Arbogast

(d. 394)
   A Germanic general of Frankish descent, Arbogast was the first in a series of military leaders in the Roman Empire, a list that later included Stilicho, Aëtius, and Ricimer, to appoint a puppet emperor. Although his efforts established a dangerous and important precedent, Arbogast's career as the power behind the throne in the Western Empire was cut short by the arrival of Theodosius the Great. Nonetheless, Arbogast's career foreshadowed many of the events to come and revealed one of the weaknesses of the Western Empire.
   Arbogast rose through the military ranks to assume an important leadership position in the Roman army and the Western Empire. He earned the rank of magister equitum (master of the horse) in the army of the Western Empire, and, from 380 to 388, served the emperor Theodosius in the east in his struggles against the Goths. In 388 he was sent back to the Western Empire to serve the young emperor Valentinian II (r. 375-392), who had recently been restored to the throne following a period of civil war. Arbogast served Valentinian well and recovered Gaul and strengthened the Rhine frontier. He also imposed a treaty on his fellow Franks who had invaded Gaul. His successes and the death of Bauto, another Frank sent as an adviser by Theodosius, emboldened him to assume the office of magister militum (master of the soldiers) without the emperor's consent. Valentinian was outraged and sent his general a letter of dismissal, to which Arbogast replied that since Valentinian had not appointed him the emperor could not dismiss him. Shortly thereafter, in May 392, Valentinian was found dead, and some contemporaries suggested that he was killed by Arbogast.
   The death of Valentinian presented Arbogast an opportunity to seize command, but as a barbarian he could not do it personally. He then appointed the teacher of rhetoric Flavius Eugenius emperor, a move that found little favor with Theodosius. Although Theodosius did not strike immediately at Eugenius and Arbogast, he clearly resented the move. Arbogast, a supporter of the pagans of Rome, had hoped to find favor with the Christian Theodosius by his promotion of another Christian. He also attempted to gain Theodosius's support by issuing new coins with the image of Theodosius on them. But these attempts bore little fruit, and Theodosius designated his son Honorius as the heir to the throne in the west. Arbogast and his emperor then promoted the pagan cause more strenuously and restored the famed Altar of Victory to its traditional place in the senate. To further secure his grip on the Western Empire, Arbogast again waged successful campaigns in Gaul during the winter of 393-394. But his efforts proved of little avail when Theodosius led a large force, which included Stilicho and many Germans, against Arbogast and his emperor. In a two-day battle on September 6-8, 394, Arbogast suffered a crushing defeat near the river Frigidus. Eugenius was executed following the defeat, and Arbogast committed suicide.
   Although Arbogast was short-lived, his career was still significant. His rise to power in the military demonstrated one way to success in the empire, and his use of that power provided a precedent for later military commanders. Indeed, the Western Empire in the fifth century was ruled by several military commanders who had established figureheads on the imperial throne. Arbogast's example was especially important to the many Germans in the military, who could not hold the highest civil office in the empire. His virtual removal of the emperor from military command also had long-lasting consequences by further dividing the civil and military offices in the empire. It also distanced the Western emperors from the army, their most important constituency. The struggles between Theodosius and Arbogast and Eugenius brought further unrest to the empire and drew troops from the frontiers, thus weakening Rome's defense of its borders, which were seriously breached early in the fifth century.
   See also
   Bibliography
 ♦ Bury, John B. The Invasions of Europe by the Barbarians. New York: W. W. Norton, 1967.
 ♦ Cameron, Averil, and Peter Garnsey, eds. The Late Empire, a.d. 337-425. Cambridge Ancient History, vol. 13. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
 ♦ Matthews, John. Western Aristocracies and Imperial Court, a.d. 364-425. Oxford: Clarendon, 1998.
 ♦ Zosimus. New History. Trans. Ronald T. Ridley. Canberra: Australian Association for Byzantine Studies, 1982.

Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe. 2014.

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