Discover more about Stilicho’s Son. Here you’ll find information about the world of 5th Century Rome. READ AN EXCERPT.
- Prologue: Rome in the 5th Century
- Epilogue: Historical Figures After the Events of Stilicho’s Son
- Bibliography, Further Reading
In the twilight of the Roman West, a Barbarian son loses his powerful father to an imperial blade and his Senatorial friends abandon him, yet nothing surprises this cynical young man except his slave, for when he should have hated him, he loved him instead. Political intrigue, religious posturing, and a dangerous love illuminate the twilight world of 5th century Rome in Stilicho’s Son.
By 408, Rome is no longer a republic inspired by civic virtue nor an indomitable empire crafted by political artisans. Barbarians protect the throne even as other barbarians attack it. This is a Rome whose emperor hides in the swamps of Ravenna. This is a Rome whose rich entertain bishops at their country villas, while the poor sell their children to pay taxes. This is Christian Rome.
In the twilight of the Roman West, it was victory the Church wanted, victory defined as Rome had always defined it, by a pile of victims.
TAGS: historical fiction, historic figures, roman history, rome, roman empire, late rome, pagans, barbarians, Honorius, Stilicho, Augustin, Pelagius, Alaric, christian history, gay characters, lgbt characters
The Fifth Century AD
Romans in the fifth century would remember the splitting of the empire into East and West and the unprecedented rise of the barbarian Stilicho. They would remember the last gladiatorial games, the relocation of the capitol from Rome to Ravenna, a handful of army revolts, several devastating defeats, and invasions by Alaric and his rapacious Visigothic Confederacy.
By the end of the fourth century, migrating tribes had transformed into a barbarian invasion of the western empire. Since men sought to avoid military service, the army dug deep to fill its ranks, even enlisting barbarian tribes to guard frontiers they had been ravaging only the year before. The western empire ceased to grow, its armies no longer paying for themselves with new lands and booty. That left the merchants and poor with the burden of financing an empire.
Whenever money was needed, the emperor demanded more taxes. Taxes had tripled in living memory. Rich land-owners were sheltered by exemptions, and many poor families began to sell what they had and attach themselves to working a farm, where they remained virtual slaves for generations. Those who failed to meet their tax debt could sell their children, and a thriving yearly market developed in southern Italy. A man could even sell himself into slavery, which was illegal, but like everything in Late Rome, the law served those who could afford to enforce it. There were no police.
A citizen could be flogged. He could be tortured. He could be extorted by corrupt officials. He ate porridge, drank watered-down wine, worked the land, enjoyed chariot races, and engaged in riots spurred by religious controversy. If he lived in a city, he used a public bathhouse and public latrine, a bench he shared with as many as twenty others at a time. He belonged to a guild that obliged him to serve in the fire brigade or dredge rivers or some other unpaid service.
A man would not likely live beyond the age of forty and die from an infectious disease. A woman would not live beyond thirty and die from a disease or in childbirth. A slave would not live beyond twenty, and he could be beaten, raped, or killed with impunity.
The senatorial aristocracy turned away from traditional duties, such as funding repairs, building water ways, or providing shows. They funneled their money into the growing Catholic Church, which replaced the declining civil government by establishing its own courts, care of the poor, farms, and administrations. Bishops became emperors of their domains, using slaves to work Episcopal lands and spending a treasury at their discretion.
Catholic Christians worked to get other Christian sects declared heresy by imperial decree. Constantine had ended the persecutions of Christians generations before, but it was Theodosius who stripped off the symbols of worldly power and knelt before Ambrose, the stern little bishop who excommunicated an emperor. Theodosius begged forgiveness, and thus the relationship between imperial Rome and the once-persecuted Church would never be the same.
As a dark age of orthodoxy descended on Rome, heretics were fined, beaten, deported, barred from civil and military service, not allowed to inherit, their property confiscated, their worship prohibited, and occasionally, they were even executed. There were no atheists. There were no pagans. And soon there were no heretics.
Welcome to Christian Rome.
Historical Figures After the Events of Stilicho’s Son
One historian records that Eucher (Flavius Eucherius) and his imperial escort escaped a close encounter with Alaric’s forces and reached Rome, where he was executed sometime in the winter of 408.
Throughout his life, Volusian (Ceionius Antonius Agryptnius Volusianus) continued to correspond with Augustine and Paulinus, who both tried to convert him. He achieved the office of Proconsul of Africa in 410, Quaester of the Sacred Palace before 412, Prefect of Rome in 417 and Praetorian Prefect of Italy in 428. He was converted on his deathbed by his niece, Melania the Younger, and died on Epiphany, 436.
Namatian (Rutilius Claudius Namatianus) became Master of Offices in 412 and Prefect of Rome in 414. In 417, as he left Rome to retire to his native Gaul, he wrote the last work of the classical age, De Reditu Suo. As he described his journey home, he also eulogized the Eternal City and attacked those he counted as her enemies, including Christians and Stilicho, whom he blamed for Rome’s final humiliation. He remained a Pagan to his death.
Proba (Anicia Faltonia Proba) donated her grain reserves to feed the people of Rome when Alaric blockaded the City in 409/410. Legend claims that when Alaric finally succeeded in entering the City in 410, it was Proba who opened the gates for his army. She fled to Africa amid the many other wealthy refugees in 410. Augustine and Pelagius continued to correspond with her, encouraging her to consecrate her granddaughter, Demetrias, which she did in 414. She spent the rest of her life in the Holy Land.
Placidia (Galla Placidia) was the half-sister of one emperor, married a second one, and was the mother of a third, Valentinian III, who became the last western emperor of the Theodosian dynasty in 425. She was a renown Christian and politically astute. She may have been the real power behind Honorius.
Arsace (Arsacius) was promoted from attendant of the Sacred Bedchamber, to Senior Eunuch. In 410, when Stilicho’s remaining supporters gained revenge, Arsace was exiled to Milan.
Olympius became ascendant after Stilicho’s execution and replaced Stilicho’s men with his own. Three men held separately the military posts once combined under Stilicho, weakening the effectiveness of the western military command. When the war with Alaric continued to go badly, Olympius was discredited. In 409, Honorius exiled him. He returned briefly to favor again in 409/10 but was exiled to the East a second time and clubbed to death on the secret orders of Stilicho’s surviving allies.
In the year of Olympius’s ascendancy, Jovius allied himself with Alaric’s camp. After Olympius’s fall, Jovius returned and orchestrated the exile and deaths of Stilicho’s accusers. With his loyalty split between the empire and Alaric, he was a poor negotiator. When Honorius arrogantly refused a reduced petition for peace, Jovius reported his emperor’s insulting words to Alaric—the last affront that led the Visigothic chieftain to storm the walls of Rome a third and final time.
Alaric was a Christian, sometimes Arian and sometimes Nicene. When his army sacked the City, those who sought refuge in churches were spared any molestation. As a Germanic chieftain, his power was predicated on success in war, and he maintained his power for decades, alternately serving and then attacking the empire. He seemed to covet the titles of Rome more than her gold, and it was Honorius’s harsh rejection of his petition for the office of Master General of the West that precipitated his final, successful campaign in 410. He spent only eight days sacking the City before moving south, where he planned to invade Africa. He died near the south Italian shore the following year.
Faustus became one of the most outstanding intellectuals of his age. He abandoned secular pursuits while still a young man and entered the Abbey at Lérins. He was ordained to the priesthood, became Abbot in 432, and later Bishop of Riez in southern Gaul. Throughout his life, Faustus was an adversary of the extreme forms of theology taught by Pelagius and Augustine. He sought a compromise, believing in men’s weakness and Augustine’s idea of inherited sin but also in men’s strength and Grace received from moral effort. He died a very old man, and his flock built a basilica in his honor.
Honorius (Flavius Honorius Augustus) was one of the most ineffectual and long-lived emperors in Rome’s history. From safe Ravenna, he ruled the West for another thirteen years after Rome fell to Alaric, managing the feat by accepting as “co-emperor” one rebellious general and invader after another. He died peacefully in 423.
Pelagius (Britannicus Pelagius) fled amid the stream of refugees who abandoned the City in 410. His followers, such as Celestius, rather than he, defended his beliefs to an extreme end, insisting that Grace is entirely unnecessary for living a sinless life, that we control our own salvation. One pope absolved Pelagius of a charge of heresy brought by the African bishops, who were led by Augustine. Another pope excommunicated him. He died in obscurity, his optimistic beliefs condemned as heresy and he, a heresiarch.
After Alaric sacked the City, Augustine (Aurelian Augustin) wrote his monumental City of God to reassure Rome that such a worldly event was not, in the end, the horror it seemed. But he was wrong. Although the West continued as an empire until it became merely a Germanic kingdom in 476, the years following the death of Stilicho were a slow descent from a civilization that had been a millennium in the making. In his long life, Augustine fought against many heresies, including the Pelagian heresy. While Pelagians proudly asserted that we are masters of our fate, Augustine’s uncompromising self-analysis led him to believe we are divided from ourselves as surely as we are from God. By the time the West fell, Augustine was a saint, and his submissive theology was to betray the spirit of man for the next thousand years.
The Dark Ages had begun.
For Further Reading
Below you’ll find works that directly and indirectly influenced the creation of Stilicho’s Son. Since the final version of any novel has a great deal of story edited out, some resources below relate to excised parts. Of special interest are the Peter Brown and AHM Jones books. These authors focus on the culture and institutions of the late Roman Empire, thus providing the practical detail of life and language that I value as an author.
Aubert, Jean-Jacques. Business Managers in Ancient Rome: A Social and Economic Study of Institores, 200 BC – AD 250. New York: E.J. Brill. 1994.
Augustine. Confessions. Robert Maynard Hutchins [ed.]. Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 18. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. 1952.
Barrow, R.H. (trans.). Prefect and Emperor: The Relationes of Symmachus, A.D. 384. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1973.
Beard, Mary, John North, and Simon Price. Religions of Rome. Vol. I: A History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1998.
Birley, Anthony R. Septimius Severus: The African Emperor. Revised Edition. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1988.
Bradshaw, Paul F. (Ed). The Canons of Hippolytus. Carol Bebawi (English trans.). Alcuin/GROW Liturgical Study 2. Nottingham; Grove Books Ltd. 1987.
Bridenthal, Renate, Koonz, Claudia, and Stuard Susan, eds. Becoming Visible: Women in European History, 2nd Ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1987.
Brown, Peter. The Making of Late Antiquity. Harvard University Press. 1978.
Brown, Peter. Religion and Society in the Age of Saint Augustine. Evanston: Harper & Row, Publishers. 1972.
Burriss, Eli Edward. Taboo, Magic, Spirits: A Study of Primitive Elements in Roman Religion. New York: The MacMillan Company. 1931.
Burkert, Walter. Ancient Mystery Cults. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1987.
Bury, J.B. History of the Later Roman Empire: From the Death of Theodosius I to the Death of Justinian. Vol 1. New York: Dover Publications, Inc. 1958.
Cannadine, David and Simon Price. Rituals of Royalty: Power and Ceremonial in Traditional Societies. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1987.
Coulston, J. C., ed. Military Equipment and the Identity of Roman Soldiers: Proceedings of the Fourth Roman Military Equipment Conference, Newcastle University 1986. Oxford: BAR International Series 394. 1988.
Cowell, F.R. Life in Ancient Rome. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Perigee Books. 1961.
Dixon, K.R. and Southern, P. The Late Roman Army. London. 1996.
Duff, J. Wight (English Trans.). Minor Latin Poets. Vol I and II. Cambridge, MA:Harvard University Press. 1982.
Ducan-Jones, Richard. The Economy of the Roman Empire: Quantitative Studies. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1974.
Elton, H.W. Warfare in Roman Europe: AD 350-425. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1996.
Finley, M.I. Politics in the Ancient World. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1984.
Fox, Robert Lane. Pagans and Christians. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1987.
Frend, W.H.C. The Rise of Christianity. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. 1984.
Gibbon, Edward. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Vols. I and II. Robert Maynard Hutchins [ed.]. Great Books of the Western World, Vols. 40 and 41. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc. 1952.
Grant Michael. From Rome to Byzantium. New York: Routledge. 1998.
Hammond, Mason. The City in the Ancient World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 1972.
Humphrey, John W., John P. Oleson, and Andrew N. Sherwood. Greek and Roman Technology, A Sourcebook: Annotated translations of Greek and Latin Texts and Documents. New York: Routledge. 1998.
Hydatius. The Chronicle and Consularia Constaninopolitana: Two Contemporary Accounts of the Final Years of the Roman Empire. R.W. Burgess (ed. and trans.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993.
Jones, A.H.M. and J.R. Martindale and J. Morris. The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, Vol I 260-395. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1971.
Juvenal. The Satires. Trans. Naill Rudd. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1991.
King, C.E., ed. Imperial Revenue, Expenditure and Monetary Policy in the Fourth Century A.D.: The Fifth Oxford Symposium on Coinage and Monetary History, Wolfson College 1979. Oxford: BAR International Series 76. 1980.
Lambert, Royston. Beloved and God: The Story of Hadrian and Antinous. London: Weidenfield and Nicolson. 1984.
Le Bohec, Yann. The Roman Imperial Army. New York: Hippocrene Books. B.T. Batsford Ltd., 1994.
Levick, Barbara. The Government of the Roman Empire: A Sourcebook. London: Croom Helm. 1985.
Martial. Epigrams. Vols. I-III. Ed. and Trans. D.R. Shackleton Bailey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 1993.
Martindale, J.R. The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, Vol II 395-527. New York: Cambridge University Press. 1980.
Maxey, Mima. Occupations of the Lower Classes in Roman Society as Seen in Justinian’s Digest. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1938.
Mumford, Lewis. The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. 1961.
Oost, Stewart Irvin. Galla Placidia Augusta: A Biographical Essay. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 1968.
Pelagius. The Letters of Pelagius and His Followers. Rees, B.R [trans.]. New York: The Boydell Press. 1991.
Pelagius. Pelagius’s Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. De Bruyn, Theodore. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1993.
Platner, Samuel Ball and Thomas Ashby. A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. Rome: L’erma di Bretschneider. 1965.
Rees, B.R. Pelagius: A Reluctant Heretic. New Hampshire: The Boydell Press. 1988.
Robinson, H. Russell. The Armour of Imperial Rome. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1975.
Robinson, O.F. Ancient Rome: City Planning and Administration. New York: Routledge. 1992.
Roebuck, Carl. The World of Ancient Times. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1966.
Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Satan: The Early Christian Tradition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 1981.
Seyben, Emiel. Restless Youth in Rome. Patrick Daly (trans.). New York: Routledge. 1993.
Tillich, Paul. A History of Christian Thought: From It’s Judaic and Hellenistic Origens to Existentialism. Carl E. Braaten [ed.]. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1968.
Van Dam, Raymond. Saints and Their Miracles in Late Antique Gaul. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 1993.
Veyne, Paul, ed. From Pagan Rome to Byzantium. Arthur Goldhammer [trans.]. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1994.
Warry, John. Warfare in the Classical World: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Weapons, Warriors, and Warfare in the Ancient Civilizations of Greece and Rome. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. 1993.
Webster, Graham. The Roman Imperial Army of the First and Second Centuries A.D. New York: Barnes and Noble Books. 1994.
Wiedemann, Thomas. Adults and Children in the Roman Empire. New York: Routledge. 1989.
Williams, Stephen and Friell, Gerard. Theodosius: The Empire at Bay. New Haven: Yale University Press. 1994.
Wright, Wilmer Cave (English trans.). The Works of the Emperor Julian. Vol I-III. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 1923.
Yourcenar, Marguerite. Memoirs of Hadrian. Trans. By Grace Flick in collaboration with Author. New York: The Noonday Press. 1963.
Zosimus. New History. Ronald T. Ridley (trans.). Canberra, Australia: Australian National University. 1984.
Bigot, Paul. The Plan de Rome. University of Caen. Traduction Leo Currain. https://www.unicaen.fr/cireve/rome/index.php. 1995.
Christian Classics Ethereal Library. https://ccel.org/. Calvin University. 2000. (Wheaton College, Illinois 1995-99. University of Pittsburgh 1993-95.)
Daileader, Philip. “The Early Middle Ages.” The Teaching Company, 2004
The Ecole Initiative: Early Church Documents. [defunct] http://mahan.wonkwang.ac.kr/link/med/christianity/earlysources/document.html. Web Archive here
Harl, Kenneth W. “The Fall of the Pagans and the Origins of Medieval Christianity.” The Teaching Company, 2011
Scaife, Ross and Suzanne Bonefas. Diotima: Materials for the Study of Women and Gender in the Ancient World. University of Kentucky. https://diotimawcc.wordpress.com/. 1995. [DEFUNCT]