|Roman emperor of the West |
(unrecognized in the East)
|Reign||20 November 423 – May 425|
|Born||Sometime in the fourth century|
|Died||c. May 425|
On the death of the Emperor Honorius (15 August 423), Theodosius II, the remaining ruler of the House of Theodosius, hesitated in announcing his uncle's death. In the interregnum, Honorius's patrician at the time of his death, Castinus, elevated Joannes as emperor.
Joannes was a primicerius notariorum or senior civil servant at the time of his elevation. Procopius praised him as "both gentle and well-endowed with sagacity and thoroughly capable of valorous deeds." Unlike the Theodosian emperors, he tolerated all Christian sects and even the pagans.
From the beginning, his control over the empire was insecure. In Gaul, his praetorian prefect was slain at Arles in an uprising of the soldiery there. And Bonifacius, Comes of the Diocese of Africa, held back the grain fleet destined to Rome.
"The events of Johannes' reign are as shadowy as its origins," writes John Matthews, who then provides a list of the ruler's known actions in a single paragraph. Joannes was proclaimed at Rome and praetorian games were provided at the expense of a member of the gens Anicia. Johannes then moved his base of operations to Ravenna, knowing full well that the Eastern Empire would strike from that direction. There is a mention of an expedition against Africa, but its fate, presumed unsuccessful, is unrecorded. In Gaul, he appears to have caused offense by submitting clerics to secular courts. And that is all.
Joannes had hoped that he could come to an agreement with the Eastern Emperor, but when Theodosius II elevated the young Valentinian III, first to Caesar, then to co-emperor as an Augustus (undoubtedly influenced by Valentinian's mother Galla Placidia), he knew he could only expect war. Late in 424, he gave to one of his younger and most promising followers, Aëtius, an important mission. Aëtius, Governor of the Palace at the time, was sent to the Huns, with whom he had lived as a hostage earlier, to seek military help.
While Aëtius was away, the army of the Eastern Empire left Thessalonica for Italy, and soon camped in Aquileia. Although the primary sources state that Ravenna fell to their assault – John of Antioch states that a shepherd led the army of Aspar safely through the marshes that protected the city Stewart Oost believes that Aspar's father, Ardaburius, who had been captured by Joannes' soldiers, convinced the garrison of Ravenna to betray the city. The fallen emperor was brought to Aquileia where first his hand was cut off, then he was paraded on a donkey in the Hippodrome to the insults of the populace. After further insults and injuries, Joannes was finally decapitated in mid 425. His death is sometimes dated to May or June, probably on the basis of a law in the Codex Theodosianus issued on 5 May 425 (with the previous law being published on 15 February 423, nine months before Joannes usurpation).
Three days after Joannes's death, Aëtius returned at the head of a substantial Hunnic army. After some skirmishing, Placidia, regent to her son, and Aëtius came to an agreement that established the political landscape of the Western Roman Empire for the next thirty years. The Huns were paid off and sent home, while Aetius received the position of magister militum (commander-in-chief of the Roman army). The historian Adrian Goldsworthy writes that "it took a hard-fought campaign by strong elements of the East Roman army and navy, in addition to a fair dose of betrayal," to defeat Joannes.
- Procopius, De Bellus III.3.6. Translated by H.B. Dewing, Procopius (Cambridge: Loeb Classical Library, 1979), vol. 2 p. 25
- Stewart Oost Galla Placidia Augusta: A biographical essay (Chicago: University Press, 1968), p. 186
- Olympiodorus, fragment 40. Translated by C.D. Gordon, Age of Attila: Fifth Century Byzantium and the Barbarians (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1966), pp. 44f
- John Matthews, Western Aristocracies and Imperial Court AD 364 – 425 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), pp. 379f
- Renatus Frigeridus, cited in Gregory of Tours, Decem Libri Historiarum, II.8; translated by Lewis Thorpe, History of the Franks (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974), pp. 118f
- John of Antioch, fragment 195; translated by C.D. Gordon, Age of Attila, p. 47
- Oost, Galla Placidia Augusta, pp. 188f
- Procopius, III.3.9; translated by Dewing, pp. 75ff
- Codex Theodosianus in The Latin Library.
- Oost, Galla Placidia Augusta, pp. 189f
- Adrian Goldsworthy, The Fall of the West: The Slow Death of the Roman Superpower, Orion Books Ltd, Paperback Edition 2010, London, pp. 305 and 436
- Hugh Elton, "Ioannes", from De Imperatoribus Romanis"