ca. A.D. 346-395

Roman emperor

Theodosius made decisions during his reign that helped resolve several crises facing the late Roman Empire. His policies toward the barbarian Goths helped reduce the threat of invasion. Agreements with the Persian Empire resolved long-standing disputes that threatened stability in the east. Theodosius’s religious policies helped strengthen the relationship between the Christian church and the state.

Born in northwestern Spain, Flavius Theodosius was the son of a prominent Roman general. In A.D. 379 the emperor Gratian declared Theodosius the ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire and enlisted his help in fighting the Goths. Unable to defeat the Goths in battle, Theodosius signed a treaty with them in A.D. 382, allowing them to settle within the empire in return for their military assistance.

Soon after easing the Gothic threat, Theodosius worked to strengthen the borders of the empire by securing its eastern frontiers. In A.D. 386 he signed a treaty with Persia, agreeing to divide the long-disputed kingdom of Armenia between the two empires.

Theodosius also sought to strengthen the empire by securing its faith. In A.D. 381 he summoned a church council at Constantinople, the imperial* capital, to reaffirm the Nicene Creed, a statement of Christian beliefs that had been formulated in A.D. 325. He later banned pagan cults* and rituals, allowed Christians to destroy pagan temples, and enacted laws against heresy*.

Theodosius became sole ruler of the entire Roman Empire in A.D. 394, after defeating several rivals for power. When he died, the empire was divided between his two sons, Arcadius and Honorius. (See also Barbarians; Christianity; Ostrogoths; Rome, History of; Ritual and Sacrifice.)

* imperial pertaining to an emperor or empire

* cult group bound together by devotion to a particular person, belief, or god

* heresy belief that is contrary to church doctrine

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