Honorius became emperor upon the death of his father, Theodosius I. He is considered to have been a weak, ineffectual emperor by most historians, including J. B. Bury and Edward Gibbon. See the Booklist for information on the works of these and other sources. In fact, some writers have implied or stated outright that Honorius was feeble-minded. He was the younger son of Theodosius I and inherited the Western Roman Empire upon Theodosius' death while his older brother Arcadius became ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire.
Honorius did have one major advantage going for him. The loyal and gifted Flavius Stilicho was Magister Militum in the West during the reign of Theodosius I, and continued in this capacity after Theodosius' death. For fifteen years of Honorius' reign, Stilicho protected the Western empire against barbarian attack and powerful noblemen who would seize a Roman province and carve out a kingdom for themselves. For a full description of these battles and Stilicho's tactics, see the article titled Stilicho the General and Alaric the Barbarian.
During Honorius' reign, public anger and reaction against the use of the high proportion of Germanic barbarian troops enlisted in the Roman army came to a head. Stilicho was half Vandal, and neither he nor his family were able to escape the rising tide of racism and bigotry that involved so many Goths and Vandals who were simply giving their best service to Rome by fighting the wars that most Italians refused to fight any longer. With the help of a corrupt official by the name of Olympias who got Honorius to believe that Stilicho was about to murder him and put his son Eucherius on the throne, the anti-German faction managed to turn Honorius against his loyal old Magister Militum. On August 22, A. D. 408, Stilicho was treacherously enticed out of sanctuary in a Ravenna church and beheaded by Count Heraclian. With Stilicho dead, Alaric and the Visigoths that had been plaguing Greece and Italy for the past fifteen years were free to wreak havoc in any part of the West.
The most important event of Honorius' reign occurred nearly two years to the day after Stilicho's murder. Alaric laid siege to the Eternal City, which held out for several months. Aided by some suffering Roman citizens or Gothic slaves inside the walls, he was let in to the city of Rome through the Salarian Gate on the night of August 24, A. D. 410. For three days Alaric and his men had the run of the city, taking whatever they wanted but doing very little killing or burning. Considering that Rome was at this point a prize of war, the Visigoths were quite gentlemanly about their conquest of The city. They left, marching south, foraging for food, looting, and burning. Alaric died before his people could obtain ships to make the crossing to North Africa.
In 418, other Visigoths exacted a treaty from Honorius that gave them the area of Toulouse in southern France on which to settle and establish a kingdom. This was the first barbarian kingdom established on Roman soil. there was little or nothing Honorius could do to stop them if he had wanted to.
The rest of Honorius' reign was fairly uneventful. He died in 423 of illness and was succeeded by the usurper Johannes.
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