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Galla Placidia: The Pious Empress

Throughout her life, Placidia was devoted to her religion.  Her father Theodosius I was influential in spreading Christianity and attempting to defeat paganism.  In 380 Theodosius I issued the Edict of Thessalonica which declared that the “Nicene Trinitarian Christianity to be the only legitimate imperial religion and the only one entitled to call itself Catholic (Wikipedia, 2016).  This is one of the many efforts that Theodosius made to convert the Arians to Christianity.  Growing up in her father’s household, Placidia learned the benefits of promoting and supporting religion in an empire.

One of the first demonstrations of Placidia’s devotion occurred when she arrived back in Ravenna after being held hostage by the Goths.  In 417, Placidia commissioned a church to be built in the northwest section of the city dedicated to the Holy Cross (Salisbury, 2015).  Only a small chapel has survived but it gives beautiful examples of mosaics and images of Christ.  An architectural achievement of this church is the large dome that rests on the square structure; Placidia hired workers to innovate on a solution.  The structure is supported by pendentives, triangular pieces that allow the dome to float above the foundation.  This building is known as the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, however we know that she never meant it as a mausoleum and she is also not buried there (Salisbury, 2015).

Wikipedia. (2016). Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.

Placidia’s most significant involovment in the religious courts was during the unrest over the pope election.  On December 27, 418, Pope Zosimus died.  While his funeral was taking place, partisans at the Lateran basilica elected Eulalius as the new pope.  However, the next day at a different church, priests elected Boniface, who was an advisor to Pope Zosimus’ predecessor (Salisbury, 2015.  Two different factions of Roman clergy had elected their own popes thus creating chaos in the city (Wikipedia, 2016).

A letter was sent to the imperial court asking for help by a prefect in Rome named Symmachus.   History names Placidia as the one who received this message and turned it to Honorius.  Upon hearing that there was two elected popes, Honorius called a meeting with the two parties and some other churchmen on February 8th.  However, this council was ineffective and consequently, Honorius instructed both Eulalius and Boniface to stay out of Rome while he summoned another meeting to be held in June at Spoleto (Salisbury, 2015). It is during the preparation for this council that we see Placidia’s influence.

Placidia wrote two letters to invite African bishops to the council, one was addressed to Aurelius of Carthage and the other to seven additional bishops.  Placidia writes:

“We would have wished for another cause to see you and to benefit from your august presence.  But since unbridled ambition had ushered a battle over the papacy wholly incommensurate with the holy mode of life of such an office, a gathering of bishops, smaller in size than that the number that synodal customs decree, deferred a decision regarding this matter to a larger assembly of the most learned men of whom your sanctity is the foremost.  Nor should the rewards of purity and merit be revealed through anyone other than such men, once the faults that the sacred precept of the divine faith are eschewed.  Although the letters of the emperor, my blood brother, would have sufficed, I have adjoined my own request for the prompt arrival of your sanctity.  I am asking you, holy master and venerable father, that you would grant this double benefit, namely your benediction that we so desire and your much needed opinion, and laying aside all matters deign to exert your effort over confirming the bishop that none would contest.” (Sivan, 2011)

In this letter, we can surmise several things about Placidia.  She does not mention that she is the mother of an heir, or that she is the wife of the master general, but only that she is sister to the reigning emperor which grants her every authority.  Furthermore, the fact that she is writing the bishops after they have already received an invitation from Honorius suggests that Placidia was very much involved in the religious issues of the day (Salisbury, 2015).

Unfortunately, this council never took place in Spoleto.  In March Eulalius entered Rome, in violation of Honorius’ decree, to preside over the Easter ceremonies (Salisbury, 2015; Wikipedia, 2016).  Although both Honorius and Placidia favored Eulalius as pope, since he was elected first, this act of disobedience showed that he was unsuitable for the position.  The summer council was cancelled and Boniface was recognized as the new legitimate pope on April 3, 419 (Salisbury, 2015).  This election crisis demonstrated the power and leadership capability of Placidia in extending her influence over religious leaders as well as her brother.

The final example of Placidia’s devotion to Christianity was during her flight to Constantinople with her children.  After the death of her husband Constantius and an argument with Honorius, Placidia traveled across the Adriatic Sea.  As they sailed before the shipping season begun, they encountered a terrible storm that threatened their safety.  Placidia prayed to John the Evangelist that if he would keep her and her children safe, she would build a church in his honor (Salisbury, 2015).

Years later, when she was safely back in Ravenna, Placidia started construction on the basilica.  Though the structure is all that stands from bombings in 1944, we have records of the beautiful mosaic portraits of Placidia’s family.  Additionally, above these portraits is the inscription, “To the holy and most blessed apostle John the Evangelist, the Empress Galla Placidia with her son the Emperor Placidus Valentinian and her daughter the Empress Justa Grata Honoria fulfill the vow of liberation from the dangers of the sea” (Salisbury, 2015).  The church is now known as the San Giovanni Evangelista (Wikipedia, 2016).  Placidia led her life with the principle of “buildings for blessings”.  Since she was blessed with riches and wealth, Placidia generously supported the Catholic Church by building many churches over her lifetime. 250px-ravenna_1978_037

Wikipedia. (2016). San Giovanni Evangelista

Before she died in 450, Placidia wrote a letter that describes how she thought of her life.  She addressed the letter from “Galla Placidia, most pious and prosperous, perpetual Augusta and mother” (Salisbury, 2015).  By noting her peity to God before her imperial rank demonstrates the importance of religion and church in the empress’ life.  Learning from her father, Placidia led a life of religious devotion that was demonstrated in her church building, constant prayers, and pursuit of a holy life.




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 15, 2016 from

Wikipedia. (2016). Theodosius I. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 15, 2016 from

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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.


Wikipedia. (2016). Honorius.



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.


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.




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

Wikipedia. (2016). Theodosius II. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 13, 2016 from


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Galla Placidia: Sack of Rome and Wedding Bells


For Galla Placidia’s entire lifetime, barbarians, particularly the Goths, fought against the Roman Empire for two particular purposes: to obtain food and land.  As they traveled throughout modern day Europe, they plundered villages and towns in search of food to sustain their massive numbers.  Starting in 395, Alaric became the King of the Goths (Wikipedia, 2016a).  Placidia’s cousin’s husband, Stilicho and Alaric had many encounters throughout their military careers, fighting over these precious commodities.  However, due to the incompetence of Emperor Honorius, the Goths would soon take advantage over the Romans.

In the winter of 409, both the Romans and the Visogoths were in want of food.  Due to their allegiance to the emperor, the African provinces had cut of their grain supply (which served the majority of the empire) to Rome.  With the addition of Alaric’s plundering of Italy, all of Rome was in dire need.  As Alaric needed to feed close to 180,000 people, he sought to negotiate with Honorius (Salisbury, 2015).  Upon their meeting, a Gothic general, Sarus, who was paid by Honorius, turned and attacked Alaric and his men, causing considerable loses.  This enraged Alaric so he turned his forces toward Rome.

On the night of August 24, 410 the Goths entered the city through the Salarian Gate, which was opened from within.  As barbarians, the Visogoths mainly focused on looting the city, stealing much of Rome’s wealth.  However, that did not stop the destruction of the city.  According to excavations, many buildings were burned, including the palace of the historian Sallust and the Basilica Aemilia as well as statues and decorations.  One Biritsh monk named Pelagius who was present described the scene, “Rome the mistress of the world, shuddered, crushed with dismal fear at the sound of the shrieking trumpet, and the shouts of the Goths” (Salisbury, 2015).  Although this siege was bloody, the Goths were respectful to the Christians and their churches.  The Christians had considerable wealth but Alaric ordered his men to escort the Christians and their gold safely outside the city walls (Salisbury, 2015).


Wikipedia (2016). Sack of Rome.

Besides seeking gold, the Visogoths also sought out prized hostages.  As a potential empress and very valuable, Placidia was safely taken from her palace in Rome.  Historians believe that Placidia was 22 years old when she was taken hostage (McHardy & Marshall, 2004).  For an upper class woman to still be unmarried at this age was quite unusual in Rome.  Alaric entrusted his own brother-in-law, Athaulf, to capture and watch over her.  One chronicler wrote of Placidia’s circumstances, “she enjoyed all the honor and ceremony due to her imperial rank” (Salisbury, 2015).

While Placidia and the Visgoths were traveling, their leader Alaric died, giving the crown to his brother, Athaulf.  When Athaulf took over as leader, his initial goal was to take over Rome, with the Goths dominating and he the next Caesar Augustus (Salisbury, 2015).  According to some second-hand accounts who listened to Athaulf, his mind was changed to combining with the Romans and directing the Goths to a more legal tradition.  His attitude was altered “by the persuasion and advice of … Placidia, a woman, indeed, of a very keen mind and very good religiously” (Salisbury, 2015).  This was to be expected as Placidia and Athaulf spent most of their time together in camp, developing a strong relationship.  athaulf

Wikipedia. (2016). Athaulf.

As Athaulf sought to negotiate with Rome, he ran into several issues.  Emperor Honorius had promoted Constantius to master general in his army, replacing Stilicho.  Constantius desperately wanted to marry Placidia and convinced Honorius to arrange it with his military victories (Salisbury, 2015).    However, Athaulf kept raising the amount of grain he wanted from Honorius that it became impossible to follow through.  Knowing how much Constantius wanted Placidia, and his own admiration for her, Athualf decided to join the Theodosius dynasty and the Visogoths by marrying Placidia (Salisbury, 2015).

The wedding took place on January 1, 414 at a mansion in Narbonne (Wikipedia, 2016; Salisbury, 2015b).  Placidia was dressed in abundant royal silks, signifying her right to the throne (Sivan, 2011).  Interestingly, Athaulf did not dress as a Gothic king but as a Roman soldier in military garb (Sivan, 2011).  Additionally, Athaulf wore the paludamentum with a precious brooch fastened to one side.  This cloak was worn by generals and emperors, suggesting Athaulf’s desire to lead the Romans.  To further cement his intentions, during the wedding itself, Athaulf swore allegiance to Rome and everything it stood for (Sivan, 2011).

As described by Olympiodorus, Athaulf brought in gifts to his new bride including “fifty handsome young men dressed in silk clothes each bearing aloft two very large dishes, one full of gold, the other full of precious, or rather priceless stones” that were from Rome during its destruction (Sivan, 2011).   Finally, the epithalamia, which are verses and compositions to honor the bride and groom, were written by three men: Attalus, Phoebadius, and Rusticus (Sivan, 2011).  Concluding with typical music, dance, and food, Placidia’s wedding was a true Roman festival.

Historians estimate that around 415 in January, Placidia and Athaulf gave birth to a son whom they named Theodosius.  His birth secured the unification of the Goth and Roman line.  However, in July or August of that same year, Theodosius died from unknown circumstances (Salisbury, 2015).  Another blow would strike Placidia when Athaulf was assassinated just a few months after the death of Theodosius.  A trusted servant of Athaulf’s was avenging his chief Sarus who was killed by Athaulf (Salisbury).  There is much speculation of the location of this assassination; some sources state that Athaulf was killed while taking a bath (Wikipedia, 2016), while others believe they were in the stable tending the horses (Salisbury, 2015).  Athaulf’s dying wish was for Placidia to return to her brother Honorius in Constantinople and secure friendship with Rome.  To ensure her safety, Constantius (with Honorius’ agreement) sent his representative Euplutius to accompany Placidia back to Ravenna (Salisbury, 2015).    However, spending 7 years with the Visigoths in their camp, Placidia had their allegiance and therefore brought a substantial guard of Goths with her.  As Placidia entered the capitol in 416, she was prepared to take over political and religious leadership in Rome.







McHardy, F. & Marshall, E. (2004). Women’s influence on classical civilization. Psychology Press.

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. (2016a). Alaric I. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 10, 2016 from

Wikipedia. (2016b). Galla Placidia. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 12, 2016 from

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Galla Placidia: Born to Be An Empress


Wikipedia (2016). Galla Placidia


Early Life

Galla Placidia is known as the last Roman Empress.  Throughout her lifetime, she exerted much influence over the political and religious atmosphere in the imperial court.  Before a review can be given on Galla Placidia’s childhood, it is crucial to begin with her family history.  Placidia’s father was Theodosius I, who became the coemperor of the Eastern empire of Rome on January 19, 379 (Salisbury, 2015).  Although he was dedicated to his campaign and securing the safety of his empire, Theodosius wanted to secure his own dynasty.  With his marriage to the Spanish Aelia Flavia Flaccilla, he received an heir, Arcadius, and a daughter, Pulcheria, who would later die in childhood.

I believe that Flaccilla was a prominent woman figure in Placidia’s growth as a leader, although she never met her.  Theodosius, while crowning Arcadius as a young emperor, crowned Flaccilla as “Augustus”, empress.  Although it was not unusual to have a Roman Empress, Theodosius awarded her the same ceremony as her son; dressed in a “purple military cloak fastened on the right shoulder with a jeweled fibula and crowned her with a jeweled imperial diadem” (Salisbury, 2015).  Additionally, Flaccilla was imprinted onto the coinage in Rome.  This action showed no distinction between women and the status of men.  This equality founded Placidia in her search for power.  flaccilla Wikipedia (2016) Aelia Flaccilla Coin

However, shortly after the death of Theodosius’ daughter, Flaccilla also died.  As emperor, Theodosius needed to make another politically advantageous marriage, even though Flaccilla was able to produce two male heirs, Arcadius and Honorius.  Valentinian I’s son, Valentinian II was at the time the coemperor with Theodosius.  It is said by the chronicler Zosimus that Valentinian II’s mother, Justina, arranged the meeting of her daughter Galla and Theodosius to ensure the safety of Valentinian II.  Theodosius was struck by Galla’s beauty that he agreed to aid Valentinian II in exchange to marry Galla (Salisbury, 2015).

Theodosius was off conducting military affairs when Galla gave birth to their daughter, Galla Placidia.  Historians are unsure to the actual date of Placidia’s birth, however.  Due to Galla’s family circumstances, Placidia’s birth could have been as early as 388.  Additionally, Galla died in childbirth of their son in 394, so Placidia could have been born as late at 393 (Oost, 1965).  It is estimated that she was likely born in 389.  When Theodosius returned from Constantinople in 391, he granted Placidia her own household thus ensuring her financial security.  This was significant in Rome as to be granted financial independence at such a young age (Wikipedia, 2016c).

Another significant even in Placidia’s childhood occurred at the crowning of her brother, Honorius, in 393.  Placidia was awarded the title of “most noble girl” (nobilissima puella) by her father, Theodosius.  Similar to Flaccilla, this was a traditional step to becoming an empress (Salisbury, 2015).   A tragedy struck the Theodosius dynasty when Placidia was only 7 years old, Honorius at 10 years old, and Arcadius at 18 years old (Wikipedia, 2016a).  During a chariot race on January 17, 395, Theodosius died from what historians presume was severe edema (Wikipedia, 2016a).  With her mother’s death years ago, this left Placidia an orphan.  Fortunately, Theodosius’ niece and her husband, Stilicho, were able to care for Arcadius, Honorius, and Placidia.

Stilicho was a Vandal who became a high-ranking general (magister militum) in the Roman army under Theodosius.  There were several threats to the empire from barbarians so Theodosius wanted someone who could fight against and lead them, and his choice was Stilicho.  To ensure that his leadership would continue, Theodosius arranged for his favorite niece, Serena, to marry Stilicho (Salisbury, 2015).  Stilicho was written about by his contemporary and historian, Orosius, “Stilicho, sprung from the Vandals, an unwarlike, greedy, treacherous and crafty race” (Salisbury, 2015).  As Placidia had no other caretaker, Serena took the primary role of raising Placidia to be a ruler.  serena-and-stilicho

Wikipedia (2016) Diptych of Serena and Stilicho

Not much is known about the upbringing of Placidia and Serena’s daughter, Maria, who were the same age.  We assume that Serena taught Placidia and Maria according to the Roman culture which included mathematics, reading, and eventually literature.  Additionally, historians know that Placidia learned to weave and embroider (Wikipedia, 2016c).   An interesting story tells of Placidia helping Serena embroider a girth for her brother, Honorius’ horse (Salisbury, 2015).  An important note is to be made about Placidia’s brothers, Arcadius and Honorius.  As they were surrounded by luxuries and eunuchs, much is said of these future leaders as spoiled brothers who were completely incompetent to be emperors.  Neither were taught much on military strategy or how to maintain an empire.  These weaknesses will turn into consequences for all of Rome (See next blog).

As Honorius began to fulfill his duties, which were taken by Stilicho when he was underage, he surrounded himself by other counselors.  Under their advisement, particularly that of Olympius, Honorius began to question Stilicho’s loyalty.  In 408, Honorius issued his arrest, and shortly thereafter, his execution (Salisbury, 2015).  Consequently, because Serena was married to this Vandal, and was falsely accused of conspiring with the Goths during their siege of Rome, she was later killed (Wikipedia, 2016b).  There is much speculation as to the death of Serena, suggesting involvement and direction on Placidia’s part.  It is argued that Placidia despised her caretaker and wanted to remove her as the obstacle to gaining power.  Others suggest that as a good Christian woman, Placidia would never disrespect her guardian this way (Salisbury, 2015).  Regardless, Placidia was now free to start leading her country.



Oost, S. (1965). Some problems in the history of Galla Placidia. Classical Philology, 60(1), 1-10.

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

Wikipedia. (2016a). Theodosius I. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 7, 2016 from

Wikipedia. (2016b). Serena (Roman). Wikipedia. Retrieved December 7, 2016 from

Wikipedia. (2016b). Galla Placidia. Wikipedia. Retrieved December 5, 2016 from



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Alexander the Great’s Return From India

Alexander the Great

alexander_athens2  Alexander the Great (Wikipedia, 2016)




  1. Place your blog in time & space.In 327 BCE, Alexander began to move towards India. Having already conquered most of the known world, India was all that remained. Alexander began by crossing the Hindu Kush and conquering everything in the way: “Fighting was hard and merciless; on more than one occasion, Alexander massacred people who had already surrendered.” (Livius). Up to this point, Alexander had been developing a sense of divinity, believing that his choices were beyond the simple categories of right or wrong. This belief led him to attack some targets that were not necessarily important militarily, but more to bolster his prowess and persona. “He now proceeded along the Uttarāpatha (the modern Grand Trunk Road) to the east, and reached Taxila.”(Livius). Here, Alexander was persuaded by the king of Taxila to attack a nearby region. Alexander did, securing an important, if not hard fought, victory which further cemented his claim of divine support. However, following this battle, Alexander’s troops decided that they had had enough, and decided not to go on any further, so Alexander was forced to turn back.



Indian Campaign of Alexander the Great (Wikipedia, 2016)



  1. How many and what kinds of troops do you start with?  How do you get more troops?  How do you settle veterans?  Where do your troops come from?

Alexander entered Asia with “12,000 phalangists –  9,000 pezhetairoi and 3,000 hypaspists.” These pezhetairoi carried shields and usually sarissas, very long spears(15-20 ft), and the hypaspists usually carried shorter spears and larger shields. He also had about 7,000 Greek infantry. Troops were usually replenished with Persians who were then trained to fight like their new Macedonian comrades, and equipped with the same weapons and armor, while veterans were either sent home or given control over some of the newly conquered land, with some of the infantry assisting their efforts. “While the army that crossed the Hellespont in 334 BCE was mostly Macedonian, there were others from all over Greece: Agrianians, Triballians, Paeonians, and Illyrians.” (Wassson, 2014)  (Wasson, D. L. (2014).



  1. What kind of supplies do you need and how do you get them? 

As Alexander the Great traveled with his army across deserts to India, they would be in need of supplies such as food, water, leather, wood, cloth, metal, etc.  Considering the size of his army, Alexander had to consider different ways of supplying his army.  He solved this problem by building a supply chain of countries he had defeated.  By following rivers and agricultural land and stopping at supply stations of these territories and picking up and exchanging the materials they needed, the Macedonian army was able to keep marching in a swift fashion.  

Once there was a mutiny among his men however, Alexander was forced to retreat home and abandon his quest for India.  Unknown to scholars for the reason, perhaps for being the first one to make the trek or by embarrassment of looking defeated, after reaching the Indian Ocean, Alexander divided his army into three parts for the journey home (Livius, 2016).  One part would take the heavy equipment through the relatively safe route to Persia with his general Craterus (Live Science, 2013; Wikipedia, 2016).  The second was a fleet commissioned to explore the Persian Gulf under the admiral Nearchus (Wikipedia, 2016).  The third part of the broken army was led by Alexander himself through the southern route of the Gedrosian Desert (southern Iran) and Makran (Pakistan) (Live Science, 2013; Wikipedia, 2016).  

After building a town called Patala, each part of the army was refitted for the return journey (Livius, 2016).  The naval fleet suffered from bad winds due to their lack of knowledge of the tides (Live Science, 2013).  The hardest struggle was with Alexander and his army through the desert.  The first part of the desert was accessible due the monsoon season which had left a lot of rain.  They were even able to supply themselves with food for a while by building a large grain store (Livius, 2016); however, the army’s luck soon ran out.  For sixty days, the army marched through the desert with blazing heat and lack of water.  Even “baggage animals had to be butchered…the concubines of the soldiers, the merchants, and other noncombatants seem to have suffered terribly from hunger and thirst” (Livius, 2016).  It is estimated that up to three-quarters of the Macedonian army died along this trek (Live Science, 2013).


Gedrosian Desert (Wikipedia, 2016)


Parker Langeveld

  1. How do you find your way in an era without GPS and with only rudimentary maps?

One of our favorite studies of all time, and recently published by NPR is that of trying to get man to walk blindfolded in a straight line, or also trying to get man to walk in a straight line without landmarks to follow. The study can be viewed here:

As can be seen in the study, without any kind of fixed point such as the stars, mountains, sun, etc to follow as the men left the barn to simply arrive at a point not too far away on a foggy day, they did a bunch of circles and arrived exactly where they started.

We can easily deduct from these studies, the which still prove true today, and also of the which we still don’t have answers, that entire armies would have walked in circles had they not been able to see a fixed point. By day these things could easily have been mountains, rivers, the sun, or other prominent landmarks. By night, such things as the north star and moon likely were developed into their system of travel.

Also in his book, Finding Your Way Without Map or Compass, Harold Gatty suggests that other such ways include observing migrating birds and other mammals, snow drift directions, shifting sands, weather patterns, and vegetation. For example, it could be mapped rudimentarily that one is likely entering a desert if vegetation begins to dwindle and we see birds flying away from such an area. The same can be inferred with snow drift directions, as such will tell us which direction the wind blows. When we know that, we can determine which direction is likely planar and which direction more mountainous. Weather patterns, such as a flash flood, can show us where heavy water tends to flow, and will eventually lead us to a river. So, in reality of things, they let nature be their maps. And, experience allowed them to remember these things and take mental notes they could recall on future journeys through the same area.

Finally, one of the most ancient texts known to mankind today is the Holy Bible. In such is related the account in which the angel appears to the shepherds and the wise men. They were led to find the babe Jesus by the shining North Star in the night sky, which further evidences the use of landmarks as guiding tools for ancient peoples.



  1. How do you deal with the locals?  

In January 325 before the Macedonian army had reached the Indian Ocean, Alexander’s men had to fight through the countries of Mallian who lived near modern Multan (Livius, 2016). Through a tough and merciless battle, several Mallian towns- perhaps modern Kamalia and Talamba- were captured.  During the siege of the capital, Alexander jumped into the fortified city with only two of his bodyguards and was seriously wounded by an arrow that punctured his lung.  Due to the efforts of his surgeon Kritodemos of Kos, Alexander survived his injury but would suffer pain for the rest of his life (Wikipedia, 2016; Livius, 2016).  

Other countries also stood in the way of Alexander and his army on their trek home.  With the defeat of the Mallians, the Oxydracae (Ksudraka) also surrendered.  The country Sindhu was ruled by Musicanus who refused to pay homage to Alexander and therefore was invaded by the Macedonians.  Going southward, the army attacked King Oxicanus’ kingdom near modern Sukkur and the kingdom of King Sambus called Sambhu (Livius, 2016).  



  1. Discuss the make-up of the baggage train and how this affects Alexander’s actions? 

‘Under-the-yoke’ animals were used in Alexander’s baggage train (Hammond, 2011). Pack animals were also used. One of the pack animals used was the camel. Camels were efficient when it came to carrying grain (Hammond, 2011). Another animal included in the baggage train was the Nisean horse. “When Alexander conquered Persia, he demanded a tribute of thousands of Nisean horses from the captured cities” (Wikipedia, 2016).  In Asia, Alexander had a supply- train of wagons, which  were either two-wheelers, four-wheelers, or six-wheelers. “When he wished to lighten the baggage-train, he burnt some wagons (with their loads) according to one account but only the baggage taken from the wagons according to another” (Hammond, 2011). Due to the use of wagons on sand hills, the trek through the Gedrosian desert was delayed (Hammond, 2011). “Throughout the 60-day march through the desert, Alexander lost at least 12,000 soldiers, in addition to countless livestock, camp followers, and most of his baggage train” (Wikipedia, 2016). Many ‘under-the-yoke’ animals died from the lack of water. Others died from drowning in the flood or being killed by soldiers (Hammond, 2011).



  1. How do we know this information?

We know most of this information from Arrian of Nicomedia (c. 86- c. 160 AD). Arrian was a Greek “historian, public servant, military commander and philosopher of the Roman period” (Wikipedia, 2016). He wrote The Anabasis of Alexander, which is considered to be the best source we have on the military operations of Alexander the Great (Wikipedia, 2016). The Anabasis of Alexander is a primary source and includes seven books. The basis of these books is Xenophon’s account of the March of Cyrus (Wikipedia, 2016).



Hammond, N. G. L. (2011). Army transport in the fifth and fourth centuries. Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies, 24(1), 27-31.

Live Science. (2013). Alexander the Great: Facts, Biography & Accomplishments. Retrieved October 10, 2016 from

Livius. (2016). Alexander the Great. Retrieved October 10, 2016 from

Wasson, D. L. (2014). The Army of Alexander the Great. Retrieved October 10, 2016, from

Wikipedia. (2016). Arrian. Retrieved October 10, 2016 from

Wikipedia. (2016). Gedrosian Desert. Image retrieved October 10, 2016 from

Wikipedia. (2016). Indian campaign of Alexander the Great. Retrieved October 10, 2016 from

Wikipedia. (2016). Nisean Horse. Retrieved October 10,2016 from

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Hannibal’s Elephants Over the Alps

dumbledore13, weberstategirl15, stabb117, Parker Langeveld

Hannibal’s Elephants in the Alps

Hannibal’s Route

Col du Montgenevre is the most likely route because according to Hannibal’s own account of his passing, there are 5 key physical traits that the pass would have had:

  1. The pass has to offer sufficient room to build a camp for at least 20,000 soldiers, 6,000 cavalry and twenty-seven elephants
  2. The defile should begin within 15 to 30 kilometers from the summit, because Hannibal’s soldiers started to climb down on the day they left the camp on the summit;
  3. The road to Italy must be in a northerly direction: the soldiers encountered snows of the previous year when they were descending;
  4. The first part of the descent has to be narrow and steep;
  5. After this, the descent has to be less steep for about 50 kilometers, because it took Hannibal’s men three days to reach the plain;

Col du Montgenevre, between Briancon in France and Susa in Italy, is the only pass in this area which would fit the description of all 5 key points.


Hannibal in the Alps (Google, 2016)


Finally, while it can’t be said which account of later witnesses is 100% accurate, it can be said that Polybius of Megalopis was likely have the most accurate information because he interviewed various men who were actually present during these occasion.  He also personally explored the country, and he’d crossed the Alps himself to discover the most feasible route. (Livius, 2016).


Traveling with the Elephants

There are several possible ways that Hannibal got his war elephants over the Alps.

  1. According to Charles & Rhodan (2007), Syrian elephants were most likely used by Hannibal and his army.  This is because Syrian elephants were inferior in size to African elephants and much easier to train.  Training and taming the elephants would have made it easier to bring them over the Alps.  
  2. Although there is some speculation on the use of African elephants from the coin found, we know for sure that Hannibal himself had at least one Syrian elephant.  It may be thought that his train of elephants were both African and Syrian.
  3. When elephants are tamed, they are tied so they cannot wander and beaten. This goes on without food or water for days, until the elephant is finally submissive. Then, food and water are given, and the elephant spends time tied to already tamed elephants until its trainers are satisfied it can work without the other elephants (Frei, n.d.). Because of this process, tamed elephants become reliant on their handlers for subsistence. Basically, if the animals didn’t cross and climb the Alps, they wouldn’t eat or survive.
  4. Elephants follow herd instincts.  Therefore, in some accounts of Hannibal, the female elephants were able to lead the rest of the herd into undesirable terrain (O’Bryhim, 1991).
  5. Another way that Hannibal could have provided a way for the elephants to cross the Alps was by going ahead of the elephants and clearing a track for them to travel on more easily. At one point on the journey, Polybius wrote about how at one point in Hannibal’s journey, it took  three extra days work to make the track fit for the elephants to cross (Brown, 1963).



Carthaginian Coin with African Elephant (Google, 2016)


Works Cited

Brown, J. (1963). Hannibal’s Route across the Alps. Greece & Rome, 10(1), 38-46. Retrieved from


Charles, M. & Rhodan, P. (2207).Magister Elephantorvm: A reappraisal of Hannibal’s use of elephants. The Classical World, 100, 4.  


Frei, G. (n.d.). Training of elephants in zoo and circus. Retrieved October 04, 2016, from


Google. (n.d.). Hannibal in the alps (image). Retrieved October 4, 2016 from


Livius. (2016). Hannibal in the Alps. Retrieved October 4, 2016 from


O’Bryhim, S. (1991). Hannibal’s elephants and the crossing of Rhone. The Classical Quarterly, 41,


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Xenophon & the 10,000 Mercenaries

220px-xenophon    The Greek Historian, Xenophon of Athens (Wikipedia, 2016)



Cyrus the Younger was the second son of Darius II of Persia, behind his older brother, Artaxerxes II.  Upon the death of Darius in April 404, Artaxeres was proclaimed King, leaving Cyrus commander of the maritime provinces (Wikipedia, 2016).  Due to Cyrus’ belief that he was the rightful king, he plotted to kill his brother and ascend the throne (Waterfield, 2006).  After multiple attempts to assassinate his brother, Cyrus began to recruit an army who were told they were attacking the “Pisidians, a mountain tribe in southern Turkey” (Livius, 2001).  In 401, Cyrus had unified an army that included the “10,000 Greek mercenaries”, where the Athenian Xenophon, had a minor leadership position.  At “some 60 kilometers north of Babylon”, Cyrus’ army met Artaxerxes’ soldiers at the Battle of Cunaxa (Livius, 2001).  Cyrus tried to again kill his brother, but was killed in the attempt.  Although Cyrus’ army was successful against the King’s army, the defeat was useless with the death of Cyrus, leaving the army leaderless.


With the death of Cyrus, Clearchus became the Spartan General with Meno, Proxenus, Agias, and Socrates as the other leaders (Waterfield, 2006).  However, being a mercenary army with no payments, they were left without food or supplies.  Tissaphernes, the Persian general, agreed to supply Clearchus and his army with food and supplies if they would leave Persia.  Having alternative motives to get rid of the Greeks, Tissaphernes invited Clearchus and the other Greek leaders to a feast where they were then captured and decapitated (Wikipedia, 2016).  It is at this point that Xenophon took charge of the mercenary army.  Xenophon states “Socrates said that it was not those who held the sceptre who were kings and rulers… but those who knew how to rule (Waterfield, 2006).  

Xenophon lead the march of the 10,000 mercenaries across Persia towards the Black Sea.  Without food or supplies, this entailed marching across the “deserts and snow-filled mountain passes” (Waterfield, 2005).  Xenophon managed to lead this army through northern Mesopotamia with supplies that they could only obtain by diplomacy or force.  On the fifth day of a four day march through Scythenian territory, Xenophon writes they had

“reach[ed] the mountain, which was called Theches.  When the first men got there, a huge cry went up.  This made Xenophon and the rearguard think that the van too was under attack from another enemy force…But the cry kept getting louder and nearer…it was apparent to Xenophon that something of special significance was happening.  He mounted a horse…and rode up to lend assistance; and before long they could make out that the soldiers were shouting ‘The sea! The sea!’…When everyone reached the top of the mountain, they immediately fell into one another’s arms, even the generals and the company commanders, with tears in their eyes” (Waterfield, 2005).

This famous cry of “thalatta, thalatta”, “the sea, the sea!” has become infused with religion and nostalgia into historical literature (Waterfield, 2006).  Although they still had far to travel, after marching across the harsh environments of Mesopotamia, reaching the shores of the Black Sea at Trabzon, they had finally reached Greek cities.  


Parker Langeveld

The Greeks, which participated with Xenophon in the Battle of Cunaxa, lived in a time when the most common Greek warrior was a hoplite. A hoplite uses a helmet called The Corinthian. However, it is likely that Xenophon’s men used a helmet called Boeotian Helmet, because it did not impede vision and was much lighter than the standard helmet of the time. Xenophon recommended this helmet for it’s purposes, specifically for cavalry soldiers.



The Ten Thousand were composed of many different groups of people. These groups include “4,000 hoplites under Xenias the Arcadian (until he left the army in Syria),  1,500 hoplites and 500 light infantry under Proxenus of Boeotia, 1,000 hoplites under Sophaenetus the Stymphalian, 500 hoplites under Socrates the Achaean, 300 hoplites and 300 peltasts under Pasion the Megaran (until he left the army in Syria), 1000 hoplites, 800 Thracian peltasts, and 200 Cretan archers (and more than 2,000 men who came from Xenias and Pasion when they deserted) under Clearchus of Sparta, 3,000 hoplites under Sosis the Syracusan, 1,000 hoplites under Sophaenetus the Arcadian, 700 hoplites under Chirisophus the Spartan, 1,000 hoplites and 500 Thessalian peltasts under Menon, and 400 Greek deserters from Artaxerxes’ army” (Wikipedia, 2015).

The Ten Thousand were also “backed up by a fleet of 35 triremes under Pythagoras the Spartan and 25 triremes under Tamos the Egyptian, as well as 100,000 Persian troops under Ariaeus the Persian”  (Wikipedia, 2015).



Cyrus the Younger wanted to take the Persian throne from his older brother, Arsaces. (Wikipedia, 2016). This is how the battle of Cunaxa began (Wikipedia, 2016). Cyrus believed he was the rightful heir to the kingdom because he was born when his father was king. Arsaces was born earlier than Cyrus, when their father was not king (Waterfireld, 2006).  Arsaces inherited the Persian throne as Artaxerxex II during the year 404 BC (Wikipedia, 2016). Cyrus the Younger and Artaxerxex II fought against each other in the Battle of Cunaxa. Artaxerxes II was fighting to defend his throne (Wikipedia, 2016).


Parker Langeveld

-Department of History, United States Military Academy, Xenophons Retreat, accessed via




Their route is found in what is now modern day Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and those middle eastern countries. Towards the more northern part of their travel route, There is more shrubbery and life, without an excessive amount of desert and rock, However, As their route progresses down towards Cumaxa, it becomes increasingly desert and rocky, with almost no foliage and life. As they loop back up towards the mouth of the black sea, it continues in rocky, dry terrain until they edge near the waters, at which point foliage returns with life in the area. The biggest problem with this march would more than likely have been the scorching heat and the lack of water in such an expansible desert. Also, the terrain is full of hills that could easily wear out the men.




Following the death of Cyrus at the battle of Cunaxa, the Ten Thousand were leaderless in unknown territory. They offered command to Ariaeus, the uncle of Cyrus, who refused because of his lackluster claim to the throne. They also offered Artaxerxes their services as mercenaries, as a military force in Egypt. Artaxerxes, however, refused, leaving them in stalemate. After some time and talks, Clearchus, the Spartan General and now de facto commander of the Ten Thousand, came to a tenuous truce with Tissaphernes: food and guidance back to the sea in exchange for relative peace and money. However, Tissaphernes was constantly plotting to betray them. After attempting and failing to turn Ariaeus against the Ten Thousand, Tissaphernes finally convinced Clearchus and most of his generals, as well as twenty company commanders to come to a feast for added talks. At the feast, the company commanders were killed, and the generals were taken captive and marched into Babylon where they were killed. Then, Xenophon made a successful bid for generalship, and the Ten Thousand were openly at war with the Persians. They shed their equipment and moved quickly to the sea, trading skirmishes and losing men doing it. Xenophon ordered the creation of a small cavalry unit, about 50 horsemen for defense against the Persian cavalry.

The Ten Thousand then continued to make their way out of enemy territory, but the Persian army continued to harass and box them in. Xenophon and his men have to travel north into the mountains, escaping Tissaphernes and his army, but bringing them into the Carduchian territory. The Carduchians were vicious enough fighters that none of the other armies dared to face them — their prowess in battle and record of fierce wins frightened off opponents, and even the Persians failed to conquer them. After three days in Carduchian territory, Xenophon ordered that several captured Carduchians be interrogated, and Xenophon’s group learned about a second route to escape the Carduchian forces. Xenophon’s band used this second road to escape, but lost as many men in Carduchian territory as they did to the Persians. From the mountains, Xenophon crossed into Armenia, crossing several rivers and bluffing attacks to survive. After surviving so many fierce enemies, Xenophon’s group went into the desert and was betrayed by Tiribuzus, an enemy satrap, but survived the betrayal by preemptively attacking Titibuzus and went on to make it through another battle, this time by strategy. Xenophon’s group presented “easy targets” to the enemy, encouraging them to waste ammunition on decoys while he and his real force were in hiding. And then they found the sea.  (Waterfield, 2006)



Battle of Cunaxa. (2016). Retrieved September 22, 2016 from the Wikipedia Wiki:

Cyrus the Younger. (2001). Retrieved September 19, 2016 from Livius:


Cyrus the Younger. (n.d.). Retrieved September 19, 2016 from the Wikipedia Wiki:

Ten Thousand (Greek mercenaries). (2015). Retrieved September 22, 2016 from the Wikipedia Wiki:

Tissaphernes. (n.d.). Retrieved September, 22, 2016 from the Wikipedia Wiki:

Waterfield. R. (2005). The Expedition of Cyrus. (Xenophon, Translation). Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. (Original work written 370).

Waterfield, R. (2006). Xenophon’s Retreat: Greece, Persia, and the End of the Golden Age. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Xenophon. (n.d.). Retrieved September 22, 2016 from the Wikipedia Wiki:




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