Theodosius at the Court of Milan the Massacre at Thessalonica

There were other minor battles between Ambrose and Theodosius while he maintained his court at Milan, but the massacre at Thessalonica in the summer of 390 C.E. irrevocably changed the balance of power between them. In that incident, a Gothic leader named Butheric, a general of one of the garrisons in Thessalonica, had arrested a favored charioteer and the charioteer's fans were furious. Butheric and several generals were killed and their corpses mutilated as they were dragged through the streets. Theodosius' order for reparations may have been botched, but whether he ordered it or not Butheric's troops locked the gates of the hippodrome where some 7,000 people had thronged for the races and then slaughtered them all. Ambrose excommunicated Theodosius for his order to avenge his general and insisted that he perform public penance before he could enter the church and receive the sacraments. Theodosius accepted the penance and was received into the church on Christmas day in 390 C.E. (with great ceremony we may imagine). Whether under the influence of Ambrose or whether the emperor had his own religious or political motivations, shortly after this incident, Theodosius published several edicts that harshly curbed the traditional pagan religious practices. In a law of February 391 C.E. (Codex Theodosianus 16.10.10), he completely forbade pagan cults, public and private, and prohibited access to temples (see Primary Document 5.5). And to add insult to injury, it was the urban prefect Ceionius Rufius Albinus, pagan senator and aristocrat, who had to enforce these new laws contravening the ancient religion. The growth of Christianity not with standing, Rome had, until now, held its position as the conservator of traditional pagan cults.

Despite the harsh legislation, however, the senate did not yield. Perhaps sensing tension between the overbearing Theodosius and his weaker and younger co-Augustus, they again mounted a deputation to Valen-tinian II, who was now in Gaul, to request subsidies for pagan religious practices. Once again, Symmachus, who was consul in 391 C.E., headed the deputation. With Theodosius headed back to his court in the east and their nemesis Ambrose in Milan, the senate must have felt confident that Valentinian would see the advantage of strengthening his alliance with Rome. However, even though his German protector and coruler Arbogast was in favor of granting the subsidies, Valentinian again refused.

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