He was born in Germany, joined the Roman army and rose to the rank of general by the reign of Theodosius I. Stilicho was tasked with defending the Western Empire against attacks from the Visigoths, a role he endured for some twenty years. To cement a blood tie with him, Theodosius married his daughter, Serena to Stilicho, and appointed him guardian over his son, Honorius.
Following the death of Theodosius, Honorius became emperor of the Western Empire, and Arcadius of the Eastern half. Neither proved to be effective emperors, and Stilicho came to be in fact commander in chief of the Roman armies. Despite his successes, his non-Roman background tainted him in the eyes of the imperial courtiers, who arranged to have him executed following a staged mutiny of the Roman army at Ticinum.