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Arbogast and Flavianus:

The Last Battle Under Jupiter Standards


Locality: The Western Roman Empire

Age: 392 - 394 A.D.


Flavius Arbogast

Flavius Arbogast, a pagan of Frankish origin, was magister militum in praesenti, that is commander of large part of the Armed Forces of the Western Roman Empire, under Emperor Theodosius the Great. Arbogast fought with success along the Rhine frontier and reconstructed the city of Cologne.

Death of Valentinian II

Theodosius put Arbogast beside Valentinian II, at that time twenty years old, with the informal role of regent. The two had difficult relationship and Valentinian II on 15 May 392 A.D. was found hanged in his residence of Treviri. Arbogast maintained that it was suicide.

Effectively Arbogast had nothing to earn from the death of Valentinian II because as a Frank he could not aspire to the imperial dignity and had already the complete control of the North-western part of the Empire, Italy comprised.

The body of Valentinian was transported with all the honors to Milan. Ambrose, bishop of Milan and in optimal relations with Theodosius, during the funeral oration mentioned something not clear in the death of the young man.

At Constantinople the Christian Rufinus had become prefect of the Eastern prethorium, he had received the office after the sentence, obtained manipulating judges and witnesses, of the pagan Taziano, previous prefect.

Arbogast did not succeed to contact Theodosius and received ambiguous signals by Rufinus.

Flavius Eugenius emperor of the West

On 22 August 392 A.D., at Lyon, Arbogast made Emperor of the West the Christian Flavius Eugenius, who was magister scriniorum, that is responsible of the imperial chancery.

Eugenius sent to Constantinople some diplomatic missions, composed by members of the Christian clergy, in order to propose an agreement. Theodosius answered naming his son Honorius Augustus of the Western Empire: the breaking off was complete.

In April 393 Eugenius arrived in Italy. The bishop Ambrose abandoned Milan, the capital of the Western Empire, in order to withdraw himself at Bologna. Ambrose, son of a praetorian prefect of Gaul, had become bishop of Milan in 374.

Eugenius began a politics of approach to the pagans, pursued by Theodosius, and allowed that the the altar of the Victory was newly raised in senate. The altar had been removed in 382 by emperor Gratian, upon request of Ambrose.

Nicomachus Flavianus praetorian prefect of Italy

Eugenius named praetorian prefect of Italy the pagan Nicomachus Flavianus, who had already covered the same charge under Theodosius.

The temples were reopened to the cult, the traditional festivities were celebrated and there were executed sacrifices with the sacred rituals. Among the others the cults of Vesta, of the Sun, Mithras, Ecate, Isis, Serapis, Venus, Hercules were renewed.

In the spring of 394 at Rome it was celebrated the festivity of Attis and few days later the festivity of Cybele. The festivity of Flora and the Megalesie followed.

Not all the pagan aristocracy joined. Symmachus took shrewedly the distance from Flavianus.

Ambrose, who had withdrawn at Faenza, wrote to Eugenius in order to reproach him, but also in order to justify his abandonment of Milan.

The army of Theodosius

In 394 Theodosius organized an army in order to reconquer the West. The leadership was entrusted to Timasio and to the Vandal Stilicho, assisted by the Goth Gaina, by the Alan Saulo and Bacurio, original to Iberia. The troops were mostly Germanic. The Federates Visigoths were under the command of Alarico. Other contingents were supplied by Alans and Huns.

Theodosius announced one true and Saint war: fasts, prayers, petitions. John of Licopoli, who lived in the mountains of Thebaid in Egypt, in order to have a prevision/prophecy of the crash that was approaching. The hermit previewed the Victory of Theodosius, but also his next death in Italy. Before leaving from Constantinople Theodosius announced a mourning day.

The battle on the Frigidus river

In the afternoon of 5 september 394 Theodosius, near the Frigidus river, attacked frontally putting in first line the Visigoths.

The troops of the West, under the standards of Jupiter, massacred the Goths. Theodosius had to give the order to his troops to withdraw.

Theodosius passed the night praying. Two celestial knights St. John and St. Philip encouraged him. A concrete aid came to him by a group of soldiers who, during the night, upon adequate compensation, were convinced to pass to the army of the East.

In the morning, in spite of the contribution of the traitors, Theodosius did not succeed to break through. Suddenly without warning the bora wind started to blow against the troops of the West. The shields were crushed the ones against the others. The launched arms returned back. The face of the soldiers was full of sand. The bora helped on the contrary the push of the army of the East.

The rout was unavoidable. Flavius Arbogast and Nicomachus Flavianus, following the ancient tradition of the noble Romans, killed themselves, before being taken captive.

The Christians anew to the power

Ambrose, returned to Milan, wrote to his friend Pisidio Romolo a letter in which justified in nearly explicit terms the slaughter of which it is spoken in the Exodus, making to understand that the eventual extermination of all the pagans would have been equally legitimate.

Theodosius died at Milan on 17 January 395 at 48 years old.

In 399 John Chrysostom made to approve of the destruction of the temples.


Bibliographical references:

Williams S. - Friell G.

Teodosio - L'ultima sfida