Chapter XXII.—Death of Valentinian the Younger, Emperor in Rome, through Strangling. The Tyrant Eugenius. Prophecy of John, the Monk of Thebaïs.
While Theodosius was thus occupied in the wise and peaceful government of his subjects in the East, and in the service of God, intelligence was brought that Valentinian had been strangled. 1563 Some say that he was put to death by the eunuchs of the bedchamber, at the solicitation of Arbogastes, a military chief, and of certain courtiers, who were displeased because the young prince had begun to walk in the footsteps of his father, concerning the government, and contrary to the opinions approved by them. Others assert, however, that Valentinian committed the fatal deed with his own hands, because he found himself impeded in attempting deeds which are not lawful in one of his years; and on this account he did not deem it worth while to live; for although an emperor, he was not allowed to do what he wished. It is said that the boy was noble in person, and excellent in royal manners; and that, had he lived to the age of manhood, he would have shown himself worthy of holding the reins of empire, and would have surpassed his father in magnanimity and justice. But though endowed with these promising qualities, he died in the manner above related.
A certain man named Eugenius, who was by no means sincere in his professions of Christianity, aspired to sovereignty, and assumed the symbols of imperial power. He was hoping to succeed in the attempt safely; for he was led by the predictions of individuals who professed to foresee the future, by the examination of the entrails and livers of animals and the course of the stars. Men of the highest rank among the Romans were addicted to these superstitions. Flavian, then a prætorian prefect, a learned man, and one who appeared to have an aptitude for politics, was noted for being conversant with every means of foretelling the future. He persuaded Eugenius to take up arms by assuring him that he was destined for the throne, that his warlike undertakings would be crowned with victory, and that the Christian religion would be abolished. Deceived by these flattering representations, Eugenius raised an army and took possession of the gates into Italy, as the Romans call the Julian Alps, an elevated and precipitous range of mountains; these he seized beforehand and fortified, for they had but one path in the narrows, and were shut in on each side by precipices and the loftiest mountains. Theodosius was perplexed as to whether he ought to await the issue of the war, or whether it would be better in the first place to attack Eugenius; and in this dilemma, he determined to consult John, a monk of Thebaïs, who, as I have before stated, was celebrated for his knowledge of the future. He therefore sent Eutropius, a eunuch of the palace, and of tried fidelity, to Egypt, with orders to bring John, if possible, to court; but, in case of his refusal, to learn what ought to be done. When he came to John, the monk could not be persuaded to go to the emperor, but he sent word by Eutropius that the war would terminate in favor of Theodosius, and that the tyrant would be slain; but that, after the victory, Theodosius himself would die in Italy. The truth of both of these predictions was confirmed by events.
Ruf. H. E. ii. 31–33, the source; Philost. xi. 1, 2; Theodoret, H. E. v. 24; Soc. v. 25; Zos. iv. 53, 54; Oros. vii. 35.