1. A person of this name appears, from the Codex Justinianeus (8. tit. 10.6), to have performed the duties (agens vicem
) of praefectus praetorio under Constantine the Great, in A. D. 321.
A law of the same emperor, dated in the same year from Caralis (now Cagliari in Sardinia), is addressed to Helpidius (Cod. Theod. 2. tit. 8.1), but without his official designation.
A constitution of the same emperor, dated from Sirmium, A. D. 323, and a law dated A. D. 324 (Cod. Theod. 13. tit. 5.4), containing some regulations for the portus or harbour of Rome, at the mouth of the Tiber, are addressed to him.
It is not determined what office Helpidius held at these dates: it has been thought that he was praeses of Sardinia in A. D. 321, and acted in some emergency for the praetorian praefect of Italy; but it is more likely that he was vicarius or vice-praefect of Italy during the whole period A. D. 320-324, and had Sardinia in his jurisdiction.
An Helpidius was consularis Pannoniae A. D. 352 (Cod. Theod. 7. tit. 20.6), and praefectus praetorio Orientis, A. D. 359, 360.
It is probable that this is the same person who was vicarius of Italy in 320, notwithstanding the length of the interval between his holding that office and the Eastern praefecture; for the Helpidius who was praefect of the East was already a person of rank and wealth when he visited the celebrated recluse St. Antony in the Egyptian desert. His wife, Aristaeneta, was with him, and they were accompanied by three sons. On their departure from Egypt, the sons were all taken ill at Gaza, and given up by the physicians, but were restored to health by the prayers (as was supposed) of St. Hilarion, who was then leading a solitary life near Gaza, and to whom Aristaeneta, a lady of eminent piety, paid a visit.
The data furnished by St. Jerome enable us to fix the date of this visit to Egypt at A. D. 328; and as Helpidius had then three sons old enough to encounter the difficulties of such a journey, it is obvious that he might have been vicarius of Italy in 320. In A. D. 356 Aristaeneta visited Hilarion again, and was about to visit Antony when she was prevented by the intelligence of his death. Jerome speaks of Helpidius as praefect at this time; but if this is correct, he must have held some other praefecture before that of the East, in which he succeeded Hermogenes. Ammianus places his appointment a little before the death of the emperor Constantius II.; and from the Codex Theodosianus it appears that it took place only just before A. D. 359. Ammianus speaks of him as a man of mean appearance and address, but of mild and upright disposition, and averse to bloodshed. Libanius was intimate with Helpidius, and addressed many letters to him. Some dispute, however, appears to have taken place between them; and Libanius, in one of his letters to the emperor Julian (Ep.
652. ed. Wolf), complains that Helpidius, "the unjust," had stopped his salary, which, however, Sallustius, "the kind," who succeeded Helpidius in the praefecture of the East, had restored. Libanius, in his Orations, also disparages Helpidius: in one place he refers to the mean condition of his father (Orat. pro Thalassio
), and in another (ad Polyclem
), charges him with having in his youth prostituted himself to the un natural lusts of others. Little confidence, however, can be placed in the sophist's invectives.
The history of Helpidius after he ceased to be praefect is doubtful: it is most likely that he is the Helpidius who under Julian apostatized from Christianity (perhaps to gain the emperor's favour or to avert his displeasure), and held the office of comes rerum privatarum, in which capacity he accompanied Julian, comes Orientis, uncle of the emperor, and Felix, comes sacrarum largitionum, when they seized the sacred vessels of the great church at Constantinople.
The narrative of Theodoret leads to the supposition that Helpidius in this affair simply discharged his official function, abstaining from the insults by which his coadjutors aggravated the injury, and escaping the judgments by which, according to the historian, they were afterwards overtaken. Nicephorus Callisti, however, states that Helpidius did not escape the Divine indignation, for that afterwards, "aiming at the tyranny," he was stripped of his possessions, and thrown into prison, where he died.
Baronius (Martyrologium ad 16th Nov.
) mentions a Saint Elpidius of senatorial rank, who suffered martyrdom under Julian, and cites as his authority the Menologium
of the Greeks.
In his Annales Ecclesiastici ad Ann.
362, c. xxv. he identifies the martyr with the praetorian praefect; but this identity is disputed, and apparently with reason, by Tillemont. Possibly Helpidius may have suffered fine or confiscation or imprisonment for some offence under Julian; and from this may have arisen the story of his martyrdom on the one hand, and of his suffering a Divine judgment for apostacy on the other. (Cod. Theod. ll. cc.;
Gothofred. Prosop. Cod. Theodos.; Amm. Marc. 21.6
; Hieronym. Vita Hilarion. Opera,
vol. iv. pt. 2. cols. 78, 84, ed. Martianay; Liban. Epist.
33, 460, 652, 1463, &c.; see the index in ed. Wolf, Oration. ll. cc.;
Theodoret, H. E.
3.12, 13; Niceph. Callisti, H. E.
10.29; Tillemont, Hist. des Emp.