Princess Anicia Juliana

Princess Anicia Juliana

Roman Princess Anicia Juliana

Patron of the arts.

(b. 462 d. 527/8)

Donor portrait of Anicia Juliana from illustrated codex

Today brings us to Princess Anicia Juliana, the last of my Theodosian Women. Although we don’t know if she ever received the title noblissima puella (“Most Noble Girl”—the Latin title closest to modern “princess”), she was the daughter of Emperor Ancius Olybrius and Empress Placidia the Younger. I consider her the last Theodosian because, even though her family continued through several generations among the nobility of the Eastern Constantinople court, Juliana and her descendants identified with her father’s ancient Roman family the Anicii rather than the upstart Theodosians from the provinces.

Born in the year after her mother and grandmother’s release from the Vandals, Juliana led a rich, comfortable, and privileged life. We can assume she was well-educated and grew up on family stories of barbarian invasions, assassinations, and family betrayals; which may have pushed her toward the arts rather than politics. Her father Olybrius died in office of natural causes when she was ten. Her mother Placidia the Younger passed when she was twenty-two and already married. But her grandmother Empress Licinia Eudoxia was there through her early marriage and motherhood, dying at the ripe old age of 71 when Juliana was thirty-three.

Juliana was considered one of the wealthiest and most aristocratic women of the Constantinople court. The source of her wealth came from both sides of the family. Theodosius provided well for his sons and daughter and the imperial members of the family accumulated additional properties and sources of income which came down to their sole surviving descendant Juliana. In addition, the Anicii were known from the time of the Roman Republic through late imperial times for producing men of distinction and power who held numerous titles such as consul and prefect in each generation–a legacy that was literally crowned with her father’s elevation to Emperor.

In other words, Juliana was a catch. The man who caught her had the impressive (and redundant) name Flavius Areobindus Dagalaiphus Areobindus. He was a general with a distinguished Gothic and Alan warrior lineage. They married in 478 and had a least one son named after his grandfather Anicius Olybrius. Juliana came close to imperial distinction—twice. During an urban riot in 512, her husband was proclaimed emperor, but he went into hiding (at the urging of Juliana?) to avoid being seen as a usurper. Her son Olybrius, the younger, married Emperor Anastasius I’s niece Irene and had imperial ambitions, but was passed over upon the emperor’s death when Justinian I took the diadem.

Juliana seemed to keep her head down in order to not have it cut off. She was best known as one of the first non-reigning female patrons of the arts, particularly in building churches and personally directing their style and adornment. This is noted in the oldest known surviving donor portrait (see image) in history: The Anicia Juliana Codex, an illuminated manuscript copy of Pedanius Dioscrides’ De Materia medica—one of the most lavishly illustrated manuscripts still in existence.

The illustration shows Juliana enthroned and surrounded by the personifications of Magnanimity and Prudence with a female labeled “Gratitude of the Arts” kissing her hand. The historian Theophanes Confessor dates the codex to 512 when the people of Hororatae gave Juliana the codex in gratitude for building a church dedicated to Theotokos (Mother of God) in their town. She died in 527/8 at age 65/66 ending the remarkable line of Theodosian women that stretched across six generations and nearly two centuries of turbulent Roman history.

Fun Fact: Juliana is the great granddaughter of Galla Placidia, my protagonist in Twilight Empress. Her husband is the great-grandson of General Aspar who helped Placidia take Western Rome back from a usurper after the death of her brother Honorius. In my story, Aspar has a crush on the charismatic Placidia which he doesn’t act on, but he publicly mourns her death in the companion book Dawn Empress. It tickles me that the actual descendants of these two people found each other and married.

Image of the donor portrait of Anicia Juliana is in the Public Domain, licensed through Creative Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=95348025

Empress Placidia, the Younger

Empress Placidia, the Younger

Roman Empress Placidia, the Younger

Taken by the Vandals during the sack of Rome.

(b. 439/40, d. 484, Empress July – November 471)

Bust of Placidia the Younger

Empress Licinia Eudoxia’s second daughter didn’t fare much better than her tragic sister, Princess Eudocia. Empress Placidia the Younger, didn’t have the chance to live up to her formidable grandmother’s reputation. Her reign as Empress of the West lasted only three months and she probably spent those in Constantinople–not enough time to cement the crumbling Western Empire back together. We’re well into the beginning of “The Fall” of Western Rome which saw nine emperors in twenty-one years with some interregnums.

We know little about Placidia the Younger’s childhood, but can assume she was well educated and schooled for a future role. Her grandmother Empress Placidia probably had a significant influence on her for the first ten years of her life, if only through her day-to-day example. It’s uncertain what influence her father Valentinian exerted, but he didn’t live up to his mother’s example of good ruler or good Christian. As it became clear that he would have no son, he schemed to use his youngest daughter to secure the succession in the West.

After his mother’s death in November 450, Valentinian III turned his resentments toward his most successful general. Aetius had played the barbarians off against one another for over two decades, enjoying enormous favor among the Roman nobles and people, as well as his army. Valentinian knew the Romans wouldn’t accept the Vandal Prince Huneric, his eldest daughter’s betrothed, as ruler. He looked for a suitable successor—other than Aetius—and landed on Majorian, a talented army man in Aetius’ command as a possible husband for Placidia and successor.

The General got wind of the possibility and sent the young Majorian home to his estates. Aetius then pressed Valentinian to marry the young princess to his own son Gaudentius. A noble named Petronius Maximus, who had imperial ambitions of his own, whispered to Valentinian that if Placidia married Gaudentius, Aetius had plans to assassinate him and put his son on the throne. Valentinian struck first and killed Aetius. He then recalled Majorian and gave him several honors. Maximus, resentful at being shut out, arranged for Valentinian’s assassination in 455.

Immediately after the emperor’s death, the players made their bids for the throne. Empress Eudoxia backed Majorian as Valentinian’s choice. Maximus literally took the diadem from the Emperor’s dead head and had Aetius’ still-resentful army proclaim him Emperor. He forced Eudoxia to marry him and married the Princess Eudocia to his son Palladius.

This royally ticked off the Vandals who invaded, sacked Rome, and carried off the Empress, her two daughters, and Gaudentius. Placidia and her mother languished in Carthage for seven years until Leo I of Constantinople ransomed them. Leo’s predecessor, Emperor Marcian had tried and failed to get the Empress and princesses released several times. I’m sure they lived in despair of ever being free of their captors.

When they finally arrived in Constantinople, Empress Eudoxia immediately set about finding a suitable husband for her twenty-two year old daughter. She found a man of impeccable Roman lineage and imperial ambitions. Anicius Olybrius had fled the chaos of the West and settled in Constantinople. He and Placidia had a daughter Anicia Juliana in 462.

Olybrius had his own shot at the diadem in 472. The West had had five emperors in the seventeen years since Valentinian’s death. Most were “appointed” by the Goth General Ricimer who became the de facto ruler of the West, pulling the strings of his puppet emperors.

Olybrius must have ticked off the Eastern Emperor at some point because he sent Placidia’s husband to the West to be murdered. Ricimer thwarted the assassination and made Olybrius Emperor in July 472. In August, Ricimer died coughing blood and Olybrius died of dropsy in November, leaving Placidia—Empress for three months—in Constantinople with a ten-year-old daughter to raise.

Side note: Majorian did become emperor in 457 under the sponsorship of Ricimer. He ruled for four years and was generally considered one of the better of the nine short-lived emperors before the West fell. Ricimer grew jealous of his popularity and had him assassinated in 461.

Coming next: Anicia Juliana, Empress Placidia’s daughter and the last of the Theodosian Women.

Image of bust sometimes reputed to be Empress Placidia the Younger, but might be her grandmother Empress Galla Placidia. Available through Creative Commons licensed by Fabian Zubia. In the Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1750609

Princess Eudoxia, the Younger

Princess Eudoxia, the Younger

Roman Princess Eudoxia, the Younger

Married a Vandal Prince. Mothered a Vandal King.

(b. 438, d. 466-474?)

Image of a bust of an unknown Roman Woman for Princess Eudoxia the younger

As we move into the fourth/fifth generation (things get complicated when cousins marry) of Theodosian Women, the warrior’s blood gets thin and the political capabilities get thinner. The eldest child of Valentinian III and Eudoxia followed more in the footsteps of the ineffective Empresses Maria and Thermantia than those of her formidable grandmothers Placidia and Athenais (aka Eudocia). Princess Eudocia’s future was traded away at age three in a peace treaty with King Gaeseric following a disastrous war with the Vandals.

The combined military might of the Eastern and Western Empire could not oust the Vandals from Northern Africa where they established a vibrant Arian Christian kingdom and persecuted orthodox Nicene (Catholic) Christians. Valentinian ceded the African territory and pledged his baby daughter’s hand in marriage to Gaeseric’s son Huneric. At that point Valentinian probably expected to have son of his own and his daughter was typical political currency.

Thirteen years later, Maximus assassinated Valentinian and forced the widowed Empress to marry him and Eudocia to marry his son. The Vandals invaded Italy at the request of Empress Eudoxia, sacked Rome for a two full weeks and carried off the twice-widowed Empress and her two daughters to Carthage where they supposedly were treated with great honor—but still held hostage.

Sometime between 455 and 460 the Roman Princess Eudocia, married the Vandal Prince Huneric. It was not a happy marriage and successful only in that they had one child, a son Hilderic born sometime in the early 460’s.

Sometime after her son’s birth, Eudocia either escaped or got permission to separate from her hated Arian husband. Huneric didn’t become King until 477, so Eudocia never ruled the Vandal people as Queen. Her mother and sister had been ransomed by Emperor Leo I of Constantinople in 462 and currently resided there. For some reason (religious? resentment of her mother?), Eudocia decided to relocate to Jerusalem where her maternal grandmother Athenais had property and was buried in 460.

Eudocia’s son Hilderic, didn’t become King upon his father’s death in 484. He didn’t want to persecute his mother’s co-religionists and the Vandal nobles rejected him in favor of a number of cousins. Hildric finally took the title King of the Vandals and Alans in 523 when he was well into his sixties or seventies. His reign was known for it’s good relations with the Constantinople court.

It’s a sign of her obscurity that there’s no image of Eudocia on coins or statuary. The image I use in this post is of “an unknown young Roman woman.” There’s also some confusion about when she died, but the unfortunate princess died young. The dates range from 466 to 474, well before her mother. She was buried in her grandmother’s mausoleum in Jerusalem.

Next up: Empress Placidia, the Younger, Empress Licinia Eudoxia’s second daughter.

Image of unknown Roman woman licensed through Creative Commons by Jacques Rougé, musée Saint-Raymond – Photothèque du Musée Saint-Raymond, musée039;archéologie de Toulouse, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84817013

Empress Licinia Eudoxia

Empress Licinia Eudoxia

Roman Empress Licinia Eudoxia

Married the man who murdered her first husband.

(b. 422, d. 493, Empress 437-455)

Medalion image of Empress Licinia Eudoxia

Empress Licinia Eudoxia (named after her infamous grandmother Aelia Eudoxia) was two when her parents betrothed her to her five-year-old western cousin (once removed) Valentinian III. As was customary, this was a political arrangement.

Empress Placidia, exiled from her brother’s court in Ravenna on trumped up treason charges, had taken refuge with her children in Constantinople at her nephew Theodosius II’s court. The old feud between his father Arcadius and Placidia made things a bit chilly between the two imperial families, but they soon thawed when Honorius suddenly died and a usurper took the Western throne. The descendants of Theodosius I couldn’t tolerate an outsider taking over part of the Roman Empire. Theodosius recognized Placidia’s son Valentinian’s right to rule as co-Emperor in the West, declared Placidia regent, and provided troops to oust the usurper. To seal the deal, he agreed to marry his daughter Eudoxia to Valentinian.

Eudoxia disappears from the record for several years but we can assume she grew up observing the strife caused by her parent’s losses and her aunt Pucheria’s extreme religiosity. Athenais most certainly saw that her beloved daughter was educated in Greek and Latin literature. Theodosius and Pulcheria probably stamped her with strong Christian values. By the time of her marriage in October 437, she may have been eager to move to her husband’s court—or not. We have no insight into her life at this time, but as a beautiful young girl of fifteen she might very well have fallen in love with her handsome husband. They had two children, both girls: Eudocia the Younger born in 438 and Placidia the Younger (named after their grandmothers) born in 439 or 440. As part of a peace treaty with the Vandal King Gaeseric, young Eudocia was betrothed to his son Huneric.

Unfortunately, Valentinian had a bad rep for being a rake and most certainly disappointed his Christian bride. Eudoxia was pregnant or recovering from birth for the first three years of their marriage, giving him ample opportunity to play the field. There were no more pregnancies. There are tons of possible reasons for this. Eudoxia might have rejected him for his infidelities or used contraception. She might have sustained some injury while giving birth that kept her from conceiving. Valentinian might have grown tired of his religious bride or contracted some disease that impaired his sexual function or hers. We’ll never know the true reason, but it had significant consequences. The male line of Theodosius died with Valentinian’s death by assassination in March 455. His cousin Theodosius II had died five years earlier from a fall from a horse.

Meanwhile, Western Rome fell into chaos. Placidia had held the Western empire together until her death in 450. The Roman General Flavius Aetius defeated the Huns at Chalons in 451 to great acclaim and joy from the Roman populace. A jealous Valentinian personally assassinated Aetius in 454 which, in turn, brought on his own assassination by Aetius’ supporters in 455.

It’s generally acknowledged that a Roman nobleman named Petronius Maximus orchestrated the deaths of both men, then immediately claimed the widowed empress as his bride. He forced Eudoxia to marry him giving Maximus a legitimate claim to the diadem. He then proceeded to consolidate that connection by marrying seventeen-year-old Eudocia to his son Palladius, considerably angering the jilted Vandals.

Empress Eudoxia did not submit willingly. She had several examples of imperial women fighting back during her lifetime. Unfortunately for Rome, she chose Honoria’s and called on King Gaeseric for assistance in rescuing his perspective daughter-in-law. Unlike the Huns, the Vandals were successful. They invaded from Northern Africa, thoroughly sacked Rome, carrying off anything of value including Eudoxia, her daughters, and Aetius’ son Gaudentius.

An angry Roman mob murdered Maximus and likely his son as they tried to escape the oncoming destruction. Emperor Leo I of Constantinople ransomed Eudoxia and her youngest daughter Placidia from the Vandals seven years later in 462. Eudoxia died a rich widow at age 71 in the city of her birth. The fate of her oldest daughter is the subject of my next post

Next: Princess Eudocia the Younger, consort to a Vandal prince.

Medallion image licensed by Creative Commons By Clio20, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=596551

Empress Justa Grata Honoria

Empress Justa Grata Honoria

Roman Empress Justa Grata Honoria

Attila the Hun invaded Rome for her hand.

(b. 418, d. 452-455?, Empress 426-450)

Coin image of Empress Justa Grata Honoria

Empress Honoria is another of my favorite Theodosian Women. First born to Empress Placidia and Emperor Constantius III, she led a troubled life with a couple significant mysteries. She grew up in the shadow of her mother ruling in the West and with the example of her aunt Pulcheria ruling in the East. By all accounts she was intelligent, ambitious, beautiful, and probably bored and frustrated. She had to sit on the sidelines as her feckless younger brother Valentinian (guided by their mother Placidia) ruled the roost. Honoria was forbidden to marry because her spouse might be a threat to her brother—the same reason her cousins Pulcheria, Arcardia, and Marina (voluntarily) became celibate.

So what’s a rich bored girl to do? Honoria had an affair with her chamberlain Eugenius and likely got pregnant. Rumors that she conspired with her lover to overthrow her brother reached Valentinian. He had Eugenius executed, Honoria betrothed to a “safe” roman noble Herculanus Bassus, and shipped her off to Constantinople to live under the austere tutelage of Pulcheria and her chaste women. The child’s fate is unknown.

The historical mystery lies in when this happened. One ancient historian claims Honoria was only sixteen and she was exiled to Pulcheria’s court for fourteen years. Another seems to indicate she was thirty or thirty-one when sent to Constantinople and immediately engaged in a second treasonous act. Modern historians split on the dates. My personal preference is for the later date. It makes for a better story.

The scorned Empress Honoria did not go quietly into exile. In 450, she sent money and a ring to King Attila of the Huns asking for his assistance in preventing the hated marriage to Bassus. Attila claimed this was a proposal of marriage and demanded half of Western Rome as Honoria’s dowry. He threatened invasion on her behalf. Emperor Theodosius sent Honoria back to his cousin with the advice to hand her over to the Hunnish king and let her live out her days as one of his many wives.

Furious, Valentinian stripped Honoria of her titles and threatened execution. Only Placidia’s pleas saved her daughter’s life. Valentinian married her off to Bassus who kept her under close guard. He was rewarded with the 452 consulship. Attila continued to demand Honoria’s hand in marriage several times during the next two years, so we can assume she was still alive during that period.

Valentinian informed Attila that Honoria was married to another and that she had no portion of rule in the empire. However, the Hunnish King used that as an excuse (among others) to invade the Roman Empire. After destroying the city of Aquileia, the Huns fell victim to a plague and retreated. Attila died at his own wedding to another bride in 453

The second mystery is when and how Honoria died. There is no mention of her in the record after 452. She’s not among the imperial hostages taken by the Vandals in 455, so historians assume she died sometime between those dates. However, she wasn’t necessarily present in Rome during the sack. Bassus could have kept her in close confinement at a remote/rural property.

After Placidia’s death in late 450, Valentinian may have taken the opportunity to rid himself of his troublesome sister. Or Honoria might have died of natural causes anytime after 452. I proposed a more fanciful end for the wayward Empress Honoria in Twilight Empress. That’s the fun part of writing historical fiction–filling in the blanks.

Fun facts: Sophia Loren played Honoria in a 1954 movie starring Anthony Quinn as the titular Attila. A 2001 two-part TV series also called Attila starred Gerard Butler as the Hunish king and Kirsty Mitchell as the lasvicious Honoria.

Next up: Empress Licinia Eudoxia, Athenais’ beloved daughter and Honoria’s sister-in-law.

Image of Empress Justa Grata Honoria on a coin available through Creative Commons licensed by Classical Numismatic Group, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=308162

Empress Aelia Eudocia (Athenais)

Roman Empress Aelia Eudocia (Athenais)

Love story or political pawn?

 (b. 400/1, d. 460, Empress 421-460)

Mosaic image of Aelia Eudocia (Athenais)

Empress Aelia Eudocia married Empress Pulcheria’s brother Theodosius II. She was born Athenais, the only daughter of a pagan Greek philosopher named Leontius who taught at the Academy in Athens. He educated his daughter and she later became known for her poetry and literature, some of which survives today. Athenais is also the protagonist in my work in progress—the third book in the Theodosian Women series. How did a beautiful, but poor, pagan girl attract the attention of the Most Christian Emperor Theodosius II?

The fanciful love story some ancient historians (writing a hundred years after the fact) tell goes like this: When Leontius died, he left his fortune to his sons Gessius and Valerius leaving only one hundred coins to Athenais because “her good fortune, surpassing that of all other women, will be enough.” (The assumption being that “good fortune” in this phrase refers to her beauty.) She asked her brothers to share, but they refused.

Athenais then went to Constantinople to live with an aunt and uncle and take her case to a higher magistrate. Supposedly, Empress Pulcheria observed Athenais make her case and was impressed, not only with the girl’s beauty, but her brains and elocution. Since she was on the lookout for a suitable wife for her brother she brought Athenais to his attention and it was love at first sight.

Athenais was baptized and took the Christian name Aelia Eudocia in tribute to Theodosius’ mother. (An aside: She used her Christian name only on formal occasions. She preferred Athenais among her family and intimate associates. I use Athenais to break up the Eudoxia/Eudocia confusing line of names.) In the love story, her wicked brothers fled after hearing she was marrying the Emperor, thinking Athenais would punish them. She recalled them and showered them with honors, showing her Christian charity and forgiveness for their sins. And everyone lived happily ever after—a romantic rags to riches story with moral themes to suit the times.

Kenneth G. Holum in his Theodosian Empresses: Women and Imperial Dominion in Late Antiquity tells a more probable story. The Hellene faction, including Theodosius’ boyhood friend Paulinus, were likely behind finding a more secular bride to counter Pulcheria’s strict religious influence at court. Pulcheria certainly wouldn’t want a sister-in-law who came with a raft of male relatives that could rival her own influence with her brother or even challenge him for the throne. Valerius, Gessius, and the uncle were given high offices and honors just before the wedding and for years after.

The previously pagan Athenais and saintly Pulcheria continued to clash over myriad political policies and church doctrine, but primarily over the big prize: influence over Theodosius. The fact that Athenais could produce a son gave her a leg up on Pulcheria until it became clear that no male heir was forthcoming. Athenais gave birth to one child who survived into adulthood, a daughter Licinia Eudoxia. A second daughter Flacilla died in childhood, and a son Arcadius was still born or died in early infancy snuffing Athenais’ fertility as a source of power.

But Athenais was smart as well as pretty. She learned the ins and outs of court politics and learned to wield her own sources of power which shifted over the years. How she did that and her fate at court is the subject of my next book. Watch for it!

Coming next: Empress Justa Grata Honoria, Placidia’s wayward daughter.

Image of mosaic showing Empress Aelia Eudocia (Athenais) licensed as Creative Commons By Elena Chochkova – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4485258