HONORIUS AUGUSTUS (reigned A. D. 395-423), was the second son of Theodosius the Great, by his first wife, Aelia Flacilla. [FLACILLA.] Honorius was born, according to the most trustworthy accounts, 9th Sept. A. D. 384.
There is some difference in the ancient authorities, but we agree with Tillemont, who has discussed the matter in a careful note, that Constantinople was his birthplace. (Claudian. In IV. Consulat. Honorii,
He was made consul A. D. 386, and appears in the Fasti of Idatius with the designation of Nolilissimus, and in the Chronicon
of Prosper Aquitanicus of Nobilissimus Puer; but in the Chronicon
of Marcellinus and the Chronicon Paschale
with that of Caesar. In A. D. 388 or 389, most probably the latter, at any rate after the usurper Maximus had been defeated, Honorius was sent for from Constantinople into Italy by his faother, whom he accompanied (A. D. 389) when with Valentinian II. he made his triumphal entry into Rome.
In A. D. 393, while his father was preparing for the war against Eugenius, he was declared Augustus, or, according to Marcellinus, Caesar. But Marcellinus is in this instance not consistent with himself, having designated Honorius Caesar in his first consulship.
The time of year at which Honorius was declared Augustus has been disputed, and is discussed very minutely by Tillemont; but he is misled in his decision, we think, by identifying the darkness, " tenebrae," which is said by Marcellinus and Prosper to have occurred at the time of his inauguration, with an eclipse of the sun, which the description of Claudian (In IV. Consulat Honor.
172, &c.) shows it was not, but simply an unusually thick darkness from clouds or fog.
The inauguration took place at the palace or justice court, Hebdomum (Ἕβδομον
), near Constantinople. (Comp. Ducange, Constantinop. Christian.
The statement of the Chronicon Paschale
that Theodosius had crowned Honorius Augustus (εἰς Βασιλέα
) at Rome, on occasion of their triumphal entry in A. D. 389, must be rejected, as inconsistent with the recognised right of Valentinian II. (then living) to the dominion of the West.
It is proable that the error arose from the circumstance, that Theodosius, after his victory over Eugenius, the successor of Valentinian II., A. D. 394, again sent for Honorius, who was consul for the second time that year, into Italy, and at Milan (or, according to Zosimus, at Rome) solemnly declared him emperor of the West, assigning to him Gaul, Spain, Italy, and Africa, of which he had now come into undisputed possession, and appointing Stilicho to be commander-in-chief in the West. Theodosius died shortly after making this arrangement, Jan, 17. 3.95, and Honorius succeeded to the possesion of the West, under the energetic guardianship of Stilicho, who had married Serena, daughter of Honorius, the late emperor's brother [see above, No. 2], and therefore first cousin to the young emperor.
Honorius was but little more than ten years old at his father's death, and his tender years comwho bined with his natural inertness of character to render him a mere cipher in the state. Milan was for some years his place of residence, while Stilicho was negotiating with the Franks on the Rhenish frontier, or attempting to engross the management of affairs in the Eastern as well as in the Western empire. [STILICHO.] The exemption from tribute was granted at the commencement of his reign to a considerable district of Campania; the acts of grace towards the partisans of Eugenius, and the payment of the legacies bequeathed by Theodosius to individuals, are to be ascribed less to Honorius than to his ministers, though consistent enough with the generally mild and humane disposition of the young emperor. In A. D. 396 he was consul for the third time, and still remained at Milan, while Stilicho was engaged in Greece, carrying on the war against Alaric, king of the Visi-Goths. [ALARICUS.] In A. D. 398 he was consul for the fourth time.
This year was distinguished by the war against Gildo, who, being taken and imprisoned, destroyed himself [GILDO]; and, by the marriage of Honorius, who espoused Maria, the daughter of Stilicho and of Serena, the cousin of Honorius.
The marriage was a marriage of form only, for the bridegroom was not yet fourteen, and the bride apparently still younger. Claudian composed two poems (De Nuptiis Honorii et Mariae,
and Fescennina in Nuptias Honor. et Mar.
) in honour of the nuptials of these children; but the regal progeny which he foretold was to spring from the union never appeared. Maria died a virgin long before the year 408; but the exact year of her death does not seem to be known. (Zosim. 5.28.) About the close of the year 398 Honorius appears to have had some transactions at Milan, under the guidance of Stilicho, with the envoys of the Germanic nations, but the nature of them can hardly be ascertained from the vague panegyric of Claudian. (In Eutrop.
1.378, &c.) In 399 Honorius left Milan, apparently for the first time since his accession; and the Theodosian Code enables us to trace his progress. His first journey was in February to Ravenna, from whence he returned to Milan; his subsequent journeys were in June and the following months to Brixia (Brescia), Verona, Patavium (Padua), and Altinum (Altino).
The year 399 was distinguished by the rigorous persecution of paganism. From Constantine to Valentinian I., with the exception of the short reign of Julian, the Christian religion had indeed been supported by the example and countenance of the emperors; but direct persecution appears to have been avoided.
The decay of paganism had perhaps been somewhat retarded by the patronage of the Roman senate (Zosim. 4.59), jealous of the favour which the Christian emperors had shown to Constantinople, Milan, and Trèves; and increasing by their opposition in religious matters the repugnance of the emperors to Rome as a permanent residence. Under Gratian [GRATIANUS ], and still more under Theodosius, the force of prohibitory laws was employed to hasten the downfal of the corrupt and worn-out system of paganism; and under Honorius the prohibition was completed by several laws, especially by one very stringent ordinance (Cod. Theod. 16. tit. 10. s. 19), dated from Rome, and addressed to the praetorian praefect of Italy, confiscating the revenues (annonae
) of the temples for the support of the army, ordaining that all statues yet remaining in the temples, and to which any religious worship was paid, should be thrown down, all altars pulled down, the temples themselves, if the property of the crown, converted to public uses; or, if private property, to be pulled down by their owners; and all heathen rites abolished. To the discontent caused by this suppression of all the ordinances of the old religion may perhaps be ascribed the frequent revolts of the following years, and which might have been avoided, had the now triumphant Christians been content to trust to the native power of truth in its conflict with heathen error.
The years 400-403 were marked by the ravage of the northern part of Italy by the Visi-Goths, under Alaric. Tillemont doubts whether this invasion was made by Alaric as an independent prince, or as an officer of the Eastern emperor Arcadius, who had appointed him prefect of Eastern Illyricum. Honorius had never been on good terms with his brother since the death of Theodosius; or rather, the two divisions of the empire were continually embroiled by the intrigues or hostilities of their rival ministers, Stilicho in the West, and Rufinus and Eutropius in the East.
It is probable that his invasion of Italy was on his own account, as independent king of the Visi-Goths. Jornandes ascribes his hostility to the diminution or withholding of the subsidies paid to the Goths, the sons of Theodosius wasting in luxury the revenues applicable to this purpose. Whether Alaric continued in Italy during the whole of the three years 400-402, or whether, as is more likely, he was compelled or induced for a time to recross the Julian Alps, is not quite clear. In 400, apparently near the end of the year, he ravaged the nieighbourhood of Aquileia, and besieged that city ; and in 402 he ravaged Venetia and Liguria. Rome was alarmed, and the ancient walls of the city were repaired, in apprehension of the approach of the Goths; and Honorius, if we may trust Claudian, was contemplating a flight into Gaul, or, which is more likely, had actually secured himself within the walls of Ravenna.
The forces of the West were chiefly engaged in Rhaetia, but the diligence of Stilicho collected a force with which he defeated the Visi-Goths at Pollentia (Polenza, on the Tanaro, in Piedmont, on or about the 29th March, 403), and compelled them to retreat into Pannonia. Honorius remained during the greater part of the year 403 at Ravenna (which, from this alarming crisis, became his ordinary residence); but during several months of the year 404, which was the year of his sixth consulship (his fifth was in A. D. 402), he was at Rome.
The abolition of the gladiatorial combats, which the edicts of Constantine had not been able to suppress, is ascribed to this year; and the incident which gave immediate occasion to it, by working on the feelings of the young emperor [TELEMACHUS, the ASCETIC], is simply told by Theodoret in his Ecclesiastical Hist. ( 5.26).
The progress of Christianity had prepared the way for this act, but much of the credit of it seems to be due to Honorius himself, and the populace of Rome perhaps sacrificed their own inclination, in hope of propitiating his favour, and securing his abode among them.
The people of Milan were anxious for his return to that city; but Honorius had been too thoroughly alarmed by the Gothic invasion to fix his permanent residence any where but in the impregnable fortress of Ravenna.
He soon had to congratulate himself on the choice he had made. Italy was devastated by a new host of barbarians from Germany, under the pagan Goth Radagaisus, or Rhadagaisus, or Rhodogaisus (Ῥοδογάϊσος
). His army, according to Orosius, consisted of 200,000 Goths: the other nations swelled the amount, if we may trust Zosimus, to 400,000.
It was divided into three parts: that which Radagaisus in person commanded was stopped at Florence by the valiant resistance of the townsmen, and driven into the Apennines above Fesulae (Fiezole), and starved into a surrender by the generalship of Stilicho. Of the remainder of the barbarian host, part probably (see Gibbon) constituted the force which (A. D. 407) ravaged Gaul; and some were perhaps, as Zosimus states, driven across the Danube, and surprised and cut to pieces by Stilicho on their native soil.
The defeat of Radagaisus is placed by Prosper Aquitanicus and Tillemont, in A. D. 405; by Marcellinus and by Gibbon in A. D. 406. Possibly he invaded Italy in A. D. 405, and was defeated in 406.
The interval of peace in Italy which followed the defeat of Radagaisus, was occupied by Honorius in interceding for Chrysostom, then at variance with the court of Constantinople; and by Stilicho in negotiations with Alaric to deprive the Eastern empire of that part of Illyricum which belonged to it, and incorporate it with the Western empire. Meanwhile, Gaul was ravaged by a promiscuous multitude, consisting for the most part of Vandals, Suevi, and Alans, which Orosius, Marcellinus, and Prosper Tiro, and apparently Jerome, state to have been excited by Stilicho: and while the tide of barbarian invasion yet rolled over that province, the troops in Britain revolted, and after electing and murdering two emperors in succession, crossed over into Gaul, under the guidance of Constantine, the third usurper whom they had invested with the purple. Some successes against the German invaders aided apparently in obtaining his recognition by the provincials; and establishing himself in Gaul, he sent his son Constans to secure Spain. Stilicho sent Sarus, a Goth, to attack him, but Sarus was compelled to retreat. Meanwhile, alienation was taking place between Honorius and Stilicho.
The ambition of Stilicho appears to have led him to aspire to the direction of affairs in the Eastern empire, when, by the death of Arcadius, the crown devolved about this time to Theodosius II., a child of seven years. But Serena, anxious to maintain the peace between the two empires, did not co-operate with her husband; and Stilicho, by her opposition, lost much of the benefit of his connection with the imperial family. Another cause of estrangement existed: Maria was dead, and Honorius wished to marry her sister, Thermantia. Serena was favourable to his wish; but Stilicho, if we may judge from the mutilated text of Zosimus, was opposed to it.
The marriage, however, took place.
The intrigues of Olympius, an officer of the imperial household, who, according to Zosimus, concealed his great malignity under a veil of assumed piety, aggravated the emperor's suspicions and fears, and a mutiny was excited in the army assembled at Pavia, where the emperor was, in which a number of officers of rank, friends or supposed friends of Stilicho, were slain. Stilicho himself was at Ravenna; but Olympius, sending to the troops there, directed them to seize him, and he was taken from a church in which he had taken refuge, and put to death by the hand of Heraclian [HERACLIANUS], his son, Eucherius, escaping, for a time, to Rome.
The plea for the execution of Stilicho was that he was conspiring the deposition, if not the death of Honorius, in order to make his own son, Eucherius, emperor in his room. Eucherius is said to have been a heathen; and this circumstance may have either led him to cherish ambitious hopes, from a reliance on the support of the still numerous heathens; or may have inspired a jealousy which led the emperor and his court to impute evil designs to him and his father. The Christian writers, Orosius, Marcellinus, and Prosper Tiro, speak of the alleged treason without doubt. Sozomen gives it as a rumour; while the heathen historians, Zosimus and Olympiodorus, appear to have believed him innocent: an indication that his death was connected with the struggle of expiring Paganism with Christianity.
By his death, which took place A. D. 408, Olympius became for a while the ruler of affairs.
A severe prosecution was carried on against the friends of Stilicho: his daughter, Thermantia, was repudiated and sent home, still a virgin, to her mother, Serena, and died soon after.
The death of Stilicho furnished Alaric with a pretence for the invasion of Italy, now deprived of its former defender. His demand of a sum of money which he said was due to him being rejected, he crossed the Alps. Honorius sheltered himself in Ravenna, while Alaric besieged Rome (A. D. 408), which was obliged to pay a heavy ransom. During the siege the unhappy Serena, who was in the city, was put to death, on a charge of corresponding with the enemy. In A. D. 409 Rome was again besieged and taken by him, and Attalus proclaimed emperor under his protection. [ALARICUS; ATTALUS.] The court of Honorius was the scene of intrigue; Olympius was supplanted by Jovius, who became praefectus praetorio, but was, in turn, succeeded by Eusebius, who was himself put to death at the instigation of Allobichus, one of the generals of Honorius. Allobichus was executed not long after. Alaric and Attalus marched against Ravenna, which Honorius was on the point of abandoning, and fleeing by sea into the Eastern empire, when he was encouraged to hold out by a reinforcement of 4000 men (the corrupted text of Zosimus says 40,000) from his nephew, Theodosius II., emperor of the East. Africa was saved for him by the ability and good faith of Heraclian; and in A. D. 410 Attalus was deposed by Alaric, with whom he had quarrelled, and a negotiation begun and almost concluded between Honorius and the Visi-Gothic king.
The treaty was, however, broken off, apparently from some act of hostility on the part of Sarus, a Goth in the Roman service, and the bitter enemy of Alaric, who, in his irritation, restored to Attalus the imperial title, but almost immediately again deprived him of it.
He then marched to Rome, which he took and plundered.
He died soon after; and his brother-in-law, Ataulphus, who succeeded him, retired with his army, after a time, into Gaul (A. D. 412), and Italy was once more left free from invaders. [ATAULPHUS.]
While Honorius (A. D. 409) was hard pressed by the Visi-Goths and by the revolt of Alaric, Constantine the usurper, who had established himself in Gaul, proposed to come into Italy professedly to assist him, but probably with the intention of aggrandising his own power.
In effect he entered Italy and advanced to Verona; but alarmed by the execution of Allobichus, with whom he seems to have been in correspondence, and apprehending an attack from his own partisan, Gerontius, who had revolted in Spain, he returned into Gaul, and was defeated and obliged to surrender (A. D. 411), on promise of his life, to Constantius, the general of Honorius, who besieged him in Arles. [CONSTANTIUS III.; CONSTANTINUS the tyrant; GERONTIUS.
] His life was spared at the time, but he was sent into Italy, where Honorius had him put to death, in violation of the promise on which he had surrendered. Fear, the source of cruelty, rendered Honorius regardless of a breach of faith where his own safety was concerned.
Constantius was now the person of chief influence in the West.
He had probably already aspired to the hand of Plasidia, or Galla Placidia [GALLA, No. 3], the emperor's sister, who had fallen into the hands of the Visi-Gothic king, Alaric, and was now in those of his successor, Ataulphus.
The energy and talent of Constantius rendered him of the greatest service to Honorius, around whom fresh difficulties were rising. Jovinus, commander apparently of Moguntiacum, or some fortress on the Rhenish frontier, revolted; and Attalus, the ex-emperor, who had, for his own safety, remained with the Visi-Goths, incited Ataulphus to make an alliance with him.
The alliance, however, did not take place: the intended confederates quarrelled, Ataulphus made a treaty with Honorius. seized Sebastian, brother of Jovinus, whom Jovinus had proclanned emperor, and sent his head to Honorius; and having drawn Jovinus himself into Valentia (Valence), and obliged him to surrender, delivered him up (A. D. 412 or 413) to Dardanus, one of Honorius' officers, who, without waiting for the emperor's authority, put him to death. About the same time Sallustius, either an accomplice of Jovinus or a rebel on his own account, was put to death; and Heraclian, who, in 409, had preserved Africa for Honorius, but had since revolted, was also defeated, taken, and executed. [HERACLIANUS.] Ataulphus, who had again proclaimed Attalus emperor, rendered him no effective support; and having married (A. D. 414) Placidia, sister of Honorius [GALLA, No. 3], became sincerely desirous of peace.
This was, however, prevented by Constantius, who had also aspired to the hand of Placidia, and who attacked the Visi-Goths, drove them out of Narbonne, which they had taken, and compelled them to retire into Spain, where Ataulphus was soon after assassinated (A. D. 415). Attalus was afterwards taken; and Honorius, whose natural clemency was not now counteracted by his fears, contented himself with banishing him. For other offenders a general amnesty was issued. We have omitted during these stirring events to notice the consulships of Honorius since A. D. 404.
He was consul in A. D. 407, 409, 411, or rather 412, 415 and 417. Ravenna was his almost constant residence, except in 407 and 408.
The year 417 was distinguished by the marriage of Constantius (who was colleague of Honorius in the consulship) with Placidia, who, after the death of Ataulphus, had suffered much ill usage from his murderer, but had been restored by Valia or Wallia, the successor (not immediately) of Ataulphus ; and the year 418 (when Honorius was consul for the twelfth time) by a treaty with the Goths, ceding to them the south-western part of Gaul, with Toulouse for their capital, in a sort of feudal subordination to the empire of the West. The Franks were gradually occupying the left bank of the lower Rhine, and the Armoricans, who alone of the Gauls exhibited anything of a military spirit, were acquiring a precarious and turbulent independence; and their revolt perhaps induced Honorius to concede to the portion of Gaul remaining in the hands of the Romans a popular representative body. In Spain, which had been miserably ravaged by Suevi, Alans, Vandals, and Visi-Goths, a new claimant of the purple arose in Maximus, who occupied some part of that country for three years, when he was taken and sent to Ravenna.
According to Prosper Tiro, who alone notices the beginning of his revolt, it appears to have taken place in 418: its suppression is fixed by the better authority of Marcellinus in A. D. 422. Meanwhile, troops of Honorius maintained sole footing in the country, and a part at least of the inhabitants remained faithful to him.
In A. D. 421 the importunity of Placidia extorted from Honorius a share in the empire for her husband Constantius [CONSTANTIUS III.], the dignity of Augusta for herself [GALLA, No. 3], and that of Nobilissimus Puer for her infant son Valentinian [VALENTINIANUS III] The death of Constantius a few months after delivered Honorius from a colleague whom he had unwillingly accepted. His manifestations of affection for the widow, especially "their incessant kissing," according to Olympiodorus, gave occasion to some scandalous reports but their love was succeeded by hatred, and Placidia fled with her children, Valentinian and Honoria [GRATA, No. 2], to her nephew Theodosius II. at Constantinople, A. D. 423.
The death of Honorius took place soon after his sister's flight.
He died of dropsy, 27th Aug. 423, aged 39, after a disastrous reign of twenty-eight years and eight months.
The place of his burial appears to have been at Ravenna, where his tomb is still shown in a building said to have been erected by Placidia his sister; though it was pretended that his body and that of his two wives, Maria and Thermantia, were discovered buried under the church of St. Peter at Rome A. D. 1543. His thirteenth and last consulship was A. D. 422, the year before his death.
The character of Honorius presents little that is attractive. His weakness was not accompanied either by the accomplishments or the amiableness of Gratian and Valentinian II.; and though not naturally cruel, his fears impelled him occasionally to acts of blood and violations of good faith; and the interference of the secular power in the affairs of religion led to persecution and consequent discontent. His feebleness prevented all personal exertion for the safety of his dominions; and his long reign, the longest the empire had known, with the exception of those of Augustus and Constantine the Great, determined the downfal of the Roman empire.
A long catalogue of usurpers, the sure indication of a weak government, is given by Orosius. Rome itself was taken by a foreign invader. for the first time since its capture by the Gauls, under Brennus, B. C. 390; and the barbarians acquired a permanent settlement in the provinces; the Visi-Goths, the Franks, and the Burgundians, in Gaul; and the Suevi, Vandals, and Alans, in Spain; while Britain and Armorica became virtually independent.
The vigour of Theodosius the Great, and the energy of Stilicho, had deferred these calamities for a while; but the downfal of the latter left the remote parts of the empire defenceless; and all the military ability of Constantius just protected Italy, and preserved with difficulty some portions of the transalpine provinces. Honorius, shut up in Ravenna, appears, from an anecdote preserved by Procopius, as resting, however, on report only, and repeated with some variation by Zonaras, to have looked on these calamities with apathy. When Rome was plundered by Alaric, a eunuch who had the care of the poultry of Honorius announced to him that " Rome was destroyed " (Ῥώμη ἀπόλωλε
). " And yet she just now ate out of my hands," was the reply of the emperor, referring to a favourite hen, of unusual size, which he called " Rome." " I mean," said the eunuch, " that the city of Rome has been destroyed by Alaric." " But I," said the emperor, " thought that my hen ' Rome ' was dead." " So stupid (adds Procopius) do they say this emperor was." Yet, weak and stupid as he was, he retained his crown, so firmly had the ability of Theodosius fixed the power of his family. (Zosimus, 5.58 , 59 vi.; Orosius, 7.36
; Olympiodor. apud Phot. Bibl.
cod. 80; Claudian, Opera,
passim; Marcellin. Chron. ;
Prosper Aquitan. Chron.;
Prosper Tiro, Chron.;
Cassiodor. Chron.; Chron. Paschal,
pp. 304-313, ed. Paris, vol. i. pp. 563-579, ed. Bonn; Procopius, De Bell. Vand.
1.1-3; Jornandes, De Reb. Gelic.
100.29-32; Socrat. H. E.
6.1, 7.10; Sozom. H. E.
8.1, 9.4, 6-16; Theodoret. H. E.
5.26; Theophan. Chronog.
pp. 63-72, ed. Paris, pp. 116-130, ed. Bonn; Zonaras, 13.21
; Gothofred. Chronol. Cod. Theodos.;
Tillemont, Hist. des Empereurs,
vol. v.; Gibbon, ch. 29, 30, 31, 33; Eckhel, vol. viii. pp. 171-174; Ducange, Famil. Byzantinae.