V: The Anatomy of an Empire

From: 428 AD

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The Anatomy of an Empire I , the empire was close to reunification. Three years earlier, Theodosius had sent an army to free the Empire of the West from the usurper John and place on the western throne little Valentinian III, the grandson of Theodosius the Great and Theodosius II’s cousin. The emperor was only nine years old, but belonged to the Theodosian dynasty and could therefore rule legitimately, albeit under the control of court officials. His coronation, which took place in , marked the end of the crisis between the Eastern Empire and the Western Empire.1 There was an air of renewal, now that the house of the Valentinian-Theodosian family was back in favor and harmony was re-established between the two emperors, further consolidated by the official engagement between Valentinian III and Theodosius II’s six-year-old daughter, Licinia Eudoxia (the wedding would take place in ).The improved relationship between East and West was favorably received by many aristocratic families who had properties and interests in both parts of the empire. The new understanding, which recalled the times of Theodosius the Great, was largely guaranteed by the skill and personality of that emperor ’s daughter, the queen mother Galla Placidia. However, the real architect of this understanding and goodwill was Theodosius II. Now that his aggressive policy in the East had been abandoned, he was able to devote himself to domestic affairs and the West. Constantinople’s “passive disengagement” from the eastern question was inevitable if the empire was to strengthen its unity in the face of the barbarian threat. Unlike the Empire of the West, the Empire of the East now had greater military resources and the movement of barbarian peoples was lessening.2  C H A P T E R V At this particular moment,the Huns did not yet pose a threat,and in  their presence in the Danube basin decreased. According to the empire’s official sources, the patrician Flavius Constantius Felix attacked the Huns, who had been occupying Pannonia for as long as fifty years, and had forced them out of the province (Marcellinus, Chronicle, Year ; see Jordanes, History of the Goths or the Getica, ).3 Archeological evidence does not appear to show any signs of conflict, and Pannonia was probably evacuated peaceably following diplomatic negotiations.4 The situation on the Danubian front remained under control until , the year in which Attila ascended to the throne. In spite of political divisions, the imperial propaganda continued to impart a strongly unionist message. In his ambitious treatise The City of God, which he completed in , Saint Augustine always spoke of a single earthly city in opposition to the divine one. The earthly city was the Roman Empire and, in a sense, it was Rome. At the same time, the bishop of Hippo did not neglect earthly problems: For although there has been and still is no lack of enemies among foreign nations, against whom wars have always been waged and still are waged, yet the very extent of the Empire has given rise to wars of a worse kind, namely social and civil wars, by which mankind is more lamentably disquieted either when fighting is going on in the hope of bringing hostilities eventually to a peaceful end, or when there are fears that hostilities will break out again. (Augustine , City of God, , , from translation by H. Bettenson, Harmondsworth : Penguin, , p. ) Saint Augustine’s readers would have understood the allusion only too well: the conflicts between the Eastern and Western Roman Empires following the death of Theodosius I had caused a political crisis that gave rise to a fratricidal war that aided the rise of some barbarian elements, with various disastrous consequences for the material wealth and morale of the empire, starting with the sack of Rome in . One of Saint Augustine’s great admirers, Saint Prosper of Aquitaine, considered the Roman Empire still to be completely united: Divine providence preordained the Roman Empire in its full extension , so that the peoples destined to be united in the body of T H E A N A T O M Y O F A N E M P I R E  Christ would be united in the law of a single empire; on the other hand, Christ’s grace is not happy to share the borders of Rome, and has subjugated to the scepter of the Cross many peoples that Rome failed to subdue by force of...


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