From Academic Kids

Flavius Stilicho (c. 359 - August 22, 408) was a high-ranking general (magister militum) and Patrician of the Western Roman Empire, notably of barbarian birth.



He was born in what is today Germany, his father a Vandal and his mother a Roman citizen. He joined the Roman army and rose to the rank of general during the reign of Theodosius I, who ruled the Eastern and Western Roman empires jointly. Stilicho was tasked with defending the West against attacks from the Visigoths, a role he endured for some twenty years. To cement a blood tie with him, Theodosius married his niece, Serena to Stilicho, and appointed him guardian over his son, Honorius.

Following the death of Theodosius, Honorius became emperor of the Western Empire, and his brother Arcadius of the Eastern half. Neither proved to be effective emperors, and Stilicho came to be de facto commander-in-chief of the Roman armies. In this capacity, Stilicho proved his abilities energetically. He defeated the forces of the Visigoth warlord Alaric in Greece and Macedonia during 397, although Alaric himself escaped into the surrounding mountains. The same year saw him successfully quell a revolt in Africa. Subsequently he was deployed to Rhaetia in 401, where he led an extensive campaign against his former kinsmen, the Vandals, and other barbarian marauders, which also saw him fight and win two more major battles against Alaric, at Pollentia in 402 and Verona in 403. In 405, he ordered the destruction of the Sibylline Books, as being opposed to his Arian religion.


Despite his successes, his non-Roman background and Arian religion tainted him in the eyes of the imperial courtiers, notably Olympius, who in 408 plotted his death. The courtiers spread rumors that he planned the assassination of Rufinus, of intriguing with his old adversary Alaric, of inviting the barbarians into Gaul in 406, and of planning to place his son on the imperial throne. The Roman army at Ticinum mutinied on August 13, killing at least seven senior imperial officers (Zosimus 5.32), followed by events which John Matthews observed "have every appearance of a thoroughly co-ordinated coup d'etat organized by Stilicho's political opponents." 1 Stilicho retired to Ravenna, where he was taken into captivity. Although it was within his ability to contest the charges, Stilicho did not resist, either because of guilt or for fear of the consequences to the already-precarious state of the Western Empire. His son Eucherius was murdered in Rome shortly afterwards.


A chief debate regarding Stilicho is whether his defense of the empire was more out of self-interest than loyalty to Rome or Theodosius. Many historians argue that his chief goal was elevating his son to emperor, perhaps while reuniting the whole empire; this theory explains his almost continual struggle against Rufinus, his Eastern equivalent.

Another problematic issue is the battle with Alaric in Macedonia. Stilicho may have schemed to obtain the province of Dalmatia for the West, even though the troops he used to achieve the victory were from the east. Ceded to the East after the disaster at Adrianople, it was a rich and populated province, a tempting addition for Stilicho. Whether this was true or not, the fear of it may explain why Rufinus pursuaded Arcadius to demand the return of his troops when victory appeared imminent. In any case, once Alaric was given a title by Rome as a peace offering, Stilicho became a target for court intrigue in Constantinople, whether because of unpopularity or obvious ambition.


Besides the relevant legal records in the Codex Theodosianus, the major primary source for the events of Stilicho's reign are the panegyrics addressed to him by the poet Claudian.


  1. John Matthews, Western Aristocracies and Imperial Court AD 364 - 425 (Oxford: University Press, 1990), Stilicho

fr:Stilicon he:פלביוס_סטיליקו it:Stilicone hu:Stilicho sv:Stilicho


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