Ambrose and Stilicho

I’ve spent large portions of the last few years working on a masters thesis. Teaching — making a living — has held me back, but I’m almost done now. Someone was kind enough (or perhaps foolish enough :)) to ask what the topic of my thesis is. Here goes:

My thesis is an examination of the political relationship between Ambrose, bishop of Milan, and the Vandal general Stilicho. In AD 395, the Roman emperor Theodosius died, leaving behind two young sons, Honorius and Arcadius, neither of whom had reached the age of majority and neither of whom, thus, were able to rule in their own right. In the weeks following Theodosius’ death, one of his generals, a man named Stilicho, went public with the claim that Theodosius, on his deathbed, had appointed Stilicho to be regent over his two sons and commander-in-chief of the Roman armies.

Naturally, quite a few people were skeptical about Stilicho’s claim. In order to bolster his assertion, Stilicho claimed the endorsement of Ambrose, bishop of Milan (at that time the capital of the Western Roman Empire). All of this was based upon about half of a sentence in Ambrose’s funeral oration for Theodosius (the de obitu Theodosii).

My thesis, through an examination of all of the available textual evidence — which is not much — examines the nature of Stilicho’s claim. What kind of relationship did these men have that would have allowed an upstart general to claim the support of one of the most powerful churchmen in the West?

Well, that’s enough for now. Off to bed now, part 2 coming soon…

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