was the daughter of Eastern Roman Emperor Arcadius
Arcadius was the Byzantine Emperor from 395 to his death. He was the eldest son of Theodosius I and his first wife Aelia Flaccilla, and brother of the Western Emperor Honorius...
and Empress Aelia Eudoxia
Aelia Eudoxia was the Empress consort of the Byzantine Emperor Arcadius.-Family:She was a daughter of Flavius Bauto, a Romanised Frank who served as magister militum in the Western Roman army during the 380s. The identity of her father is mentioned by Philostorgius...
. She was the second child born to Arcadius and Eudoxia. Her oldest sister was Flaccilla born in 397, but is assumed she had died young. Her younger siblings were Theodosius II
Theodosius II , commonly surnamed Theodosius the Younger, or Theodosius the Calligrapher, was Byzantine Emperor from 408 to 450. He is mostly known for promulgating the Theodosian law code, and for the construction of the Theodosian Walls of Constantinople...
, the future emperor and Marina, both born in 401. When her father Arcadius died in 408, her brother Theodosius II was made Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, at seven years old. On July 4, 414 a fifteen year old Pulcheria proclaimed herself regent over her brother, then thirteen, and made herself Augusta and Empress of the Eastern Roman Empire. According to the ancient historian Sozomen
Salminius Hermias Sozomenus was a historian of the Christian church.-Family and Home:He was born around 400 in Bethelia, a small town near Gaza, into a wealthy Christian family of Palestine....
, in his Ecclesiastical History, Pulcheria took a vow of virginity when she became Augusta, and her sisters followed suit. Theodosius II died on July 26, 450, and Pulcheria soon married Marcian
Marcian was Byzantine Emperor from 450 to 457. Marcian's rule marked a recovery of the Eastern Empire, which the Emperor protected from external menaces and reformed economically and financially...
on November 25, 450. Marcian and Pulcheria were proclaimed Emperor and Empress of the Eastern Roman Empire. Three years later, in July of 453, Pulcheria died; she was later made a saint by the Roman Church. Pulcheria is known to have held a significant amount of power in her brother's reign as emperor. Pulcheria was also of great influence over the church and theological practices of this time. She had influence over anti-pagan policies, church building projects, and the debate over the Marian title Theotokos
Theotokos is the Greek title of Mary, the mother of Jesus used especially in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches. Its literal English translations include God-bearer and the one who gives birth to God. Less literal translations include Mother of God...
(Mother of God).
Pulcheria was born into the royal House of Theodosius, a dynasty of the later Roman empire, ruling in Constantinople. Her father was Arcadius, and her mother was Aelia Eudoxia. Like Pulcheria, her mother was also powerful and of great influence over the church, however not in the same way Pulcheria was. Arcadius' reign was marked by the conflict between his wife and the Bishop of Constantinople,“Although his reign (Arcadius) was short, it is remembered in part for the controversial conflicts Eudoxia encountered with John Chrysostom
John Chrysostom , Archbishop of Constantinople, was an important Early Church Father. He is known for his eloquence in preaching and public speaking, his denunciation of abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, and his ascetic...
, bishop of Constantinople from 398 to 404." According to the ancient historian Sozomen, in his Ecclesiastical History
, Sozomen claims that much of the rivalry was based on an ornate statue made in the honor of Eudoxia which Chrysostom condemned, “The silver statue of the empress…was placed upon a column of porphyry; and the event was celebrated by loud acclamations, dancing, games, and other manifestations of public rejoicing…John declared that these proceedings reflected dishonor on the church.” According to Sozomen, John had also condemned the empress for her grandiose style of ruling over the empire and condemned her in the church, this of course enraged the empress and John was immediately disposed of. Later in life, Pulcheria would bring back the remains of John Chrysostom and make them into relics for the church, in gratitude for his pious life. Eudoxia died in 404 and later the emperor Arcadius died in 408. The emperor left behind four young children, including a seven year old Theodosius II. Theodosius was made emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire in 408, immediately after his father died. Two praetorian prefects were selected as regents over Theodosius, one being Anthemius and the other, Antiochus; both took over as regent. Eventually Pulcheria herself would take over as regent for her brother.
The Emperor's Guardian
Once Pulcheria came of age, at fifteen, she felt, like her brother, that her family had no need for Antiochus any longer; her brother dismissed him of his duties. She then became her own brother’s regent, “In 412 Pulcheria quarreled with Antiochus, who like Anthemius had served the dynasty faithfully for a number of years, and induced her brother to dismiss him from the duties of praepositus
. She then took personal charge of the imperial family, directing its affairs with such authority that she became known in society at large as the emperor’s guardian.” Immediately when Pulcheria took authority over the imperial palace, the palace took on a much more monastic tone then compared to that of what she grew up with in her mother’s palace. Sozomen describes Pulcheria’s and her sisters' pious ways in his Ecclesiastical History
, “They all pursue the same mode of life; they are sedulous in their attendance in the house of prayer, and evince great charity towards strangers and the poor…and pass their days and their nights together in singing the praises of God.” Rituals within the imperial palace also included chanting and reciting passages in the scripture, and fasting twice a week. The sisters were known to have given up luxurious jewelry and apparel worn by most women of the imperial court of the past. Pulcheria also took on the role of providing all the training necessary for Theodosius to become a successful emperor, once he came of age. "Although the empire was technically to be ruled by Theodosius II when he would come of age, his older sister Pulcheria exercised such profound influence over him all his life that she must be considered the co-regent of the empire until her death in 453. In fact it can be said without exaggeration that Pulcheria gave the identity to her brother's reign." Pulcheria's training of Theodosius included, "...how an Emperor must walk, and ride his horse, alone or in procession; how he should sit upon his throne: how to wear his Imperial armor and robes; and how to speak with dignity. By no means must he yield to loud laughter..." Not only did Pulcheria train her brother on the duties and customs of becoming an Emperor, but she also made sure Theodosius was trained to be a pious Christian leader. Once Theodosius came of age to rule as sole Emperor, according to many historians, the teachings of his sister had been ignored. “He was by nature kind, affable, easily led…Not only was he foolishly kind; he was careless, and often he was to neglect his duty in the administration of his Empire.” This lack of power that Theodosius exemplified led to Pulcheria taking on a much larger role of authority and influence in the Empire.
Vow of virginity
At the same time Pulcheria proclaimed herself as guardian over her brother she also took a vow of virginity, and her sisters did as well following suit. Pulcheria’s reasons for a vow of virginity may have been for her deeply religious virtue as recorded by Sozomen, “She devoted her virginity to God, and instructed her sisters to do likewise. To avoid cause of scandal and opportunities for intrigue, she permitted no man to enter her palace. In confirmation of her resolution she took God, the priests, and all the subjects of the Roman empire as witnesses…” Another contemporary of Pulcheria had also described her deep piety, In a letter from Pope Leo I
Pope Leo I was pope from September 29, 440 to his death.He was an Italian aristocrat, and is the first pope of the Catholic Church to have been called "the Great". He is perhaps best known for having met Attila the Hun in 452, persuading him to turn back from his invasion of Italy...
to Pulcheria, he compliments her on her deeply religious ways "In it you clearly show how much you love the Catholic faith and how much you despise the errors of heretics." Along with being deeply pious, it is possible that Pulcheria may have had other motives to take a vow of virginity. According to ancient historians Sozomen, Socrates, and Theodoret, Pulcheria had a deep dislike for Anthemius, the former guardian of Theodosius; the reasons for her dislike of Anthemius may have been his distaste for her immense power within the empire and her unwillingness to allow Anthemius to gain power amongst the imperial court. According to more recent historian Kenneth Holum, he states that Anthemius had tried to make family ties between himself and the imperial family, “Married long since and many years Pulcheria’s senior, Anthemis naturally proposed a descendent or close relative , a grandson perhaps…born a few years earlier than Pulcheria and an excellent prospect for her hand” Pulcheria had found herself in a position where she would have to give her power up to her potential husband, for once a woman in the imperial court married her power was to be relinquished to her husband. In order for Pulcheria to keep her power within the imperial court she took a vow of virginity to ensure that another man could not share her power.
In 414 the Roman senate made Pulcheria Augusta. During her time as Augusta, Pulcheria held a great deal of power in politics and although she was a woman was treated equally among other men of power. In the senate of Constantinople lay a bust in her honor along with the other Augusti. Many important events occurred during her time as Augusta and her brother's reign as emperor; however, Pulcheria’s influence was mostly in the church. Pulcheria and her brother were known to have harbored anti Jewish sentiment, and both had started to enact laws against Jewish worship in the city of Constantinople. Before the reign of Theodosius II, synagogues were seen as private property and were protected by the imperial government. In Theodosius’s reign he enacted a law that forbade the construction of synagogues, and demanded the destruction of synagogues as well. Pulcheria and Theodosius also ordered that a group of Jews be killed after strife amongst Christians emerged in Palestine. It was well known that Pulcheria had little respect for Jewish people, stemmed by her disapproval of Nestorian theological practices; Kenneth Holum writes “Pulcheria had long nursed a special hatred for Jews, and the Nestorian heresy, which appeared to contemporaries to be of Jewish origin; no doubt had served to confirm that hatred.” Although Pulcheria was known to have strong feelings against pagans and Jews alike, she was known for her philanthropic spirit as well. She had built many churches in and around the city of Constantinople, she had also built many buildings for the poor in the city "Sozomen writes that it would take too much time to describe all the churches Pulcheria built, as well as hospitals and inns for the poor." Pulcheria's building projects were so vast in Constantinople that a whole district was named in her honor called the Pulcherianai
, "Some of these establishments were extensive enough to give the names of their proprietors to entire quarters of the city such as the 'Marina quarter' in the second region and the Pulcherianai in the eleventh." As well as contributing to the city with new churches and districts, Pulcheria contributed significantly to the church by bringing back bishops or remains of bishops who had once been dismissed as relics to the church. Pope Leo I describes Pulcheria's contributions to the church in a letter to her, "...the entire Roman Church is most grateful to you for all the works of your faith, whether having assisted envoys in every way with devoted affection and for having brought back the Catholic bishops who were ejected from their churches by an unjust sentence, or for having brought back with fitting honor to the church he governed so well the remains of Flavian of holy memory, an innocent and Catholic bishop." Pulcheria's time as Augusta was also marked with war and ongoing conflict with Persia. Pulcheria had inspired war against Persia when Persian King Yazdegerd I
Yazdegerd I, or Izdekerti , was the thirteenth Sassanid king of Persia and ruled from 399 to 421. He is believed by some to be the son of Shapur III and by others to be son of Bahram IV...
executed a Christian bishop who destroyed an Zoroastrian altar. Under the influence of Pulcheria, Theodosius sent troops into battle against Persia, the fanaticism over the war by the people of the empire was described by Sozomen as "ready to do anything for the sake of Christianity." Pulcheria and Theodosius were victorious in their invasion of Persia, and according to historians Theodosius had credited his sister's vow of virginity as the reason for victory. Surviving letters identify the source of that victory 'through the vows of his sisters.' In his view, when Pulcheria devoted her virginity to God and imposed the same vow on her sisters, she secured God's favor, causing 'every threat and war raised against her brother to disperse spontaneously.'" Theodosius had made his sister's virginity a tool of war propaganda, and because of her vow to be faithful only to God the hand of God would help Roman troops in battle against Persia. Pulcheria's power would become even greater after the death of her brother Theodosius II.
While hunting on horseback in the year 450, Theodosius II fell from his horse and injured his spine, dying two days later from the injuries. For about a month after Theodosius death Pulcheria reigned over the empire alone, and it is assumed that most of her sovereign duties consisted of arranging for a public funeral for Theodosius. Although Pulcheria was respected as an authoritative figure in Rome, the Roman senate would not make a woman be sole ruler of the empire. Therefore Pulcheria was forced to marry and co-rule the empire with her new husband, despite her vow of virginity. Since she was Augusta, it was seen that she had gone through the necessary rituals to be able to do so. Pulcheria married a man of Illyrian origin, named Marcian, Marcian was a tribune and a close associate of the Germanic general Aspar
Flavius Ardabur Aspar was an Alan patrician and magister militum of the Eastern Roman Empire. Aspar's family exerted a great influence on the Eastern Roman Emperors for half a century, from the 420s to his death in 471, over Theodosius II, Marcian and Leo I, who, in the end, had him killed.Alans...
. Marcian's origins were quite civilian like as compared to other emperors in the past, "Marcian was a man of little substance, with no ancient aristocratic or imperial blood. He was Roman, however, and thus the bond of kedeia
at once communicated eligibility for basileia
." Part of the condition of the marriage was that Marcian must obey and respect Pulcheria's vow of virginity and he complied with this, given that at the time of marriage Pulcheria was in her sixties and both had conceived no heir. In order for the marriage to not seem scandalous to the Roman republic the Church proclaimed that "Christ himself sponsored the union and that it therefore should not provoke shock or unjustified suspicions" Most of Marcian and Pulcheria's time as emperors was marked with religious conflict like issues with Nestorianism
Nestorianism is a Christological doctrine advanced by Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople from 428–431. The doctrine, which was informed by Nestorius's studies under Theodore of Mopsuestia at the School of Antioch, emphasizes the disunion between the human and divine natures of Jesus...
and the Council of Chalcedon
The Council of Chalcedon was a church council held from 8 October to 1 November, 451 AD, at Chalcedon , on the Asian side of the Bosporus. The council marked a significant turning point in the Christological debates that led to the separation of the church of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 5th...
. Although the Council of Ephesus occurred during Theodosius II reign, it was of great influence during Pulcheria and Marcian's reign.
The Council of Ephesus occurred late in in Theodosius's reign and involved two rival bishops. Nestorius
Nestorius was Archbishop of Constantinople from 10 April 428 to 22 June 431.Drawing on his studies at the School of Antioch, his teachings, which included a rejection of the long-used title of Theotokos for the Virgin Mary, brought him into conflict with other prominent churchmen of the time,...
, who was bishop of Constantinople, and Cyril of Alexandria
Cyril of Alexandria was the Patriarch of Alexandria from 412 to 444. He came to power when the city was at its height of influence and power within the Roman Empire. Cyril wrote extensively and was a leading protagonist in the Christological controversies of the later 4th and 5th centuries...
. The conflict between the two bishops is described by historian Averil Cameron, "The issue was whether, and, if so, how, Christ had two natures; the Monophysites held that he had only a divine nature, while Nestorius, and 'Nestorians' after him, emphasized the human" Nestorius was an advocate of diminishing the influence of the Mother of God, or Theotokos
, from the Church. This came into conflict with the religious values Pulcheria represented as a virgin Empress, and a rivalry between the two ensued. Underestimating Pulcheria's power, Nestorius propelled a smear campaign against Pulcheria, "Nestorius took specific action against Pulcheria. He implied that she enjoyed illicit sexual relations with at least seven lovers. He also would not accede to her demand that she be remembered in prayers as the 'bride of Christ' since she had been 'corrupted by men'. Most egregious of all, he effaced her image which he had removed from above the alter; and he refused to use her robe as an alter cover." In defense of Nestorius attacks, Pulcheria claimed that she herself had given birth to God, and that she was the Theotokos
. Nestorius fired back with a counter attack claiming that Pulcheria in fact had not given birth to God, but had given birth to the Devil. Nestorius had greatly underestimated Pulcheria's power, for she was empress, and she had Nestorius disposed of his duties as bishop of Constantinople. She had her ally Eusibius, a court official, produce an anonymous document made claiming that Nestorius was a heretic. Meanwhile Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, had publicly condemned Nestorius and had written doctrines to convince the imperial court that his doctrine of the Theotokos
was correct. Nestorius then called for a council to see what side when be made into church law. From the start, the council was heavily influenced by Cyril and Pulcheria and the council often went in their favor, " The council was weighted heavily in favor of the Cyrillians, since they had 'planted' uncouth Alexandrians to heckle the Nestorians. They drove the emperor's ambassador and the Nestorian bishops out of the session, and then declared Nestorius a heretic." With the council at a standstill with no decision made, Theodosius had to make the decision for them. On the influence of Pulcheria, Theodosius ruled in favor of Cyril that the title of Theotokos
was orthodox, "Under such public pressure Theodosius succumbed to Pulcheria's demands and had Cyril's decree deposing Nestorius read in the Great Church. Nestorius was sent back to his monastery in Antioch..." This council would later influence Marcian and Pulcheria to call for another council to dispute the importance of the Theotokos
, the Council of Chalcedon. This time Pope Leo I was the main advocate for Pulcheria's claim of Theotokos
, "...Pope Leo I forcefully intervened, sending a long letter to Bisshop Flavian of Constantinople, in which he argued for the two natures but questioned the legality of the recent condemnation of a certain Eutyches for denying them. At this the party of Dioscorus, Cyril's successor at Alexandria, was able to overturn the situation, whereupon Leo asked for a second council, calling that Ephesus the 'Robber Council'." The final word of the Council of Chalcedon was signed by 452 bishops, and it condemned the doctrines of both Nestorius and Eutyches, and developed both the doctrine's of Cyril and Pope Leo I as one; it finally made the Theotokos
orthodox law. Historian Avril Cameron explains what the Council of Chalcedon meant in greater detail, "It developed and clarified the creed of Nicaea, according to which God was Father, Son and Holy Spirit, by further proclaiming that Christ was at all times after the Incarnation fully God and fully human..." Through both councils, Pulcheria devoted the last years of her life to the idea that she was the Theotokos
, and had three church's in Constantinople dedicated to the Virgin Mary. They were the Hodegetria
A Hodegetria — or Virgin Hodegetria — is an iconographic depiction of the Theotokos holding the Child Jesus at her side while pointing to Him as the source of salvation for mankind...
, the Blachernae
Blachernae was a suburb in the northwestern section of Constantinople, the capital city of the Byzantine Empire. It was the site of a spring and a number of prominent churches were built there, most notably the great Church of St. Mary of Blachernae , built by Empress Pulcheria in circa 450,...
, and the Chalkoprateia.
It is unknown as to what day Pulcheria died but we do know that she died in the year 453, there is no mention in any texts of her origins of death, but it can be assumed that Pulcheria died of natural causes, being that she was of old age when she died. Despite her old age, Pulcheria's death had come as a shock to the people of Constantinople, "Mention of her death in the chronicles confirms that her passing, like that of Flacilla, struck like an earthquake in the dynastic city. Unlike Eudocia, she lived out her life in Constantinople and its suburbs, forming a bond with its people with even death could not sever." Even at death Pulcheria thought of way in which to help the poor of Constantinople, "In her will she reinforced that bond by instructing that all of her remaining wealth be distributed among the poor..." After her death Pulcheria was made into a Saint by the Roman Catholic Church, "...she became a saint of the church, both in West and in the East, where centuries later the faithful of Constantinople celebrated her memorial each year on September 10, bearing in mind her piety and virginity, her works of philanthropy and construction and especially her greatest triumph: 'she caused the holy synod to take place at Chalcedon'. "
Relationship with Aelia Eudocia
The relationship between Pulcheria and Eudocia, Theodosius II's wife, was a strained one. Two women over the years had developed a rivalry based on their different backgrounds and religious beliefs, despite the fact that Pulcheria had arranged the marriage of Eudocia to Theodosius. When Theodosius was twenty years old, Pulcheria sought out to find her brother a wife, Theodosius had many demands as to what kind of wife he wanted to have, "I want you to find me a young girl, very, very comely, the most beautiful ever seen in Constantinople, of royal or patrician family. And if she isn't marvelously good-looking, I have no use for her, however worthy or royal or rich she may be. But whoever was her father, if she is a virgin and very so good to look at, I take her." Pulcheria searched throughout the Empire and found a suitable wife in Eudocia. Eudocia was originally named Athenais, her name was later changed when she became empress. Born in Athens, her father was a Greek philosopher and a professor of rhetoric. When Eudocia's father died he left her with little means, only "one hundred gold coins" Eudocia then went to her aunt in Constantinople out of desperation, and it was decided that Eudocia would come before Pulcheria to petition for her lost fortune. Pulcheria saw in Eudocia the wife she wanted for her brother, "...Pulcheria felt that here was the bride she had long sought. Athenais was not only a girl of striking beauty and charm; she was one could see, of unusual intelligence and knowledge. Her father, she told the Empress, had given all care to her education in Athens, especially in matters literary and artistic." On June 7, 421, Theodosius married Athenais, her name was changed to her Christian name of Eudocia. The rivalry between the two woman was influenced by Eudocia's jealousies over Pulcheria's power in court, She had always felt jealous of her sister-in-law, Pulcheria, who for many years had held greater influence at Court then she herself had enjoyed, as Empress, as wife." Together Eudocia and the Court chamberlain Chrysaphius influenced Theodosius to rely less on the influence of his sister, Pulcheria, and more on the influence of his new wife Eudocia. This made Pulcheria leave the palace and live in "...Hebdomon, a seaport seven miles from Constantinople." The rivalry of Eudocia and Pulcheria came to a head when Eudocia left for the Holy Land, and openly supported Nestorism, "But she had been brought up in Athens in pagan ways; she had ever been devoted to the literature of her native Greece." The fact that Eudocia had openly opposed the ideas of the Theotokos
meant that she had openly opposed Pulcheria, and her religious ideals as well.
Influence over the church
Pulcheria was known to have brought many relics to various churches in Constantinople. In one iconography, the Trier Ivory, showing the translation of relics to the church. Historian Kenneth Holum describes the Ivory, "On the Ivory Theodosius wears distinctive costume and inclines slightly forward, but essentially he remains only part of the cortege and thus of the ceremonial context. The direction of the wagon's movement inexorably toward the scene a the right, toward the diminutive woman clothed in the rich costume of an Augusta...in it she deposited the holy relics." Pulcheria was also of great influence over many men of power in the church including her most staunch ally Pope Leo I. Pulcheria had also had great influence over the proceedings of the Council of Ephesus and the Council of Chalcedon.