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Second Flavian Dynasty (Acta Est Fabula)

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Second Flavian Dynasty (Acta Est Fabula)

Flavian Coin
Coins of Flavius I (left) and Flavius II (right), first emperors of the Second Flavian Dynasty.


Flavius I and Flavius II
Flavius II
Flavius II and Eucherius
Flavius III and Maximinus III
Flavius III
— with Flavius IV
Flavius IV and Olybrius
Flavius IV

April-August 479

Preceded by:: Theodosian Dynasty
Followed by:: Decian Dynasty
The Second Flavian Dynasty was a Roman imperial dynasty, which ruled the Western Roman Empire between 420 and 479. It was founded by the co-emperors Flavius I and Flavius II, two powerful generals who rose to power during the reign of the emperor Honorius. Most of the following emperors of the dynasty are descendants of Flavius I, after who the dynasty is named. It is the second Roman imperial dynasty to be known under the name of Flavian Dynasty, the first one ruling the Roman Empire between 69 and 96.

The Second Flavian Dynasty is credited for strengthening the Roman army and securing Italy. Members of the dynasty are noted for practicing old Roman customs from previous eras, like adopting powerful officers like the Nerva-Antonine Dynasty and electing co-emperors like the Tetrarchy.

However, their rules are also marked by the loss of territories in far off Italy, including in Hispania, in Gaul and in Africa, and the final loss of Britannia.


Flavius I (420-424)

Flavius Stilicho was a half-Vandal general who married the niece of the Emperor Theodosius. He rose to power after he became regent of the underage Honorius, for who he would serve as Supreme Commander of the Roman Army and Consul of Rome. His legend would solidify itself after he defeated the Visigoth King Alaric in 410, making him the most powerful man of the Western Roman Empire. Following the death of Honorius, who died childless, he was proclaimed emperor by both the Senate and the Praetorian Guard, although he would be forced to share his power with his co-emperor Flavius II, a powerful general who had the loyalty of the provinces.

During his reign, Flavius I fought against numerous usurpers trying to claim the Imperial Title and campaigned with Flavius II to conquer the newly established Burgundian Kingdom. He was popular with the Senate as well as the commoners and was respected by his soldiers, which help to stabilize the Empire during his reign.

He died two weeks after he felt sick and retired from politic, leaving the Western Roman Empire for Flavius II to rule alone. His son Echerius would eventually become emperor.

Flavius II (420-429)

Flavius Claudius Constantinus was the last Magister militum of Britannia. During his time there, he would be forced to deal with the various usurpers coming from the local garrisons, fights that would in the end weaken the Roman control over the province. He would receive the rank of Magister militum of Gaul in 415, leaving him as the most powerful Roman commander out of Italy. When the Emperor Honorius died, he threaten to revolt should he not be elected emperor.

Flavius II was overshadowed by his co-emperor Flavius I, and Flavius II mainly remained out of Rome for during their reign together. He played a key role in the conquest of the Burgundian Kingdom and the good relations with the Franks. While Flavius I was popular among the Senators, they despised Flavius II, who they saw as a barrack emperor.

In 204, the death of Flavius I leaved the Empire in the hands of Flavius II. In 425, he launched a campaign against the Alan Kingdom with some Frank mercenaries, but was defeated and forced to cede Roman territories in Hispania to the Franks. This led the Senate to elect Eucherius as his co-emperor to limit his power. The difficult relation between the two emperors lead Flavius II out of Rome.

He died poisoned (possibly by Eucherius) during his search for supports against Eucherius in hope of regaining sole control of the Western Roman Empire.

Eucherius (427-443)

Pseudo Corbulo


Eucherius Stilicho was the son of Flavius I and the brother-in-law of Honorius by marriage. During his father's reign, he became Consul of Rome twice (in 421 and in 423). He was made co-emperor of Flavius II in 427 to limit the latter's powers. Eucherius drove Flavius II out of Rome and possibly poisoned him, becoming the sole emperor by 429.

During most of his reign, Eucherius was forced to defend the Empire against barbarian invasions especially the Vandals in Africa, who he opposed for more than a decade. Although he was forced to wage war almost each year to defend the Empire, he is mostly remembered for his reforms of the Roman society, his strengthening of the Roman aristocracy and his re-division of the provincial administration of the Empire. He was also said to be a religious man, leading many christian historians to praise his reign as the most stable of the Second Flavian Dynasty.

The 430's also saw the rise of a young general named Flavius Aetius, who distinguished himself as part of the wars against the Vandal Kingdom. He gained the trust of Eucherius, who following the war made him Praetorian prefect in 442 and adopted him as his son two months before he died.

Flavius III (443-457)

Flavius Aetius was a famous general of Gothic origins and a close friend of Attila the Hun. He distinguished himself under Eucherius, defeating the Goths in 432, then fighting for most of the decade against the Vandals in Africa. Following his succes in defending Roman territories, he was made Praetorian prefect in 442, making him the head of the Praetorian Guard. He was then adopted by Eucherius, even if Flavius was only ten years younger than he was, shortly before the death of the Emperor. Seen as the designated heir of Eucherius, he was made emperor along with Maximinus III, the biological son of Eucherius.

Germanicus Broken Bust

Flavius III

Flavius III lead a series of campaigns against the Vandals at the start of his reign, reconquering Carthage from the Vandales, then waging war against the Goths. The death of Maximinus III in 448 left him sole emperor, after which his reign was marked by the war against the Alan Kingdom in Hispania. An efficient commander, he tried to modernize the Roman army to make it more effective. During most of his life, Flavius was hated by most of the aristocracy and senators, who were jealous of his success. This lead to two usurpers trying to claim the Imperial Title from him in 449, although they were both defeated. From 455 until his death, he ruled with his son Flavius IV as co-emperor in order to associate him with the Imperial Title before his death.

He died in 457, leaving his underage son as the Western Emperor, although the Senate elected Olybrius as co-emperor, fearing the impact that a kid as emperor could have on the remaining of the Empire.

Maximinus III (443-448)

Basillicus Roman Coinage

Coinage of Maximinus III

Maximinus Stilicho Vandalicus was the only surviving son of Eucherius. However, he was seen as lazy and sinful by his father. Indeed, historians describe Maximinus as someone who cared more about the pleasures of life than the affairs of the state. However, he was fairly popular among the members of the Senate, which lead to his election as co-emperor with Flavius III after his father's death in 443.

During his reign, Maximinus had a tendency to delegate his powers to members of the aristocracy ,which include the defences of Italy during Flavius III's war against the Vandals or the nomination of provincial governors and and Magister Militums.

In 448, his support weaken in Rome. Already hated by the commoners and disrespected by the army, the Senate began to distance itself from Maximinus. In hope of regaining their support, he launched a military campaign against the Suebi Kingdom of Galicia. However, his lack of compromises with his military advisors and his arrogance lead to his defeat and death during the Battle of Astorga. After his death, Flavius III remained as sole ruler of the Empire.

Olybrius (457-461)

Old Hulborn Marble Bust


Caius Olybrius was an old and respected member of the Senate who had been senator for almost half a decade. He achieved the rank of Consul in 426, which saw the end of the failed Flavius II's failed military campaign. Due to his support of Flavius II, he lost most of his support during Eucherius reign. He rose through prominence during the reign of Flavius III. With his brother part of the Praetorian Guard, he was made co-emperor of Flavius IV in 457.

Although they were both Emperors, Olybrius acted like a regent and ruled the Empire almost alone during his four years as Emperor. Due to this and the humiliating terms he negotiated with the Alan Kingdom following the death of Flavius III, he was perceived by many as an usurper and rapidly lost the support of the aristocracy. Many assassination attempts were made against, although none succeeded. On a brighter side, he was able to finish Flavius III's reforms of the army, and it was during his reign that the Armorica (which was lost during Eucherius's reign) was reconquered.

He finally died of old age in 461, leaving to Flavius IV a stable realm and a reformed army. Although modern historian consider him as a competent emperor, he was hated by his colleague during and after his life, and the memory of his reign stopped many senators to be elected co-emperor of child emperors.

Flavius IV (455-479)

Augustus Arles Bust

Flavius IV

Flavius IV was the second son of the Emperor Flavius III and the only one that survived his father's death. His father made him co-emperor in 455 in order to assure that his son would inherit the Empire. When Flavius III died, however, the Senate elected Olybrius as his co-emperor due to Flavius IV being only 17 years old. During the four years that followed, Olybrius kept control of the state, while Flavius IV was mostly contained in Ravenna, where he became a famous admirer of Greco-Roman arts. When Olybrius finally died in 461, Flavius IV finally held the supreme powers over the Western Roman Empire

Flavius IV reign is seen as the downfall of the Flavian Dynasty. Flavius IV was nether the a great military leader like Flavius III nor a good administrator, like Eucherius. However, he was advice by many members who distinguished themselves under the previous emperors, and the young Emperor played a great part in the reconstruction of the cities of Northern Italy and in spreading new interest for Greco-Roman art. Nevertheless, the Empire stagnated under him.

His reign was marked by wars with the Franks, who began to expand more and more in northern Gaul. in 476, although Syagrius, the man in charge of the roman armies in Gaul and Armorica, defeated the Franks at Parigi, Flavius IV ceded most of northern Gaul to King Childeric of the Franks, which angered many Romans. In 479, he was assassinated with his family by a group of senators, after which they proclaimed Eparchius Avitus emperor.

Honorius Golden Coin

Coinage of Avitus

Avitus (April-August 479)

Eparchius Avitus was an old Galo-Roman senator who also served as Governor of Gaul during the reign of Eucherius, period during which he married the niece of Flavius II. In 479, he was elected Consul, shortly before the murder of Flavius IV. Due to their fear of Syagryus, Magister militum of Gaul and Governor of Armorica, the Senate appointed someone who was popular among the Galo-Romans.

Avitus worked on the creation of a line of defence in Gaul and Italy against the troops of Syagrius. His tactics were for the most part successful, allowing him to keep Syagrius out of southern Gaul ad achieving what seemed to be key victories over his opponent armies. However, he died of an heart attack less than six months after his election. His death on August 03, 479 marked the end of the Flavian Dynasty and the rise of the short lived Decian Dynasty.

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