Western and Eastern Roman Empresses of Late Antiquity

In 395 the two designated centres of government were headed by young emperors: Arcadius probably 17/18, had some experience of imperial administration, though Honorius at age 10 was still a child who wept openly at his father’s funeral in Milan. The older brother, as the senior emperor, presided over the more important court in Constantinople with his wife Eudoxia, whom he married in April 395. To safeguard and guide his sons, Theodosius had set up two military officials as guardians, Rufinus for Arcadius, and Stilicho for Honorius.

Both had ambitions to marry their daughters to the emperors. Rufinus failed and Stilicho succeeded, not once but twice, though neither Maria nor Thermantia had the desired effect of linking his family more closely to the imperial dynasty. Stilicho also made sure that his eastern rival Rufinus was assassinated on the first possible occasion.



In the West Milan remained the site of the imperial court where Serena, the wife of Stilicho and an imperial princess in her own right, filled the equivalent position of empress. Theodosius I had adopted Serena when her own father died and she moved from the family estates in Spain to the court in Constantinople where she became the older sister of Arcadius and Honorius. In 384 Theodosius married her to his general Stilicho to link the powerful military leader more closely to his family. As Serena was older than the boys, she may have filled the gap left by their mother’s death in 386. She adopted a motherly role toward Honorius and brought him up together with her own daughters and the young Galla Placidia. As a child Honorius was betrothed to Serena’s eldest daughter, Maria, and even after their marriage (ca. 389), she retained much power as the imperial mother-in-law.

aelia eudoxia


In the fifth century the court developed its rituals within the Great Palace (Note: of New Rome, Constantinople), a massive complex of buildings in which the wife of the emperor had her own quarters, with her own servants (officials to assist in the administration ofher property, secretaries, guards, eunuchs and ladies in waiting). Arcadius’ wife, Eudoxia, who had been raised and educated in the city, sought to enhance her position within the court in every possible way. Zosimus states that she took advantage of her husband’s foolishness and even stupidity to assert her own authority: she ‘was especially willful even for a woman’. He also condemns Eudoxia’s devotion “to the insatiable and ubiquitous eunuchs and her female attendants’ which made life unbearable for everyone.”

Her quarrel with the patriarch John Chrysostomos sprang from the inauguration of a silver statue in her honour on the Augustion; it was accompanied by traditional songs and music, which disturbed the liturgy nearby.

In January 400 Eudoxia was acclaimed augusta and coins were struck with her image, title and innovations including the Hand of God, dextera Dei, crowning her with a wreath (on the obverse, front), which led to her being identified as crowned by God.

This gradually became the established form on most coins minted for empresses. A more radical change introduced the image of the empress enthroned (on the reverse), rather than the more common enthroned emperor. Some of Eudoxia’s coins clearly represent the feminine version – the basilis seated on her throne with her arms crossed over her breast. This innovation may lie behind the rather curious coins of Eudoxia’s granddaughter, Licinia Eudoxia, minted in Rome and Ravenna between 450 and 455.

Licinia Eudoxia.jpg

Since coinage was such a vital element of propaganda, a widespread symbol of empire, the decision to depict an empress enthroned must reflect the higher claim to shared authority made by wives of emperors. The shift would have been noticed by all who handled such coins.

After her acclamation as augusta, Eudoxia’s new status was also broadcast to the Roman world in images (imagines muliebri), sent out to mark her promotion. These were to be greeted and celebrated in the same way as images of newly crowned emperors, laureatae. When the western court at Ravenna received evidence (or just news) of this ‘innovation’, Honorius wrote to his older brother to protest.

This was not the normal procedure, he claimed, and had provoked ‘voices raised in objection around the world’. Stilicho who was probably behind this letter did not approve of the prominence allotted to the empress, nor the novel measures taken to announce it, apparently by Eudoxia herself. Nonetheless, the procedure confirmed patterns of female rule that continued to stress the significance of imperial wives. In her short life as empress, Eudoxia was almost constantly pregnant: between 395 and her death in childbirth in October 404, she produced four daughters and a son, Theodosius, who succeeded his father in 408 aged seven. In this way, another boy-emperor became the nominal ruler in Constantinople. Later writers suggest that his older sister, Pulcheria, who was only two years his senior, played a major part in his upbringing and preparation for the role of emperor.

Aelia Eudokia


Whether she organised it or not, she at least acquiesced in the quite unexpected choice of a bride for her brother: Athenaïs, daughter of a pagan philosopher from Athens, who was converted and baptized as Eudokia. The new empress gave birth to two daughters and a son who did not survive into childhood. And this lack of a male heir gave Pulcheria her chance to direct imperial affairs.

Aelia Pulcheria.JPG


Pulcheria (399 – 453) had an archetypal imperial family background in the palace of Constantinople. Because her mother died when she was only five, and her father four years later in 408, Pulcheria was raised by court nurses and eunuch servants, the cubicularii led by Antiochus, and received a thorough education in both Latin and Greek. Anastasius, a friend of Synesius of Cyrene, and of the praetorian prefect, Aurelian, may also have been involved in teaching the imperial children.

It seems very likely that patriarchs also took over their training in Christian history and theology. Church leaders often sought membership of a council of regency where they might influence minors, though none is recorded in this case. In one specific and very important decision Pulcheria must have taken the lead: she is reported to have devoted her virginity to God and to have persuaded her younger sisters to do the same. The decision was announced in a major ceremony when she consecrated a golden altar decorated with precious stones in the cathedral church (of Hagia Sophia), inscribed with her vow. Having thus resolved the problem of marriage, she refused to allow men to enter her palace “to avoid all cause of jealousy and intrigue”, and set about educating her younger brother Theodosius II in the correctly princely way to rule: how to gather his robes, to walk, to take a seat, to listen to petitions, and above all to adopt a deeply pious Christian attitude and to support the orthodox church. Leaving his training in horsemanship, military weapons and literary matters to other experts, she may have taken on the maternal role of the deceased empress.

On 4 July 414 Pulcheria was acclaimed as augusta, aged 15, and two years later Theodosius II assumed his imperial position as augustus when he entered the city from Heraclea and in accordance with custom received a golden crown from Ursus, the city prefect, and the Senate.

Pulcheria was also honoured with a portrait in the Senate (at Constantinople) by Aurelian, twice praetorian prefect and patricius, and Honorius and Theodosius were similarly commemorated.

In 421 she and her brother dedicated an honorary column to their father Arcadius, one of the grandest decorated monuments, topped with a statue of the emperor, and commemorating the defeat of the Goths in 400. Pulcheria’s position as adviser to the emperor was often threatened by other courtiers and when one eunuch official, Chrysaphius, gained greater influence with her brother she was forced to retire from the court to her palace outside the city at Hebdomon. She also disagreed with the Monophysite definitions of Christ’s nature that Theodosius supported during the 440s. After the Council of Ephesus held in 449, Pope Leo I addressed letters to her appealing for assistance in correcting ecclesiastical policy.

The death of her brother in a riding accident in 450 presented her with an unexpected chance to assert her own authority, which she seized with alacrity. After initially concealing the emperor’s condition, she negotiated with a possible successor, settled on Marcian, a military commander, and persuaded him to join her in a marriage of convenience. This was designed to enhance his imperial credentials and permit her to take a full part in the government as empress. Together they planned and then summoned the Council of Chalcedon, which met in 451 and reversed the decisions taken at Ephesus two years earlier. At this major gathering of largely eastern bishops plus a delegation from Rome, Marcian and Pulcheria were acclaimed as a New Constantine and Helena.

The empress died in 453 leaving the succession unsettled, and on Marcian’s death the Gothic leader, Aspar, held sufficient power to install another military emperor, Leo I. But in her life Pulcheria had manifested a distinct imperial profile nurtured within the imperial palace, which created a specific model for later empresses.

Galla Placidia.jpg

Galla & Galla Placidia

The contrast with Galla Placidia is very marked, beginning with the fact that she had much less exposure to the Constantinopolitan court. Her mother, Galla, had married Theodosius I in Thessalonike late in 387, and went to live in the eastern capital, while the emperor campaigned in the West.

Theodosius must have donated property to his new wife to establish her in Constantinople, but he does not appear to have considered how his family would react to the arrival of their stepmother.

His sons were probably 10 and 3 years old respectively and his adopted daughter Serena who had been married to Stilicho, may have been involved in their early lives inside the palace where they had their own staff of courtly officials. Galla may have found the situation difficult, the more so when she gave birth to a son, named Gratian after Theodosius’ predecessor. Although frequently identified as Galla Placidia, there is clear evidence for Gratian as the first child born to Galla and Theodosius.

In 390 Arcadius, prompted no doubt by his courtiers, tried to exile Galla from the court, and she may have retired to her own palace, but this was clearly a symptom of disagreement if not of deep rivalry. Once Theodosius returned to the eastern capital from his campaigns in the West, late in 391, relations apparently improved and Galla gave birth to at least two more children, another son named John and Galla Placidia (henceforth, Placidia) who was the only one to survive. In 394 Galla died and one year later when Serena was ordered to bring the emperor’s children to the West, only Honorius and Placidia are named. Leaving Arcadius nominally in charge in Constantinople, Serena took these two younger children to Milan where they witnessed their father’s death in 395. Theodosius had stipulated that Stilicho was to act as Honorius’ guardian and he and Serena assumed the same role for Placidia, who was at most three years old. She was accompanied by her nurse Elpidia and many other servants from Constantinople who continued to look after her. Placidia thus grew up within the family of Stilicho and Serena in the imperial court at Milan, and after 402 in the palace of her half-brother Honorius at Ravenna, and was educated in the appropriate imperial fashion.

In order to strengthen his position, Stilicho intended to betroth his older daughter Maria to Honorius and his son Eucherius to Placidia, thus ensuring his commanding position within the ruling Theodosian dynasty. The first marriage duly took place in about 398, but the second never did. Nor were measures taken to marry Placidia to a suitable husband, who would not threaten the joint rule of Arcadius and Honorius. Perhaps like her cousin Pulcheria she refused any idea of marriage and opted for Christian celibacy, which would permit her to choose her own life style. But other factors intervened and instead determined her well-known adventures with the Goths – a very different, eventful and colourful period. When Alaric first besieged Rome in 409 Placidia was taken hostage and held in the Gothic camp as a bargaining chip in his negotiations with the Senate and Honorius.

She was then about 17 years old, and after the sack of the city in 410 she left with other aristocratic hostages and the rest of the Gothic booty. They spent the next four years moving from place to place in the wagons of the Goths. This life was certainly quite different from Pulcheria’s protected palace existence. It involved much travelling with the Goths, marriage to Athaulf in Narbonne, the birth of their son, christened Theodosius, and his death, followed by the assassination of Athaulf and Placidia’s humiliation by his successor.

Eventually the Goths exchanged her for 600,000 measures of grain and she returned to the western imperial court, accompanied by a Gothic guard. On New Year’s Day 417 her half-brother Honorius took her by the hand and gave her to his general Constantius who had long desired to marry her. From this marriage Placidia had two children, a daughter Honoria and a son, Valentinian. In 421 Honorius acclaimed Constantius as co-emperor and Placidia became augusta.

Galla Placidia 2

And then later that year her second husband died. After this turbulent life, she retired to quarters in the imperial palace at Ravenna, where Honorius became overly fond of her, according to Olympiodorus.

The precise nature of their relationship is hard to discern; as children of the same father, who had been raised in close proximity, they must have known each other quite well. But within a short period the emperor had banished her from his court, using as a pretext the fighting in the streets of Ravenna, attributed to her Gothic guards. She took refuge in Constantinople with her children. At this point in 423 Pulcheria and Placidia met and found that they shared a profound commitment to Christian observance, whatever their other differences.

Her arrival in the eastern capital was followed rapidly by the news of Honorius’ death in the summer of 423, an event that made Theodosius II the senior emperor with the responsibility of appointing a western colleague. Since neither of Honorius’ wives had produced any children, there was no obvious heir. And in the ensuing power vacuum the imperial position had been usurped by a civilian administrator named John, the chief secretary to the court at Ravenna. With senatorial support he had been acclaimed in Rome and sent his credentials to Constantinople. Theodosius refused to acknowledge them and considered how best to remove John and set up an appropriate ruler in the West.

These developments presented Placidia with a challenge full of potential, for she realised that her son Valentinian was the sole direct descendant of the founder of the Theodosian dynasty who could strengthen the family’s hold on power. Because there was no constitutional role for a regent, her position as the mother of the boy-emperor remained unofficial.

While eastern officials accompanied the large military force sent from Constantinople and were doubtless appointed to the highest positions in the western administration and military leadership, Placidia does appear to have been the figurehead that embodied imperial authority, in a way that her young son could not.

A rather obvious comparison presents itself: since Theodosius had been educated by his sister Pulcheria, he was aware of the role of a well-informed imperial princess, and may have seen a similar potential in his aunt. Assisted by experienced eastern male advisors and military men, Placidia could ensure the establishment of his young cousin as the nominal western emperor, following the pattern of Honorius’ and Theodosius’ own upbringing. Her wide experience in dealing with Goths, Roman senators, ambitious generals and powerful bishops was well known.

And did Pulcheria support the plan, which set Placidia in a position so similar to her own role in the education of Theodosius? Given her determined authority in the court of Constantinople she may well have endorsed a decision to grant Placidia a comparable role. It seems quite likely that Placidia played a significant part in the decision taken in 424 to send Valentinian aged four back to Ravenna. Theodosius recognised her status by recognizing her title of augusta and minting coins in her name. Until her death in 450 these types were issued by western mints at Ravenna, Rome and Aquileia.

Placidia also benefited from another aspect of the arrangement: the betrothal of Theodosius’ little daughter Licinia Eudoxia to her son. This alliance enhanced Placidia’s position in that it allied her family even more closely with that of the eastern emperor.

Imperial authority was thus kept within the family of Theodosius I – the dynasty would continue to rule both spheres of the Roman empire under the control of the senior emperor, Theodosius II. Both Pulcheria and Placidia appear to have used every chance to influence imperial policy and perhaps followed particular models of feminine leadership. They might well have known of Helena’s early fourth century achievements as detailed by Bishop Ambrose in his oration at Theodosius’ funeral. Ambrose also specifically invites Serena to imitate the first Christian empress.

They could have heard of Empress Justina’s quarrels with Ambrose, when the widowed Arian empress ordered the court official, magister memoriae, responsible for drafting legislation, to write an edict in favour of the Arian Christians and he refused. But she got another more pliant secretary and the law was then issued in 386 over Ambrose’s strong objections. Justina’s husband Valentinian I had also refused to admit St Martin of Tours to his court, while the usurper/rebel Magnus Maximus honoured him.

Such behaviour would not have been recognised as suitable for orthodox Christians. Neither were the stories of powerful Roman empresses like Agrippina and Livia positive or helpful models, although they preserved stories of imperial women acting independently.

In contrast, Pulcheria and Placidia both had mothers whose example of traditional imperial virtue was manifested as wives who gave birth to legitimate imperial heirs. In addition, Flaccilla was noted for her charity (she is reported to have visited prisons to alleviate the conditions), while Placidia’s step-mother, Serena, was excessively praised by Claudian for her virtuous activity and Christian patronage.

It is quite difficult to distinguish personal initiatives taken by the two empresses who were so closely allied with their younger male relatives. Placidia definitely adopted a ruling position (even though there was no official post of regent) for her young son Valentinian III and appears to have taken a lead in trying to sort out contradictory legal regulations.

On 7 November 426 an imperial speech to the Senate in Rome introduced a series of new rules which has been described as a mini-law code, covering a wide range of problems in testamentary law, gifts and transfers of property through the emancipation of slaves, including both general principles and specific instances. This so-called Law of Citations also attempted to clarify which ancient legal authorities were to take precedence over the others and how discrepancies between them were to be settled.

The speech was given in the name of the seven year old Valentinian III and originated in the West with no relation to other comparable efforts in the East. Yet it precedes the first legal commission set up by Theodosius II in 429 by only three years. While the author of this wide-ranging initiative remains unknown, Honoré suggests Placidia inspired it. Her understanding of the importance of written law can be traced back to the time when she was a hostage of the Goths and influenced her Gothic husband, Athaulf, to add some Roman legal principles into his rule. On her return to the imperial court in Italy, she could have acquired a deeper knowledge of the law, and might have discussed it with legal experts in Constantinople during her stay there.

The laws issued during the first years of her regency, drafted by the quaestors, deal with all essential issues, and one concerning the rights of mothers to inherit their deceased children’s property may be related to her own personal interest.

Because the western provinces were almost constantly threatened by rebellion and/or invasion, military commanders took an increasingly dominant role in imperial administration. In managing the rivals, Boniface and Aetius, Placidia eventually lost ground to the latter, but left an impressive legacy of regular administration during her son’s minority.


When he came of age, went to Constantinople to collect his bride and took over from his mother, Valentinian had to confront the same problem of an immensely powerful military leader, in this case, Aetius. Once Attila’s death had removed the most serious threat to the empire posed by the Huns, the emperor dispensed with Aetius by assassinating him. When comparing Placidia and Pulcheria, their shared commitment to Christian theology and monuments appropriate for its celebration is immediately noticeable. They patronised Christian building and encouraged skilled artistic work in a manner typical of powerful aristocratic women. Pulcheria’s contribution to the liturgical development of the cult of the Virgin – building Marian churches, collecting icons and processing them through the streets, long night vigils, was not replicated in the West until the sixth century, though Pope Sixtus III created the great basilica of S. Maria Maggiore in Rome in the aftermath of the Council of Ephesus (431).

Beyond this Christian dedication, the major difference in their activity lies in the settings of their respective courts: Constantinople provided better opportunities for the celebration of empresses and their achievements in statues erected in the public sphere.

In Ravenna there is much less evidence for similar tributes, and there were fewer dominating figures to be acknowledged in this way. In Rome the Senate was empowered to decide which individuals to honour with statues on the Forum (military leaders like Aetius, emperors, consuls and city prefects and patrons), but women were rarely commemorated. A bust attributed to Placidia might correspond to the one for Pulcheria that was put up in the Augousteion in Constantinople.

Yet both empresses assumed unusually prominent positions during the rule of their weaker young relatives, and thus countered the all-powerful influence of military men, generals usually of non-Roman origin. In this threefold division of authority, which allowed imperial women as mothers or sisters to balance the military against civilian officials (especially the very influential corps of court eunuchs), they persisted in upholding the formal rule of younger or just less ambitious male relations.

Patriarchs of Constantinople also tried to assert their influence, which may have been paralleled by bishops of Ravenna or Rome. In both cases, however, women sustained the dynasty of their family, which provided greater stability than at other times. It was their misfortune to grasp these powerful positions when the worst disaster for the entire Roman world occurred: the capture of Carthage by the Vandals and the immediate cutting of the regular grain supply to Rome, as well as the export of many other products, such as African Red Slip ware, a high-class ceramic used throughout the Mediterranean.

The military failure, however, must be laid at the doors of the generals, Aetius in particular. In one respect Placidia failed conspicuously: her own daughter Honoria had been acclaimed augusta in 424, coins were minted in her name but she was never provided with a suitable husband.

Licinia Eudoxia.jpg

Honoria & Licinia Eudoxia

Honoria used her own imperial status in her appeal to Attila the Hun before 450 – as an empress in her own right she had the means to send a eunuchto his court, carrying her ring as a sign of her authority and then she waited to be rescued, to the horror of her brother Valentinian III and cousin Theodosius II in Constantinople. Honoria had been raised in the court in Ravenna as an imperial empress but had nothing to do. Her audacious act of high treason has been attributed to the boredom induced by a luxurious life with no purpose, restricted to her own palace with only Eugenius, her steward, and eunuchs and ladies in waiting for company.

The contrast between Honoria and the elder daughter of Theodosius II is telling: Licinia Eudoxia had been more effectively brought up in Constantinople and prepared for her imperial role before she became the wife of Valentinian III and moved to the western court at Ravenna.

True, she gave birth to two daughters rather than sons who could continue the Theodosian dynasty, but the eldest, Eudokia, was used to ensure good relations with the Vandals of North Africa. After her husband’s death in 455, however, when Licinia Eudoxia was faced with a forced marriage to a usurper, Petronius Maximus, she repeated Honoria’s tactic and appealed to the Vandal king to come and rescue her. Geiseric was only too pleased to oblige and the sack of Rome that followed his invasion left the city more desolate than ever before. Eudoxia and her daughters Eudokia and Placidia were taken to Carthage along with the booty, and remained there for years as hostages.

Licinia Eudoxia 2

So although Licinia Eudoxia had been raised within the eastern court with the expectation of an imperial role as empress of the western provinces of the empire, she was unable to avoid the fate of so many aristocratic women. In the fifth century, losing a husband automatically raised the issue of remarriage. Since empresses carried imperial status they were particularly important prizes for usurpers. In this case Eudoxia’s reaction to an unwanted remarriage for political reasons resulted in a long period of enforced (even if honorable) captivity among the Vandals of North Africa. Her relatives did eventually secure her liberty and she returned to Constantinople. But her life reflects the powerlessness of women whose male protectors died, failed or abandoned them. Her appeal to Geiseric had as little chance of success as Honoria’s. Possibly she was also denied the only alternative: a commitment to widowhood with univira
status and Christian dedication.


Aelia Marcia Euphemia

During the turbulent period between 455 and 476, the only recorded empress resident in the West was Aelia Marcia Euphemia, daughter of Emperor Marcian from his first marriage, so from an Eastern military background. She became augusta on the elevation of her husband, Anthemius, to emperor (467– 72), was commemorated on the coinage and spent five years in the West.

At the time the military commander Ricimer was directing the government and strengthened his position by marrying Euphemia’s daughter, Alypia. The imperial couple suffered from the western opposition to the graeculus, as western authors mockingly called Anthemius.

Other wives of short-lived emperors were never accorded imperial authority with the title of augusta; some of their names are simply not recorded.

While the western provinces were steadily overrun by non-Roman forces that often remained in permanent occupation, military affairs in the East were also very disrupted by foreign invasions. Yet several powerful women held the imperial title after Pulcheria. Their backgrounds differed and provide interesting contrasts.

Aelia Verina.jpg

Aelia Verina

Aelia Verina (?457–ca 484) married Leo I before his accession to the throne in 457, so they were both unfamiliar with imperial politics and court life. He was an Illyrian from Dacia and became kourator of Aspar, an Arian general. In 457 when Marcian died, Aspar set up Leo as a cover for his own ambitions. Verina, therefore, was not a product of the imperial court, but was parachuted into it, and apparently developed a significant grasp of her status and potential power. She was depicted on the bronze coinage holding a sceptre.

In 474 after seventeen years at the head of the eastern court, she had great ambitions to rule for her grandson Leo II, while her daughter and son-in-law, Ariadne and Zeno (previously named Tarasicodissa, a warlord from Isauria) assumed imperial control. But her plans were wrecked by the death of little Leo II, and Zeno became emperor. She continued to live in the Great Palace and Zeno was terrified that she would arrange his death, having him assassinated by some palace officials. Bythe sixth century Malalas has a clearly condemnatory attitude to the ‘mother-in-law’, claiming that she plotted against Zeno twice (first bringing in her brother Basiliskos, whom she crowned and appointed consul, and later with Illos and Leontios).

On the second occasion when Ariadne begged Illos to release her mother from imprisonment in a castle in Isauria, he asked “So that she can make another emperor in place of your husband?” – so Verina’s abusive use of imperial authority was well known.

Even allowing for typically misogynistic attitudes, these qualities would certainly commend her later reputation as a witch, but later sources preserve the evidence of many statues dedicated to her.

Verina may have been fortunate to die of old age in Cherries-Papyrios the castle in Isauria that held out for four years against Zeno’s forces. But her activity as empress encapsulates the claim that women can preserve imperial power, even if they are not members of the ruling family who have been raised in the court with all the qualifications that provides. This example may have inspired her daughter Ariadne, who was, however, born into the imperial court and became the wife and mother of emperors, augusta of Zeno and then Anastasios, a Constantinopolitan civilian bureaucrat.

Aelia Ariadne.jpg

Aelia Ariadne

Aelia Ariadne (474–515) represented the dynasty that had replaced the Theodosian and personified this female hold on power even more clearly. In 478 when Odovacer’s ambassadors from Rome and Ravenna arrived with the imperial ornamenta, signifying the end of imperial rule in the West, Zeno and Ariadne advised Odovacer to acknowledge the authority of Julius Nepos, the western emperor still ruling in Dalmatia. But after the death of Nepos in 480, Zeno became sole emperor of the entire Roman world, and Ariadne sole empress.

After the deaths of Verina, her mother (ca 484), and then of her husband in 491, Ariadne dominated the court. As a widowed empress she was not allowed to rule in her own right, but the Senate of Constantinople recognised her sole power to associate an emperor to do so, and invited her to choose one. When she nominated Anastasios, the
silentiarios, an elderly court official, she provided imperial qualifications to a relatively insignificant figure. She may not have thought it possible that he should outlive her but he did, dying in 518. Their marriage of convenience functioned in the same way as Pulcheria’s: it preserved the dynastic line and established a competent male ruler.

Aelia Zenonis.jpg

Aelia Zenonis

The only other fifth century eastern empress was Aelia Zenonis (475–6) wife of Basiliskos, thus a sister-in-law of Verina. Her origins are not specified and she became augusta only when her husband was crowned in January 475. Some authors hold her responsible for Basiliskos’ efforts to overturn the council of Chalcedon; he issued a Monophysite edict abolishing its decrees. It is quite likely that a woman of Monophysite beliefs who found herself in this position would have done so. Her husband’s brief reign was brought to an end in August 476 when he was exiled to Cappadocia. The family was incarcerated in a castle at Limnae and starved to death.

(Source: “Late antique origins of the ‘Imperial Feminine’: western and eastern empresses compared”, by Judith Herrin)


Research-Selection for NovoScriptorium: Anastasius Philoponus



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