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Theodosius II
White head statue
Bust of Theodosius II in the Louvre[1][2]
Roman emperor
in the East
Reign10 January 402 – 28 July 450
(senior from 1 May 408)
Honorius (402–423)
Joannes (423–425)
Valentinian III (425–455)
Born10 April 401
Died28 July 450 (aged 49)
SpouseAelia Eudocia
Regnal name
Latin: Imperator Caesar Flavius Theodosius Augustus
Greek: Αὐτοκράτωρ καῖσαρ Φλάβιος Θεοδόσιος αὐγουστος[3]
MotherAelia Eudoxia
ReligionNicene Christianity

Theodosius II
Right-Believing, Emperor of the Roman Empire
Venerated inEastern Orthodox Church
Feast29 July

Theodosius II (Greek: Θεοδόσιος Theodosios; 10 April 401 – 28 July 450) was Roman emperor from 402 to 450. He was proclaimed augustus as an infant and ruled 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

Theodosius was born on 10 April 401 as the only son of Emperor Arcadius and his wife Aelia Eudoxia.[4] On 10 January 402, at the age of 9 months, he was proclaimed co-augustus by his father,[5] thus becoming the youngest to bear the imperial title up to that point. On 1 May 408, his father died and the seven-year-old boy became emperor of the Eastern half of the Roman Empire.


Early reign

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.[6] 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.[7][8][9][10][11] The two had a daughter named Licinia Eudoxia, another named Flaccilla, and possibly a son called Arcadius.

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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14] Others view that the government was controlled mostly by civilian officials, and not by a particular individual.[15] Among ancient and medieval writers, Monophysites had a favorable opinion of Theodosius.[16]

University and Law Code

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. It is likely that his wife Eudocia encouraged him in this matter and was behind the establishment of the university; she had been born in Athens, where the Neoplatonic School of Athens was the last great center for pagan, classical learning. Eudocia was known for her great intellect.

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.

Famous "apple incident"

Solidus of Theodosius, minted in Constantinople c. 435


Eudocia reached the height of her influence with the emperor from 439 to 441, a period in which the emperor's sister Pulcheria was sidelined in favor of his wife. Eudocia's power was undone by a certain Phrygian apple in a story conveyed by the sixth-century historian John Malalas of Antioch. Malalas wrote that one day, the emperor was on his way to church when a man presented the emperor with an "apple huge beyond any exaggeration." The emperor thanked the man with 150 solidi, and promptly sent the apple to his wife as a present. Eudocia decided to give the apple to Paulinus, a friend of both her and the emperor. Paulinus, unknowing of where Eudocia had gotten the apple, thought it was fit for only the emperor, and gave it to him. Theodosius was suspicious, and asked Eudocia what she had done with the apple. "I ate it," she replied, and then Theodosius asked her to confirm her answer with an oath, which she did. Theodosius then presented her with the enormous apple. The emperor was enraged and suspected an affair between Eudocia and Paulinus; he had his lifelong friend Paulinus executed, and Eudocia asked to be exiled to Jerusalem. A separation ultimately occurred between the imperial couple around 443, with Eudocia's establishment in Jerusalem where she favored monastic Monophysitism.

Theodosius receives the Phrygian Apple and inquisits Eudocia about it. A scene from the 14th century Manasses Chronicle.

Wars with the Huns, Vandals, and Persians

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.[18][19] 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.[20] 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

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, a renowned preacher. Nestorius was appointed as archbishop of Constantinople in 428 and became involved in a Christology dispute between two groups. One group called the Virgin Mary Theotokos ("birth-giver of God"), based on God being born a man in Christ, and the other rejected the title, based on God being eternal and thus could not be born. Nestorius' compromise, the title Christotokos ("birth-giver of Christ"), was rejected; he was accused of separating Christ's divine and human natures, resulting in "two Christs", in a doctrine later called Nestorianism. Nestorius was strongly opposed by Archbishop Cyril of Alexandria and eventually lost Theodosius' support. At Nestorius' request, the emperor convened the First Council of Ephesus in 431 to allow Nestorius to contest Cyril's accusations of heresy. The council was divided between the Cyrillians and the Nestorians, with Theodosius ultimately favoring the Cyrillians. 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.

Constantinopolitan abbot Eutyches reignited the theological dispute almost twenty years later by asserting the Monophysite view that Christ's divine and human nature were one. Eutyches was condemned by Archbishop Flavian of Constantinople but supported by the powerful Dioscurus of Alexandria, Cyril's successor. The Second Council of Ephesus in 449 restored Eutyches and deposed Flavian. The Chalcedonians opposed the decision, with Pope Leo I calling the council the "robber synod". Theodosius supported the outcome, but it was reversed by the Council of Chalcedon after his death in 450.


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

Theodosius died on 28 July 450[21] as the result of falling off his horse. On 25 November, 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.[22]

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.[23]

Saint Right-Believing Theodosius II the Younger is commemorated in Eastern Orthodox Church on 29 July.[24]

See also



  1. ^ Weitzmann, Kurt (1977). Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Ar. Metropolitan Museum of Art. pp. 28–29. ISBN 978-0-87099-179-0.
  2. ^ Lenaghan, J. (2012). "Portrait head of Emperor, Theodosius II (?). Unknown provenance. Fifth century". Last Statues of Antiquity. LSA-453.
  3. ^ Rösch 1978, pp. 163–164.
  4. ^ PLRE 2, p. 1100
  5. ^ Chronicon Paschale 402.
  6. ^ Alireza Shapour Shahbazi, "Byzantine-Iranian relations", Encyclopaedia Iranica, 15 December 1990.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ 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…
  11. ^ 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,
  12. ^ Kelly, "Chapter 1 Rethinking Theodosius," in Kelly (ed.) Theodosius II: Rethinking the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity pp. 2–6
  13. ^ Lee, A. D. (2013). From Rome to Byzantium AD 363 to 565: The Transformation of Ancient Rome Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 97–98
  14. ^ 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
  15. ^ 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
  16. ^ 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
  17. ^ History of Ancient Rome.
  18. ^ Warren T. Treadgold, A history of the Byzantine state and society, Stanford University Press, 1997, ISBN 0-8047-2630-2, p. 90.
  19. ^ G. Greatrex, The Roman Eastern Frontier and the Persian Wars Part II AD 363–630: A Narrative Sourcebook, Routledge, 2002, p. 36
  20. ^ Bury, J.B., History of the Later Roman Empire vol. 1, Dover, New York, 1958, pp. 271f
  21. ^ Theodorus Lector II, 64.
  22. ^ Chronicon Paschale 450.
  23. ^ A. A. Vasiliev (1848). "Imperial Porphyry Sarcophagi in Constantinople" (PDF). Dumbarton Oaks Papers. 4: 1, 3–26. doi:10.2307/1291047. JSTOR 1291047.
  24. ^ "ФЕОДОСИЙ II, ИМПЕРАТОР - Древо". (in Russian). Retrieved 15 July 2022.


Theodosius II Theodosian dynastyBorn: 10 April 401 Died: 28 July 450 Regnal titles Preceded byArcadius Eastern Roman emperor 408–450 Succeeded byMarcian Political offices Preceded byArcadius Augustus VHonorius Augustus V Roman consul 403with Rumoridus Succeeded byHonorius Augustus VIAristaenetus Preceded byArcadius Augustus VIAnicius Petronius Probus Roman consul II 407with Honorius Augustus VII Succeeded byAnicius Auchenius BassusPhilippus Preceded byAnicius Auchenius Bassus Roman consul III 409with Honorius Augustus VIII Constantine Augustus Succeeded byVaranesTertullus Preceded byVaranesTertullus Roman consul IV–V 411–412with Honorius Augustus IX (412) Succeeded byLuciusHeraclianus Preceded byConstantiusConstans Roman consul VI–VII 415–416with Honorius Augustus X Junius Quartus Palladius Succeeded byHonorius Augustus XIFlavius Constantius II Preceded byHonorius Augustus XIFlavius Constantius II Roman consul VIII 418with Honorius Augustus XII Succeeded byMonaxiusPlinta Preceded byMonaxiusPlinta Roman consul IX 420with Constantius III Succeeded byEustathiusAgricola Preceded byEustathiusAgricola Roman consul X 422with Honorius Augustus XIII Succeeded byAsclepiodotusAvitus Marinianus Preceded byCastinusVictor Roman consul XI 425with Valentinian Caesar Iohannes Augustus (only in Rome) Succeeded byTheodosius Augustus XIIValentinian Augustus II Preceded byTheodosius Augustus XIValentinian Caesar Roman consul XII 426with Valentinian Augustus II Succeeded byHieriusArdabur Preceded byFlorentiusDionysius Roman consul XIII 430with Valentinian Augustus III Succeeded byAnicius Auchenius BassusAntiochus Preceded byAetiusValerius Roman consul XIV 433with Petronius Maximus Succeeded byAsparAreobindus Preceded byAsparAreobindus Roman consul XV 435with Valentinian Augustus IV Succeeded byAnthemius IsidorusFlavius Senator Preceded byAetius IISigisvultus Roman consul XVI 438with Anicius Acilius Glabrio Faustus Succeeded byTheodosius Augustus XVIIFestus Preceded byTheodosius Augustus XVIAnicius Acilius Glabrio Faustus Roman consul 439with Festus Succeeded byValentinian Augustus VAnatolius Preceded byPetronius Maximus IIPaterius Roman consul XVII 444with Caecina Decius Aginatius Albinus Succeeded byValentinian Augustus VINomus