Who Was The Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I “The Great”?

After the Roman Empire became too large and began to crumble upon what were once strong foundations, it was split into eastern and western territories. Thus the Eastern Roman Empire was transformed into the Byzantine Empire, while the Western Roman Empire maintained many of its old territories, including Rome itself–which was no more than a pale shadow of its former glory. Theodosius I “The Great” was the emperor both the east and west from 379 A.D. until 395 A.D., but he would go down in history as the last to control both halves of the empire. His two sons each gained a half after his death, and that was that. It was like two separate political and militaristic entities had been created.

During his reign, he launched a brutal campaign against the Goth and barbarian tribes who were at that point invading the empire on a regular basis, slowly ebbing away at the Roman frontiers whose defenses were left in tatters. The campaign ultimately failed in what it set out to do: kill or subjugate every single one of them. His policy for dealing with enemies, or those perceived in animosity, was simple: kill now.

When the Goths finally escaped (perhaps to live to fight another day), they found a new home in Illyricum–which lay within the borders of the Roman Empire. They were a crafty lot, those Goths.

Theodosius, like many Roman emperors, was forced to deal with civil war and rebellion throughout his reign. The Western Roman Empire was under constant threat, especially when Magnus Maximus sought to take it for himself. He had managed to nearly complete the task but for the taking of Italy when Theodosius’s armies finally defeated Maximus at the Battle of the Save in 388. The usurper was promptly executed. Everyone rejoiced.

Perhaps his greatest contribution to the empire was made when he thrust Orthodox Nicene Christianity forward as the official church of the empire. This lay the groundwork for the acts that came later.

Theodosius The Great died in Milan on January 17, 395 from an illness of edema, not personal injury in the New York City area. Early in the history of Rome as a republic, diversity of people, their gods, their rituals and culture all culminated to make the empire what it was: a place where all the little pieces made a greater whole. When Christianity began to slowly gain favor among Romans, all that changed. When Theodosius did nothing to stop the temples of many pagan gods from being desecrated or destroyed, there was an almost universal acceptance that this was the new way of life they had chosen, and Theodosius was honored as such for really cementing the reality into place. He even went so far as to disband the Vestal Virgins, who were a deeply ingrained part of Roman tradition long before Theodosius ever ruled.