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Arcadius

Emperor A. D. 395 - 408

The Roman Empire was permanently divided into East and West in the year 395 A.D. when Arcadius was made emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire upon the death of his father, Theodosius I. Theodosius' other son, Honorius was given the Western Roman Empire to rule. There had been both an eastern and a western emperor since the time of Diocletian, but the empire had always been ruled as if it had been one empire with two halves. After 395, each half took on the character of a separate empire, with the western empire retaining the Latin language and European culture and traditions while the inhabitants of the eastern empire spoke Greek and adopted a culture combining Greek, Middle Eastern, and North African elements. Even the organization of the Christian Church took on a different character as you went from west to east in the late ancient world.

Arcadius was a rather weak emperor who was easily controlled by his high government officials. After Arcadius' Praetorian Prefect Rufinus was murdered by the order of Flavius Stilicho, Master General of the west, Eutropius, a palace eunuch who had been Arcadius' chamberlain gained power. Most authors of the time agree that Eutropius was thoroughly crooked, selling high offices and provincial governors' posts to the highest bidder and having honest rich men accused of treason just so he could seize their wealth and estates. This form of tyranny was prevalent during the reigns of Tiberius and Commodus. A leader of the Ostrogoths named Gainas revolted, taking many of his followers on a wild spree of murder, robbery, and destruction throughout the east. The Ostrogoths, a nomadic warrior people were not used to a life of farming and staying in one place all their lives. It is probable that Eutropius' oppressive system of collecting taxes drove the Ostrogoths to revolt. Strong evidence exists that this was the reason for the trouble because Gainas demanded the head of Eutropius as part of the terms for peace. It was probably the fact that Eutropius had somehow angered the Empress Eudoxia that actually led to his downfall. Strangely enough, he was not convicted of corruption or having people unjustly murdered or oppressing the people, but of harnessing the royal mules to his carriage!

Gainas was able to force Arcadius to declare him Magister Militum or Master General and allow him to move his Gothic troops into Constantinople, where they proceeded to intimidate the population regularly. Gainas became arrogant at how easily he had gained power and stopped being cautious. His troops demanded a church where they could hold worship services in the Arian religion. This was considered the greatest of insults by the citizens of Constantinople who rioted and managed to trap the foreign troops in their church and burn it down around their ears. Gainas managed to flee with the rest of his army but they were drowned when they tried to cross the Hellespont where the Roman navy smashed their boats to pieces. Gainas was pursued by Fravitta, who was probably his secret ally and only halfheartedly tried to catch him. Gainas did not have long to savor the thought of Eutropius' head being separated from his body because his own head was soon to decorate a pike. Uldin, King of the Huns, captured Gainas and sent his head as a present back to Arcadius in Constantinople.

Arcadius was married to an intelligent and powerful woman, Eudoxia, who wielded much influence in the politics of the empire and the Church. He was not a very strong ruler, and was manipulated by his wife and his more powerful ministers. In an age of increasing violence and chaos, Arcadius died at the palace of Constantinople from illness on May 1, A.D. 408. His son Theodosius II succeeded him on the throne.


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