(Flavius Stilicho)


Stilicho was the last Roman general who effectively fought off the barbarians, before they overran the western empire. He was himself of barbarian stock. He was born in Germany, of Vandal descent, but he faithfully served Roman emperors his entire career, and even carried on several successful campaigns against the Vandal tribes who invaded northern Italy. He rose to prominence in the army under Theodosius and was appointed regent for Honorius, the young emporer who inherited the western throne when Theodosius died.

Although Stilicho effectively ran the western empire for the last years leading up to its conquest by the Visigoths, many of the worst problems of the empire preceded his reign and were beyond his control. The western empire had not had a strong leader since Constantine; the legions were not paid regularly and were constantly in rebellion, many of the border regions had been overrun by barbarians, and the economy was in disarray. Most of Stilicho's efforts went into beating back the invading barbarians, which he did very successfully, but he was not powerful enough to reverse the disintegration.

By 406 A.D. German tribes had overrun much of Gaul, and Stilicho was too busy defending Italy to resist them. There was no choice but to cede much of Roman territory in the West, including all of Britain. Worse yet, several of his contemporaries were suspicious of his intentions, and jealous of his success. Eventually Stilicho's enemies prevailed upon Honorius to arrange the assassination of the one man capable of saving Italy from the barbarian horde, on charges of treason. Two years later, Rome was sacked by Alaric and his Visigoths, and there was no military leadership powerful enough to resist them.

Key events during the life of Stilicho:

  Chief general of Theodosius. Led many of his campaigns.
  Married the niece of Theodosius.
Appointed as regent of western empire, for Honorius, on death of Theodosius.
Summoned from Italy to defend eastern empire against the Visigoths.
Withdrew from eastern empire because of jealousy of Rufinus, his rival from the East.
Returned to fight Alaric, and drove him into the eastern mountains.
Daughter of Stilicho married Emperor Honorius.
Put down a revolt in Africa.
Campaigned against the Vandals, in a province north of Italy.
Fought Alaric and the Visigoths in Spain, and northern Italy.
Defeated Radagaisus, the Vandal chief in Tuscany.
Communication with Britain is cut off by German tribes who overran Gaul.
Stilicho was assassinated on the orders of the jealous emperor Honorius.
Rome was over-run by Alaric and his Visigoths.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Three Deadly Blows  in  Helmet and Spear  by  Alfred J. Church
The Stranger's Story in  The Count of the Saxon Shore  by  Alfred J. Church
Emperor's Penance  in  The Story of the Romans  by  H. A. Guerber
Alaric the Bold  in  Back Matter  by  books/horne/soldiers/_back.html
Downfall of Rome  in  Historical Tales: Roman  by  Charles Morris

Short Biography
Theodosius Emperor excommunicated by Ambrose for massacre of civilians at Thessalonia.
Honorius Western Emperor during the Visigoth raids of Alaric. Moved capital to Ravenna. Murdered Stilicho.
Rufinus General of Arcadius, in charge of the eastern empire. Rival of Stilicho.
Alaric the Visigoth Chieftain who led the Visogoths into northern Italy, and then besieged and sacked Rome.
Radagaisus Chief of the Vandals, the former tribe of Stilicho.
Claudian Roman poet who is credited with writing verses and stories about Stilicho.