Book Review: Theodosius II: Rethinking the Roman Empire in Late Antiquity

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by Christopher Kelly, editor

New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pp. xvi, 324. Chron., notes, biblio., index. $99.00. ISBN: 1107038588

A Surprisingly Successful “Inept” Emperor

Although Theodosius II (r. 408-450) is not generally regarded as one of the better Roman emperors, the essays in this work collectively argue that History has been a little hard on him, given that he became sole emperorat age 7 and managed not only to hold the imperium longer than anyone else, but hold the Eastern part of the empire together as well, even as the west was crumbling away. 

The book consists of an introduction and ten essays by several specialists in the Late Empire. An important point in Theodosius’ success is that for many years he ruled under the tutelage of his sister Pulcheria, just a few years older but much smarter and capable, and a supporting cast of excellent advisors and commanders. So Theodosius managed to keep the Eastern Empire going, while lending some aid to the beset Western Empire. He also patronized learning and the arts, and ordered the codification of the laws, and tried to keep a lid on theological disputes. Under the guidance of his sister and other advisors, Theodosius had some success in several wars, wisely never taking the field himself. 

The essays cover all these facets of his reign. In addition, they give us a look at his style of rule and some insights about his personality, which seems rather less formal than customary for emperors. There are also useful profiles of his “supporting cast,” most notably Pulcheria and Marcian, the soldier who would marry her to succeed Theodosius. 

A volume in the series “Cambidge Classical Studies,” Theodosius II will prove worthwhile reading for anyone interested in the Late Empire. 

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Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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