Flavius Arcadius was the emperor of the eastern half of the Roman Empire during the turn of the fourth to fifth century. He was the elder son of Saint Theodosius I and the father of his successor Theodosius II and the Empress St. Pulcheria.
Arcadius was born in Spain in either 377 or 378. He parents were Theodosius I and Aelia Flavia Flaccilla. His younger brother Honorius, born 384, became the emperor of the western part of the Roman Empire. Arcadius was proclaimed Augustus in 383 by his father. During his minority, Arcadius was placed by his father under the guardianship of the Praetorian Prefect of the East, initially Tatian and then Rufinus, when he was away. After his father’s death in 395, Arcadius became emperor of the eastern part of the empire while his brother, Honorius, who had been proclaimed Augustus of the western part in 393, became emperor of the western part.
As neither Arcadius nor Honorius were strong personalities, during their reigns they were dominated by senior ministers: Arcadius by Rufinus and Honorius by the Romanized Vandal magister militum Flavius Stilicho. The early part of Arcadius’ reign was taken up by intense competition and political jealousies engendered by these ministers. After Rufinus was assassinated in 395, Arcadius’ new advisor Eutropius became the power behind his throne. Not a military person, Arcadius portrayed himself a pious Christian emperor and concerned himself with the issues heresy and paganism about which he enacted a number of laws including forced closure of pagan temples.
While Rufinus hoped to tie himself closer to Arcadius by a marriage with his daughter, Arcadius had other ideas. During a period in April 395, while Rafinus was absent, Arcadius married Aelia Eudoxia, whose guardian was the general Promotus, a bitter enemy of Rafinus. After Rafinus’ assassination, the grand chamberlain Eutropius, who enjoyed a close relationship with Eudoxia, dominated Arcadius. Eutropius also gained the support of the local Orthodox clergy by encouraging John Chrysostom to accept the office of Patriarch of Constantinople in 398. However, Eutropius fell out of favor and, at the urging of Eudoxia, was dismissed by Arcadius, a move that was influenced by the maneuvering of the Gothic general Gainas, who himself was looking for recognition in Constantinople. In the autumn of 399, Eutropius was tried and executed in Chalcedon. However, attempts by Gainas to win the throne were frustrated and in the year 400 he was killed by Huns.
The personalities of John Chyrsostom and Eudoxia clashed as John objected to the influence exerted by Eudoxia on Arcadius in that he felt she used her family’s wealth to exercise control over Arcadius. In return she used her influence against John. Using Bishop Theophilus of Alexandria, she was able get John deposed and exiled in 403. But, the popular uproar and turmoil by the people of Constantinople resulted John’s recall a few days later. The feud between them continued and, in 404, John was exiled again, this time permanently.
In January 400, Eudoxia was named Augusta, a distinction given to only three women in the fourth century. In 401, Eudoxia gave birth to Arcadius’ son, the future Theodosius II, adding a male to the three girls that they had previously. In an attempt to assure his dynasty, Arcadius made the young Theodosius an Augustus at the age of eight months. In October 404, Eudoxia died from a miscarriage, ending her domination of Arcadius.
During the remaining years of his reign, Anthemius was Arcadius’ Praetorian Perfect of the East, a person who was competent and strove to solve governmental abuses and secure the eastern empire from attack. He also continued Arcadius’ Christianization program of closing and destroying pagan temples. But Anthemius’ presence was out of the limelight. On May 1, 408, Arcadius died of natural causes, leaving the throne to his son, who reigned as Theodosius II, aided and abetted by his sister Pulcheria.
St. Theodosius I
Eastern Roman Empire