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31 The Rise of Theodosius

GratianCoin MagnusMaximus ValentinianII EugeniusCoin TheodosiusFlacilla Ambrose MAPTheodosiusMagnus

Gratian, a studious young man with limited military skills, nevertheless presided over some lucky victories. But his preferment of barbarian generals left his standing with the troops shaky.

The usurper Magnus Clemens Maximus made his infant son Flavius Victor (right above) his co-Augustus.


Only four when made co-Augustus with Gratian and Valens, Valentinian II (bust and coin) was destined to become a mere puppet-ruler at the mercy of more powerful people.

Theodosius, the last emperor to rule the whole of the empire, would be called “the Great” for his establishment of the Roman Catholic Church. His wife Flacilla was represented on coins (right above) as his partner in government.

Eugenius, a professor of rhetoric, was appointed emperor by Arbogast who, while virtual ruler of the West, felt it unwise as a pagan barbarian to assume the purple himself.

A great advocate of the Church in Italy, the bishop of Mediolanum, Ambrose, clashed with Theodosius over matters of religion and his interference in episcopal affairs, but a senseless massacre in Thessalonica caused him to resort to the ultimate sanction—the emperor’s excommunication.

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Illustrations © Oliver Frey; Maps © Roger M. Kean    © 2010–2016 Reckless Books, England