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Mighty Rome, the city that had conquered all rivals, pinned back the Persians, killed scores of tattooed barbarians, the creator of mighty buildings and straight roads, would be in 395 A.D. the inheritance of a boy aged 11 who preferred talking to chickens and hiding under couches. This was Honorius, who in a reign that lasted over a quarter of century managed to lose half of his inheritance and let Rome fall to Alaric the Goth in 410. He couldn't have done worse if he had given the barbarians a set of keys to open every fortress in the empire.
How the shades of Julius Caesar. Augustus and Trajan would have shouted at the boy as he spent his time counting chickens instead of defending the Roman Empire in the West. Honorius had no friends - save one. The Catholic Church and St. Augustine who blamed all Romans for their losses on Original sin.
Honorius was the youngest son of Roman emperor Theodosius the Great. His elder brother Arcadius, a game addicted teenager bullied Honorius and locked him in the chicken coop. Imperial prince and birds bonded and Honorius promised he would never eat another chicken sandwich. In 393 Honorius became Roman emperor and travelled with his father from Constantinople to Milan. Theodosius crushed all opposition and declared that the Roman Empire could now look forward to decades of peace. The only 'fly' in the ointment was the presence of the Visigoths in the Balkans and their hard-to-make-laugh leader Alaric the Goth but that should have been easy task for any Caesar's legions.
Theodosius celebrated Christmas in Milan and then died a couple of weeks into 395. Gossip was that Theodosius's top general Stilicho had left chicken bones in the imperial soup for both father and son but hadn't known Honorius was no longer a white meat eater. In Milan sent a message to his brother Arcadius that their father was dead and that he was now in the sole ruler in the West. So there!
edit Stilicho, Germans and Britain Exits the Roman Empire
It didn't take Honorius that long (about a minute) after his father died that Stilicho still thought he was the real ruler of the Roman Empire - East and West. Since Constantinople was a hike, Rome would have to do. Honorius was invited to pick a wife but as long as he chose one of Stilicho's daughters. Honorius kicked the furniture and scuffed his sandals as he was dragged to church to marry Maria Quarter Vandal in 398. Maria 'QV' wasn't much older than Honorius but the birds he was interested in came with feathers and a beak.
Stilicho -rebuffed from Constantinople - decided to use the Visigoths who were still residing in Greece on a 20 year holiday after they had gate crashed the empire and killed emperor Valens at Adrianople. With no sign the Goths were looking for a new home, Stilicho finally persuaded emperor Arcadius to send his army against them. The Visigoths were beaten and Arcadius got a column erected in his honour. However now the hairy men moved towards the Western Roman Empire, being informed the pickings there were easier.
There then followed a merry chase as Alaric the Goth led his mates into Italy via a back door. Rome hadn't barbarians this far south since Manchester United played A.C.Milan back in '97'. This led to Honorius moving himself and his imperial court to Ravenna, a city located near the Adriatic which was difficult to besiege unless soldiers acquired webbed feet to cross the marshes.
Stilicho anxiously stripped the Rhine frontier of legions to help chase Alaric back out of Italy. A bad move. On December 31st 406 the local Vandals and Alans noticed there was a distinct lack of Roman soldiers when the two sides played their annual football match and Caesar troops could only put out a very weak team of invalids, the sick and deranged. The result was a complete thrashing on the football field and after as hordes of Vandals and Alans poured into Gaul.
In Britannia the locals responded by starting to renegotiate their terms and conditions in belonging to the Roman Empire. Fearing that the barbarians would soon cross the Channel, an army led by British soldier emperor Constantine III got the purple toga to play hard ball with Honorius. By coincidence Honorius was now a widower but Stilicho was pressing the charms of his younger daughter Thermantia on the 'chicken emperor'. Honorius rejected her, blamed Stilicho for losing the Rhine Frontier and Gaul to 'fellow vandals' and had his chief soldier executed and anyone who had served with him as fifth column Visigoths.
The rival emperor Constantine III meanwhile seems to have given up marching to Italy and settled in his new empire.The British were soon complaining to Honorius to save them from other barbarians who came by sea (the Anglo-Saxon boat people). Honorius sent an unstamped letter which read I wash my hands of your anti-Roman Empire people. You're as bad as the Vandals. Love and Best Wishes, Emperor Honorius - Defender of all Feathered Friends.'
edit Goths Sack Rome and then Some
Alaric celebrated the death of his enemy Stilicho with a lavish Visigoth do. Honorius refused to give battle but let the Visigoths march to Rome. His only instruction to his sister Galla Placida (who preferred living there than with her brother and his chickens) was for her to 'talk the talk' and delay and bluster. Alaric had no way to break down Rome's walls but he had so spoked the once mighty Romans that they agreed a 'tourist party' would be allowed in. Since no one mentioned figures, Alaric brought the entire Gothic army with him.
The Visigoths were soon at work pillaging and looting. There was no great resistance and so the bloodshed was limited. Alaric took as much gold and silver as he could and after three days, the army had left Rome and headed south. One precious gem Alaric did take along with him was the hapless Galla Placida. She and other wealthy Romans were taken on the Goth Mystery tour as hostages.
Back in Ravenna Honorius's stopped counting his chickens. His favourite chicken named Rome had gone missing. The unhappy emperor had Ravenna turned upside until a wishbone was left on his doorstep to indicate 'Rome' had gone to the great coop in the sky. Honorius blamed the city for giving that particular chicken 'bad luck'.
The Visigoths were still wandering but then Alaric died suddenly after eating a bad pizza in Calabria. The Goths new leader Ataulf decided they had outstayed their welcome in Italy and marched into Gaul. This distracted Constantine III so much that he was caught with his fake purple pants down and was dispatched behind by another Roman general (a supporter of Honorius) called somewhat confusingly 'Constantius'. Ataulf had meanwhile married Galla Placida and requested he be treated as a civilised man and become part of Honorius's government. He also promised to chase the Vandals and Alans out of Gaul…which happened but meant these particular looting louts crossed over into Spain to continue their extended pillaging holiday.
edit Christian Matters
Since Honorius had never gone through with the marriage to his first wife's sister, he stayed happily single and at one with his feathered friends in Ravenna. About this time he was told there was a book written by a hippo which blamed him for letting the Visigoths sack Rome with the title You Stupid Sod. In fact it was a hoax story put out by a British theologian called Pelagius who was locked in a theological struggle with St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in North Africa about sin. Augustine had already written Confessions of a Stained Glass Window Cleaner and Confessions of a Chariot Instructor before working on his door blocker tome, City of God about Brazilian waxing techniques.
Honorius fell for the first version and ordered this 'Gus bozo' be cut down for insulting the emperor. Then another theologian weighed in, St.Jerome in Bethlehem to correctly inform Honorius that Pelagius had been telling a lot of British pork sausages. Honorius expelled Pelagius from the Roman Empire and agreed, that sin was original and needed preservation. St.Augustine disagreed and retreated back to his home city of Hippo to organise the Catholic Church take over of Europe.
edit A new imperial colleague
Ataulf's plan for a combined Romano-Gothic empire ended when Visigothic conservatives speared him from behind whilst he was watching a Goth v Vandal football match. His wife Galla Placida got no pension and so she returned to Ravenna. Since Honorius remained childless (and friendless), she was the effective heir. Roman general Constantius who had recovered part of Gaul and the old frontier pushed forward his claims. Galla said he was 'more barbaric than the barbarians' but she was married off all the same. Two children were born of this brutal union, Honoria - who would later pawn herself (and the Roman Empire) to Attila the Hun - and Valentinian, a future emperor who would adopt all of uncle 'Horny's political skills - i.e. none at all.
It wasn't long before Constantius pushed himself up the ladder further and demanded/threatened rebellion if he wasn't made co-emperor. Honorius was dragged from his chicken concerns and very reluctantly had Constantius crowned as Emperor Constantius III in 421. It was a short lived glory because within a few months Constantius was dead, no doubt murdered on Honorius's instructions. Weak, chicken shit that he was - Honorius knew a rival when he saw one.
This left Galla Placida widowed the second time. Now her brother came all creepy over her and demanded full on the lips smackers to 'calm him down'. Galla had no plans to indulge in some family incest like Caligula and with the excuse that she needed to do some shopping in Constantinople, fled with her children where she was put up in a spare palace by her nephew Emperor Theodosius II. Honorius didn't seem to be too concerned. His new friend, a Roman general named Frappoccinus Aetius. He was the new Dux-de-Patrician, friend of the Huns and said he would 'help out' running the Roman Empire in the West if Honorius preferred spending even more time with his hens.
edit Fowl Death?
Honorius carried on as emperor for a couple of years. He took against men wearing trousers in his presence and ordered them removed if anyone came to pester him. Honorius believed this would prevent people carrying concealed weapons and make anyone look ridiculous if they tried to kill him.
Then in August 423 Honorius was found dead in his own private chicken run. Officially it was said he had died of 'old age' - though Honorius was not yet 40. More likely he died from Chicken Pox or bird flu. Aeitus was out of town when this happened and it was expected Galla Placida would come back to Ravenna with her son. Instead one of Honorius's few friends, an idiot quill pusher called Ioannes stepped up to the imperial plate and proclaimed himself emperor. Oh boy, he'd wished he hadn't.
Theodosius the Great
Iohannes (in the West)