Galla Placidia: Reign as Empress and Regent

Placidia moved into the palace with her brother, Honorius, when she entered Ravenna in 416.  As Honorius made no effort in the last 7 years to retrieve his sister as a hostage in the Goth’s camps, their relationship must have been somewhat awkward.  To make matters worse, Honorius still promised Placidia’s hand in marriage to his general, Constantius.  On January 1, 417 Honorius, to appease his general, forced Placidia to marry Constantius (Wikipedia, 2016).  Coercion on the side of Honorius is interesting seeing that it was Roman law and tradition is to not force women into marriage.  It may have been that Honorius was acting as Placidia’s legal guardian as she might not have been at the legal age of maturity (Sivan, 2011).  There was no formal ceremony or celebration, which would occur later, but only Honorius placing Placidia’s hand in Constantius’, making the marriage legal (Salisbury, 2015). By all accounts, Placidia severely disliked her new husband, he being particularly old and ugly.

honorius

Wikipedia. (2016). Honorius.

 

constantius

Wikipedia. (2016). Diptych of Constantius III

Around 418, Placidia gave birth to a girl named Justa Grata Honoria, hereafter called Honoria, being named after the reigning emperor (Salisbury, 2015).  Shortly thereafter, Placidia became pregnant and produced a male heir on July 2, 419, Flavius Placidus Valentinianus.  Since Honorius had produced no offspring, Valentinian was raised by his mother with the expectation to rule and reign as the next emperor of the Eastern Empire.

Reaching the pinnacle of his leadership in Rome, Constantius was appointed co-emperor of the Western Empire with Honorius in February of 421 (Salisbury, 2015).  Additionally, Placidia was finally awarded the title of Augusta or empress, and her son Valentinian was proclaimed “most noble” (Salisbury, 2015).  Curiously, Theodosius II, Placidia’s nephew (Son of Arcadius) did not approve or accept any of these titles.  This will be found significant later.  Although Placidia enjoyed her long-awaited title, Constantitus did not like this change.  Constatntius despised the “constraints of court ceremonials and greatly missed the parties that he used to enjoy” (Sivan, 2011).  However, Constantius’ reign did not last long when 7 months later, he died.

Being left without the co-emperor and general, Rome was in commotion.  During this time, there are several speculations to a new found relationship between Honorius and Placidia.  Some sources state that the emperor was showing unwanted affection towards his sister (Wikipedia, 2015).  However, some historians argue that Placidia welcomed the attention without complete incest to acquire an ally (Salisbury, 2015).  Olympiodorus records that “Such was Honorius’ affection for his sister after the death of her husband Constantius that the absence of restraint in their love for one another and their constant kissing on the mouth caused many people to entertain infamous suspicions about them” (Salisbury, 2015).  Either way, due to the rebellions in Rome and an argument with Honorius, Placidia took her two children and fled to Constantinople in 423.

children

Wikipedia. (2016) Portrait of Placidia and her children.

Placidia, Honoria, and Valentinian were greeted in Constantinople by her nephew the emperor, Theodosius II, his wife Eudocia, and his sister Pulcheria.  Back in Ravenna, Honorius died in 423 (Wikipedia, 2016).  Consequently, to avoid another usurper for the West, Theodosius II proclaimed Valentinian as the emperor.  However, because of his young age at the time, Placidia was made regent from 425-437 until Valentinian’s 18th birthday (Wikipedia, 2016).

This time period as regent allowed Placidia to finally extend the arm of leadership and control over her empire as empress.  Though Placidia was very successful in reign, her main motivation was to prepare Valentinian for his throne.  Early in his childhood, Valentinian was betrothed to Theodosius II’s daughter, Eudoxia which was most likely brought by the fruition of Placidia, Pulcheria, and Eudocia, each who were empresses as the time, to ensure the Theodosian dynasty (Salisbury, 2015).  Through accounts of new laws and establishment of dozens of churches, historians know that Placidia was in the center of the political and religious circles.   For example, we have many records of constitutions being presented to the Senate under Valentinian’s name that were clearly sent by Placidia.  One such constitution in 426 was meant to preserve the rights of the senators (Salisbury, 2015).  For her religious successes, see next blog.  Throughout her time as regent, Placidia was influential in imperial Rome.

One of Placidia’s last roles as mother before she died was protecting her daughter Honoria.  As her brother Valentinian had only produced daughters, Honoria desired to threaten Valentinian’s throne.  She devised to accomplish this by producing an heir of her own with an affair with the steward Eugenius in 449 (Salisbury, 2015).  However, after being discovered, Eugenius was put to death and Valentinian was close to executing Honoria before Placidia stepped in.  They came to a compromise by stripping Honoria of her title as empress and betrothing her to a high-ranking senator named Flavius Bassus Herculanus.

Enraged by her brother’s decision, Honoria decided to write to Attila the Hun, asking that he “avenge her marriage.  In addition she also sent a ring pledging herself to the barbarian, who made ready to go against the western empire” (Sivan, 2011).  As the most feared barbarian, Attila the Hun needed no excuse to invade Italy so he readily used the reason of claiming his bride to prepare his army.  Attila’s advances would only be stopped by the persuasive Pope Leo in 452 at the famous Battle of Catalaunian Plains in Gaul (Salisbury, 2015).

Placidia’s last days were consumed by current Catholic Church’s controversy.  A reemerged argument was the incarnation of Christ.  A popular monk was stating that although the reestablished doctrine said that Mary was the mother of God, Christ was more divine than human, making Him not like us.  After much debate and council, the church leaders agreed with Pop Leo on the nature of Christ, that He was both human and divine (Salisbury, 2015).  However, many people, particularly those in Egypt, were angered by this decision, many leaving the empire to keep their views; Placidia was never able to see the resolution of this controversy.  The pious empress and mother died peacefully in her sleep on November 27, 450 at the age of 62.  She was buried in the family mausoleum, which is estimated to now be the Chapel of Saint Petronilla.

 

 

References

Salisbury, J. (2015). Rome’s Christian empress: Galla Placidia rules at the twilight of the empire. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Sivan, H. (2011). Galla Placidia: The Last Roman Empress. New York, New York: Oxford University Press.

Wikipedia. (2016). Galla Placidia. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 13, 2016 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galla_Placidia

Wikipedia. (2016). Theodosius II. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 13, 2016 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodosius_II

 

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