Honorius

(384-423)
   Son of the emperor Theodosius the Great and brother of the eastern emperor Arcadius, Honorius, in full Flavius Honorius, ruled the Western Empire in the early fifth century and presided over the beginning of the final demise of the empire in the west. His reign was troubled by uneasy relations with his own subordinates, especially Stilicho, and with Germanic leaders like the Visigoth Alaric. During Honorius's reign, the borders of the empire were breached on several occasions and Italy itself suffered invasion numerous times. His reign also witnessed the sacking of the city of Rome for the first time in 800 years, and even though it was no longer the capital, Rome's violation came as a profound and disturbing shock to the empire. His weakness and poor judgment were especially detrimental to the fate of the empire and worsened an already difficult situation.
   The early years of his reign were marked by the guardianship of Stilicho, a Vandal-Roman general who had been his father's commander in chief, and the struggle with Alaric. Although occasionally allowing him to escape, Stilicho stood as the empire's firmest defense against the invasions of Alaric and his Visigoths. Sometimes caught in the competition between Honorius and his brother Arcadius, Stilicho remained loyal to the emperor and served him well. He benefited from this service by rapid promotion and close proximity to the imperial house, even marrying his daughter to Honorius. The emperor, however, came eventually to tire of Stilicho and became critical of his general's stewardship. To protect the imperial heartland against Alaric, Stilicho withdrew imperial troops from Britain and the frontiers. Even more serious, though, was the general's failure to defend the empire against the invasion of Italy by Radagaisus and his army of Ostrogoths during the first decade of the fifth century. Although Stilicho defeated the Ostrogoth, the devastation that Radagaisus caused in the north unsettled many. Moreover, Stilicho's efforts to secure the succession to the throne by the marriage of his son to Honorius's sister Galla Placidia alienated the emperor even more. In 408, when Arcadius died, Honorius was persuaded to allow Stilicho to go to Constantinople to guarantee the succession of Honorius's nephew. In Stilicho's absence, Honorius was persuaded that Stilicho had actually gone to place his own son on the throne. As a result, Honorius ordered the arrest and immediate execution of Stilicho, whose end came on August 22, 408.
   Honorius had eliminated Stilicho, but he had only exacerbated the real problems of the empire. Indeed, Alaric, the greatest threat faced by the Western Empire, remained at large, but now Stilicho, who had had at least some success against Alaric, was no longer around to restrict Alaric's activities. Even worse, the wanton massacre of many of the German troops that had supported Stilicho provided Alaric another opportunity to invade Italy. In 408, Alaric marched into Italy and eventually reached Rome, no longer the capital but still a symbol of the empire. For the next two years, Honorius and his generals were involved in complicated negations with Alaric. Although making numerous concessions and ultimately demanding only settlement for his followers, Alaric was repeatedly rebuffed by Honorius. Indeed, Honorius refused the most favorable terms Alaric offered and suffered the consequences, the sack of the city of Rome. This event, which clearly shook the confidence of the empire, demonstrates the incompetence of Honorius. After their assault on Rome, the Visigoths most likely moved into southern Italy before heading north and settling in Gaul. The failures of Honorius thus contributed to the dismemberment of the Western Empire and the emergence of the first Germanic successor states.
   Honorius also suffered a personal embarrassment in the sack of Rome; his sister, Galla Placidia, was kidnapped by Alaric's successor, Ataulf. She ultimately married her Visigothic captor, and both of them hoped to produce an heir to the imperial throne that would unite Visigoths and Romans. Ataulf's murder, however, ended this dream, and Honorius successfully negotiated for her return in 416, in exchange for his support of the Visigoths. Honorius then married his sister to one of his generals, a marriage that produced the heir, Valentinian, in 419.
   In his remaining few years, Honorius remained relatively inactive and in so doing caused few problems for the empire. His death in 423 was the occasion for dispute over the succession, which ultimately fell to Valentinian under the regency of Galla Placidia. The reign of Honorius was clearly a low point for the empire. He presided over the withdrawal of troops from England and the frontiers, which allowed barbarian tribes to enter and begin to carve up the Western Empire. He eliminated his most important general, while not taking the steps necessary to get rid of his greatest enemy. He also presided over the sack of Rome, an event that heralded the imminent collapse of the Western Empire.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Burns, Thomas S. Barbarians within the Gates of Rome: A Study of Roman Military Policy and the Barbarians, ca. 375-425 a.d. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1994.
 ♦ Bury, John B. History of the Later Roman Empire: From the Death of Theodosius I to the Death of Justinian. 2 vols. 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 1959.
 ♦ ---. The Invasion of Europe by the Barbarians. New York and London: W. W. Norton, 1967.
 ♦ Claudian. Claudian's Fourth Panegyric on the fourth consulate of Honorius. Ed. and trans. William Barr. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 1981.
 ♦ Heather, Peter. The Goths. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.
 ♦ Wolfram, Herwig. The Roman Empire and Its Germanic Peoples. Trans. Thomas J. Dunlap. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.
 ♦ Zosimus. New History. Trans. Ronald T. Ridley. Canberra: Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, 1982.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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