Representations of Power and Imperial Manliness in the Reign of Theodosius II

 

There has been a surge of interest in the past few years around the reign of Theodosius II. Here is my take on this crucial reign:

 

On a summer day in 450, the forty-eight year old Eastern Roman emperor, Theodosius II died of injuries sustained in a horse riding accident. Having reigned since his father Arcadius’ death in 408, many contemporary Eastern Romans had never known another ruler. Such an end represented a somewhat ironic demise for an emperor better known by most modern historians for his ineffectual rule, monkish character, and prominent role in contemporary Christological debates, than for a zest for the active life.[1] This paper looks at the various ways imperial propaganda, and in particular, some fifth-century ecclesiastical historians, promoted Theodosius II as the leader of both the Roman state and the increasingly powerful Christian Church. It will challenge the view found in much of the modern scholarship on the reign that supposes that the fifth century witnessed a major shift away from martial virtues as an essential component of imperial propaganda.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pious Emperor

Similar to many upper-class Romans of the time, the emperor and his family were dedicated Christians.[2] One sees evidence of this devotion in the literary and the visual sources from the reign.[3] This emphasis is certainly found in the writings of the Eastern Church historians whose literary genre flourished during the emperor’s reign.[4] One specialist on the period remarks that many of the fifth-century ecclesiastical historians’ descriptions of Theodosius II appear more characteristic of a Late Roman holy man, bishop, or monk than that of an archetypal Late Roman emperor.[5] For example, Socrates, whose generally fair and balanced account provides us with the best narrative of the reign, informs his readers that the imperial family ran the palace like a monastery. He even suggests that the emperor wore a hair-coat—typical of extreme Eastern ascetics—underneath his royal garb and dedicated his days and nights to prayer, fasting, and study of sacred texts. Seemingly reneging on an earlier promise (HE 1.1.2-3) not to cross the line from historian to panegyrist, Socrates extolled what he saw as the emperor’s “Christian” virtues:

He evinced so much prudence, that he appeared to those who conversed with him to have acquired wisdom from experience. Such was his fortitude in undergoing hardships, that he would courageously endure both heat and cold; fasting very frequently, especially on Wednesdays and Fridays; and this he did from an earnest endeavour to observe with accuracy all the prescribed forms of the Christian religion.[6]

Here we find all of the characteristics of the standard bishop or holy man.[7] Throughout his history, Socrates created an image of Theodosius II as a model leader of both the Church and the State. Theresa Urbainczyk has recently illustrated how highlighting the ascetic authority of the emperor allowed Socrates to link the “unity of the Empire and the unity of the Church”. Having the emperor conform to his vision of the attributes of an ideal bishop allowed the historian to promote to his readers the “controversial” idea that the emperor represented the dominant, and indeed, the “rightful”, leader of the Church.[8] This stance by Socrates contrasted sharply with that of his fellow Church historians, Sozomen, Theodoret, and Rufinus, who frequently supported the idea of the bishop as the primary authority in ecclesiastical affairs. Despite this rhetoric, however, the emperors maintained their dominant role as the leader of the Church throughout Late Antiquity.[9] 

        Sozomen presented a slightly more conventional portrait of Theodosius II as a quintessential Christian Roman emperor and man. In an introduction dedicated to the emperor, and most likely recited in front of the court in Constantinople, Sozomen’s account quite naturally veered from historical to unabashedly panegyric.[10] The resulting impression of Theodosius II differed little from encomiums dedicated to the emperor Augustus four and a half centuries earlier:  He was courageous, militarily successful, devoted to God, sexually restrained, philanthropic and benevolent.[11] In comparison to Socrates, who made only passing mention of the emperor’s martial qualities, Sozomen claimed that Theodosius’ days were filled with military training, physical exercise, and state affairs, while his nights were spent in study.[12]

Though men had trained the young emperor in arms, horse riding and letters, Sozomen attributed Theodosius’ Christian piety and manly deportment to the upbringing and influence of his pious sister, Pulcheria. Amalgamating the traditional “womanly aristocratic” virtue of sisterly devotion, with the newer Christian emphasis on celibacy,[13] the historian applauded the emperor’s elder sister for devoting “her virginity to God”, and helping to guide “Theodosius into piety” by showing him the wisdom of constant prayer, respect for the clergy, and honouring the church with a steady stream of  “gifts and treasure”.[14]

Although piety had always been one of the imperial virtues, Socrates and Sozomen, like other Christian sources from the period, emphasise this quality and the emperor’s other Christian qualities such as charity over the emperor’s more “traditional” virtues such as courage, wisdom, and prudence.[15] In addition, following Old Testament precedents and contemporary hagiographical motifs, the Church historians, tended to attribute the military victories of orthodox emperors to the power of piety and prayer.[16] We see evidence of this view in Sozomen’s declaration that “Piety alone suffices for the salvation of princes; and without piety, armies, a powerful empire, and every other resource, are of no avail”.[17]

        Few modern scholars have been able to resist the temptation of seeing in such depictions a moving away from traditional marital virtues such as courage or manliness toward more Christian notions of extreme asceticism and piety. Since I will spend the remainder of this essay rebutting aspects of these arguments, what follows are brief summaries, and a few initial comments and criticisms of some of their main claims. Theresa Urbainczyk’s view is typical. She writes: “The Church became aware of the incongruity of celebrating military prowess in a Christian emperor and preferred to stress more Christian qualities….The change in emphasis would have also have had imperial approval”.[18] Kenneth Holum proposes that this change in Christian imperial ideology had emerged in the reign of Theodosius II’s Grandfather, Theodosius I. He points to Christian literature surrounding Theodosius I’s victory over his Western rival, Eugenius, at the battle of Frigidus in 384 as evidence of this new ideology: “In that battle, contemporary authors stressed, the soldiers’ weapons had accomplished nothing at all. Theodosius had accomplished nothing at all. Theodosius had mastered Eugenius through piety alone, his tears and prayers”. According to Holum, in the reigns of his sons, Honorius and Arcadius, this Christian imperial dogma became more pronounced. He concludes: “The new ideology owed much to the old, but the personal qualities on which victory depended had been transformed, from strategic ability and brute military strength to the emperor’s Christian eusebeia”.[19] Peter Heather, too, points to a change in imperial ideology in the reign of Theodosius I. He argues more plausibly, however, that this emphasis on piety in the speeches of the court-propagandist, the Hellenic philosopher Themistius, represented a means to deal with changing political realities and military setbacks at the hands of the Goths in the years after Adrianople, as much as a real and permanent shift in imperial ideology.[20] I agree that this stress on the emperor’s “Christian” virtues, and the apparent rejection of the typical Roman adulation of brute force, seems to have been a response to Theodosius’ rather embarrassing failure to crush the Goths in 381, as well as the ensuing incorporation of many of these “barbarian enemies” into his armed forces. Before these defeats, Themistius had, in fact, gone to great lengths to promote Theodosius’ warlike qualities, and had expressed in typical jingoistic and militaristic rhetoric, the emperor’s need for revenge against the Goths for the setback at Adrianople.[21]

Nevertheless, there are problems with all of these approaches. First, examinations of the literary and visual sources that have survived from the reign of Constantius II (ruled 337-361) reveal that an imperial reliance on Christian virtues and imagery as an essential aspect of imperial propaganda was not a Theodosian innovation. Despite the largely negative portrait found in Ammianus, Constantius deftly balanced his military role with Christian engagement.[22] Secondly, it is surely hazardous to rely largely on Christian writers’ versions of battles like Frigidus and their visions of “pious” Roman emperors, as Holum does, as firm evidence of a cultural shift away from martial virtues as a key component of imperial ideology. Historians must take care when relying on ancient sources with a Christian rather than a historical agenda. As Alan Cameron warns, ecclesiastical history operated “on a theological rather than a historical plane”; secular wars and military victories were only of interest for the ecclesiastical authors “for the light they cast on the piety and orthodoxy of the victors”.[23] This motive helps to explain why these Christian sources emphasised the bloodless and miraculous nature of Theodosius I’s victory at Frigidus against the supposed pagan elements of Eugenius’ forces.[24] It was only natural that these Christian sources, depending on Old Testament precedents (Joshua 6.20) as well fourth-century trends in Christian hagiography and panegyric, would highlight the pivotal role that the “hand of God” played in the triumph of the “orthodox” and “pious” Theodosius, while marginalising both the numbers and the military qualities of his soldiers. Such a view probably had imperial approval. For Theodosius I and his heirs, a hard-fought contest between two rival Christian emperors heading evenly matched Roman armies of a similar religious makeup was perhaps better explained as a bloodless and providential triumph over a numerically superior Western army intent on re-establishing pagan worship.

Though I would not deny the worth—and indeed the absolute necessity—of using Christian sources in helping to reconstruct secular events in the murky late-fourth and fifth-century, some care must be taken. Certainly, to proclaim the end of the relevance of the emperor and his soldiers’ “brute military strength” as a key component of the Empire’s well-being and as a key aspect of imperial ideology on such slanted evidence, as Holum does, is hazardous. Two Late Roman sources less favourable to Theodosius I, Eunapius and the Christian historian, Philostorgius (a Church historian who opposed Theodosius I’s Christological position), portrayed Frigidus “as just another triumph of the stronger over the weaker”.[25] Therefore, the marginalising of martial virtues and the trumpeting of Christian values promoted by Late Roman Christian and imperial sources may simply represent the demands of one’s literary genre and/or a response by imperial ideology to military setbacks and civil war.

 

(Base of a statue of Theodosius II Hebdomon Constantinople, image from http://laststatues.classics.ox.ac.uk/database/detail-base.php?record=LSA-31)

 

We have evidence that Theodosius II sought to present himself as the face of Roman military victory. In a similar fashion as Justinian I in the next century, Theodosius II seemed to know the importance of claiming “the credit for military successes”.[26] His religious devotion and his belief in providence certainly did not keep him from commissioning equestrian monuments of himself to commemorate “his” victories over the Persians 420/21 and the Huns 441/2.[27] In fact, it was this image of Theodosius II as the protector of the Eastern Empire and the driving force behind the “triumphs” over the Huns and Persians that served as prominent themes in Olympiodorus’ secular history and the early Byzantine ecclesiastical histories of Theodoret, Sozomen, and Evagrius.[28] So too after the death of the Western emperor Honorius in 423, did Theodosius present himself as the West’s protector.[29] Military matters represented a major area of focus for Theodosius throughout the 440s. It is clear that Theodosius hoped to wipe away the shame of losing most of North Africa in the 420s and 430s by once again taking the fight to the Vandals. A major Hunnic invasion of the Eastern Empire in 442, however, forced the Eastern emperor to recall his fleet that was, with cooperation of his junior Western counterpart Valentinian III, planning a major invasion against the Vandals in Africa.[30]

Without a doubt, military success represented an essential component to the ideology of both the state and the Church in the Christian Eastern Roman Empire of Theodosius II.[31] By his reign, it had in fact become difficult to separate the two. Though exaggerated for rhetorical effect, the famous quotation from a sermon from 428 by the newly elected bishop of Constantinople, Nestorius, highlighted this intimate connection between “orthodoxy” and military success: “Give me King, the earth purged of heretics, and I will give you heaven in return. Aid me in destroying heretics, and I will assist you in vanquishing the Persians”.[32] Further evidence of this view is found in a letter from the bishop of Cyrus Theodoret to Theodosius’ general, the Alan Aspar, promising “to implore our good Lord” to guard the Empire and make it a terror to its enemies.[33]  Therefore, it should cause little surprise then that the younger Theodosius, who sought to justify and glorify his leadership of the Church and the State, would have supported the creation of ideologies that portrayed him as both a model religious and secular leader.

 The increasing juxtaposition of Church and state affairs that marked the politics of the Theodosian age is reflected in the writings of many contemporary Christian sources. In opposition to Holum’s and Urbainczyk’s conclusions about Christian writers growing tendency to marginalise militarism, a wealth of evidence is found in their writings applauding the Roman emperors’ and their soldiers’ military prowess. One example should suffice. In the following passage, the fifth-century Christian poet Prudentius celebrated the Emperor Honorius’ “Christian” Roman army’s victory over the Goths:

To lead our army and our empire we had a young warrior mighty in Christ, and his companion and father [-in-law] Stilicho, and Christ the one God of both. It was after worship at Christ’s altar and when the mark of the cross was imprinted on the brow, that the trumpets sounded. First before the dragon standards went a spear-shaft raising the crest of Christ. There the race that for thirty years had plagued Pannonia was at last wiped out and paid the penalty.[34] 
 

As Michael Whitby aptly points out, “It is too easily forgotten that the Christian God was chosen by Constantine as a God of Battles, and that there are plenty of exempla of heroic warriors and much smiting of enemies in the Old Testament – Gideon, Samson, David, and Maccabees”.[35] Indeed, the seminal  fifth-century Christian writer Saint Augustine (354-430 CE) used the example of David to reassure the Roman military commander Boniface that God valued the endeavours of Roman soldiers, and supported what the bishop described as just wars.[36]

This pro-martial sentiment represented a common theme in many Christian writings of the time. Sharing a view espoused by their model Eusebius, Sozomen, and Socrates made it clear in their histories that the well-being of the Church remained linked inexorably to the military successes of the Roman armies. Yet, Socrates and Sozomen included information on secular matters seemingly unlinked to Church affairs in their accounts. Socrates, in particular, knew that this inclusion set this history apart from his model Eusebius (and in some ways his contemporaries like Theodoret).[37] This gradual move away from purely Christian histories is not so strange considering that these ecclesiastical historians lived in a different age than their historiographical model. By the time these men composed their histories, the Christian Roman Empire was nearly a century and a half old; paganism was a spent force, and Christian symbolism and iconography were an important part of Roman military ideology. Whereas Eusebius’ history had been largely a tale of the Christian Church’s fight against its external enemies, and in particular the “prosecuting” pagan Roman emperors, the fifth-century ecclesiastical historians concentrated on the battle against “heretics” within, and the integral relationship between the success of the Roman armies and the success of the Church.[38] To varying degrees, these ecclesiastical historians provided details on secular and military affairs and the actions of brave soldiers, and even provided accounts of “brave” Roman citizens taking up arms against foreign invaders.[39] This inclusion was no accident. Socrates explained he included such formerly taboo topics for two primary reasons. First, and most important, as he put it, “when public affairs were in turmoil, those of the Church were in turmoil”. He continued by justifying his emphasis on the life and deeds of Roman emperors. He wrote, “I continually include the emperors in history since from the time they became Christians, the affairs of the Church have depended on them”. Last, and perhaps most revealing, he thought (or perhaps hoped) that his reading audience would tire of an endless rehashing of doctrinal disputes.[40]

Due to the loss of much of the secular literature from the fifth century, our portrait of Theodosius II derives mostly from the relatively abundant Christian sources that survive from his reign. This skewed ratio has probably tilted our view towards the “Christian” Theodosius II somewhat.[41] Priscus, one the few fifth-century secular historians besides Olympiodorus to provide us with some details on his reign—albeit in a negative fashion—says very little in the fragments that survive about the emperor’s piety, and nothing about the Christological views of the imperial regime.[42] Instead, he voiced his concerns that Theodosius’ cowardice and lack of marital virtues had caused him to prefer to pay off the Eastern Roman enemies instead of facing them in battle.[43] In what survives of his work known as Byzantine History, Priscus created a portrait of Theodosius II and his ministers as unmanly fops. Though we lack around two thirds of the text, It appears that the career diplomat had constructed the conventional binary contrast comparing the unmanly vices of Theodosius II and his generals and eunuch advisors with the more typically martial and masculine ideals displayed by the emperor Marcian’s (ruled 450-457) military background and his strong diplomatic stance against the Huns.[44]

The fact that the fifth century produced at least five other secular histories should serve as an important reminder, that in contrast to the West, historical writing continued to be a viable literary genre in the East. Judging from their fragments and their sixth-century successors, these works appear to have focussed on military affairs and the manliness of war. We are told that Candidus’ lost history focused heavily on the future emperor Basiliscus’ military “successes and failures” in Africa.[45] Malchus’ history appeared, as well, to concentrate on the military reigns of Leo I, Zeno, and Basiliscus.[46] Indeed, with the exception of Anastasius I (ruled 491-518), Theodosius II’s fifth-century successors had all begun their careers as soldiers.[47]

Secular sources continued to portray military setbacks, not as acts of Divine retribution, but primarily as failures of courage and manliness. Priscus, for instance, blamed Leo I’s failed campaign to recapture North Africa from the Vandals in 468 largely on its commander the future “usurper” Basiliscus. In Priscus’ telling, Basiliscus—either through treachery or through cowardice—failed to act decisively, and therefore allowed the noble and valiant Roman soldiers to suffer a disastrous defeat at the hands of Vandals. [48]

The disappearance of much of the secular historiography from the fifth century should always be remembered when we try to determine the extent of this era’s focus on Christian virtues or a larger societal rejection of martial virtues and traditional masculine ideologies. Indeed, imagine our view of the sixth century if the complete accounts we have from Procopius, Agathias, and Theophylact had disappeared or come down to us only in fragments like all of their fifth-century counterparts. The balance of the surviving sources is such as to give a false impression of a dramatic shift in the fifth century away from an imperial, as well as a larger societal, ideology of masculinity based, in part, on martial virtues.

 

 

 


[1] See especially Kenneth Holum, Theodosian Empresses: Women and Dominion in Late Antiquity (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1982), 101,130, Warren Treadgold, A History of the Byzantine State and Society. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), 87, Kathryn Chew, “Virgins and Eunuchs: Pulcheria, Politics and the Death of Emperor Theodosius II,” Historia: Zeitschrift fϋr Alte Geschichte 55, 2 (2006): 207-227.

 

[2] A discussion of the imperial family’s religious devotion is found in Fergus Millar, A Greek Roman Empire: Power and Belief under Theodosius II (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006), 35-36 and Claudia Rapp, Holy Bishops in Late Antiquity: The Nature of Christian Leadership in an Age of Transition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), 300. For a different perspective, see Theresa Urbainczyk, Socrates of Constantinople (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997), 33. I would suggest that Theodosius, like his grandfather, was a sincere and devoted Christian.

 

[3] Holum, Theodosian Empresses, 101. Later critics of the reign tried to turn this pious reputation on its head by focusing on the sexual politics of the imperial family, see John Malalas, Chronicle 14.3-8, 14.19.

 

[4] The first half of the fifth century represented a fecund period of ecclesiastical history.  In the Eastern half of the Empire, no less than five Greek authors continued the Church history of Eusebius.  For some of the reasons for this abundance and popularity, see Alan Cameron, “The Empress and the Poet: Paganism and Politics at the Court of Theodosius II”, Yale Classical Studies 27 (1982): 269-70, Treadgold, Byzantine Historians, 164-75.

 

[5] Urbainczyk, Socrates, 145.

[6] Socrates, HE 7.22.

 

[7] As Conor Whately (pers. comm.) has pointed out to me, an ability to endure hardships like hot and cold courageously had long been part of the rhetoric of the emperor or commander as ‘commilitones’.

 

[8] Urbainczyk, Socrates, 164-176.Urbainczyk contends as well (Socrates,158-9) that Socrates’ ascetic image of Theodosius II served, in part, to counter Julian’s lingering reputation as an ideal “philosopher-king”.

 

[9] Indeed, this reality serves as evidence on the danger of using rigorist Christian writings as evidence of “reality” in the Late Antique world. On this topic see, Peter Heather, The Restoration of Rome: Barbarian Popes & Imperial Pretenders (London: MacMillan, 2103), 309-320.

 

[10] It was expected that historians would exaggerate the virtues and exploits of living emperors, See, e.g. Agathias, Histories preface, 18-20. However, I must add we do find in Eunapius and in Procopius (Wars 1.24.39, 2.28.38-44, 7.1.30) criticisms of living emperors.

 

[11] For the use of a similar combination of virtues in literary depictions of the emperor Augustus, see Coleen Conway, Behold the Man: Jesus and Greco-Roman Masculinity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 65. On the “minor modifications” imposed by Christianity on these standard imperial virtues, see Lesile Brubaker, “Sex, Lies, and Texuality: the Secret History of Prokopios and the Rhetoric of Gender in Sixth-century Byzantium”, in Gender in the Early Medieval World: East and West, 300-900, ed. Leslie Brubaker and Julia Smith (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 86.

 

[12] Sozomen, HE 9.1.

 

[13]Michele Renee Salzman, The Making of a Christian Aristocracy: Social and Religious Change in the Western Roman Empire (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002), 162-63.

 

[14] Sozomen, HE 9.1. For the traditional role that imperial women played in imperial affairs, see S. Cristo, “Some notes on the Bonifacian-Eualian schism”, Aevum 51 (1977): 165.

 

[15] For piety as an essential imperial virtue from the reign of Augustus, see Conway, Behold the Man, 45-6, 51, 59. For the increased focus on this virtue in the reigns of “”child-emperors” like Honorius, Theodosius II, and Valentinian III, see Meaghan McEvoy, Child Emperor Rule in the Late Roman West, AD 367-455 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013),43, 117, 126, 213, 277, 280, 319-21.

 

[16] Alan Cameron, The Last Pagans of Rome (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 96-99.

 

[17] Sozomen, HE 9.1. Cf. Peter Brown, Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity: Towards a Christian Empire (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992),134-35.

 

[18] Urbainczyk, Socrates, 146. She does, however, leave open the possibility that this emphasis was taken out of necessity since Theodosius II had no military virtues worth mentioning.

 

[19] Holum, Theodosian Empresses, 50-1.

 

[20]Peter Heather and David Moncur, Politics, Philosophy and Empire in the Fourth Century: Select Orations of Themistius, TTH 36 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2001), 261-62.

 

[21] Cameron, Last Pagans, 98-101.

 

[22] See e.g., Michael Whitby, “Images of Constantius”, in The Late Roman World and its Historian: Interpreting Ammianus Marcellinus, ed. Jan Willem Drijvers, David Hunt (New York: Routledge, 1999), 77-92.  

 

[23] Cameron (Last Pagans, 103-09) disputes this “pagan” revival, and contends that the wind miracle was the gradual “invention” of later Christian writers.

 

 [24] S. G. McCormack, “Latin Prose Panegyrics”, in Empire and Aftermath: Silver Latin II, ed. T. A. Dorey (London, 1975), 169-72.

 

[25] Cameron, Last Pagans, 111.  Eunapius, frag. 60.1, Philostorgius, HE 11.2.

 

[26] On Theodosius’ equestrian monument in Hebdomon just outside the capital, see Holum, Theodosian Empresses, 110. For the rather inconclusive outcome of these wars, yet the relative prosperity of the Eastern Empire at the close of Theodosius II’s reign, see Millar, Greek Roman Empire, 62-83.

 

[27] A.D. Lee, “The Empire at War”, in CCAG, ed. Michael Maas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 343-45.

 

[28] Olympiodorus, frag. 43.1-2. Theodoret, HE 5.7.4-10, Sozomen, HE 9.6.1, Evagrius, HE 1.19.  The pagan Olympiodorus’ history composed around 427 was dedicated to Theodosius II. For Olympiodorus’ possible close relationship with Theodosius II and the Empress Eudocia, see Warren Treadgold, “The Diplomatic Career and Historical Work of Olympiodorus of Thebes”, The International Historical Review 26 4 (2004): esp. 714, 723.

 

[29] Indeed, Theodosius may have hoped originally to have ruled as a sole Augustus. See, Mathews, Western Aristocracies, 377-81.

 

[30] A full discussion on Theodosius attempts to present himself as the manly protector of the  Western half of the Empire is found in McEvoy, Child Emperor Rule, 264-65.

 

[31] For this point, see Millar, Greek Roman Empire, 39.

 

[32] Socrates, HE 7.29.5. Socrates, in fact, used this speech to criticise Nestorius for his hardline against those the bishop considered heretics.  Socrates portrayed many of the disputes that disrupted the Church and the fourth and the fifth centuries as a waste of time.

 

[33] Theodoret, Letter 139 (trans. Jackson).

[34] Prudentius, c. Symmachus 2 II. 709-14, quoted in Mathew Kuefler, The Manly Eunuch: Masculinity, Gender Ambiguity, and Christian Ideology in Late Antiquity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001),131.

 

[35] Michael Whitby (pers. comm.).

 

[36] Augustine, Letter 189. Augustine composed his City of God chiefly as a rebuttal against pagan assertions that the Christianization of the Empire had led to the barbarian invasions and the Goth Alaric’s sack of Rome in 410 CE. Though he largely dismissed in this work the importance as well as the long term impact of events in the secular world, as the example above shows, his political writings frequently took a far more pragmatic stand.

 

[37] Socrates’ prefatory comments to open book six suggests that some of his early readers had been critical of his heavy focus on secular matters.

 

[38] Urbainczyk, Socrates, 150.

 

[39] For just a few examples, Sozomen, HE 7.4, 9.5, 9.9, Socrates (HE 5.1) provided a vivid account of the citizens of Constantinople taking up arms to defend the capital against the Goths.

 

[40] Socrates HE pref. 5.5. This emphasis on secular events may suggest a less devout Christian audience than one might suspect.

 

[41] Hence Millar’s masterful account of the reign relies heavily on the Church historians and the Acta of the Oecumenical councils held during Theodosius II’s reign.

 

[42] See, for example, Priscus, frag 3.1: “Theodosius, who succeeded his father Arcadius as Emperor, was unwarlike [ἀπολεμος] and lived a life of cowardice [δειλία]. He obtained peace by money, not by fighting for it.

 

[43] This paradigm was observed long ago by E. A. Thompson, who revealed that Priscus approved of anyone or group of peoples who took bold stands against barbarian peoples.  E.A. Thompson, A History of Attila and the Huns (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1948), 189.

[44] Priscus, frag. 5.18-20.

 

[45]Candidus, frag. 1

 

[46]Malchus, frags.  Contra B. Baldwin’s claim (Dumbarton Oaks Papers
Vol. 31. (1977); 89+91-107) that Malchus’ history sought to criticize the rampant militarism of Leo and Zeno’s reigns, while critical of these reigns, far too little remains of the history remains to make such a sweeping conclusion. Indeed, if Baldwin’s thesis is true, it seems strange that Malchus would have made such an effort to portray Zeno as unwarlike and cowardly (e.g. frag 5).

 

[47] See, e.g. Priscus, frag. 5.15.

 

[48] Priscus, frag. 53. 

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