Theodosius II Biography
Theodosius II was head of the Eastern Roman Empire when it faced invasions led by Attila the Hun. He became the longest-reigning Roman emperor.
Future Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II was born on April 10, 401, in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey). Having been named co-emperor in 402, Theodosius succeeded his father on the throne in 408. During his reign, the empire defended itself against attacks led by Attila the Hun. Theodosius also oversaw a compilation of Roman laws. He was 49 when he died on July 28, 450.
Theodosius was born in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) on April 10, 401. Constantinople was the seat of the Eastern Roman Empire (also known as the Byzantine Empire) and Theodosius’s father, Arcadius, was its emperor. In 402, Theodosius was named co-emperor with Arcadius, becoming Theodosius II. Following Arcadius’s death in 408, Theodosius became nominal leader of the empire.
Theodosius II’s Regency
As Theodosius was a child when he became sole emperor, a prefect, Anthemius, was truly in charge at the beginning of his reign. At this time, Theodosius was in the care of a eunuch who oversaw his education. Anthemius ruled well, with endeavors that included building a land wall to protect Constantinople from invaders—though, as Theodosius was emperor when the wall was constructed, Theodosius received credit for the accomplishment.
In 414, Theodosius’s 16-year-old sister, Pulcheria, took over the regency and began supervising Theodosius’s education. After the regency ended, Pulcheria, whose vow of perpetual virginity had helped her sidestep limitations on women, still retained a great deal of influence over Theodosius. When the emperor was 20, Pulcheria even selected a wife, Eudocia, for him.
Theodosius II’s Reign
Accomplishments during Theodosius’s reign include the founding of the University of Constantinople and the creation of the Theodosian Code, which was published in 438 and codified all Roman laws that had been put into effect since 312. Theodosius also supported the claim of his young cousin, Valentinian III, to the throne of the Western Roman Empire. (One of Theodosius’s daughters, Eudoxia, would go on to marry Valentinian.)
In foreign affairs, Theodosius forged a long-lasting peace treaty with Persia. However, and despite attempts at appeasement, Theodosius was not able to stop Attila the Hun’s attacks in his territory. Theodosius was forced to pay a sizeable tribute to the Huns, a draining financial commitment for the empire.
Theodosius’s reign saw both successes and failures, but Theodosius may not deserve sole credit, nor full blame, for them, as he was often swayed by others. In addition to Pulcheria, who remained an influential member of Theodosius’s court for much of her brother’s reign, a eunuch, Chrysaphius, gained power in the 440s. Chrysaphius supplanted Pulcheria as Theodosius’s closest adviser until shortly before Theodosius’s death.
Death and Legacy
Theodosius was 49 years old when he died on July 28, 450, after falling from his horse in a hunting accident. With no sons, Theodosius named a senator, Marcian, as his heir. Marcian then entered into a chaste marriage with Pulcheria.
Theodosius may have been prey to the influence of others, but he still managed to become the longest-reigning Roman emperor. At a time when the Western Roman Empire’s territory was breaking apart, the Eastern Roman Empire held together during Theodosius’s reign.