Your RDA of Irony

Another of My Byzantine Tales

October 20, 460:  Charisma Has Its Limits

The Byzantine Empress Eudocia may well have been Arianna Huffington in a previous life.  A classical scholar originally named Athenais, in 420 she converted herself into a Christian in order to marry the dull-minded Emperor Theodosius II. The marriage and crown did not give her complete control of the empire, however.  Athenais/Eudocia had to contend with her belligerent sister-in-law Pulcheria.  The older sister of Theodosius, Pulcheria was a very political nun and resented the secular, dubiously Christian empress.

You could count on the two women to be on opposite sides of every issues.  Since Pulcheria had one view of the Trinity, Eudocia felt obliged to disagree.  If the Imperial Nun wanted to persecute Jews and heretics, guess who protected them.  In this duel, Eudocia might have had an amatory advantage with the Emperor, except that she was only producing healthy daughters.  (No one thought of blaming the Emperor.)  Torn between two domineering women, Theodosius actually arrived at a Solomonic decision.  After two decades of this girl gang warfare, he let an eunuch run the Empire, and the eunuch expelled both women from court.  Pulcheria retired to a convent near Constantinople where she brooded and plotted.  Eudocia went on a grand tour, charmed them in the provinces, and awaited her comeback.

Now having only to worry about the Huns and the Persians, Theodosius should have enjoyed the respite.  One day in 450 while out riding, he apparently decided to land on his spine.  In the succession sweepstakes, Eudocia may have had  charisma but Pulcheria had proximity.  She was back at court and quickly allied to a general; the two even got married, giving a dynastic advantage to the general’s claim to the throne.  (The general, now emperor, deferred to Pulcheria’s continued vow of chastity; but since she was 51, he couldn’t have felt that deprived.)

As for the eunuch who had exiled Pulcheria, he did not enjoy a peaceful or long retirement.  And for some reason, Eudocia decided to stay in the provinces, devoting herself to writing and charitable works.  The contemplative life proved healthy; she outlived Pulcheria by seven years and died this day in 460.

However, the dynasty and the turmoil did not end with her.  Eudocia’s daughter, Eudoxia, took after her mother: a wily, political creature. Unfortunately, Eudoxia was in a far-less stable environment. Her husband, Valentian III of the Western Empire, was mercurial rather than docile; in a tantrum, he killed his best general (at a time when Rome had a real need for any competence.) Valentian was soon dead and Eudoxia was coerced into marrying the usurper. The historians and gossips of the time claimed that Eudoxia invited the Vandals to liberate her. If Genseric even needed an excuse to sack Rome, he certainly would have accepted Eudoxia’s offer.

Eudoxia and her daughter Eudocia (originality was not a trait in that family) were part of the Vandals’ plunder. The dowager Empress was allowed to return to the Eastern Empire. Her daughter, however, was obliged to marry the son of Genseric, Hunneric. In time, the resulting offspring became king of the Vandals.

It certainly was not quite the throne that Athenais had in mind.

  1. Joan Stewart Smith says:

    Cat fight!

    • Eugene Finerman says:


      You have to wonder if that eunuch–his name was Chrysaphius–acquired his streamlined condition by being caught in that no-man’s land.


  2. Michael says:

    And no repercussions from Mrs. Eygenios for the last line of paragraph 3?

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