Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Monday, April 27, 2015

Aelia Eudoxia, "Abnormally Willful"

Aelia Eudoxia, Byzantine empress (married 27 April 395)


Although very little is certain about Eudoxia's early life, whether she is of Frankish descent, as some claim, or of Roman descent, as still others insist, she was clearly "barbarian" or "semi-barbarian" in the eyes of her contemporaries. (Her father may or may not have been the Frankish officer Flavius Bauto, a military commander in the late Roman Empire and mentioned as a consul in 385; nothing is known of Eudoxia's mother.) 

A gold solidus from 400-402,
bearing the image of Aelia Eudoxia
Theodosius, emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, died on 17 January 395. Three months later, on 27 April, Arcadius, the son and heir of Theodosius, married Eudoxia. Why Arcadius chose Eudoxia as his bride is just one other unknown, about which there is even more speculation--according to one story, she was just so beautiful that he couldn't resist. (The name "Aelia" is used by Byzantine empresses, as a tribute to Aelia Flavia Flacilla, the honored wife of Theodosius I.)

Her marriage raised Eudoxia to the rank of empress. Now Aelia Eudoxia, she lived fewer than ten years, but during that time, she fulfilled her "natural" and political role admirably, producing seven children, five of whom survived infancy, including a son, Theodosius, born in 401, who would succeed his father as emperor. 

Aelia Eudoxia proved also to be an influential empress. Although much of the blame laid on her for her role in court politics may have been misplaced, she did involve herself personally and energetically in church affairs, which brought her into conflict with John Chrysostom, the patriarch of Constantinople, who railed against her as Herodias: "again Herodias rages," he preached in a famous sermon, "again she dances, again she seeks to have the head of John on a plate." (Herodias still generates a great deal of spleen--check out this invective-filled essay from Bible Gateway.)

Aelia Eudoxia was also condemned as Jezebel, and it was suggested when her son was born that Arcadius was not his father--that he was the result of Aelia Eudoxia's affair with a member of the court at Constantinople. And then, of course, there is the dreadful charge that she was "arrogant," that there was in her "no little insolence," and that she was "abnormally willful."

Aelia Eudoxia, given the title of "Augusta" after the birth of her third child (a daughter), died in 404. When Arcadius died in 408, his seven-year-old son became Theodosius II, but in 414, Eudoxia's eldest surviving daughter, Pulcheria, then fifteen, declared herself as his regent--we will meet this remarkable woman later in the year on the Fourth of July!).

There is an excellent chapter on Aelia Eudoxia Augusta in Kenneth Holum's Theodosian Empresses: Women and Imperial Dominion in Late Antiquity. An excellent essay by Wendy Mayer is posted online.