventing the enemy from advancing against Constantinople with the help of a civil militia hastily raised in Adrianople. After this catastrophe, the Western Emperor Gratian , who was unable to hurry to the east himself, called Theodosius back from Hispania. The reasons for this decision are controversial in research. Most likely, however, Gratian simply needed a capable general; his co-emperor Valentinian II was still a child. In Sirmium , Gratian first appointed Theodosius army master over Illyria . Theodosius quickly achieved some successes, for example in Pannonia, where he defeated the Sarmatians who had crossed the Danube again. According to some researchers, he already had himself proclaimed emperor himself and was therefore formally a usurper ; but the exact processes of those weeks can hardly be reconstructed. It is to be expected, however, that in view of the difficult situation, Gratian could not refuse the successful general the purple if he wanted to avoid a civil war. On January 19, 379, Gratian elevated Theodosius to Augustus , but as senior Augustus himself remained formally higher. Valentinian II also remained superior to the new emperor de iure , as he, although still a child, was also senior. Theodosius was assigned the Praefectura Orientis by Gratian , including the dioceses of Dacia and Macedonia . Theodosius was thus subordinate to roughly the area that had already ruled Valens and which was to be added to the Eastern Empire after the division of the empire in 395. The men responsible for his father's death were no longer alive by this point.

Theodosius took care of securing his domain with great energy. He had initially chosen Thessaloniki as his residence for strategic reasons , from where he now reorganized the army (or rather: its remnants). In the course of this reorganization, the barbarization of the troops increased, although there were also a number of Roman generals on Theodosius's staff. Theodosius was initially successful against the Goths under Fritigern in the Balkans from 380, but eventually suffered a defeat. She forced him to seek help from Gratian, who then gave him two of his most experienced generals, Bauto and Arbogast . In 380 Gratian was also reimbursed to the dioceses of Dacia and Macedonia. At the end of the same year, Theodosius fell so seriously ill that he was baptized as a result - it was not customary at that time to be baptized as a child. As a result, Theodosius was now exposed to possible ecclesiastical sanctions, which he also faced in the subsequent period, for example in the conflict with the influential Bishop of Milan , Ambrosius (see the religious policy of Theodosius ).

On October 3, 382, ​​the army master Flavius ​​Saturninus, on behalf of the emperor, apparently concluded a contract with the Goths, in connection with which they were raised to so-called foederati . They were now allowed to settle south of the lower Danube , but had to help Rome with weapons. According to most historians, this Gothic treaty marked a turning point in Roman history. Some other scholars, however, refer to the very poor source situation (further details are only reported by Jordanes , almost 200 years after the events), question the alleged peculiarity of the agreements and in some cases even doubt that a contract was even concluded (e.g. Guy Halsall ).

According to the traditional view, the special meaning of the Gothic Treaty was as follows: Until now, defeated Teutons had been accepted as dediticii (subject), but had no rights (apart from personal freedom). The foedus of 382, ​​however, ensured that the settled Goths became imperial residents, but at the same time not formally Romans; they were also not allowed to enter into marriages with Roman citizens. The land they settled remained Roman territory, but the Goths were probably considered to be autonomous. The Goths had to serve the emperors as warriors, albeit under their own commanders, and were provided for by the Roman state; but the high command fell to Roman officers. Despite major concessions to the Goths, this treaty strengthened the defensive strength of Rome (which Theodosius was primarily concerned with), even if numerous disadvantages of this treaty were to become noticeable in the following years. However, according to recent research, this treaty can certainly not be interpreted as a first step towards the decline and dissolution of Rome. In addition, Theodosius only recognized the factual circumstances: the Gothic warriors could hardly be pushed out of the empire again. Seen in this way, this was a flexible measure by the emperor, who at least temporarily ensured calm and could now dispose of additional troops.

Intervention in the west and consolidation of the empire

In 383, Magnus Maximus , a Roman general of Hispanic descent, was promoted to Augustus by his troops in Britain . The reason was, among other things, the discontent in the military about the behavior of Gratian , who preferred to surround himself with Alans than with Roman officers. Gratian went to meet the usurper. In the vicinity of present-day Paris , however, most of his army defected to Maximus. Shortly afterwards, Gratian was murdered in Lyon . Theodosius, who in any case had never had a warm relationship with Gratian and was bound in the East (he was in the middle of preparing for a possible campaign against the Persians), let Maximus have his way for the time being. The empire was therefore initially divided, with Gratian's half-brother Valentinian II receiving only Italy and Africa ; the rest of the west was transferred to Maximus.

In the following years Theodosius devoted himself to the administration of the East. He took action against the almost ubiquitous corruption in the bureaucratic apparatus. However, he did not achieve any significant improvement in the economic situation or any sweeping reforms in the area of ​​taxation, even if he cannot be accused of neglect here. Theodosius did not manage to penetrate the civil administrative apparatus without gaps, but he did achieve an improvement in administrative practice in parts. Theodosius preferred the nobility, whether Christian or pagan aristocrats was irrelevant, since he was obviously of the opinion that it was easier to win men from this class who stood up for the good of the state. However, the emperor probably overlooked the fact that nobles often took their own class interests into account, which did not coincide with the common good.

The pagan historian Zosimos , who wrote a New History around 500 , depicts the Christian Theodosius topically in very dark colors. On the one hand, he followed his source Eunapios , and on the other, Zosimos disapproved of the emperor's religious policy. Zosimos accused Theodosius of nepotism , which was the rule rather than the exception in ancient society; above all, Theodosius had increased the number of military posts. This last step can hardly be rated negatively, because Theodosius may have only satisfied certain wishes and at the same time contained the influence of the military. In any case, Theodosius never had to deal with rebel military during his entire reign in the Eastern Empire. In addition, modern research has been able to prove that Zosimos made some false statements, because in the east there had been three army masters before Theodosius, Theodosius increased this number to five, although he also had to defend additional territory with the Illyricum.

Constantinople experienced a lively boom during the reign of Theodosius and finally became the center of the Eastern Empire; previously, emperors like Julian or Valens had residences in other cities. The fortress ring had to be expanded, the palaces and especially the Forum Tauri ( Forum Theodosii ) were expanded. The capital's population eventually rose to around 250,000. In the cultural field, too, the East experienced a new bloom in literature and art . The city's "university" achieved world-class status, especially since numerous scholars worked in Constantinople and at court, such as the heathen Themistios . The extent to which Theodosius provided targeted support can no longer be clearly answered today. But at least it did not hinder the activity of the numerous pagans who contributed to this late cultural bloom.

Theodosius was not a war-loving emperor, which is also expressed in the fact that, completely unusual, he never took epithets like Gothicus , Persicus or the like. The peace period that began after the Goths Treaty of 382 benefited the Eastern Empire, at least for the time being. In 387, after years of negotiations, a treaty was concluded with the Sassanid Empire . According to this, the always controversial Armenia should be divided: about 1/5 of the country was given to Rome, while the rest was annexed by Persia (so-called Persarmenia ). Theodosius thus gave up the centuries-old Roman claim to all of Armenia. However, the gain in territory was still important for Rome, mainly for reasons of border security. In doing so, Theodosius also ensured calm on the eastern border, which was otherwise always threatened, and had gained some leeway. In the same year the Emperor Galla , the sister of Valentinian II, married.

In 388, Theodosius finally went to war against Magnus Maximus . This had invaded Italy, so that Valentinian II had to flee to Theodosius, who now moved with a strong army to the west. In the end, Theodosius emerged victorious from the conflict; Maximus was defeated in two battles and executed shortly afterwards, which also showed the extent to which Theodosius' military policy was successful, despite the criticism of some historians regarding the use of foederati. With the victory over Maximus, Theodosius had de facto the entire administration of the empire in his hands. Nevertheless, he reinstated the young Valentinian II in the west. At his side Theodosius placed the capable, but also ambitious Frankish General Arbogast , who had gone to the east from Gratian years earlier to support Theodosius. Arbogast was probably supposed to control Valentinian on Theodosius's behalf. On June 13, 389, Theodosius finally made a triumphant entry into Rome , where he tried to come to an understanding with the city-Roman senatorial circles, which were still predominantly pagan; he appointed professing Heiden and senior Senator 390 Virius Nicomachus Flavianus to praefectus praetorio and thus to one of the highest civil officials of the Empire. Shortly afterwards he went to Milan , where a conflict with Ambrosius soon arose (see below).

Theodosius was initially relatively tolerant of the pagans (against whom he only acted in his last years of reign) and the Goths. But after the Goths leader Alaric , the political opponent of his last years, rose up against him in 390/91 , he tightened his policy towards the Gothic foederati . It must be noted that the emperor's Goth policy was always geared to the requirements of realpolitik. Theodosius may have partly supported the Goths. Jordanes even called him one in the 6th century

"Friend of peace and the Gothic people" (Jord. Getica 29, 146)

However, this did not prevent him from bleeding the Goths to death for his own purposes, as the high losses of Gothic troops on his campaigns show. Admittedly, this approach of using the best available troops intensively was not unusual.

At the end of 391 Theodosius left Milan and went back to Constantinople. But only a few months later a development occurred in the west that made it necessary for the emperor to intervene again there.

Last years of reign and death

Theodosius in the box of the Hippodrome of Constantinople

On May 15, 392, Valentinian II was found hanged in his palace in Vienne . It is unclear whether he was murdered by Arbogast or died by suicide due to his de facto impotence (which most researchers believe is more likely). For months Arbogast asked Theodosius in vain to send a new emperor, and so the court official and rhetorician Eugenius , who was a moderate Christian, was proclaimed emperor by Arbogast's troops (August 21/22, 392). Soon afterwards Eugenius came to an understanding with the pagan senators of Italy, since the Christian bishops, under the leadership of Ambrosius of Milan, refused to cooperate with the usurper. Theodosius also refused to come to an agreement with Eugenius after initial hesitation. Eugenius, however, tried since the beginning of the reign to be recognized by Theodosius, whereby he explicitly wanted to take a subordinate rank; until 393 he continued to mint coins with the image of Theodosius.

In Theodosius' refusal to arrive at a modus vivendi , in addition to power-political considerations, perhaps the fact that the pagan circles in Rome, including the families of the Symmachi and Nicomachi (see the above-mentioned Virius Nicomachus Flavianus ) belonged, quite bluntly, to a, now anachronistic, suppression of the Christians. Above all, Flavianus campaigned zealously for Eugenius and a pagan restoration, while his friend and relative Quintus Aurelius Symmachus , who had campaigned for Magnus Maximus years earlier, was noticeably reserved. However, statements by Christian authors that the Gentiles planned to turn churches into stables should be treated with great caution. At least in part it is a reflex to the limited renewal of the pagan cults, especially since the Christian Eugenius was by no means hostile to the church, but of course received no support from Ambrose either. It can be assumed that the Christian, pro-Theodosian tradition deliberately stylized the civil war as a conflict between the "orthodox" emperor and a supposedly anti-Christian challenger. In truth there were Christians and pagans on both sides, and Eugenius may have sought nothing more than a very limited tolerance towards the Old Believers.

Theodosius now elevated his younger son Honorius , next to Arcadius , from 383 Augustus , to co-emperor on January 23, 393, for the west. A peaceful agreement with Eugenius and Arbogast had thus become impossible. Soon afterwards, Theodosius, who had carefully prepared the campaign, marched into the west with a strong army of supposedly about 100,000 men, which also included Gothic auxiliary troops. At his side was Stilicho , who had become more and more an important confidante of the emperor. On 5th / 6th On September 394, Eugenius and Arbogast were defeated in the extremely bloody battle on Fluvius frigidus in the Vipava valley in what is now the border area between Italy and Slovenia . Theodosius supposedly spent the evening before the battle waking and praying in the fortress Ad Pirum on the high plateau of the Birnbaumer forest . It was one of the greatest battles in Roman history and, in retrospect, was regarded by Christians as a divine judgment: Christianity had therefore triumphed over the old gods. In truth, however, Christians and pagans had fought on both sides. Eugenius was captured and executed, and Arbogast died of suicide shortly afterwards. The best units of the Western Roman Army were killed in battle - a loss that could never be made up. Eugenius' traditional supporters mostly got away scot-free, and pagans still held high offices under Honorius.

With the overthrow of Eugenius, Theodosius was unrestricted ruler over both parts of the empire and, if only for a very short time, actually achieved unity for the last time. It should be noted, however, that at this point in time he was only senior Augustus and not the only emperor in the empire, since Arcadius resided as junior Augustus at the eastern court.

The emperor strove to bridge the gap created by the civil war. Shortly after the battle, he announced that all of Eugenius' soldiers who were ready to serve him would not only be pardoned (this was customary), but also receive a share of the booty. The emperor also came to an understanding with urban Roman circles; so he appointed with Flavius ​​Anicius Hermogenianus Olybrius and Flavius ​​Anicius Probinus consuls who, although Christians, came from the Senate aristocracy. The emperor involved the group that had previously supported the pagan restoration policy most vehemently. Theodosius also evidently planned to move his main residence back to Italy, and therefore had his younger son come to him at the western court in Milan, while Arcadius stayed in the east.

The Roman Empire at the time of Theodosius I's death in AD 395

Emperor Theodosius I died surprisingly on January 17, 395, probably of dropsy . Arcadius was promoted to senior Augustus , while the western court had to be content with the junior Augustus Honorius. Ambrosius, with whom the emperor had had many a quarrel, gave a moving funeral speech in which he stylized the person of Theodosius as the model of a Christian emperor:

I loved the man who, in his last moments, asked for me with his last breath. I loved the man who, near the end, was more concerned about the condition of the Church than about his own health. I loved him, I admit it, and that is why the pain penetrated my deepest soul, and I believed I should alleviate it through the honorable obituary of a lengthy speech. I loved him and I have the firm confidence in the Lord that he will take up the voice of my prayer, which I send after his pious soul. (Ambrosius, De obitu Theodosii, 35)

Ambrose admonished Theodosius' young sons to respect the Church as their father did. After a period of mourning, the body was transferred to Constantinople under pressure from Arcadius and buried there in the Apostle Church. Theodosius bequeathed the empire to his two sons Arcadius and Honorius: Honorius (who was placed alongside Stilicho; whether this goes back to Theodosius is disputed) became emperor in the west, Arcadius in the east. However, no one left any doubts about the continued existence of one empire, regardless of whether it was divided into two domains among his sons (as was the case under Valentinian I and Valens , for example ), whereby the unity of the empire was formally preserved (see also the division of the empire of 395 ). Soon, however, the two parts of the empire slowly but definitely diverged, and the Western Roman Empire was to perish only 80 years later. No emperor after Theodosius should actually succeed in re-establishing the unity of the empire, even though Justinian I tried to do so with some success in the 6th century (bought at great sacrifice).

Religious politics

Christian emperor

In the sources the Christian piety of the emperor is repeatedly emphasized. This was expressed, for example, in the fact that, as emperor, he finally rejected the title of Pontifex Maximus , as this had been the highest title of the pagan-ancient Roman religion ; in research it is not entirely undisputed whether this step really came from Theodosius himself. Furthermore, he was the first to announce his appointment as emperor not only to the Senate in Rome , but also to that of Constantinople .

What set Theodosius apart from his predecessors was less his Christian faith than his emphatic emphasis on catholicity : most of the Christian emperors before him had sympathized with Arianism . Theodosius, on the other hand, declared in the famous edict Cunctos populos (which was addressed to the population of Constantinople, but also addressed the entire population of the empire) that Nicene Christianity was decisive: only those who profess the religion, that of the apostles, can be considered a true Catholic Christian Peter handed down to the Romans and to which the then Pope Damasus and the then Bishop of Alexandria , Petros, would profess; therefore it is true “that we believe in the one Deity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit with equal majesty and the Holy Trinity” . All others should be considered heretics .

In addition, Theodosius convened the 1st Council of Constantinople (the 2nd Ecumenical Council ) in 381 in order to end the dispute that had lasted since 325 and the threatening religious split between Trinitarians and Arians . At this council 150 bishops again rejected Arianism and formulated the final version of the Nicean Creed that still exists today .

Theodosius, who at the beginning of his reign did not hesitate to give his deceased father the traditional title divus (the divine), only took energetic measures against the paganism that he was up to in the last years of his reign - obviously in connection with the usurpation of Eugenius had tolerated there; thus, pagan officials and the military continued (and should continue to be) employed. In 391/92, however, he finally forbade pagan cults and their practice. This was probably a limited action, which was supposed to be directed quite specifically against the largely old-believing followers of Eugenius. In 393 the Olympic Games were also banned, but Theodosius II did not really put an end to them with the burning of the Temple of Zeus (although they are said to have taken place clandestinely and to a lesser extent until the 6th century).

Whether the corresponding decrees of the emperor, which probably belonged in a limited temporal, political and local context, should really be taken literally is now doubted by research: Remarkably, there is no reference to either Christian or pagan authors of the fifth century de facto effective ban on pagan cults. So if the imperial laws were to really apply across the empire, they were evidently neither noticed nor enforced. Today many scholars are of the opinion that it was only Emperor Justinian (150 years after Theodosius) who really took action against the last Old Believers in the empire; only this let the last officially tolerated temples close.

In the year 391 there was a serious incident: In Alexandria there had been bloody clashes between Christians and pagans, probably fueled by the Patriarch Theophilus . Some pagans had holed up in the well-known Serapis shrine, forced Christians to sacrifice and some were crucified. Although Theodosius forgave the murders to calm the situation, he ordered the sanctuary to be destroyed, with Theophilus also destroying other pagan shrines. However, other reports of temple destruction are very problematic and their correctness cannot always be fully clarified. In any case, it is clear that Theodosius never ordered the demolition of the temple and that it can be traced back to encroachments by local governors or bishops.

The argument with Ambrosius

Two examples illustrate where the limits of imperial power lay in the religious realm. In 388 a synagogue in Callinicum , in the east of the empire on the border with Persia, went up in flames after the local bishop incited the Christian mob, including numerous monks, to a pogrom . A background for this act may have been provided by the persecution of Christians initiated several years earlier by the Persian king Shapur II , in which Jews are said to have participated, but this is ultimately an unproven assumption. One thing is certain: Theodosius initially understood the outbreak of violence simply as a security policy problem, as an uproar that the Roman state could of course not tolerate. The emperor therefore wanted to hold the Christian arsonists accountable for their deed and, in particular, demanded that the destroyed synagogue be rebuilt. But he was dissuaded by Ambrose , the bishop of Milan , who had already exerted great influence on Gratian and Valentinian II: Ambrose insisted that there was a conflict between Christian faith and Judaism; if the emperor punished the Christian violent criminals, he would thereby turn against the only true religion. Ambrose therefore refused Communion to Theodosius until he finally gave in and left the guilty unpunished.

A second example is the Thessaloniki massacre in 390, in which allegedly 7,000 citizens were massacred by Gothic foederati due to the murder of the Gothic general Butherich . It was said that the emperor had not been able to withdraw the execution order for Butherich's murderers in time, and that the targeted retaliatory action had turned into a massacre; but it is also possible that this version should exculpate Theodosius afterwards. In any case, Theodosius was held responsible for the events by Ambrosius, not admitted to mass and forced to perform an act of penance , which, however, in no way diminished the emperor's official dignity. Rather, Theodosius had the opportunity to present himself as a humble, but also a virtuous ruler and to demonstratively deny himself the guilt for the bloodbath. Nevertheless, the examples show that a powerful and strong-willed ecclesiastical official could wrest concessions from the emperor, who claimed to be above all laws. This was a direct result of the baptism that took place in 380, as the emperor himself was now exposed to ecclesiastical sanctions.

Evaluation of religious policy

Arcadius on a solidus
Bronze coin with the profile of Honorius

When considering the religious policy of Theodosius, it must be emphasized that some sharp pronouncements in the laws found a rather mild implementation in practice - if at all. Theodosius was evidently no "agitator"; His main concern was the integrating element of religion, in order to rule out any threat to the stability of the state from there. Above all against heretics, not against pagans, action should be taken, and here the statements of later contemporaries such as those of Orosius , but also of Augustine of Hippo , show that Theodosius' religious policy made a significant contribution to the fact that the Roman Empire, despite its factual division 395 ( division of the empire from 395 ) once again achieved a certain internal unity, however fragile this might be. The religious policy of Theodosius, which was shaped by the generally recognized imperial self-image as God's viceroy on earth , finally provided a significant boost in the Christianization of the empire, which now made the leap to the real Imperium Romanum Christianum , even if paganism for at least 200 years long persisted.


Theodosius had three children from his first wife Aelia Flaccilla († 386): the two sons Arcadius and Honorius , who later succeeded him, and a daughter named Pulcheria († 385).

From his second wife Galla, a daughter of Valentinian I , he had a daughter, Galla Placidia , who was to play a major political role after his death, as well as a son named Gratian, who died early († 394?).


In the judgment of contemporaries

Theodosius was judged differently by contemporaries. For many pagans (such as Themistios and Libanios ), but above all for church historians ( Orosius , Sozomenos , Socrates ) he was a model of ruler's virtues. The historian Zosimos (who followed the harsh judgment of his source, the pagan philosopher Eunapios of Sardis ) saw it quite differently, although the work of Zosimos (precisely because of his attitude to Christianity) colored problematic and strongly subjective in many ways, sometimes even contradicting and flawed. Similar reservations must, of course, also apply to the church historians themselves, who endeavored to present the emperor in the best possible light.

In research

17th century painting by Anthony van Dyck : Ambrosius and Theodosius

In older research, theodosius was sometimes skeptical and negative (like Otto Seeck and the French historian André Piganiol ) or completely positive ( Ernst Kornemann ). In modern research, too, the spectrum ranges from benevolent ( Adolf Lippold ) to slightly distant ( Hartmut Leppin , who attributes some of the emperor's successes to his "luck" and tries to interpret the emperor's Nicene confession from a tactical point of view). At the same time, however, Leppin repeatedly emphasizes the prudent and integration-oriented actions of the emperor as well as the difference between “strong words and mild deeds”, for example in relation to religious policy.

Due to their ambivalence, the sources open up many possibilities for interpretation without the emperor really becoming tangible as a person. But modern research largely agrees that Theodosius can hardly be blamed for the subsequent development of the western empire - because Roman policy only failed with regard to the barbarians when they had already broken into the empire after the collapse of the Rhine border in 406 (see Rhine crossing from 406 ) and finally there was no longer any way to stop them.


Soon after his death, Theodosius was called "the Great" because of his efforts to unite the Church . In the area of ​​religious policy he achieved the real breakthrough to the Christian empire, whereby his (at least indirect) role in the final formulation of the Nicean Creed , which is still valid today, is important. At the same time, this was an important step towards internal stabilization of the empire.

However, in the military sector he did not succeed in permanently solving the recruitment problem. The barbarization of the army progressed steadily due to the increasing use of foederati , although this practice only took into account the lack of available soldiers at the time. In order to solve this problem, which existed especially after the debacle of Adrianople, Theodosius found it essential to increase the army with the help of barbaric auxiliary troops. This was a measure that the predecessors of Theodosius had already resorted to and which was to be successful for the time being. A complete penetration of the civil elite and an effective solution to the financial problems, which were partly caused by the salaries of the federates, has not been successful. Instead, there were improvements in administrative practice, while literature and art once again experienced an upswing during his reign.

Despite some qualifications, Theodosius I is considered to be the most important ruler in the period between Constantine the Great and Justinian I. It was not least thanks to the skills and measures of Theodosius that the Eastern Empire stabilized again after Adrianople and the danger to the Goths at least temporarily was banned, especially since Theodosius avoided military adventures and founded a dynasty that was to be the longest-lived of the late Roman Empire . The emperor always acted with caution and tried to be integrative. His carefully prepared and thoroughly successful campaigns, such as those against Magnus Maximus and Eugenius, also testify to his military skill, even if he was not a conqueror.

Theodosius himself seems to have been fickle at times, but was a thoroughly capable ruler who, in contrast to some of his predecessors and successors, made his own decisions, whereby contemporaries praised his character above all, especially since he was mild to his enemies.

See also: Late Antiquity


In addition to various laws, we also have the Historia Nea, the historical work of Zosimos (Book 4), which included pagan authors such as Eunapius of Sardis , and the church histories of Theodoret (Book 5), Sozomenos (Book 7) and Socrates Scholastikos (Book 5) available. In addition to various panegyrici, for example by Themistios and Claudian , the speeches of Libanios and the works of the church fathers Ambrosius and Augustine ( De civitate Dei ) are also important. For details, please refer to the article by Adolf Lippold in RE (see below).

  • CEV Nixon, BS Rodgers (eds.): In Praise of Later Roman Emperors. The Panegyrici Latini. Oxford 1994, ISBN 0-520-08326-1 .
    (Panegyrici in English translation and provided with brief comments.)


  • Thomas S. Burns: Barbarians within the Gates of Rome. A Study of Roman Military Policy and the Barbarians (ca. 375-425). Indiana University Press, Bloomington 1994, ISBN 0-253-31288-4 .
    (Detailed study of military history, in which some very interesting views on the Roman politics of the Goths are represented.)
  • Alan Cameron : The Last Pagans of Rome . Oxford University Press, Oxford-New York 2011 (current and comprehensive study on the change in the pagan milieu during this time, with Cameron partly proposing new theses and rejecting the idea of ​​a “pagan revival”).
  • John Curran: From Jovian to Theodosius. In: Averil Cameron , Peter Garnsey (Eds.): The Cambridge Ancient History . Vol. 13: The Late Empire, AD 337-425. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1998, ISBN 0-521-30200-5 , especially p. 101 ff.
  • Jörg Ernesti: Princeps christianus and emperor of all Romans. Theodosius the Great in the light of contemporary sources. Schöningh, Paderborn / Munich / Vienna 1998, ISBN 3-506-76275-3 .
  • Robert Malcolm Errington : Roman Imperial Policy from Julian to Theodosius. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill 2006, ISBN 0-8078-3038-0 .
  • Robert Malcolm Errington: Theodosius and the Goths. In: Chiron . Volume 26, 1996, ISSN  0069-3715 , pp. 1-27.
    (Informative article that illuminates Theodosius' policy on the Goths and goes into the more recent research.)
  • Robert Malcolm Errington: Christian Accounts of the Religious Legislation of Theodosius I. In: Klio . Volume 79, 1997, ISSN  0075-6334 , pp. 398-443.
    (An important essay on the evaluation of the imperial religious policy. Errington can make plausible that the anti-pagan laws of the emperor remained largely ineffective in practice.)
  • Charles Freeman: AD 381. Heretics, Pagans and the Christian State . Random House, London 2009.
    (Freeman reassesses the emperor's religious policy and regards Theodosius more than the rest of the research as actively shaping and dominating the church.)
  • Geoffrey B. Greatrex : The Background and Aftermath of the Partition of Armenia in AD 387. In: The Ancient History Bulletin. Volume 14, 2000, ISSN  0835-3638 , pp. 35-48.
  • Mark Hebblewhite: Theodosius I and the Limits of Empire. Routledge, New York 2020.
  • Richard Klein : Theodosius the Great and the Christian Church. In: Eos. Volume 82, 1994, ISSN  0012-7825 , pp. 85-121.
  • Hartmut Leppin : Theodosius the Great. On the way to the Christian empire. Primus, Darmstadt 2003, ISBN 3-89678-471-4 (Gestalten der Antike).
    (Currently the current and probably best representation in German, whereby Leppin in part underestimates Theodosius' [military] abilities.)
  • Hartmut Leppin: Theodosius the Great and the Christian Empire. The divisions of the Roman Empire. In: Mischa Meier (Ed.): They created Europe. CH Beck, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-406-55500-8 , pp. 27-44.
  • Adolf Lippold : Theodosius the great and his time. 2nd Edition. CH Beck, Munich 1980, ISBN 3-406-06009-9 .
    (Older illustration; the classic on the subject in German-speaking countries.)
  • Adolf Lippold: Theodosius I. In: Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Antiquity Science (RE). Supplementary volume XIII, Stuttgart 1973, Sp. 837-961.
    (Important article that goes into detail on the sources.)
  • André Piganiol : L'Empire Chrétien (325-395). 2nd Edition. Presses Universitaires de France, Paris 1947. Edition edited by André Chastagnol, Paris 1972.
  • Otto Seeck : History of the fall of the ancient world. 2nd Edition. Volume 5, Stuttgart 1920; Reprint Primus, Darmstadt 2000, ISBN 3-89678-161-8 .
    (Knowledgeable, but partly outdated and, due to the reference to social Darwinism, not undisputed description.)
  • Stephen Williams, Gerard Friell: Theodosius. The Empire at Bay. London 1994, ISBN 0-300-07447-6 .
    (Solid representation of the reign of Theodosius.)

Web links

Commons : Theodosius I  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. On this problem, cf. H. Sivan, Was Theodosius I a Usurper? , in: Klio 78, 1996, pp. 198ff.
  2. On the development after Adrianople and the elevation of Theodosius cf. Leppin, Theodosius the Great (2003), p. 35ff.
  3. See last Guy Halsall: Barbarian Migrations and the Roman West . Cambridge 2007, p. 180ff.
  4. See Leppin, Theodosius der Große (2003), pp. 45ff.
  5. To solve the “Gothic problem” cf. also Burns, Barbarians within the Gates of Rome , pp. 73ff.
  6. Cf. for example Zosimos 4, 26-30 and 4.33.
  7. ^ Zosimos 4:27.
  8. On the criticism of the false image of Theodosius conveyed by Zosimos, cf. for example the comment by Stefan Rebenich in: Otto Veh (translator), Zosimos. Neue Geschichte , Stuttgart 1990, p. 344f. Cf. also Alexander Demandt , Magister militum , in: Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswwissenschaft (RE) , Supplement volume 12, Sp. 720ff., On the evidence for the number of military masters in the East.
  9. See Leppin, Theodosius der Große (2003), pp. 188ff.
  10. See Greatrex, The Background and Aftermath of the Partition of Armenia in AD 387
  11. ^ Leppin, Theodosius the Great (2003), p. 106ff.
  12. Joachim Szidat is fundamental to usurpation: The usurpation of Eugenius . In: Historia 28 (1979), pp. 487-508, which has plausibly refuted many ideas of older research. General cf. also Leppin, Theodosius der Große (2003), pp. 205ff. and now especially Cameron, Last Pagans of Rome , esp. pp. 93ff. Herbert Bloch offers an interesting and much noticed, albeit outdated analysis (see above all Alan Cameron ): The Pagan Revival in the West at the End of the Fourth Century. In: Arnaldo Momigliano (Ed.): The Conflict Between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century. Oxford 1963, pp. 193-218.
  13. Included in the Codex Justinianus 1,1,1.
  14. This is attested in particular by inscriptions, cf. for example CIL VI 36960.
  15. Cf. the fundamental contribution of Malcolm Errington. Christian accounts of the Religious Legislation of Theodosius I . In: Klio 79, 1997, p. 398ff.
  16. Leppin, Theodosius the Great (2003), p. 169ff. (on the events in Alexandria), p. 124f. (on previous attacks).
  17. Cf. Richard Klein : Theodosius the Great and the Christian Church . In: Raban von Haehling and Klaus Scherberich (eds.): Richard Klein. Roma versa per aevum. Selected writings on pagan and Christian late antiquity . Hildesheim / Zurich / New York 1999, p. 275.
  18. Cf. Ulrich Gotter : Between Christianity and State Reason. Roman Empire and Religious Violence . In: Johannes Hahn (Ed.): Late Antique State and Religious Conflict . De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2011, pp. 133ff.
  19. For a summary, see Leppin, Theodosius der Große (2007), p. 36f.
  20. On this problem in general, cf. Ulrich Gotter: Transitions. Emperor, Church and the Problem of Civil Violence in Late Antiquity . In: Andreas Pečar , Kai Trampedach (ed.): Theocracy and theocratic discourse. The talk of the rule of God and its political-social effects in an intercultural comparison. Tübingen 2013, pp. 165–196.
  21. ↑ In general on religious policy cf. Leppin, Theodosius the Great (2003), p. 169ff. with further literature; see also Klein, Theodosius the Great .
  22. Cf. on Leppin's book also the review in Plekos (PDF; 80 kB) by Richard Klein: But whether not, one might ask, the preservation of imperial unity, the external safeguarding of the empire in an almost hopeless situation and the energetic conclusion are proof of strength and greatness of a long-running religious dispute? That was certainly just as impossible to achieve with mere fortune or "dumb" as with mere tactics in questions of faith.
  23. In addition to the endeavor to reach an understanding after the civil wars, an episode from 384 can also be used to illustrate when the only attempt at usurpation occurred. An assassin was caught, but demonstratively spared by the emperor, cf. Leppin, Theodosius the Great (2003), p. 122.
predecessor Office successor
Valens and Valentinian II. Roman Emperor
(Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire)
(Emperor of the Western Roman Empire)
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on January 18, 2005 in this version .