emperor of the East, was the elder of the two sons of the emperor Theodosius I. and the empress Flaccilla, and was born in Spain in A. D. 383. Themistius, a pagan philosopher, and afterwards Arsenius, a Christian saint, conducted his education.
As early as 395, Theodosius conferred upon him the title of Augustus; and, upon the death of his father in the same year, he became emperor of the East, while the West was given to his younger brother, Honorius; and with him begins the series of emperors who reigned at Constantinople till the capture of the city by the Turks in 1453. Arcadius had inherited neither the talents nor the manly beauty of his father; he was ill-shapen, of a small stature, of a swarthy complexion, and without either physical or intellectual vigour; his only accomplishment was a beautiful handwriting. Docility was the chief quality of his character; others, women or eunuchs, reigned for him; for he had neither the power to have his own will, nor even passion enough to make others obey his whims. Rufinus, the praefect of the East, a man capable of every crime, had been appointed by Theodosius the guardian of Arcadius, while Stilicho became guardian of Honorius. Rufinus intended to marry his daughter to the young emperor, but the eunuch Eutropius rendered this plan abortive, and contrived a marriage between Arcadius and Eudoxia, the beautiful daughter of Bauto, a Frank, who was a general in the Roman army. Exposed to the rivalship of Eutropius, as well as of Stilicho, who pretended to the guardianship over Arcadius also, Rufinus was accused of having caused an invasion of Greece by Alaric, chief of the Goths, to whom he had neglected to pay the annual tribute. His fall was the more easy, as the people, exasperated by the rapacity of the minister, held him in general execration; and thus Rufinus was murdered as early as 395 by order of the Goth Gainas, who acted on the command of Stilicho. His successor as minister was Eutropius, and the emperor was a mere tool in the hands of his eunuch, his wife, and his general, Gainas. They declared Stilicho an enemy of the empire, confiscated his estates within the limits of the Eastern empire, and concluded an alliance with Alaric, for the purpose of preventing Stilicho from marching upon Constantinople. (397.)
After this, Eutropius was invested with the dignities of consul and general-in-chief,--the first eunuch in the Roman empire who had ever been honoured with those titles, but who was unworthy of them, being as ambitious and rapacious as Rufinus.
The fall of Eutropius took place under the following circumstances. Tribigildus, the chief of a portion of the Goths who had been transplanted to Phrygia, rose in rebellion, and the disturbances became so dangerous, that Gainas, who was perhaps the secret instigator of them, advised the emperor to settle this affair in a friendly way. No sooner was Tribigildus informed of it, than he demanded the bead of Eutropius before he would enter into negotiations; and the emperor, per-suaded by Eudoxia. gave up his minister. St. Chrysostom, afraid of Arianism, pleaded the cause of Eutropius, but in vain; the minister was banished to Cyprus, and soon afterwards beheaded. (399.) Upon this, the Goths left Phrygia and returned to Europe, where they stayed partly in the neighbourhood of Constantinople, and partly within the walls of the city. Gainas, after having ordered the Roman troops to leave the capital, demanded liberty of divine service for the Goths, who were Arians; and as St. Chrysostom energetically opposed such a concession to heresy, (Gainas tried to set fire to the imperial palace.
But the people of Constantinople took up arms, and Gainas was forced to evacuate the city with those of the Goths who had not been slain by the inhabitants. Crossing the Bosporus, he suffered a severe defeat by the imperial fleet, and fled to the banks of the Danube, where he was killed by the Huns, who sent his head to Constantinople.
After his fall the incompetent emperor became entirely dependent upon his wife Eudoxia, who assumed the title of "Augusta," the empress hitherto having only been styled " Nobilissima." Through her influence St. Chrysostom was exiled in 404, and popular troubles preceded and followed his fall.
As to Arcadius, he was a sincere adherent of the orthodox church.
He confirmed the laws of his father, which were intended for its protection; he interdicted the public meetings of the heretics; he purged his palace from heretical officers and servants; and in 396 he ordered that all the buildings in which the heretics used to hold their meetings should be confiscated. During his reign great numbers of pagans adopted the Christian religion.
But his reign is stigmatized by a cruel and unjust law concerning high treason, the work of Eutropius, which was issued in 397.
By this law, which was a most tyrannical extension of the Lex Julia Majestatis, the principal civil and military officers of the emperor were identified with his sacred person, and offences against them, either by deeds or by thoughts, were punished as crimes of high treason. (Cod. ix. tit. 8. s. 5; Cod. Theod. ix. tit. 14. s. 3.) Arcadius died on the 1st of May, 408, leaving the empire to his son Theodosius II., who was a minor. (Cedrenus, vol. i. pp..574-586, ed. Bonn, pp. 327-334, ed. Paris; Socrates, Hist. Eccles.
5.10, vi. pp. 272, 305-344, ed. Reading; Sozomenes, viii. pp. 323-363; Theophanes, pp. 63-69, ed. Paris; Theodoret. 5.32, &c., p. 205, ed. Vales.; Chrysostom. (cura Montfaucon, 2nd ed. Paris, in 4to.) Epistolae ad Innocentium Papam,
&c. vol. iii. pp. 613-629 Vita Chrysostomi,
in vol. xiii.; Claudianus.)