Stilicho - Magister Militum (Master of Soldiers) in the Late Roman Empire


Flavius Stilicho (c.365-408 A.D.) was born in Germany to a Vandal father and Roman mother. Though enemies exploited his semi-barbaric birth, Stilicho, a patrician, most likely followed his mother's Roman conventions and orthodox Christianity. He became general of the Western Empire and advisor to Emperor Theodosius I. Stilicho claimed Theodosius, before dying, named him protector of both his heirs, Arcadius and Honorius.

Around 384, Stilicho married Serena, niece and adopted daughter of Theodosius. Stilicho and Serena had a son, Eucherius, and two daughters, Maria and Aemilia Materna Thermania, both married to Honorius successively.

From 394-408, Stilicho served Honorius as master of soldiers and regent. He led unsuccessful attempts to quell Gothic attacks led by Alaric, in part, due to in-house enemies. One such enemy was praetorian prefect Flavius Rufinus. He convinced the eastern emperor, Arcadius, to recall Stilicho and his troops back to Thessaly when Stilicho was at an advantageous point in the battle and likely to win. Despite this, Stilicho followed Arcadius' orders, left Gainas in charge of the eastern troops, then returned to Thessaly. Afterward, on November 27, 395, Gainas’ men stabbed and killed Rufinus. Stilicho, though not on the scene, was implicated in the murder.

Finally, in 401, Stilicho ran a successful campaign against Alaric quelling the Visigoths in the East, but in 402, they met again as Alaric led his first Gothic invasion of Italy. In 406, Stilicho finally succeeded in building an alliance with Alaric halting his Gothic invasions, but Stilicho still had enemies within the Empire that would use Stilicho’s barbaric ties, his seemingly ambitious drive into the Eastern Empire, his alliance with Alaric, and the usurpation of Constantine III to convince Honorius to execute him. Stilicho was beheaded on August 22, 408.

Alternate Spellings: Stilico