Theodosius II

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Theodosius II ( ancient Greek Θεοδόσιος Βʹ ; * April 10, 401 in Constantinople ; † July 28, 450 ), the only son of Aelia Eudoxia and Arcadius , was Eastern Roman emperor from 408 until his death . In the Codex Theodosianus he had the laws and decrees of the Roman emperors collected since 312.

While Theodosius is traditionally considered to be a weak, indifferent ruler, more recent research is increasingly referring to the successes of his long reign, which also gave stability to the eastern half of the Roman Empire.


Theodosius II (naming uncertain)

Beginnings up to 414

After the death of his father Arcadius, the only seven-year-old Theodosius was made sole emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire on May 1, 408 , after he was nominally already in January 402, only a few months old, when Augustus had been made co-emperor. He now bore the title of Imperator Caesar Flavius ​​Theodosius Augustus . The late antique historian Prokop reports in his histories that the dying Arcadius did not want to leave his son defenseless, which is why he wrote the Persian king Yazdegerd I as epitropos (“guardian” or “executor”). This is said to have threatened anyone who dared to attack Theodosius with war. According to the report of the Central Byzantine chronicler Theophanes (around 800), he also sent a Persian eunuch named Antiochus, who is said to have acted as guardian of the young emperor on his behalf.

The historicity of this episode is highly controversial in research, but it is often assumed that there is at least a historical core: around 408, relations between Romans and Persians were rarely before or after. From 408 to 414, the affairs of government were actually carried out by the energetic praefectus praetorio Orientis Anthemius . He kept peace with Persia, improved the position of East Stream in the Balkans and, in particular, initiated the erection of the famous Theodosian Wall , which protected Constantinople and was overcome by attackers only twice - in the fourth crusade in 1204 and during the siege of Constantinople in 1453 .

Sister Pulcheria, wife Aelia Eudocia, daughter Licinia Eudoxia and son Arcadius II.

Solidus of Empress Aelia Pulcheria , the eldest sister of Emperor Theodosius II.

After the disempowerment of Prefect Anthemius from the beginning of 414, the emperor's eldest sister, Aelia Pulcheria , largely held the strings of imperial power as Augusta , controlled access to her little brother and thus had a decisive influence on politics. At the same time, she vowed eternal virginity, which should certainly also ensure that ambitious men could not hope to come to power by marrying her. The actual conditions at the ruler's court are ultimately beyond our knowledge, as the sources are not very reliable on this point and the young emperor's passivity may be exaggerated. But it is at least possible that the convinced Christian Pulcheria provoked a war with the "unbelieving" Persians (420 / 21-422), which ended in a stalemate (see below). In June 421 Theodosius married the poet Athenaïs, who took the name Aelia Eudocia when she was baptized .

His wife is also said to have influenced the affairs of government, which Theodosius, according to hostile sources, allegedly neglected in favor of religious and philosophical questions, and apparently at times entered into bitter rivalry with her sister-in-law Pulcheria and was embroiled in power struggles at court. When she was said to have had an affair with the powerful courtier Paulinus, she finally lost the emperor's favor: Paulinus was executed and Aelia Eudocia went into exile in the Holy Land, where she also died a few years later.

Theodosius and Aelia Eudocia had three daughters, of whom only Licinia Eudoxia , who lived in 437 with her cousin Valentinian III. was married, survived. A lost mosaic in the church of San Giovanni Evangelista in Ravenna , handed down through medieval descriptions and illustrations , showed next to Eudoxia a D (ominus) N (oster) Arcadius , which was made by the ancient historian Ralf Scharf with a born around 435, raised to co-emperor in 439 and briefly then the deceased son of Theodosius is identified, but this is controversial.

Religious policy

In the year 426, at the instigation of Theodosius, the Zeus sanctuary in Olympia was closed and the Olympic Games, which had already been forbidden by his grandfather, were officially closed - but they may have been practiced secretly (on a modest basis) well into the 6th century: The possibilities of late ancient emperors were often limited in actually enforcing their laws.

Theodosius passed numerous anti-Jewish laws (see anti-Judaism ), probably at the instigation of his sister Pulcheria. He forbade Jews to build synagogues , and in 415 appointed the last Jewish patriarch, Gamaliel VI. , for violating it, after his death transferred the patriarchal tax to the imperial treasury and legalized the conversion of old synagogues into churches in 438. The emperor also prohibited Jews from serving as judges in cases involving Christians and from keeping Christian slaves.

On the other hand, there can be no question of a real “religious war”, because a law passed in 423 forbade Jews or pagans to use violence if they lived in peace and did not disturb order or violate laws. If innocent people were robbed in this regard, they should be reimbursed threefold. As before, maintaining the pax Augusta was more important to the imperial government than enforcing religious dogmas.

In 431 Theodosius convened the Council of Ephesus , which was supposed to put an end to the fierce Christological disputes of that time, but ended with the Nestorians breaking away from the Orthodox Church. In his last years the emperor turned to monophysitism - allegedly under the influence of the praepositus Chrysaphius - a council convened again after Ephesus was so strongly dominated in 449 by the Alexandrian patriarch , a prominent proponent of this doctrine, that many other church leaders, including the Roman bishop, who dismissed the assembly as a latrocinium ( synod of robbers ), refused to recognize the results. It was at this council that Monophysitism, that is, the Christological thesis that Jesus Christ had only one, namely, divine nature, was declared a dogma. Theodosius II did not achieve a religious unification of his empire, nor did any of his predecessors and successors.

The Codex Theodosianus and cultural life

In 429, Theodosius convened a commission to collect all laws that had been passed since the reign of Constantine I in order to create a systematically ordered body of law. This plan remained unfinished, but the task of a second commission to collect and update all legal enactments was fulfilled. This collection (see also Law School of Beirut ) was published as Codex Theodosianus in 438 and was only replaced by the Codex Iustinianus in 534 under Justinian . With the emperor Valentinian III residing in Ravenna . Theodosius agreed that the Codex should also apply in the western half of the empire and that future laws of both rulers should also apply throughout the empire. The codex was written in Latin. It is noteworthy, however, that only a few years after 438 Theodosius allowed the first steps to be taken to allow Greek as a judicial and administrative language in addition to Latin. Several researchers doubt that Ostrom was transformed into a "Greek Empire" under Theodosius II, as Fergus Millar postulated it in 2006 . What is certain, however, is that a long-term development began which accelerated under Justinian (527 to 565) and finally led to the complete replacement of Latin by Greek under Herakleios (610 to 641).

The so-called University of Constantinople (425) was founded and reorganized during the reign of Theodosius . In general, the empire experienced a cultural heyday in the first half of the 5th century; Classical education ( Paideia ) was an important status feature of the imperial elite. Poetry was on the upswing, and Eunapios of Sardis and Olympiodorus of Thebes (who were both pagans themselves) as well as the church historians Socrates Scholastikos , Sozomenos , Philostorgios and Theodoret wrote their works at this time.

Foreign policy

The Theodosian Wall

Due to the turmoil in the west of the Roman Empire, traditionally referred to as the " migration of peoples ", and in view of the heavy fighting between the Iranian Huns and the Sassanid Empire , both Romans and Persians in the 5th century were fundamentally interested in a peaceful relationship with one another. Soon after the fall of Anthemius (see above), tensions arose with Persia. These erupted in two short but bloody wars: A first war broke out (after perhaps as early as 416/7 there had been limited fighting) at the end of 420, while Yazdegerd I was still alive; religious conflicts played a role in this. Initially the fighting took place in Armenia, then the fighting soon shifted to Mesopotamia , where the Romans won one or two major battles, but besieged the important city of Nisibis in vain. In 421 the new Sassanid king Bahram V personally intervened in the fighting, terrified Nisibis and then attacked the Romans, who were able to hold their own. The subsequent peace treaty of 422 was quite favorable for the Romans, especially since Bahram allowed the previously persecuted Christians to freely practice their religion in Persia, while the Romans were also entitled to the few Zoroastrians in the empire and probably committed themselves to symbolic monetary payments to the Persians as subsidies were trimmed.

In 441 fighting broke out again; apparently Theodosius had refused the Sassanids the previously agreed payments after the death of Bahram V. The new king Yazdegerd II advanced with his army on Roman territory, but made peace again after a few weeks as soon as the emperor had resumed the tribute payments; this should last until 502 (see also Roman-Persian Wars ).

In the west there were fighting with the Huns in the Balkans , although Ostrom paid the Huns many subsidies without being able to prevent them from raiding raids. In 395, at the time of Arcadius , there had even been a Huns invading the Roman Orient; the attackers then passed the Caucasus passes , sacked the Sassanid provinces of Mesopotamia and also advanced into eastern Roman territory before they could be stopped in 397. The threat posed by the steppe peoples seems to have temporarily moved East and Persia to cooperate. In the Treaty of Margus, the Eastern Romans had made far-reaching concessions and payments to the Huns under Attila and Bleda , but later stopped them, which resulted in Hunnic counter-actions. In the 440s in particular, the Balkan provinces were devastated by the Huns without the imperial troops succeeding in stabilizing the situation. In 447 the Romans suffered a heavy defeat and had to pay very high tributes . Towards the end of Theodosius' reign, an attempt by the Eastern Romans to murder Attila, king of the Huns, failed, see the report by the historian Priskos . Theodosius' successor refused (like Theodosius already) the tributes to the Huns again and was more successful this time, especially since Attila was bound in the west in 452 and died in 453.

The relationship with Westrom

Solidus to celebrate the wedding of the Western Roman Emperor Valentinian III. with Licinia Eudoxia , the daughter of the Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II. On the reverse, the three of them are shown in wedding clothes: the senior Augustus Theodosius II. somewhat taller, standing in the middle; his hands rest on the shoulders of his son-in-law Valentinian III. (left) and the shoulder of his daughter Licinia Eudoxia (right), standing in front of him holding hands. On the front of the solidus is Valentinian III. seen in profile.

The relations between Eastern and Western half of the empire were not part of foreign, but domestic policy , in which initially (until 423) Theodosius' uncle Honorius and from 425 his cousin Valentinian III. ruled. The contacts remained despite some tensions at the beginning of the 5th century and under Constantius III. who even prepared a civil war against Theodosius in 421. When, after Honorius' death, the usurper John claimed the empire in Ravenna, Theodosius sent troops to Italy at the beginning of 425, who defeated John and established his six-year-old cousin Valentinian in autumn 425 as the new Augustus of the West. Theodosius, who had apparently planned before the usurpation to rule the west from Constantinople himself, now sent his magister officiorum Helio to Italy to undertake the imperial coronation. Valentinian III. A few years later he also became Theodosius' son-in-law and personally visited Constantinople on the occasion of his marriage to Licinia Eudoxia in 437 to perform together with Theodosius and to demonstrate the unity of the two halves of the empire. On this occasion, the West also gave up its claims to the Illyricum , which had been disputed between the two imperial courts for decades , and which finally fell to the East.

As early as 431 Theodosius sent troops under his army master Aspar to the west to fight against Geiseric in North Africa , and in 441 he sent a large fleet, this time to assist Westrom in Sicily in the fight against the Vandals ; the operation had to be stopped when the Persians attacked in the Orient.

Overall, the awareness of representing only two halves of a single empire is still palpable in many ways under Theodosius II and was specifically promoted: The appointment of the most important officials by the two emperors was usually carried out in mutual consultation; the consul who was appointed in the other part of the empire was recognized and dated after both; Laws of one emperor mostly applied in the other part of the empire; The busts of both Augusti were erected in the Senate Curia in Rome and Constantinople , and financial support from one half of the empire for the other was not uncommon. The east proved to be the more successful and stable part of the empire early on. The predominantly peaceful relations with Persia, which enabled the Roman Orient provinces to flourish economically, also contributed to this. The accusation of older researchers that Theodosius II abandoned the increasingly unstable west of the empire to barbaric attacks in order to spare his half of the empire is certainly unjustified.

Death and succession

Theodosius II died surprisingly in 450 as a result of a riding accident: he fell while riding, apparently broke his spine and died after three days. He was succeeded by Markian , who married the sister of his predecessor, Pulcheria , and thus at least formally continued the Theodosian dynasty . The new emperor was recognized by Valentinian III., Who in vain claimed a say in the question of succession, but was not recognized until 452.


Since Edward Gibbon, Theodosius has long been considered a weak, impulsive ruler who never intervened in the (secular) affairs of government to any great extent during his entire reign, but remained a plaything for powerful functionaries like Anthemius, women like Pulcheria and eunuchs like Chrysaphius . Recently, ancient historians have begun to revise this view. Theodosius II is now increasingly viewed as a skilful and determined Augustus , who from around 420 onwards had very well held the reins of the government in his hands. The role of the imperial wives was overstated in the sources for various reasons, and men like Chrysaphius were deliberately built up by the ruler in order to escape daily politics and thus criticism. In addition, unlike the Western Roman emperors, he seems to have succeeded in preventing the military from having too much influence on the fortunes of the empire and in asserting the primacy of civil administration all in all. Theodosius, such as Giusto Traina , also had a significant influence on the development of the Eastern Roman court ceremonies and thus made decisive decisions on the way from the Roman to the Byzantine monarchy. It remains to be seen whether this reassessment of the emperor will prevail.

Fergus Millar advocates the thesis that under Theodosius II the change from the eastern half of the Roman Empire into the Greco-Byzantine Empire of the Middle Ages made significant progress. This thesis has been attacked by Averil Cameron and others, who emphasize that Roman-Latin traditions in the East were still alive and shaping in the 6th century.


  • Theodor Mommsen , P. Meyer: Theodosiani libri XVI cum constitutionibus Sirmondianis et leges novellae ad Theodosianum pertinentes . Berlin 1905 (reprint 1954, 1970).


  • John B. Bury : History of the Later Roman Empire. Volume 1, New York 1958 (reprinted from 1923 edition).
  • Geoffrey B. Greatrex : Two notes on Théodose II et les Perses . In: Antiquité Tardive 16, 2008, pp. 19-25.
  • Kazimierz Ilski: The Weak Emperor Theodosios? . In: Lars Martin Hoffmann, Anuscha Monchizadeh (ed.): Between polis, province and periphery: Contributions to Byzantine history and culture. Wiesbaden 2005, pp. 3-24.
  • Christopher Kelly (Ed.): Theodosius II: Rethinking the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity. Cambridge 2013.
  • AD Lee: The eastern empire. Theodosius to Anastasius . In: Averil Cameron et al. (Ed.): The Cambridge Ancient History . Volume 14, Cambridge 2000, pp. 34-42.
  • Adolf Lippold : Theodosius II. In: Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Antiquity Science (RE). Supplementary volume XIII, Stuttgart 1973, Sp. 961-1044.
  • Mischa Meier : Aspects of the religious self-staging in Theodosius II. (408–450 AD). In: Andreas Pecar, Kai Trampedach (ed.): The Bible as a political argument. Prerequisites and consequences of biblical power legitimation in the premodern era. Munich 2007, pp. 135–158.
  • Fergus Millar : A Greek Roman Empire. Power and Belief under Theodosius II (408-450). Berkeley 2006, ISBN 0-520-24703-5 (current and important study on the reign of Theodosius).
  • Edward A. Thompson : The Foreign Policies of Theodosius II and Marcian . In: Hermathena 76, 1950, pp. 58-75.
  • Giusto Traina: 428 AD. An Ordinary Year at the End of the Roman Empire . Princeton / Oxford 2009, ISBN 978-0-691-13669-1 .

Web links

Commons : Theodosius II.  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files


  1. ^ Adolf Lippold: Theodosius II. In: Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswwissenschaft (RE). Supplementary volume XIII, Stuttgart 1973, here Sp. 962.
  2. ^ Prokopios, De bello Persico I 2.
  3. See Henning Börm : Prokop and the Persians. Investigations on the Roman-Sasanid contacts in late antiquity . Stuttgart 2007, p. 308ff.
  4. See Ralf Scharf: The "Apple Affair" or: Was there an Emperor Arcadius II ?. In: Byzantinische Zeitschrift 83, 1990, pp. 435-450, in particular pp. 445ff.
  5. Codex Theodosianus 16, 10, 24.
  6. cf. B. Averil Cameron : Old and New Rome. Roman Studies in Sixth-Century Constantinople. In: Philip Rousseau et al. (Ed.), Transformations in Late Antiquity , Aldershot 2009, pp. 15–36.
  7. On the problem of the Persian money claims on the Romans, see Henning Börm: "It was not, however, that they received it in the sense of a tribute, as many thought ..." In: Historia 57, 2008, pp. 327–346.
  8. On the two Roman-Persian wars in the 5th century see Geoffrey B. Greatrex : The two fifth-century wars between Rome and Persia . In: Florilegium 12, 1993, pp. 1-14.
  9. See also Otto Maenchen-Helfen : Die Welt der Huns. Wiesbaden 1997, pp. 38-43 (reprint of the 1978 edition).
  10. See Henning Börm: Westrom. From Honorius to Justinian . Stuttgart 2018.
predecessor Office successor
Arcadius Eastern Roman Emperor