Arbogast (general)
Flavius Arbogastes or Arbogast was a Frankish
The Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes first attested in the third century AD as living north and east of the Lower Rhine River. From the third to fifth centuries some Franks raided Roman territory while other Franks joined the Roman troops in Gaul. Only the Salian Franks formed a...

 general in the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

. It has been stated by some ancient historians that he was the son of Flavius Bauto
Flavius Bauto
Flavius Bauto was a Romanised Frank who served as a magister militum of the Western Roman Empire.When the usurper Magnus Maximus invaded Italy in an attempt to replace Valentinian II, Bauto led the forces of the Eastern Emperor Theodosius I and defeated the rebel. He died soon after, likely of...

, Valentinian II's former magister militum
Magister militum
Magister militum was a top-level military command used in the later Roman Empire, dating from the reign of Constantine. Used alone, the term referred to the senior military officer of the Empire...

 and protector before Arbogast, but modern scholars largely discount this claim. See "The Historia" of Arbogast
Arbogast is a Germanic name composed of arbi ‘inheritance’ + gast ‘stranger’.Arbogast may refer to:* Arbogast , a Frankish general in the late Roman Empire* Saint Arbogast, an Irish saint...

 and Bauto.

Early career

Flavius Arbogastes, or simply Arbogast, was the nephew of the great Frankish General Flavius Richomeres
Flavius Richomeres was a Frank who lived in the late 4th century. He took service in the Roman army and made a career as comes, magister militum, and consul. He was married to Ascyla, with whom he had a son Theudemeres, who became king of the Franks...

 and resided within the Frankish domain as a native of Galatia Minor until he was expelled in the later 370s CE. It was at this point when Arbogast joined the Roman imperial military service under the command of the emperor Gratian
Gratian was Roman Emperor from 375 to 383.The eldest son of Valentinian I, during his youth Gratian accompanied his father on several campaigns along the Rhine and Danube frontiers. Upon the death of Valentinian in 375, Gratian's brother Valentinian II was declared emperor by his father's soldiers...

, son of Valentinian I
Valentinian I
Valentinian I , also known as Valentinian the Great, was Roman emperor from 364 to 375. Upon becoming emperor he made his brother Valens his co-emperor, giving him rule of the eastern provinces while Valentinian retained the west....

 and elder brother to Valentinian II
Valentinian II
Flavius Valentinianus , commonly known as Valentinian II, was Roman Emperor from 375 to 392.-Early Life and Accession :...

, in the Western Roman Empire. Shortly after his inclusion into the Roman military, Arbogast had made a name for himself as being an extremely efficient and loyal field-commander. So much so, in fact, that in 380 CE Gratian sent Arbogast along with his magister militum Bauto to aid Theodosius I
Theodosius I
Theodosius I , also known as Theodosius the Great, was Roman Emperor from 379 to 395. Theodosius was the last emperor to rule over both the eastern and the western halves of the Roman Empire. During his reign, the Goths secured control of Illyricum after the Gothic War, establishing their homeland...

 against the Visigoths and their leader Fritigern
Fritigern or Fritigernus was a Tervingian Gothic chieftain whose decisive victory at Adrinaople the Gothic War extracted favourable terms for the Goths when peace was made with Gratian in 382.-War against Athanaric:...

 after they had pillaged and plundered areas of Macedonia and Thessaly that year and the year before. The Western armies, commanded by Bauto and Arbogast, and those from Theodosius I in the East, were successful in pushing Fritigern out of Macedonia and Thessaly towards Thrace in lower Moesia where their raids had begun, and ultimately established a peace treaty with the Visigoths in 382 CE.

Threat and execution of Maximus

After the death of Gratian in 383 CE on behalf of Magnus Maximus
Magnus Maximus
Magnus Maximus , also known as Maximianus and Macsen Wledig in Welsh, was Western Roman Emperor from 383 to 388. As commander of Britain, he usurped the throne against Emperor Gratian in 383...

 that resulted from a power struggle between the two, the Western Roman Empire became under control of the latter after his acknowledgment as co-Augustus by Theodosius I.
However, four years later in 387 CE Maximus invaded Italy seeking political control over the entire empire, which prompted the Eastern Emperor Theodosius I to gather his available armies, including the Goths, Huns, and Alans, along with his trusted commanders Arbogast and Richomeres to quash the rising authority of Maximus. The campaign against Maximus came to an end only a year later in 388 CE after Maximus was defeated at Poetovio by the armies of Theodosius I and retreated from the Julian Alps towards Aquileia, where he believed he would be safe until his reinforcements arrived.I This was not the case however, and Maximus was surrendered to Theodosius I and was executed on August 28, 388 CE with his head then making a tour of the provinces. After the execution of Maximus, Arbogast, who at this time had the title of magister peditum in the West, was dispatched to Trier by Theodosius I in order to assassinate the son of Maximus, and heir to the throne in the West, Victor
Flavius Victor
Flavius Victor was the son of Magnus Maximus by his wife Elen, allegedly the daughter of Octavius. He was proclaimed an Augustus by his father and ruled nominally from 384 to his death in 388....

. This was done with ease on behalf of Arbogast and with the disposal of both Maximus and Victor, Theodosius I was able to give control over the West to Valentinian II
Valentinian II
Flavius Valentinianus , commonly known as Valentinian II, was Roman Emperor from 375 to 392.-Early Life and Accession :...

, the younger son of Valentinian I. At the time however, Valentinian II was too young to rule the Western Empire from Italy on his own, so Theodosius I stayed in Italy to conduct civil and political affairs from the beginning of Valentinian II's reign in 388 CE until 391 CE when he left for Constantinople, at which time Arbogast was promoted to magister militum and left to keep an eye on the young Emperor after they were moved to Vienne.

Arbogast and Valentinian II

The controversy involving Arbogast began during the regency of Valentinian II, who soon after his recognition as Emperor by Theodosius I became a figure-head for the wills and ambitions of Arbogast. After being proclaimed as the only Magister Militum in Praesenti, or commander of the armies in attendance on the emperor in the Western Empire by Theodosius I, Arbogast's authority throughout the Western Provinces, mainly Gaul, Spain and Britain, seemed to be absolute, with him only having to answer to Theodosius I himself. However, given that Arbogast was a barbarian by birth, he was unable to claim control over those territories under his own name and had to do so in the name of Valentinian II instead. By 391 CE, Valentinian II had already been isolated in Vienne, his status essentially reduced to that of a private citizen, and the control of the Western armies now belonged to Frankish mercenaries loyal to Arbogast. Furthermore, Valentinian's Court was also overrun by those loyal to Arbogast after Arbogast had placed them in favorable positions. Furthermore, during this period Arbogast had become increasingly violent towards Valentinian II and his councilors, so much so, in fact, that Arbogast is described as killing the councilor Harmonius, a friend of the Emperor who had been accused of taking bribes, at the feet of Valentinian II in 391 CE. At this point, Valentinian II began recognizing the extent to which Arbogast's authority had reached, and with Arbogast seemingly expressing his authority over him at will, Valentinian II began sending secret messages to both Theodosius I and Ambrose
Aurelius Ambrosius, better known in English as Saint Ambrose , was a bishop of Milan who became one of the most influential ecclesiastical figures of the 4th century. He was one of the four original doctors of the Church.-Political career:Ambrose was born into a Roman Christian family between about...

, Bishop of Milan, pleading for them to come to his aid, even so much as asking Ambrose for a baptism in fear that his death might come sooner than expected at the hands of Arbogast.

Death of Valentinian II

Tension between Arbogast and Valentinian II reached its height in 392 CE when Valentinian II issued Arbogast an order of dismissal from his seat of power. According to Zosimus
Zosimus was a Byzantine historian, who lived in Constantinople during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Anastasius I . According to Photius, he was a comes, and held the office of "advocate" of the imperial treasury.- Historia Nova :...

, after receiving the order of dismissal from Valentinian II, Arbogast states "You have neither given me my command nor will you be able to take it away," and promptly threw the order to the ground and walked out. Soon after this encounter, Arbogast and Valentinian II met again in the palace of the Emperor and began a discussion which soon escalated into a confrontation between the two, ultimately resulting in Valentinian's attempt to stab Arbogast with a sword belonging to the man-at-arms beside him, which was prevented by the latter. Whether or not the account of Philostorgius
Philostorgius was an Anomoean Church historian of the 4th and 5th centuries. Anomoeanism questioned the Trinitarian account of the relationship between God the Father and Christ and was considered a heresy by the Orthodox Church, which adopted the term "homoousia" in the Nicene Creed. Very little...

 is true, shortly afterwards on May 15, 392, Valentinian II was found hanged in his sleeping quarters with suicide claimed as the cause of death by Arbogast. According to Ambrose of Milan, the body of Valentinian II was sent by Arbogast to Milan for a proper funeral, and four months later in August 392, Arbogast nominated Eugenius
Flavius Eugenius was an usurper in the Western Roman Empire against Emperor Theodosius I. Though himself a Christian, he was the last Emperor to support Roman polytheism.-Life:...

, a Roman teacher of rhetoric, as the next emperor in the West.

Debate about the death of Valentinian II

Although the ancient historians were unanimous in stating Arbogast's claimed innocence about the death of Valentinian II, some of them could not agree on whether or not his claim was true. Historians such as Zosmius, Philostorgius, Socrates Scholasticus
Socrates Scholasticus
Socrates of Constantinople, also known as Socrates Scholasticus, not to be confused with the Greek philosopher Socrates, was a Greek Christian church historian, a contemporary of Sozomen and Theodoret, who used his work; he was born at Constantinople c. 380: the date of his death is unknown...

, and Paulus Orosius, all believed Valentinian II was murdered, one way or the other, by Arbogast. On the other hand, more contemporary scholars such as Edward Gibbon
Edward Gibbon
Edward Gibbon was an English historian and Member of Parliament...

, who thought the death of Valentinian II was a plotted conspiracy so Arbogast could remain at the seat of command in the West through another puppet emperor, while John Frederick Matthews, and Brian Croke argue that the death of Valentinian II was a result of suicide. Croke, for example, argues that given the period of four months time between the death of Valentinian II and the promotion of Eugenius was sufficient enough for him to appear innocent, implying that if Arbogast had plotted an assassination, Arbogast would have instilled a replacement for Valentinian II almost immediately. Furthermore, Gerard Friell describes Valentinian II as being humiliated after his authority was devalued by Arbogast on multiple occasions and seemingly cites depression as the main cause of suicide for Valentinian II. Bishop Ambrose, on the other hand, claims that the death of Valentinian II was a result over a dispute between him and Arbogast involving diplomacy and who would lead the armies into Italy in an attempt to defend it from invading forces from the Balkans. Additionally, it has also been suggested that Arbogast, a man with pagan influences, was attempting to revive the paganism efforts in Rome by electing Eugenius, who is believed to have been sympathetic towards Paganism, although himself a Christian. However, the nearest historical source available regarding the death of Valentinian II, Rufinus
Tyrannius Rufinus
Tyrannius Rufinus or Rufinus of Aquileia was a monk, historian, and theologian. He is most known as a translator of Greek patristic material into Latin—especially the work of Origen.-Life:...

 of Aquileia, states in his ecclesiastical history that nobody was really sure what exactly happened to Valentinian II Because this is the case, any opinions about the event are most likely to have been fabricated by those telling the story, with new evidence seemingly unattainable.

Arbogast and Eugenius

Whether or not the rumors surrounding the death of Valentinian II are true, Eugenius nonetheless was elected as the next Emperor of the Western Roman Empire in August, 392 CE, after a regime change that was considered "legitimate, legal, Roman, and civilized." Afterwards, one of the first acts by Arbogast was to travel across the Rhine frontier in 393 CE to take revenge against his own Franks and their kinglets Sunno
Sunno was a leader of the Franks in the late 4th century that invaded the Roman Empire in the year 388 when the usurper and leader of the whole of Roman Gaul, Magnus Maximus was surrounded in Aquileia by Theodosius I...

 and Marcomer
Marcomer was a Frankish leader in the late 4th century who invaded the Roman Empire in the year 388, when the usurper and leader of the whole of Roman Gaul, Magnus Maximus was surrounded in Aquileia by Theodosius I....

 who had plundered the regions north of the Rhine during the previous year while the West was still under the rule of Valentinian II. In launching this campaign, which was met with little opposition, Arbogast was successful in restoring the fortress city of Cologne, returning to the city its protection as a strategic location, which, at this time in 393 CE, was the last time the Roman army would occupy the eastern bank of the Rhine River. Furthermore, Arbogast was able to conclude a peace treaty with the Franks that provided the Roman military with fresh Frankish recruits, something that was considered a great accomplishment by Arbogast.

However, trouble for both Arbogast and Eugenius arose as the Pagan revitalization movement began during the reign of Eugenius, which may or may not have been intended by either one of them, although some, such as Zosimus, would differ. After appealing to both Theodosius I and Ambrose as a Christian, which is perhaps the reason why the nomination of Eugenius was approved by Theodosius I in the first place, the pagan influences of Arbogast seemed to have made their way through Eugenius, as many of the pagan temples, which had previously been closed under the emperors Gratian and Valentinian II, were now opened and restored to working condition. This, coupled with Theodosius I elevating the status of his youngest son Honorius
Honorius (emperor)
Honorius , was Western Roman Emperor from 395 to 423. He was the younger son of emperor Theodosius I and his first wife Aelia Flaccilla, and brother of the eastern emperor Arcadius....

 to full Augustus in 393 CE effectively reduced the legitimacy of Eugenius and pushed the two camps, those of Arbogast and Eugenius and Theodosius I and Ambrose, further apart from one another. Furthermore, with the lines of communication being fractured at best between the Eastern half of the empire and the West as a result of the promotion of Rufinus to Praetorian Prefect in the East after the death of Valentinian II, Rufinus was able to inform Theodosius I about whatever he believed to be worthy of the Emperor's attention. At this point, eager to regain their legitimacy, both Arbogast and Eugenius set off to claim Italy in support of their cause in April 393, and even so much as to threatening to turn the basilica at Milan into a stable for their horses in 394. Eventually the influences of both Arbogast and Eugenius, along with the reappointment of Nicomachus Flavianus
Virius Nicomachus Flavianus
Virius Nicomachus Flavianus was a grammarian, a historian and a politician of the Roman Empire.A pagan and close friend of Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, he was Praetorian prefect of Italy in 390–392 and, under usurper Eugenius , again praetorian prefect and consul...

 as the Praetorian Prefect of Italy, led to the full, and last, revival of paganism as Eugenius, albeit reluctantly due to his diminishing, yet still present Christian roots, allowed for the Altar of Victory and other pagan symbols in Italy to be restored.

Shortly after these events, Emperor Theodosius I, perhaps realizing the situation between East and West was becoming problematic at the least, began to prepare his foederati, including Germanic troops, those from the Visigothic treaty in 382 CE led by Alaric
Alaric I
Alaric I was the King of the Visigoths from 395–410. Alaric is most famous for his sack of Rome in 410, which marked a decisive event in the decline of the Roman Empire....

, as well as a contingency of Alans and Huns, for war against Arbogast and Eugenius in 394. Given that Arbogast and Eugenius had began openly celebrating paganism again, Theodosius I sought fit to justify his actions against Arbogast and Eugenius as a Holy War, and set off through the Justinian Alps with his armies to eliminate both of his adversaries from their respective commands at the Battle of the Frigidus in 394.

The Battle of the Frigidus

As the threat of war between Arbogast and Eugenius and Theodosius I became more immanent, Arbogast and Eugenius moved their collective force towards the defenses of the Julian Alps, where they made camp in Milan and were joined by Nicomachus Flavianus, who had consulted the Pagan entrails and proclaimed a future victory for the Pagan cause under the names of Eugenius and Arbogastes. Hoping to use the Justinian Alps to their advantage, Arbogast and Eugenius planned to use them as the location for their series of ambushes that would, in theory, lead to the encirclement of Theodosius I and his troops. As this was being planned by his enemies, Theodosius I set off from Constantinople for war in the middle of May, reaching Adrianople on June 20, 394 CE. However, upon arriving at Sirmium, Theodosius I took time to reinforce his troops, causing a delay in the expected arrival time of Theodosius, something Arbogast and Eugenius had been counting on for their ambush tactics. Because of the delay, Arbogast thought as though Theodosius I was planning to out flank them by use of an amphibious assault to their south that would have come from behind the heavily defended Adriatic coast. In thinking this, Arbogast dispatched a substantial portion of his forces to the south, which proved to be a costly maneuver by Arbogast.

By the time Theodosius I reached Arbogast’s location in September, after passing through the Justinian Alps, he was able to see the forces of Arbogast and Eugenius in the plain below with their backs turned to the river Frigidus, firmly entrenched and ready for the battle. Theodosius I quickly realized that the strategic elevated positions were already occupied by some of Arbogast’s forces, and given that Arbogast moved of a portion of his forces to the south, thus making the possibility of out –flanking Arbogast a difficult one. With this in mind, on September 5, 394 CE, Theodosius lead his force on a frontal assault of Arbogast and his troops, with many Visigoths serving in the vanguard. The brutal fighting lasted the entire day with Theodosius I unable to break the lines of Arbogast’s forces while taking heavy losses to his barbarian troops in the process. With defeat getting near, Theodosius and his armies retreated towards the protection of the Justinian Alps where Theodosius prayed to God asking him for help against his enemies. Meanwhile, at the camp of Arbogast and Eugenius, the men were celebrating what they believed to be a victory over Theodosius. At this time, Arbogast sent a considerable portion of his army to attack Theodosius I from the rear in the Alps. This did not go according to Arbogast’s plan, however, and as soon as his troops came upon the camp of Theodosius I, he offered them substantial portions of money, which they agreed to relatively easily. Theodosius, now having a greater number or troops than the previous night when they retreated, was ready to lead another attack upon the armies of Arbogast and Eugenius the following day on September 6, 394 CE. If the substantial loss of his own troops on behalf of bribery by Theodosius I wasn’t enough of an insult to Arbogast, the fate that awaited him on the second day of battle was surely enough to bring him to defeat. While Theodosius I lead his troops through a narrow road leading to the valley in which the previous day’s battle took place, Arbogast, Eugenius and their men attempted to ambush Theodosius I but were unsuccessful due in large part to a phenomenon known as the “Bora” that occurs in that region of the Alps, resulting in a pressure effect on the cold air making its way over the mountains which produces cyclonic winds that can gust up to 60 mph. This extreme wind, which is said to have blown in the face or Arbogast and his troops, caused them to shield their eyes from dust and also caused their projectiles to turn back whence they came, effectively minimizing the attack force of Arbogast and his troops, resulting in their defeat on behalf of Theodosius I.

Deaths of Arbogast and Eugenius

After the camp of Arbogast and Eugenius was overrun by Theodosius I, Eugenius was captured in person and pleaded to be spared. This did not come to be, however, as Eugenius met his end by means of a beheading, and was toured around the provinces much in the same way that Maximus was in 388 CE. Arbogast, on the other hand, was able to escape the clutches of Theodosius I and fled into the Alps where he is said to have wandered alone for a couple days before realizing how hopeless he had become and committed suicide a few days after September 6, 394 in the noble Roman fashion.
Symbolism of the Battle of the Frigidus

Christian writers such as Theodoretus and Saint Augustine saw the divine presence supposedly working in events surrounding the battle. The great winds of the "Bora," and a "solar eclipse" appear prominently in Christian accounts but a modern scholar doesn't see spiritual intervention at work but rather the significant role of the barbarian troops, the first large scale use of such troops during the reign of the Theodosius.

Closing descriptions of Arbogast

"Flavius Arbogastes...was a first-class military commander with a fine record, very popular with the army and wholly loyal to the houses of Valentinian and Theodosius." Friell, pg 126

"Arbogast, the flame-like Frank, was [...] no mere intriguer like Maximus, but a brave and well-trained soldier, probably the best General in the Roman Empire..." Hodgkin, pg 559

Of Bauto and Arbogast
"Both men were Franks by birth, exceedingly well-disposed to the Romans, completely immune to bribes, and outstanding as regards to warfare in brain and brawn." Zosimus, IV. 33 pg 165

On succeeding Bauto
"To the soldiers under his command he seemed like a suitable successor, for he was brave and experienced in warfare and contemptuous of money. And so he came to great power, such that even in the Emperor's presence he spoke quite freely, and he vetoed those actions which he thought were wrong or unbecoming...for Arbogastes was supported by the good will of all the soldiers." Zosimus, IV. 53 pg 186


Ambrose. Political Letters and Speeches. Edited by John Hugo Wolfgang Gideon Liebeschuetz. Liverpool University Press, 2005.

Gregory of Tours. The History of the Franks. Translated with an introduction by Lewis Thorpe. England, 1974.

Orosius Paulus. The Seven Books of History Against the Pagans. CUA Press, 2002. E-Book.

Paulinus of Nola. Life, Letters, and Poems. Edited by Dennis Trout. University of California Press, 1999.

Rufinus. Historia Ecclesiastica. Edited by T. Mommsen. Berlin, 1903-1908.

Philostorgius. Church History. Edited by Philip Amidon. Society of Biblical Literature, 2007.

Socrates. Historia Ecclesiastica. With introduction by W.Bright. Oxford, 1878.

Zosimus. Historia Nova, The Decline of Rome. Translated by James Buchanan and Harold Davis. Trinity University Press. Texas, 1967.

Burns, Thomas S. Barbarians Within the Gates of Rome: A Study of Roman Military Policy and the Barbarians, ca. 375-425 A.D. Indiana University Press, 1994.

Croke, Brian. "Arbogast and the Death of Valentinian II." Historia 25 (1976): 235-244.

Friell, Gerard and Williams, Stephen. Theodosius: The Empire at Bay. Yale University Press, 1994.

Gibbon, Edward. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1792.

Hodgkin, Thomas. Italy and her Invaders: pt 1-2. The Visigothic Invasion. Clarendon Press, 1892. E-Book.

Jones, A.H.M., J.R. Martindale, and J. Morris. The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, Volume I: A.D. 260-395. Cambridge, 1971.

Matthews, J. Western Aristocracies and Imperial Court AD 364-425. Oxford, 1975.

Salzman, Michele Renee. Ambrose and the Usurpation of Arbogastes and Eugenius: Reflections on Pagan-Christian Conflict Narratives. Journal of Early Christian Studies - Volume 18, Number 2, Summer 2010, pp. 191–223. The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Wolfram, Herwig and Dunlap, Thomas. History of the Goths. University of California Press, 1990.

"The Death of Gratian 383," Cambridge Medieval History ch VIII "The Dynasty of Valentinian and Theodosius the Great." Online: Date Used December 12–15, 2010.

Further reading

Bloch, H. "A New Document of the Last Pagan Revival in the West 392-394 A.D. Harvward Theological Review, 38(1945); 225.

Potter, David. From the Tetrarch To the Theodosians: Later Roman History and Culture 284-450 CE

Related links

  • Roman Civil War of 394 AD
    Roman civil war of 394 AD
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  • Battle of the Frigidus
    Battle of the Frigidus
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External links

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