3
THE FRIGIDUS

1

In his continuation of Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical History, written in 402/3, Rufinus of Aquileia gives a vivid account of the confrontation between Theodosius and Eugenius by the river Frigidus. The pagans (pagani) prepared for battle with endless sacrifices, Theodosius by fasting and prayers. Flavian prophesied victory for Eugenius by examining sheep entrails, and then took his own life because his prophecies proved false. Theodosius threw down his weapons in mid battle and called upon God for help, whereupon a miraculous wind arose, turning the enemy’s weapons back upon themselves. Despite the brave efforts of Arbogast, God was against him (adverso deo), and “more glory accrued to the devout sovereign’s victory from the failed expectations of the pagans than from the death of the usurper (tyrannus), the pagans whose empty hopes and false prophecies meant that the punishment of those among them who died was less grievous than the shame of those who survived.”

Rufinus’s account proved influential, among contemporaries and successors as well as modern historians. According to Hedrick, most of the Greek sources for Eugenius confirm that the usurpation had some religious connotation.”1 But all the most widely cited Christian accounts of the battle (those of Augustine, Sozomen, and Theodoret) are derived from Rufinus.2 This is not to say that Rufinus is their only source, or that they follow him slavishly. Augustine, for example, adds a quotation from Claudian. But even Augustine follows Rufinus more closely than he admits. For example, he claims to have his account of the miraculous wind from “soldiers who were present” (milites… qui aderant), a claim taken literally by many critics. Yet he borrowed this very phrase from Rufinus’s “officers who were present” (qui aderant duces).3 All three undoubtedly derive the basic outline of their accounts—a victory

1. Rutin. HE xi. 33, tr. Amidon; Hedrick 2000, 72 (my emphasis).

2. Theodoret’s indirectly, through Sozomen or a Greek translation of Rufinus. The question of this Greek translation is linked to the question of the lost Ecclesiastical History of Gelasius of Caesarea (for a useful survey, see Amidon 1997, xiii–xvii). The standard view is that much of Rufinus’s narrative down to the death of Valens was translated from Gelasius, but van Nuffelen 2002 has now made it probable that the history ascribed to Gelasius is a pseudonymous compilation of the mid fifth century. Fortunately, the controversy does not affect the chapters discussed here, which are indisputably original work by Rufinus.

3. Duval 1966; Courcelle 1969(this important study will be drawn upon further below).

-93-

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