Theodosius II

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Theodosius II
White head statue
Bust of Theodosius II in the Louvre
Roman emperor of the East
Reign10 January 402 – 28 July 450
PredecessorArcadius (until 1 May 408)
Honorius (402–423)
Joannes (423–425)
Valentinian III (425–450)
Born10 April 401
Died28 July 450 (aged 49)
SpouseAelia Eudocia
IssueLicinia Eudoxia
Arcadius (possibly)
MotherAelia Eudoxia
ReligionNicene Christianity

Theodosius II
Emperor of the Roman Empire
Venerated inEastern Orthodox Church
Feast29 July

Theodosius II (Greek: Θεοδόσιος Theodósios; 10 April 401 – 28 July 450), commonly called Theodosius the Younger,[1] was Roman emperor for most of his life, proclaimed Augustus as an infant in 402 and ruling as the eastern Empire's sole emperor after the death of his father Arcadius in 408. His reign was marked by the promulgation of the Theodosian law code and the construction of the Theodosian Walls of Constantinople. He also presided over the outbreak of two great Christological controversies, Nestorianism and Eutychianism.

Early life[edit]

Solidus of Theodosius II, 439–450

Theodosius was born in 401 as the only son of Emperor Arcadius and his wife Aelia Eudoxia. On 10 January 402 he was proclaimed co-Augustus by his father,[2] thus becoming the youngest person ever to bear this title in Roman history.[3][4] In 408, his father died and the seven-year-old boy became emperor of the Eastern half of the Roman Empire.


Early reign[edit]

The government was at first administered by the praetorian prefect Anthemius, under whose supervision the Theodosian Walls of Constantinople were constructed.

According to Theophanes the Confessor and Procopius, the Sasanian king Yazdegerd I (399–420) was appointed by Arcadius as the guardian of Theodosius, whom Yazdegerd treated as his own child, sending a tutor to raise him and warning that enmity toward him would be taken as enmity toward Persia.[5] Though this story is assumed to be inconclusive, Antiochus, a eunuch of Persian origin, became a tutor and an influence on Theodosius. He also became praepositus sacri cubiculi later but Theodosius dismissed him when he reached his adulthood.

In 414, Theodosius' older sister Pulcheria vowed perpetual virginity along with her sisters. She was proclaimed augusta, and acted as a guardian of her brother. The guardianship ended when he reached his majority, but it is assumed that his sister continued to exert an influence on him until his marriage. In June 421, Theodosius married Aelia Eudocia, a woman of Athenian origin.[6][7][8][9][10] The two had a daughter named Licinia Eudoxia, another named Flaccilla, and possibly a son called Arcadius. A separation ultimately occurred between the imperial couple around 443, with Eudocia's establishment in Jerusalem where she favoured monastic Monophysitism.

In 423, the Western Emperor Honorius, Theodosius' uncle, died and the primicerius notariorum Joannes was proclaimed emperor. Honorius' sister Galla Placidia and her young son Valentinian, who had earlier fled to Constantinople to escape Honorius' hostility, sought Eastern assistance to claim the throne for Valentinian, and after some deliberation in 424 Theodosius opened the war against Joannes. On 23 October 425, Valentinian III was installed as emperor of the West with the assistance of the magister officiorum Helion, with his mother taking an influential role. To strengthen the ties between the two parts of the empire, Theodosius' daughter Licinia Eudoxia was betrothed to Valentinian. She married Valentinian III later on 29 October 437, and became empress of the western portion of the empire.

Theodosius is often seen by both ancient and modern historians as being constantly pushed around by his sister, wife, and eunuchs, particularly Chrysaphius among them.[11] In the later decades of his life, Chrysaphius rose to prominence as one of the emperor's favorites. He favored the pro-Monophysite policy, influenced the foreign policy towards the Huns, and was resented by Pulcheria, general Zeno, and ancient writers.[12] According to Theodorus Lector, Theodosius was so unmindful of his surroundings that he accidentally signed his sister's note selling his wife, Eudocia, into slavery.

However, some scholars argue that contrary to hostile ancient sources, Theodosius was more in control of his government.[13] Others view that the government was controlled mostly by civilian officials, and not by a particular individual.[14] Among ancient and medieval writers, Monophysites had a favorable opinion of Theodosius.[15]

University and Law Code[edit]

In 425, Theodosius founded the University of Constantinople with 31 chairs (15 in Latin and 16 in Greek). Among the subjects were law, philosophy, medicine, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music and rhetoric.

In 429, Theodosius appointed a commission to collect all of the laws since the reign of Constantine I, and create a fully formalized system of law. This plan was left unfinished, but the work of a second commission that met in Constantinople, assigned to collect all of the general legislations and bring them up to date, was completed; their collection was published as the Codex Theodosianus in 438. The law code of Theodosius II, summarizing edicts promulgated since Constantine, formed a basis for the law code of Emperor Justinian I, the Corpus Juris Civilis, in the following century.

Wars with the Huns, Vandals, and Persians[edit]

The situation between the Romans and the Sassanids deteriorated in 420 due to the Persian persecution of Christians, and the Eastern empire declared war against the Sassanids (421–422); the war ended in an indecisive stalemate, when the Romans were forced to accept peace as the Huns menaced Constantinople.[16][17] Peace was arranged in 422 without changes to the status quo. The later wars of Theodosius were generally less successful.

The Eastern Empire was plagued by raids by the Huns. Early in Theodosius II's reign Romans used internal Hun discord to overcome Uldin's invasion of the Balkans. The Romans strengthened their fortifications and in 424 agreed to pay 350 pounds of gold to encourage the Huns to remain at peace with the Romans. In 433 with the rise of Attila and Bleda to unify the Huns, the payment was doubled to 700 pounds.

Theodosius became engaged with the affairs of the West after installing Valentinian III as his Western counterpart. When Roman Africa fell to the Vandals in 439, both Eastern and Western Emperors sent forces to Sicily, intending to launch an attack on the Vandals at Carthage, but this project failed. Seeing the borders without significant forces, the Huns and Sassanid Persia both attacked and the expeditionary force had to be recalled. During 443 two Roman armies were defeated and destroyed by the Huns. Anatolius negotiated a peace agreement; the Huns withdrew in exchange for humiliating concessions, including an annual tribute of 2,100 Roman pounds (c. 687 kg) of gold.[18] In 447 the Huns went through the Balkans, destroying among others the city of Serdica (Sofia) and reaching Athyra (Büyükçekmece) on the outskirts of Constantinople. In 449, an Eastern Roman attempt to assassinate Attila failed, however the relations between the two did not deteriorate further.

Theological disputes[edit]

Theodosius welcomes the relics of John Chrysostom. Miniature from the early 11th century.

Theodosius frequently attempted to resolve doctrinal controversies regarding the nature of Christ. During a visit to Syria, Theodosius met the monk Nestorius, who was a renowned preacher. He appointed Nestorius archbishop of Constantinople in 428. Nestorius quickly became involved in the disputes of two theological factions, which differed in their Christology. Nestorius tried to find a middle ground between those who, emphasizing the fact that in Christ God had been born as a man, insisted on calling the Virgin Mary Theotokos ("birth-giver of God"), and those who rejected that title because God, as an eternal being, could not have been born. Nestorius suggested the title Christotokos ("birth-giver of Christ") as a compromise, but it did not find acceptance with either faction. He was accused of separating Christ's divine and human natures, resulting in "two Christs", a heresy later called Nestorianism. Though initially supported by the emperor, Nestorius was strongly opposed by Archbishop Cyril of Alexandria and eventually lost Theodosius' support. At the request of Nestorius, who sought to vindicate himself from Cyril's charge of heresy, the emperor called a council, which convened in Ephesus in 431. Each of the Cyrillian and Nestorian factions held their own councils in opposition to each other. Theodosius eventually favored Cyril. The council affirmed the title Theotokos and condemned Nestorius, who returned to his monastery in Syria and was eventually exiled to a remote monastery in Egypt.

Almost twenty years later, the theological dispute broke out again, this time caused by the Constantinopolitan abbot Eutyches, who asserted the Monophysite view that Christ's divine and human nature were one. Eutyches was condemned by Archbishop Flavian of Constantinople but found a powerful friend in Cyril's successor Dioscurus of Alexandria. Another council was convoked in Ephesus in 449, later maligned as a "robber synod" by Pope Leo I because its outcome was opposed by the Chalcedonians. This council restored Eutyches and deposed Flavian, who was mistreated and died shortly afterwards. Leo of Rome and many other bishops protested against the outcome, but the emperor supported it. Only after his death in 450 would the decisions be reversed at the Council of Chalcedon.


Coin of Theodosius II, found in the excavation of a monastery in Ajanta Caves, India.

Theodosius died on 28 July 450[19] as the result of a riding accident. On 25 August, his sister Pulcheria married the newly elected emperor Marcian, a domesticus under the influential general Aspar. The eunuch Chrysaphius was executed shortly after by the new imperial couple.[20]

Like Constantine I and several of his successors, he was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles, in a porphyry sarcophagus that was described in the 10th century by Constantine VII in the De Ceremoniis.[21]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Alexander A. Vasiliev (1980). History of the Byzantine Empire, 324–1453, Vol. I. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 66.
  2. ^ Chronicon Paschale 402.
  3. ^ PLRE 2, p. 1100
  4. ^ "Theodosius II". Romanempire. Archived from the original on 7 November 2017.
  5. ^ Alireza Shapour Shahbazi, "Byzantine-Iranian relations", Encyclopaedia Iranica, 15 December 1990.
  6. ^ Duncan, Alistair (1974). The noble heritage: Jerusalem and Christianity, a portrait of the Church of the Resurrection. Longman. p. 28. ISBN 0-582-78039-X. In 438 the Empress Eudocia, wife of Theodosius II, visited Jerusalem. On her return to Constantinople, after donating towards the building of new churches, she was displaced in court circles by her sister-in-law because of her Greek origin. Only one part of her churches remains.
  7. ^ Morgan, Robin (1996). Sisterhood is global: the international women's movement anthology. Feminist Press. p. 270. ISBN 1-55861-160-6. Greek women also were visible during the Byzantine period. In 421, Emperor Theodosius II married a pagan Athenian woman, Athenais; after baptism she became Eudocia.
  8. ^ Mahler, Helen A. (1952). Empress of Byzantium. Coward-McCann. p. 106. OCLC 331435. Athenais, daughter of the Athenian scholar, Leontius. Before the wedding she would receive in holy baptism the name of his mother, the exalted Empress Eudoxia but because of Athenais' Greek origin the name would be pronounced Eudocia.
  9. ^ Cheetham, Nicolas (1981). Mediaeval Greece. Yale University Press. p. 12. ISBN 0-300-10539-8. Immensely proud of her Hellenic ancestry and culture, Eudocia dominated her…
  10. ^ Cuming, G. J.; Baker, Derek; Ecclesiastical History Society (1972). Popular belief and practice: Volume 8 of Studies in church history. CUP Archive. p. 13. ISBN 0-521-08220-X. Eudocia herself, the daughter of a pagan Athenian philosopher, embraced the new faith in a mood of total acceptance. Very conscious of her Hellenic heritage, as her famous address to the citizens of Antioch showed,
  11. ^ Kelly, "Chapter 1 Rethinking Theodosius," in Kelly (ed.) Theodosius II: Rethinking the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity pp. 2–6
  12. ^ Lee, A. D. (2013). From Rome to Byzantium AD 363 to 565: The Transformation of Ancient Rome Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 97–98
  13. ^ Elton, H, "Imperial politics at the court of Theodosius II," in Cain (ed), The Power of Religion in Late Antiquity: The Power of Religion in Late Antiquity (Aldershot, Ashgate, 2009), 133–142
  14. ^ Harries, J (2013) "Chapter 2 Men Without Women: Theodosius' Consistory and the Business of Government," in Kelly (ed.) Theodosius II: Rethinking the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity pp. 67–89
  15. ^ Watts, E (2013) "Chapter 11 Theodosius II and his legacy in anti-Chalcedonian communal memory," in Kelly (ed.) Theodosius II: Rethinking the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity pp. 269–283
  16. ^ Warren T. Treadgold, A history of the Byzantine state and society, Stanford University Press, 1997, ISBN 0-8047-2630-2, p. 90.
  17. ^ G. Greatrex, The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars Part II AD 363–630: A Narrative Sourcebook, Routledge, 2002, p. 36
  18. ^ Bury, J.B., History of the Later Roman Empire vol. 1, Dover, New York, 1958, pp. 271f
  19. ^ Theodorus Lector II, 64.
  20. ^ Chronicon Paschale 450.
  21. ^ A. A. Vasiliev (1848). "Imperial Porphyry Sarcophagi in Constantinople" (PDF). Dumbarton Oaks Papers. 4: 1, 3–26. doi:10.2307/1291047. JSTOR 1291047.


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Theodosius II
Born: April 401 Died: 28 July 450
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