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Honorius, Arcadius and the Visigoths

Emperor Honorius becomes Roman emperor

Honorius (An 1880 painting by Jean-Paul Laurens.)

The guidance of God included rule by Theodosius' two sons: an eleven year-old, Honorius, who inherited the position of emperor in the west, and Arcadius, eighteen, who inherited rule in the eastern half of the empire. Honorius was moronic and would eventually spend much of his time raising chickens. Arcadius was pious and gentle, but he was also incompetent and ill-tempered. Theodosius left as regent for Honorius his talented and energetic aide and military commander-in-chief, Stilicho, who was half-Roman and half-Vandal (German) and married to Theodosius' favorite niece. Stilicho claimed that Theodosius left him in charge of both sons, but in the east a powerful aide and authority in Constantinople, Flavius Rufinus, claimed responsibility for the eighteen year-old, Arcadius.

The empire's Visigoths distrusted Honorius, Arcadius and their advisors. The leader of the Visigoths, Alaric, had bargained for pensions and for a post in the high command of the Roman army, and he had become disappointed over promises made by Theodosius that had not been fulfilled. The Visigoths wished to better themselves economically, and before Theodosius had been dead one year, Alaric and the Visigoths started marching toward Constantinople, devastating territory along the way. Rufinus, in Constantinople, requested help from Stilicho. Stilicho sent troops to Constantinople, and there members of his army murdered Rufinus. So hated had Rufinus been by the common people of Constantinople that upon hearing of his death they came running from every quarter of the city to trample upon his corpse. Someone put the head of Rufinus on the end of a lance, and the crowd followed it in a great parade through the city.

Sensing the weakness of the new rulers and taking advantage of the disunity between the western and eastern halves of the empire, the Visigoths marched into Greece where they sacked Corinth, Argos and Sparta. Athens was spared by paying the Visigoths a ransom. In 397, Stilicho led troops against the Visigoths and drove them north into Illyricum, which the Visigoths also plundered. There the Visigoths settled with permission from the eastern emperor, Arcadius. And Arcadius made the leader of the Visigoths, Alaric, prefect of the province.



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