Eutropius (c.320-c.390?): Roman historian, author of a very popular Short History of the Roman Empire.


Portrait of a Roman man, fourth century

According to his statement, Flavius Eutropius took part in the ill-fated campaign of the Roman emperor Julian the Apostate (r.361-363) against the Sasanian Empire.note Eutropius' Short History of the Roman Empire (or Breviarium) ends with the brief reign of Jovian (r.363-364), which suggests that Eutropius wrote this text during the reign of the emperors Valentinian I (r.364-375) and Valens (r.364-378); the year 369 seems to be most likely. From the introduction to his Short History, we know that Eutropius was magister memoriae, "secretary of state for general petitions", an important office at the imperial court.

This much we know for certain. We have less certainty about what happened next. It is likely, however, that the historian Eutropius is identical to the man who was in 371-372 proconsul (governor) of Asia,note who was praetorian prefect of the Illyrian provinces in 380-381, and who was one of the consuls in 387 (together with the emperor Valentinian II). If this official is not the same as the historian, we have to double the number of Eutropii and accept the existence of an official who, out of nowhere, suddenly occupies the highest possible positions. Although this is not impossible, it is not very likely.

From the Short History, we can deduce that Eutropius, who had a Greek name, probably was a native speaker of that language.note

Short History

The Short History or, as the ancients would have called it, the Breviarium ab Urbe Condita ("Short History since the Foundation of the City") is precisely that: a short history of the Roman Empire since the foundation of Rome by Romulus. In ten books - perhaps "chapters" is a better word - the author takes his readers through one millennium of Roman history until the reign of Jovian.


Eutropius knew what he was doing. His story is concise and clear, his language easy to comprehend, his message obvious: the Romans have always been able to overcome their problems. This was to become a common theme after the Roman defeat in the Battle of Adrianople (378). Eutropius' stress on the importance of the Senate is probably a veiled advise to the emperor Valens. He is more interested in foreign than domestic politics: the Gracchi and most persecutions of the Christians remain unmentioned.

His sources are (an abbreviated text of) Livy (until the reign of the emperor Augustus), Suetonius' Lives of the Twelve Caesars (until the reign of the emperor Domitian), and the lost text that is known as the Enmannsche Kaisergeschichte (until the reign of Diocletian). For fourth-century history, Eutropius appears to rely on his own experiences.

Although Eutropius seems to have admired the Christian emperor Constantius II,note and did not find much to admire in Julian's anti-Christian policy,note several comments suggest that he preferred the ancient gods.note His interest in the apotheosis of the rulers confirms this.note


In spite of Eutropius' pagan preferences, his Short History was used by Christian authors like Jerome, Orosius, and Isidore of Seville. It was translated into Greek on at least two occasions by Paeanius (c.380) and by Capito the Lycian (c.550). In the Middle Ages, Paul the Dean and Landulfus Sagax wrote continuations, the first continuing the story until the reign of the emperor Justinian (r.527-565), and the second until the early ninth century.


This page was created in 2018; last modified on 28 April 2020.