Arcadius: Life, Achievements, and Death of Emperor Arcadius

Emperor Arcadius was a significant figure in ancient history.

His reign over the Eastern Roman Empire was a time of both growth and struggle. Situated in Constantinople, the heart of the Eastern Empire, Arcadius’s rule impacted not just the city but the whole world.

Early Life

The early life of Emperor Arcadius was marked by his upbringing in a world of imperial power and responsibility. Born in 377 AD, he was the eldest son of Theodosius I, the then-ruler of the Roman Empire. Growing up in the city of Constantinople, he was immersed in the intricate workings of the empire from a young age.

His education likely included learning about governance, military tactics, and the importance of the church in state affairs.

READ MORE: The Roman Army and Roman Army Tactics

Arcadius’s youth was influenced by the rich cultural and political environment of Constantinople, a bustling city that was the heart of the Eastern Roman Empire. This early exposure to the complexities of ruling an empire would have shaped his mind and his approach to leadership in later years.

His upbringing in this environment was crucial in preparing him for the challenges and responsibilities he would face as emperor.

Who Was Emperor Arcadius?

Arcadius, son of Theodosius I, later became the Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire. He ascended to power in January 383, following his father’s death. The city of Constantinople was the center of his empire, and it flourished under his rule. Despite being young when he began his reign, Arcadius’s influence on the empire and its people was profound.

Meanwhile, his brother Honorius became emperor of the West. This division of the empire into eastern and western parts was the decisive one, which sent the two on separate ways. Had the empire effectively been split by Valentinian, it would have still functioned as a unit.

One of the two emperors had always enjoyed seniority over the other. However, the accession of Arcadius and Honorius is widely seen as the division of the Roman empire into two completely separate parts.

Arcadius is, often referred to as the first ‘Byzantine’ ruler. At first, it was not so much Arcadius who held the reins of power but the praetorian prefect of the East, Flavius Rufinus. Rufinus was a determined Christian who passed severe laws against pagans, heretics, and adulterers. His attempt to marry his daughter off to Arcadius and further cement his power failed, as the emperor instead married Aelia Eudoxia, the daughter of the Frankish general Bauto.

Arcadius’s leadership was marked by significant events in both political and religious spheres. He was known for his support of the Christian church, which played a central role in his governance. Constantinople grew in importance during his rule and became a key city in the ancient world.

READ MORE: Ancient Cities: Pompeii, Rome, Teotihuacan, Palmyra, and More!

His reign saw the construction of many buildings and columns in Constantinople, some of which still stand as a testament to his era. The column of Arcadius in Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) is a notable example, serving as a sign of his influence.

Another significant aspect of Arcadius’s rule was his relationship with his brother, Theodosius II. Together, they worked to maintain the stability and prosperity of their respective parts of the Roman Empire.

Arcadius’s death in May 408 marked the end of an era. He was buried in a ceremonial manner, befitting an emperor of his stature. His death led to the ascension of his son, Theodosius II, who continued his father’s legacy.

When Did Arcadius Rule?

Arcadius’ rule began in January 395, following the death of his father, Theodosius I. This period marked a crucial beginning in the history of the Eastern Roman Empire. Constantinople, the magnificent city where he held his court, became a central hub in the ancient world under his leadership.

Throughout his reign, which lasted until May 408, Arcadius played a powerful role in shaping the empire. His legacy is visibly etched in the architecture of Constantinople, with columns and structures that stand as a sign of his era.

Arcadius’s time as emperor was also significant for the church, as he provided strong support to Christian institutions, influencing the religious and cultural landscape of his empire.

READ MORE: How Did Christianity Spread: Origins, Expansion, and Impact 

How Old Was Arcadius When He Became Emperor?

Arcadius was just 18 years old when he became emperor. Born in 377 AD, he spent his youth in the influential city of Constantinople, preparing for his future role. Despite his young age, he proved himself capable of leading and managing the complex affairs of a vast empire. Arcadius’s early years on the throne were marked by his efforts to lead with wisdom and effectiveness, often relying on the advice of his advisors and the support of the church.

His rule over Constantinople and the Eastern Roman Empire was a time of significant change and development, with his decisions and actions having a long-lasting impact on the people and the culture of the empire.

What Did Arcadius Do?

During his reign, Emperor Arcadius made several important contributions to his empire and the city of Constantinople. One of his major achievements was his support for the Christian church, which included building numerous churches and promoting Christian values throughout the empire. This had a lasting impact on the religious landscape of the region.

Arcadius also focused on the expansion and beautification of Constantinople. He built several significant buildings and columns, many of which became iconic symbols of the city. These structures not only enhanced the city’s appearance but also served as a sign of the empire’s prosperity and cultural achievements.

In addition to his architectural contributions, Arcadius played a role in shaping the legal systems of the empire. He conducted reforms to streamline governance and improve the efficiency of the state. His reign saw Constantinople grow in influence and importance, becoming a key city in the ancient world.

Death of Arcadius

The death of Emperor Arcadius in May 408 was a turning point for the Eastern Roman Empire and the city of Constantinople. His demise at the relatively young age of 31 came unexpectedly and left a significant impact on the empire.

In about AD 404, Eudoxia died due to a miscarriage, and Arcadius’ government fell to the praetorian prefect Anthemius.

The circumstances surrounding his death are not entirely clear, but it is believed that his health had been in decline. Arcadius may have suffered from an illness that weakened him over time. His death was a matter of great concern for the empire, as it created a power vacuum in a time of growing external threats and internal challenges.

The location of his burial was likely in or near Constantinople, the city he had ruled and shaped for over a decade.

His passing marked the beginning of a new era in the Eastern Roman Empire. Arcadius’s son, Theodosius II, succeeded him at the age of seven under the guardianship of a regency council. This period was marked by significant changes and challenges as the empire adjusted to a new leadership dynamic.

The death of Arcadius also had profound implications for the stability and future direction of the empire.

Wrapping It Up

Emperor Arcadius’s life and rule were crucial in the history of the Eastern Roman Empire. From his early life in the thriving city of Constantinople to his impactful reign and finally his death in 408 AD, Arcadius played a crucial role in shaping the empire.

His support for the Christian church, his architectural contributions to Constantinople, and his administrative reforms all left a lasting legacy.

Today, remnants of his rule in Constantinople, now Istanbul, still stand. They serve as a testament to his influence and the significance of his reign. While his rule had its challenges, the enduring impact of Emperor Arcadius on the city he loved and the empire he led cannot be understated.

References

St. Hilaire, J. (2018). Myth and reality during an era of police accreditation. https://open.bu.edu/bitstream/2144/33191/5/StHilaire_bu_0017E_13821.pdf

https://brill.com/downloadpdf/book/edcoll/9789004344877/B9789004344877-s019.pdf

https://www.jstor.org/stable/44172469

https://www.academia.edu/download/38245836/NathanStilicho.pdf

https://academic.oup.com/book/11027/chapter-abstract/159372600?redirectedFrom=fulltext

https://www.jstor.org/stable/42667693

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