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Crisis of Legitimacy: Honorius, Galla Placidia, and the Struggles for Control of the Western Roman Empire, 405-425 C.E.

Crisis of Legitimacy: Honorius, Galla Placidia, and the Struggles for Control of the Western Roman Empire, 405-425 C.E.

By Thomas Christopher Lawrence

PhD Dissertation, University of Tennessee – Knoxville, 2013

The Favorites of the Emperor Honorius, by John William Waterhouse, 1883.

Abstract: This dissertation offers a new analytical narrative of the years from 405 to 425 C.E., a period which extends from the final phase of the general Stilicho’s control over the administration of the emperor Honorius, to the imperial accession of Honorius’ young nephew, the emperor Valentinian III, under the regency of his mother, Galla Placidia. The narrative places the many historical problems of this period, especially the rise of a whole series of usurpers and the influx of non-Roman, “barbarian” groups into the western empire, in the weakness of the western administration under the emperor Honorius. The imperial response to these challenges, in turn, led to fundamental changes in the political life of the western empire, including new notions of dynastic legitimacy, the integration of barbarian groups into Roman political life, and the rise of over-powerful generals operating in their own personal interests, with or without the consent of the imperial court at Rome or Ravenna. Such changes would come to characterize political life in the western empire for the rest of the fifth century, ultimately shifting the locus of power from the emperors themselves to their dominant military officials, and also to local sources of political authority. This dissertation therefore argues that we must see the later decline of imperial authority in the western Roman empire as a consequence of the challenges to the Honorian regime during in this period, and the political transformations that emerged as a result.

Introduction: This dissertation offers a new analytical narrative of the period from 405 to 425 C.E., which is to say from the final years of the general Stilicho’s control over the administration of the emperor Honorius between 405 and 408 to the restoration of the Theodosian imperial dynasty in the west by an army from the eastern empire. The end point is this restoration, and the installation of the young Valentinian III as western Augustus with his mother, the Augusta Galla Placidia serving as regent for her son. The narrative places the many historical problems of this period, especially the rise of a whole series of usurpers and the influx of non-Roman, “barbarian” groups into the western empire, in the weakness of the western administration under the emperor Honorius. The imperial response to these challenges, in turn, led to fundamental changes in the political life of the western empire, including new notions of dynastic legitimacy, the integration of barbarian groups into Roman political life, and the rise of over-powerful generals operating in their own personal interests, with or without the consent of the imperial court at Rome or Ravenna. Such changes would come to characterize political life in the western empire for the rest of the fifth century, ultimately shifting the locus of power from the emperors themselves to their dominant military officials, and also to local sources of political authority. We must therefore see the later decline of the western Roman empire as a major consequence of the challenges to the Honorian regime and the political transformations that resulted from them.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Tennessee



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