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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The empire from Constantine the Great to Justinian

Theodosius II, the Younger (408-450) 


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According to some sources, Arcadius left a testament in which he appointed as guardian for his young successor the Persian king, Yezdegerd I, because he feared that the favorites at Constantinople might deprive Theodosius of the throne. The king of Persia devotedly fulfilled the office conferred upon him, and through one of his own loyal men he guarded Theodosius against the intrigues of the courtiers. Many scholars deny the authenticity of this story, but there is nothing intrinsically implausible about it, since similar instances occur in other periods of history, there seems to be no good reason for rejecting it.

The harmonious relations between the two empires explain the unusually favorable position of Christianity in Persia during the reign of Yezdegerd I. The Persian tradition, which reflects the state of mind of the Magi and nobles, calls Yezdegerd the Apostate, the Wicked, the friend of Rome and the Christians, and the persecutor of the Magi. But Christian sources praise him for his goodness, mildness, and munificence and at times claim that he was even at the point of becoming converted to Christianity. In reality, however, Yezdegerd I, like Constantine the Great, appreciated how important the Christian element in his empire was to his political plans. In 409 he formally granted permission to the Christians to worship openly and to restore their churches. Some historians call this decree the Edict of Milan for the Assyrian Christian church.

In 410 a council met at Seleucia at which the Christian church in Persia was organized. The bishop of Seleucia (Ctesiphon) was elected head of the church. He was given the title of Catholicos, and was to reside in the capital of the Persian Empire. The members of the council made the following declaration: We all unanimously implore our Merciful God that He increase the days of the victorious and illustrious king Yezdegerd, King of Kings, and that his years be prolonged for generations of generations and for ages of ages, The Christians did not enjoy complete freedom for long. Persecutions were renewed within the later years of Yezdegerd's reign.

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