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Roman Emperor (Late Empire)

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Title: Roman Emperor (Late Empire)  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Theodosian dynasty, Year of the Five Emperors, Year of the Six Emperors, Barracks emperor, Severan dynasty
Collection: Ancient Roman Titles, Lists of Monarchs, Lists of Office-Holders in Ancient Rome, Roman Emperors
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Roman Emperor (Late Empire)

The office of Roman Emperor underwent significant turbulence in the fourth and fifth centuries, particularly under the period of the Dominate. In the West, its holders became puppets of a succession of barbarian kings. In the East, it began to assume autocratic trappings.


  • Eugenius 1
  • Theodosian Dynasty 2
    • Theodosius 2.1
    • Final division of the Roman Empire in "East" and "West" 2.2
      • Emperors in the East 2.2.1
      • Emperors in the West 2.2.2
    • Dynastic Relationships 2.3
  • After the Theodosian Dynasty 3
    • In the West 3.1
    • The East: Leonine Dynasty 3.2
      • Leonine Emperors 3.2.1
    • Dynastic Relationships 3.3
  • See also 4
  • External links 5


Arbogast, Valentinian II’s general-in-chief, murdered him in May 392, and replaced him with a puppet Emperor, Eugenius, a former rhetorician. Eugenius was overthrown two years later by Theodosius I (see below), Valentinian II’s brother-in-law.

  • Eugenius ("Imp. Caesar Flavius Eugenius P.F. Aug."; b. Flavius Eugenius), 392–4.

Theodosian Dynasty


Much as the Valentinian dynasty was loosely connected to the Constantinian dynasty by marriage, the Theodosian dynasty was loosely connected to the Valentinian; the first Theodosian Emperor, Theodosius I (historically known as "the Great") was son-in-law of Valentinian I. Although he was a Hispano-Roman of military background, like Valentinian, he was no "Barracks Emperor"; he was lawfully and voluntarily elevated to the purple in the East by the reigning Emperor Gratian, his half-brother-in-law, on January 19, 379. He abolished paganism entirely and made Christianity the official religion of the Empire in 391, overthrew Arbogast and his puppet Emperor, Eugenius, in the West in 394, and was the last Emperor to rule both East and West.

  • Theodosius I ("Imp. Caesar Flavius Theodosius P.F. Aug."; b. Flavius Theodosius), 379–5

Final division of the Roman Empire in "East" and "West"

After Theodosius's death in 395, the Empire was permanently divided into East and West by his 17-year-old and 10-year-old sons, Arcadius and Honorius, respectively.

Emperors in the East

  • Arcadius ("Imp. Caesar Flavius Arcadius P.F. Aug."; b. Flavius Arcadius), 395–408
  • Theodosius II ("Imp. Caesar Flavius Theodosius Arcadius P.F. Aug."; b. Flavius Theodosius), 408–50
  • Marcian ("Imp. Caesar Flavius Marcianus P.F. Aug."; b. Flavius Marcianus), 450–7 — Marcian is the first Emperor to be honored as a saint (by the Orthodox Church); his feast day (together with that of his wife, St. Pulcheria) is Feb. 17.

Emperors in the West

By the time the Visigoths under their king Alaric entered Italy and sacked Rome in 410 – the first time a foreign army had set foot in Rome since 390 BC, some 800 years earlier – Rome had ceased to be capital of the Empire either in East or West (the capital in the East was Nicomedia from 286 to 330, and Constantinople from 330 onward; in the West it was Milan from 286 to 402, and Ravenna from 402 onward); indeed, by that point in history, the Bishop of Rome was one of the few senior Ecclesiastical or Imperial officials in the Roman Empire to actually reside in Rome.

  • Honorius ("Imp. Caesar Flavius Honorius P.F. Aug."; b. Flavius Honorius), 395–423
    • Constantius III ("Imp. Caesar Flavius Constantius P.F. Aug."; b. Flavius Constantius), 421
  • Valentinian III ("Imp. Caesar Flavius Placidius Valentinianus P.F. Aug."; b. Flavius Placidius Valentinianus), 425–55

Dynastic Relationships

Theodosius I married twice; first to Aelia Flaccilla, who bore him two sons (Arcadius and Honorius), and second to Galla (daughter of Valentinian I by his second wife Justina, widow of Magnentius), who bore him a daughter (Galla Placidia). Arcadius's wife Aelia Eudoxia bore him a daughter (St. Pulcheria) and a son (Theodosius II), who became Emperor at age seven. After Theodosius II's death, his sister Pulcheria married Marcian, a Thracian soldier of common stock. Constantius III married Arcadius's and Honorius's sister Galla Placidia, and she bore him a son, Valentinian III. Valentinian III's wife Licinia Eudoxia (who after his death married Petronius Maximus, see below) bore him a daughter, Placidia, who married Olybrius (see below).

After the Theodosian Dynasty

In the West

The wealthy senator Petronius Maximus, who succeeded Valentinian III, had attempted to secure his position by marrying Valentinian's widow, Licinia Eudoxia. The final collapse of the Empire in the West was marked by increasingly ineffectual puppet Emperors dominated by their Germanic masters of the soldiers. The most pointed example of this is the Suebian general Ricimer, who became a "Shadow Emperor" by deposing Avitus, installing and subsequently deposing (and murdering) Majorian, installing (and possibly subsequently murdering) Libius Severus, ruling the Empire himself during an eighteen-month interregnum, deposing and killing Anthemius, and installing Olybrius. His position as "Shadow Emperor" was in turn held by his nephew Gundobad and Orestes; Odoacer simply overthrew Orestes's puppet Emperor, Romulus Augustus, in 476 and ruled Italy as nominal subordinate of the Emperor-in-exile, Julius Nepos, who continued to reign in Dalmatia until 480.

  • Petronius Maximus ("Imp. Caesar Petronius Maximus P.F. Aug."; b. Petronius Maximus), 455
  • Avitus ("Imp. Caesar Flavius Eparchius Avitus P.F. Aug."; b. Flavius Eparchius Avitus), 455–456
  • Majorian ("Imp. Caesar Flavius Iulius Valerianus Maiorianus"; b. Flavius Iulius Valerianus Maiorianus), 457–461
  • Libius Severus ("Imp. Caesar Libius Severus P.F. Aug."; b. Libius Severus), 461–465
  • Anthemius ("Imp. Caesar Procopius Anthemius P.F. Aug."; b. Procopius Anthemius), 467–472
  • Olybrius ("Imp. Caesar Anicius Olybrius P.F. Aug."; b. Anicius Olybrius), 472
  • Glycerius ("Imp. Caesar Flavius Glycerius P.F. Aug."; b. Flavius Glycerius), 473–474
  • Julius Nepos ("Imp. Caesar Iulius Nepos P.F. Aug."; b. Iulius Nepos), 474–475 (continued to rule in exile until 480)
  • Romulus "Augustulus" ("Imp. Caesar Flavius Romulus P.F. Aug."; b. Flavius Romulus), 475–476

Petronius Maximus was killed trying to flee Rome – presently under imminent threat of attack by Geiseric's Vandals – eleven weeks after donning the purple; Rome was plundered ("Vandalised") but spared a full-fledged sacking due in large part to the intervention of the Bishop of Rome, Pope Leo I, who had previously averted an attack on Rome by Attila the Hun in 452. Petronius Maximus was succeeded by his master of the soldiers, Avitus, who was acclaimed at Tolosa with the backing of the Visigothic king, Theodoric II.

Avitus was in turn overthrown (but not killed) by his own master of the soldiers, Ricimer, who was responsible for both the installation and removal of Majorian and of Libius Severus, the removal of Anthemius (installed as the Eastern Emperor's candidate), and the installation of Olybrius – husband of Valentinian III's daughter (and Petronius Maximus's stepdaughter) Placidia, and loosely a member of the Theodosian dynasty.

Both Ricimer and Olybrius (who was never acknowledged and was considered a usurper by the Eastern Emperor) died in 472, and were replaced by the Burgundian prince Gundobad and his puppet Emperor Glycerius, a former court functionary. Glycerius was deposed (but not killed) by Julius Nepos, the candidate (and nephew-in-law) of the Eastern Emperor, who was in turn driven into exile in Dalmatia in 475 by his master of the soldiers, Orestes, who installed his own son Romulus "Augustulus" ("Little Augustus"). Orestes was killed and Romulus deposed (but not killed) by Odoacer in 476, and Julius Nepos continued to reign as Emperor-in-exile until his death in 480 (the Eastern Emperor did not recognise Romulus Augustulus and considered him a usurper).

For rulers of Italy after Romulus "Augustulus" and Julius Nepos, see list of barbarian kings.
For Roman Emperors in the West after Romulus "Augustulus" and Julius Nepos, see list of "Holy Roman Emperors".

The East: Leonine Dynasty

The Leonine dynasty was almost totally a marital one, conspicuous for its rather disorderly succession of Emperors. The first Leonine Emperor, the Dacian army officer Leo I (whose coronation is the first known to involve the Patriarch of Constantinople), came to power through the machinations of the late Marcian's Alan master of the soldiers, Aspar, who as a result of his barbarian birth and religious heterodoxy (Aspar as an Arian) was unable to don the purple for himself. The Leonine Emperors also mark the second time a female dynast directly influenced the Imperial succession by marriage: Zeno's widow Ariadne hand-picked Anastasius I to succeed her late husband and married him (cf. Marcian's accession to the purple by means of officially marrying the nun St. Pulcheria, Theodosius II's sister).

Zeno was ruling in Constantinople during the "fall of Rome" in 476 (the actual events generally thought of as "ending" the Roman Empire in the West actually occurred at Ravenna), and both Odoacer and his over-thrower Theodoric of the Ostrogoths officially ruled Italy as Zeno's viceroys; this suzerainty was purely theoretical, however, and Imperial control of Italy was not actually reasserted until the conquests of Justinian I's strategos Belisarius in the 530s.

Leonine Emperors

  • Leo I ("Imp. Caesar Flavius Valerius Leo P.F. Aug."; b. Flavius Valerius Leo), 457–474
  • Leo II ("Imp. Caesar Flavius Leo P.F. Aug."; b. Flavius Leo), 474
    • Zeno ("Imp. Caesar Flavius Zeno P.F. Aug."; b. Tarasikodissa), 474
  • Zeno ("Imp. Caesar Flavius Zeno P.F. Aug."; b. Tarasikodissa), 474–491
    • Basiliscus ("Imp. Caesar Flavius Basiliscus P.F. Aug."; b. Flavius Basiliscus), 474–475
  • Anastasius I ("Imp. Caesar Flavius Anastasius P.F. Aug."; b. Flavius Anastasius), 491–518

Dynastic Relationships

Leo I wife Verina bore him at least two daughters, one of whom married the son of Anthemius, whom Leo I installed as Emperor in the West in 467 (and whose daughter married the formidable "Shadow Emperor" Ricimer), and the other of whom was Ariadne, who married the Isaurian leader Tarasikodissa; Tarasikodissa was appointed master of the soldiers and adopted the name Zeno. Ariadne and Zeno had a son, Leo II, who succeeded his grandfather as Emperor in 474 (and was convinced by his mother and grandmother to elevate his father to co-Emperor); Leo II's death left his father sole Emperor in the East, producing the altogether curious spectacle of a grandson succeeding his grandfather without his father's predecease, and then in turn being succeeded by his own father. Zeno was temporarily displaced in Constantinople by Verina's brother (i.e., Leo I's brother-in-law and Leo II's great uncle-in-law) Basiliscus, but regained the purple a year later. On his death, Ariadne married the court functionary Anastasius I, and thereby elevated him to the purple by virtue of marrying the Empress.

For Byzantine emperors after Anastasius I, see list of "Byzantine Emperors".

See also

External links

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