Arbogast

It is time for another person you’ve never heard of who changed the world. This week, let’s look at Flavius Arbogast (died 364 CE).

In 380 CE, a Roman general named Magnus Maximus was declared emperor by his armies in Britain. He sailed his armies to Gaul and defeated the sitting western emperor Gratian and made peace with the eastern emperor Theodosius I. When Theodosius I marched against Maximus, he did so with an army that was sure to destroy him. Maximus’ army mutinied and handed him over to Theodosius who promptly had him executed.

To deal with any potential threats, Theodosius dispatched his junior general, Flavius Arbogast, to Britain to deal with any potential successors to Maximus. Arbogast found Maximus’ child son Flavius Victor in Britain and strangled him. With that simple, merciless act, Arbogast reversed the fortunes of the Romo-British people who had lived largely independent of the central imperial government. Although they remained independent (and pagan) until the early Middle Ages, Britain would not see any kind of power on the mainland of Europe until the 11th century and that came from their Norman king, William the Conqueror.

Later, Arbogast would usurp the control of the Western Empire and Theodosius would be forced to wage war against his trusted general. Arbogast committed suicide, a defeated and broken rebel who never appears in history books. But his single act of assassination may have changed the course of the history of the world.

If Flavius Victor had lived, would he have been able to unite the Romo-British and build a kingdom? Maximus may have overstretched by hoping to be emperor instead of simply king of the Britons. If Arbogast had not killed Flavius Victor, would Victor have been able to rule as such?

This longing for this unity lies under so much of the Arthurian legends that sprang up later. In fact, Magnus Maximus and Flavius Victor may have been the inspiration for much of the King Arthur legend.

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