diptych of Stilicho (right) with his wife
Serena and son Eucherius, ca. 395 A.D (Monza Cathedral
(occasionally written as
) (ca. 359
A.D. – August
22, 408 A.D.) was a high-ranking general (magister militum
of the Western
, notably of semi-barbarian
was born in Germany the son of a
Vandal father and a Roman mother.
Despite his father's origins there is little to suggest that
Stilicho considered himself anything other than a Roman, and he was
probably not Arian
like many of Germanic
Christians and probably Nicene
because of his high rank within the empire. Most
emperors, being Catholic
, would have not trusted the
Empire's security to an Arian, and Stilicho rose in rank under
, who declared Nicene
Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.
He joined the Roman army and rose through the ranks during the
reign of Theodosius I, who ruled the Eastern half
of the Roman Empire from
Constantinople, and who was to become the last emperor to rule both
the Eastern and Western
of the Empire jointly. In 383, Theodosius sent him as an envoy to
the court of the Persian king Shapur III
to negotiate a peace settlement relating to the partition of
Upon his return to Constantinople at the
successful conclusion of peace talks, Stilicho was promoted (to
) and later to general (magister
). The emperor recognized that Stilicho could be a
valuable ally, and to form a blood tie with him, Theodosius married
his adopted niece Serena
The marriage took place around the time of Stilicho's mission to
Persia, and ultimately Serena gave birth to a son, who was named
, and two daughters, Maria
death of the Western Emperor Valentinian
II in 392, Stilicho helped raise the army that Theodosius would
lead to victory at the Battle of the Frigidus, and was one of the Eastern leaders in that
One of his comrades during the campaign was the
, who commanded a substantial number of
Gothic auxiliaries. Alaric would go on to become Stilicho's chief
adversary during his later career as the head of the Western Roman
armies. Stilicho distinguished himself at the Frigidus, and
Theodosius, exhausted by the campaign, saw him as a man worthy of
responsibility for the future safety of the Empire. The last
emperor of a united Rome appointed Stilicho guardian of his son,
shortly before his death
Honorius becomes Emperor
Following the death of Theodosius, Honorius became emperor
of the Western Roman Empire
, and his brother
of the Eastern Roman Empire
. Neither proved to
be effective emperors, and Stilicho came to be the de
commander-in-chief of the Roman armies in the West while
his rival Rufinus
became the power behind the throne in the East. In this capacity,
Stilicho proved his abilities energetically, although political
manoeuverings by agents of the two imperial courts would hinder him
throughout his career.
His first brush with such court politics came in 395. The Visigoths
living in Lower Moesia
elected Alaric as their king. Alaric broke his treaty with Rome and
led his people on a raid into Thrace
army that had been victorious at the Frigidus was still assembled,
and Stilicho led it toward Alaric's forces. The armies of the
eastern empire were occupied with Hunnic
incursions in Asia
Minor and Syria so Rufinus
attempted to negotiate with Alaric in person.
results were suspicions in Constantinople that Rufinius was in
league with the Goths. Stilicho now marched east against Alaric.
According to Claudian
, Stilicho was in a
position to destroy the Goths, when he was ordered by Arcadius to
Soon after Rufinus was hacked to death by his own soldiers.
Two years later, in 397, Stilicho defeated Alaric's forces in
Alaric himself escaped into the surrounding mountains. The same
year saw him successfully quell the revolt
of comes Gildo
in Africa. The
year 400 saw Stilicho accorded the highest honour within the Roman
state by being appointed Consul.
, two barbarian leaders planned the joint
invasion of the Roman Empire - Alaric
, attacked first, and invaded
Stilicho rushed his soldiers to the area, crossed the Danube
River, and crushed Radagaisus. Wasting no
time, Stilicho turned his attention towards Alaric and his
Visigoths, who had invaded Italy. Bravely hastening on in advance of his
main body of troops (30,000), he hurled his crack units in a
surprise night attack against Alaric's position around Milan.
had to raise the siege of the city.
One of his chieftains implored him to retreat, but Alaric
Easter Sunday at Pollentia (6 April 402), Stilicho defeated Alaric and
captured his camp along with his wife. Alaric
managed to escape with most of his men.
battle was the last victory celebrated in a triumphal march in
Rome, which was saved for the time being.
In 403 at
Verona, Stilicho again bested Alaric, who as Gibbon said only escaped by the speed of his
A truce was made and Alaric
went to Illyricum
In 405, Stilicho ordered the destruction of the Sibylline Books
, because its stories and
prophesies were being used to attack his government.
Despite his successes against the Goths he failed to stop the
barbarians from crossing of the
on 31 December 406. This crossing initiated a wave of
destruction of Roman cities and military revolt in Britannia
. Failure of
his 408 attack against usurper Constantine III
that he had earlier planned the assassination of Rufinus
and that he planned to
place his son on the Byzantine throne caused a revolt. The Roman
army at Ticinum
mutinied on August 13,
killing at least seven senior imperial officers (Zosimus
5.32). This was followed by events which
John Matthews observed "have every appearance of a thoroughly
co-ordinated coup d'état
by Stilicho's political opponents." 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 loyalty to Rome or for fear of the consequences to the
already precarious state of the Western Empire. He was executed on
August 22, 408. His son Eucherius was murdered in Rome shortly
In the disturbances which followed the downfall and execution of
Stilicho, the wives and children of barbarian foederati
throughout Italy were slain by the
local Romans. The natural consequence was that these men (estimates
describe their numbers as perhaps 30,000 strong) flocked to the
protection of Alaric, clamoring to be led against their cowardly
enemies. The Visigothic warlord accordingly crossed the Julian Alps
and began a campaign through the heart of Italy. By September 408,
the barbarians stood before the walls of Rome.
Without a strong general like Stilicho to control the by-now mostly
barbarian army, Honorius could do little to break the siege, and
adopted a passive strategy trying to wait out Alaric, hoping to
regather his forces to defeat the Visigoths in the meantime. What
followed was two years of political and military manoeuvering,
Alaric, king of the Goths, attempting to secure a permanent peace
treaty and rights to settle within Roman territory. He besieged
Rome three times without attacking while the Roman Italian Army
watched helplessly, but it was not until the deal had fallen
through a fourth time that he attacked and sacked the city in
August 410. The removal of Stilicho was the main catalyst leading
to this monumental event, the first barbarian capture of the city
in nearly eight centuries
a presage of the final collapse of the imperial west
Stilicho has appeared in a number of fictional works, both as a
protagonist and as an antagonist.
- Stilicho is the main protagonist in the 1901 novel
Stilicho by Felix Dahn (a part
of the Kleine Romane aus der Völkerwanderung series),
where he is portrayed as a loyal and honest general.
- In the early novels of Jack Whyte's
Arthurian series. In these books he had a notable connection to the
Britannicus family, whom Whyte ties to the legends of Merlin,
Arthur, and Camelot.
- In the first of William Napier's Attila trilogy (2005). He is
killed on the orders of Princess Galla Placida, who suspects him of
plotting with young Attila, their royal hostage.
- In Wallace Breem's novel
Eagle in the Snow as an
- in Invasio
Barbarorum a modification of the strategy game Rome: Total War, Stilicho is a western Roman
Besides the relevant legal records in the Codex Theodosianus
, the major
primary source for the events of Stilicho's reign, or at least
events prior to 404, are the panegyrics
addressed to him by the poet Claudian
events after 404, Zosimus
is a main source,
although as a Byzantine, he felt a strong distaste for Stilicho.
Stilicho also maintained correspondence with his friend, the
renowned pagan senator Symmachus
- Bury, J.B. History of the Later Roman Empire.
- Claudian. "De Bello Gildonico"
- Claudian. "De Consulatu Stilichonis"
- Claudian. "In Eutropium"
- Claudian. "In Rufinum"
- Ferrill, Arther. The Fall of the Roman Empire: The Military
- Gibbon, Edward. The Decline and Fall of the Roman
- Zosimus. Historia Nova.
- Claudian at LacusCurtius (A collection of
Claudian's works in both Latin and English, including his
panegyrics for Stilicho.)