Honorius was born on September 9, 384 AD to the emperor Theodosius I and his wife, Aelia Flacilla. He had an older brother named Arcadius and he received the title nobilissimus puer (Most Noble Child) at a very young age. He became consul in 386 AD when he was just two years old, lived with his father in Rome when he was five, and returned two years later to Constantinople where he was declared as co-emperor of the Western Roman Empire by Theodosius. Honorius is recorded on the Bible Timeline Poster with World History at 395 AD.
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Milan served as the Western Roman Empire’s capital during the first year of the young emperor’s reign. Honorius received the western half of the empire while his brother ruled the eastern half when their father died in 395 AD. The Roman empire was divided a long time ago when Constantine the Great transferred the capital from Rome to Constantinople, but it was during the time of Honorius and Arcadius, however, that the split between the two became more obvious.
Honorius was a timid and indecisive ruler who was easily manipulated by the Popes of Rome and various advisers. Particularly the general Stilicho, who was of Vandal and Roman descent. In an effort to control Honorius, Stilicho convinced the young ruler to marry his elder daughter Maria and when she died, replaced her with a younger daughter, Thermantia. Both unions, unfortunately, did not produce an heir.
Honorius’ reign was marred with barbarian invasions, and one of the biggest threats to the empire’s security was King Alaric I, leader of the Visigoths. It was because of the threat posed by Alaric’s barbarian horde that pushed Honorius to move the imperial court from the northern Italian city of Milan to the coastal and heavily fortified city of Ravenna. Alaric and his forces were only stopped with the help of Honorius’ father-in-law, Stilicho, who held the real power in the empire. It was also during Honorius’ reign when a large part of Gaul was wrested from the empire by a united barbarian force which consisted of the tribes of Quadi, Alans, Ostrogoths, and Vandals. Radagaisus, another Gothic chieftain, led his troops into Italy but failed and was subdued under the leadership of Stilicho.
Rebellions were a frequent event during much of Honorius’ reign. Comes Gildo, the ruler of the province of Africa, attempted to switch allegiance and join the Eastern Roman Empire. This put Honorius in a difficult situation as the province was the source of Rome’s grain and Gildo’s desertion could mean food shortages in the capital. Gildo and his troops were defeated by his own brother, Mascezel, who was sent by Stilicho to subdue the rebels. The rebellion took two years to subdue, and Gildo committed suicide after his defeat.
The Roman province of Britannia was also wracked with revolts that were led by different men during a four-year period. These revolts were led by Marcus (rebelled in 406-407), Gratian (407), and Constantine III (407). All were quelled with the help of Stilicho. However, Britain was left to fend for itself by 410 AD—another sign that the empire was on its way down. A usurper named Maximus rose in the province of Spain in 409. He was declared as emperor by the troops, but later fled after the rebellion he led was quashed in 411 AD.
Fall of Stilicho
Whatever his reasons for his wholehearted support of Honorius, it was undeniable that Stilicho was effective against barbarians and would-be usurpers. The father-in-law kept his timid son-in-law on his throne for many years, but Honorius was too easy to manipulate, and this trait became Stilicho’s downfall. While he was away on an official assignment in Constantinople, a rumor was circulated in the palace by an official called Olympius that Stilicho planned to declare his son as the new emperor of the Eastern Empire. Stilicho, as a result, was arrested along with his son and they were executed along with many of their allies. Honorius’ wife, Thermantia, was spared, but the couple divorced, and his ex-wife returned to her mother, Aelia Flacilla. Stilicho’s troops did not escape the purge, and many of them were killed, while those who lived quickly defected to the Visigoth king Alaric I. This swelled Alaric’s troops, and he used this to full advantage two years later in the disastrous sack of Rome in 410 AD.
Last Years and Death
Two more rebellions broke out in Rome itself in the years 409 and 414—both of which were led by a man called Priscus Attalus. He was initially supported by the Visigoths, but Alaric discarded him in 409 AD when he thought Attalus hindered the negotiations with Honorius. In 414 AD, Attalus rebelled once again, but he was captured by Honorius’ troops and exiled to the Aeolian Islands soon after. Honorius died in 423 AD after an illness and Joannes, a patrician, temporarily ruled the Western Empire until the proclamation of Valentinian III as emperor. Hispania, Britannia, and the parts of Gaul wrested by the barbarians during Honorius’ reign never reverted to back Roman control.
Picture By Jean-Paul Laurens – Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, USA, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1382585
Gibbon, Edward, and D. M. Low. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1960.
Tucker, Spencer. A Global Chronology of Conflict: From the Ancient World to the Modern Middle East. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2010.
“Roman Emperors – DIR Honorius.” Roman Emperors – DIR Honorius. Accessed June 21, 2016. http://www.roman-emperors.org/honorius.htm.
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