Synesius, On Imperial Rule


In his speech On Imperial Rule (or On Monarchy), Synesius offers some advise to the emperor Arcadius (395-408). He presents himself as philosopher, who, after deep thought and without political motives, offers honest advise. The main issues are that the ruler must be a sober-living man and that the foreigners are to be expelled from the Roman armies.

This second subject was certainly relevant: in 400, the Germanic leader Gainas had been able to gain power in Constantinople, and he had been expelled by a popular revolt. (This is the subject of The Egyptian Tale.) Synesius appears to have spoken only a couple of weeks after this event.

It has been assumed that the text as we have it cannot have been the real speech, because - in spite of the many topical remarks - Synesius is too frank. On the other hand, it is possible that after the Gainas crisis, opinions like the ones offered in On Imperial Rule were common; nor can the possibility be ruled out that courtiers like Aurelian, the praetorian prefect, used a dispensable philosopher to impress the emperor.


The text is offered here in the translation by A. Fitzgerald. The green four-digit numbers are page numbers of the Migne edition.

Throughout this speech, the word "Scythians" refers to the Tervingian Germans (who would later be known as Visigoths), whereas "king" refers to emperor.

This page was created in 2007; last modified on 16 April 2020.