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Flavius Eugenius (392-394)

Walter E. Roberts

Emory University

A coin of the Eugenius (C)1998 Princeton Economic Institute

The story of Eugenius is in many ways the story of the magister militum Arbogast. Eugenius was proclaimed emperor by Arbogast on 22 August 392.[[1]] This occurred three months after the death of Valentinian II, who was either murdered by Arbogastes or committed suicide in despair of the power Arbogastes held over him. Arbogastes succeeded Bauto as Valentinian II's magister militum in 388, having been one of the generals that Theodosius sent against the usurper Magnus Maximus.[[2]] Once installed, Arbogast mounted a successful punitive expedition against the Frankish leaders Marcomer and Sunno, who had ravaged Gaul during the civil war with Maximus.[[3]] It also seems that Arbogastes was the de facto ruler of the west, as the sources are unanimous that Arbogastes dominated Valentinian II and his court.[[4]] Valentinian, who was only twenty, was so distressed about this arrangement that he frequently complained to Theodosius about it.[[5]] There is reason, however, to believe that the role of Arbogast was sanctioned by Theodosius, who had reached a similar accord with Magnus Maximus in 384. In addition, after defeating Maximus in 388, Theodosius filled the highest civil offices in the west with his supporters before he returned to Constantinople in 391, so the appointment of Arbogast as "protector" of Valentinian II would have been a logical extension of this principle.[[6]]

As mentioned previously, Valentinian II died on 15 May 392, either by murder or suicide. The sources give conflicting accounts, but it most likely was a suicide. The charge of murder against Arbogast was probably propaganda after the fact to justify further Theodosius' destruction of Eugenius' regime. Theodosius' decision not to move until Eugenius was proclaimed as emperor three months later indicates that he was not overly upset with letting Arbogast run affairs in the west. If Arbogastes had murdered Valentinian II, it seems more likely that Theodosius would have seen this as an overt act of usurpation and reacted much sooner.[[7]]

Arbogast probably had hopes that he would be promoted to Augustus in the west upon the death of Valentinian II. After three months, it must have become apparent that Theodosius had no intentions of doing so, and Arbogast thus decided to revolt. He took a different approach from Maximus, however, by putting forth Eugenius as the actual imperial candidate. The reasons for this would have been two-fold. First, Eugenius would probably be a more suitable candidate to Theodosius than Arbogast himself, who was a Frank. Secondly, with Eugenius as the titular emperor, Arbogast hoped to gain support from the senatorial aristocracy of Rome. Both of these considerations were due to Eugenius' background. He was a former teacher of grammar and rhetoric, and had been magister scrinorum sometime before 392, and had become Arbogast confidant after being introduced to him by Arbogast's uncle Richomer.[[8]]

Once in power, Eugenius apparently purged the administration of Theodosian supporters, putting his senatorial cronies in their positions. He installed Nichomacus Flavianus the Elder as Praetorian Prefect of Italy, Nichomachus Flavianus the Younger as Prefect of Rome, and Numerius Proiectus as praefectus annonae.[[9]] In addition, these men led a movement to have paganism officially recognized and subsidized by the imperial government and the Altar of Victory restored to the Curia. After reluctantly rejecting two such requests, Eugenius, who was at least nominally Christian, agreed to restore the Altar and subsidize from his own pocket certain individuals active in public works.[[10]] These men used the funds to sponsor pagan projects. Examples of this include Numerius Proiectus' rebuilding of the temple to Hercules in Ostia, Flavianus the Elder's sponsoring of pagan games and festivals, and Flavianus the Younger's rededication of the temple of Venus in Rome.[[11]] These activities certainly did not endear Eugenius to Theodosius, and especially not to Ambrose. Ambrose upbraided Eugenius for acquiescing to the demands of the senatorial order, but he was so afraid of the growing influence of the pagans that he fled Milan when the court of Eugenius entered Italy. When Arbogast led his army north in 394 to meet Theodosius' troops, he and Flavianus the Elder threatened to stable the horses of the army in the basilica of the Church of Milan and enroll the clergy in the military when Eugenius returned victorious.[[12]] Fortunately for Ambrose, such a victory was not to be.

In addition to his activities in Italy, Eugenius also accompanied Arbogastes on further expeditions to the Rhine frontier. According to Gregory of Tours, who was quoting passages from the lost chronicles of Sulpicius Alexander, Eugenius suitably impressed the Alamanni and Franks by parading the Roman army in front of them and renewed the old alliances with these groups.[13]] The Alamanni had in all likelihood been clients of Maximus, and of course Arbogast was a Frank. Thus, members of the Franks and Alamanni may have been present in Eugenius' army.

The reaction of Theodosius to Eugenius was remarkably similar to his earlier reaction to Magnus Maximus. Shortly after his elevation, Eugenius sent ambassadors to the court of Theodosius asking whether Theodosius accepted Eugenius' appointment. Theodosius responded by showering the ambassadors with gifts and false promises, and after he had sent them away, he began preparations for war. In addition, he promoted his son Honorius to Augustus in January of 393.[[14]] The next year he assembled an army and marched west, leaving Constantinople about mid-May, and finally engaged the forces of Eugenius and Arbogast on the banks of the Frigidus (Wippach) River (on the border of modern Italy/Slovenia) on 5 September 394. The battle, which lasted two days, was ferocious with huge losses on both sides.[[15]] Both Theodosius and Arbogastes employed barbarian troops in substantial numbers, with Theodosius using his Gothic levies to take the brunt of the punishment.[[16]] There were also reportedly natural phenomena such as an eclipse and a wind storm that aided Theodosius.[[17]] Later Christian writers attributed these as divine favor of a Theodosian victory.[[18]] Eugenius was captured and killed in his camp on 6 Sept. 394, and like Maximus his head was paraded around the camp. Arbogastes fled into the mountains and committed suicide rather than test Theodosius' clemency.[[19]]

The brief reign of Eugenius was in many ways the end of an era. The Empire was united under the rule of Theodosius after the Frigidus, but he died in January 395, leaving his son Honorius in charge of the west and Arcadius in charge of the east. From this point the west rapidly declined, while the eastern court consolidated its power. Furthermore, the clash between Theodosius and Eugenius showed the continuing trend of using barbarians as Roman troops, especially in the west. Finally, the reign of Eugenius marked the last serious organized attempt at organized resistance among the pagan Roman senatorials to the Christianization of the Empire.

Select Bibliography

I. Primary Sources

Ambrose. Epistulae. J.P. Migne ed., Patrologia Latina 16. Paris, 1860.

Consularia Constantinopolitana. T. Mommsen ed., MGH AA 9. Berlin, 1892, repr. Berlin, 1961.

Fasti Vindobonenses priores. T. Mommsen ed., MGH AA 9. Berlin, 1892, repr. Berlin, 1961.

Gregory of Tours. Decem libri historiarum. B. Krusch and W. Levison eds., MGH SRM 1.1. Hanover, 1951.

Orosius. Adversus paganos historiarum libri septem. Z. Zangemeister ed., CSEL 5. Vienna, 1882.

Paulinus. Vita sancti Ambrosii. J.P. Migne ed., Patrologia Latina 14. Paris, 1860.

Prosper Tiro. Epitoma chronicon. T. Mommsen ed., MGH AA 9. Berlin, 1892, repr. Berlin, 1961.

Socrates. Historia ecclesiastica. J.P. Migne ed., Patrologia Graecae 67. Paris, 1864.

Sozomen. Historia ecclesiastica. J.P. Migne ed., Patrologia Graecae 67. Paris, 1864.

Zosimus. Historia nova. F. Paschoud ed., Zosime: Histoire Nouvelle Volume 2. Paris, 1979.

II. Secondary Sources

Burns, Thomas S. Barbarians Within the Gates of Rome: A Study of Roman Military Policy and the Barbarians, ca. 375-425 A.D. Bloomington, 1994.

Croke, Brian. "Arbogast and the Death of Valentinian II." Historia 25 (1976): 235-44.

Jones, A.H.M., J.R. Martindale, and J. Morris. The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, Volume I: A.D. 260-395. Cambridge, 1971.

Matthews, John F. Western Aristocracies and Imperial Court A.D. 364-425. Oxford, 1975.

Seeck, Otto, and Georg Veith. "Die Schlacht am Frigidus." Klio 13 (1913): 451-67.


[[1]]Fasti Vindobonenses priores no. 516 gives the date as September 22, but the year as 391 (consulate of Symmachus and Tatianus). The Consularia Constantinopolitana s.a. 392 and Prosper Tiro, Epitoma chronicon no. 1197 give the year as 392 (consulate of Arcadius and Rufinus). See PLRE 1 s.v. "Fl. Eugenius 6."

[[2]]PLRE 1 s.v. "Arbogastes."

[[3]]Gregory of Tours, Decem libri historiarum, 2.9.

[[4]]Zosimus 4.53; Sozomen 7.22; Prosper Tiro no. 1197.

[[5]]Zosimus 4.53.[[6]]For the lists of administrative officials in the west appointed by Theodosius from 388-91 see Brian Croke, "Arbogast and the Death of Valentinian II" Historia 25 (1976): 236.

[[7]]Fasti Vidobonenses priores no. 516; Croke, "Arbogast," 235-44.

[[8]]Zosimus 4.54; Socrates 5.25.

[[9]]PLRE 1 s.v. "Nichomachus Flavianus 14," "Virius Nichomachus Flavianus 15," and "Numerius Proiectus."

[[10]]Ambrose Ep. 57; Sozomen 7.22.

[[11]]John F. Matthews, Western Aristocracies and Imperial Court A.D. 364-425 (Oxford, 1975), 241ff

[[12]]Paulinus, Vita sancti Ambrosii 31.

[[13]]Gregory of Tours, Decem libri historiarum, 2.9.

[[14]]Zosimus 4.55; 57.

[[15]]Orosius 7.35; Fasti Vindobonenses priores nos. 521 and 523; Thomas S. Burns, Barbarians at the Gates of Rome: A Study of Roman Military Policy and the Barbarians, ca. 375-425 A.D. (Bloomington, 1994), 104-107; Otto Seeck and Georg Veith, "Die Schlact am Frigidus" Klio 13 (1913): 451-67.

[[16]]Zosimus 4.58; Burns, Barbarians, 104-7.

[[17]]Zosimus 4.58; Orosius 7.35.

[[18]]Paulinus, Vita sancti Ambrosii, 31; Orosius 7.35.

[[19]]Zosimus 4.58; Fasti Vindobonenses priores no. 522.

Copyright (C) 1997, Walter E. Roberts. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents,including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

Comments to: Walter E. Roberts

Updated: 10 January 1998

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