Pulcheria and Eudocia
Sister and Wife of Emperor Theodosius II
Pulcheria 399 – 453 A.D.
Eudocia 401 – 460 A.D.
Of Pulcheria, Gibbon, the historian says: “She alone, among all the descendants of the great Theodosius, appears to have inherited any share of his manly spirit and abilities.” Her father, Arcadius, died when she was but nine years of age. Theodosius II. was about one year younger. A child in years, she soon showed herself to be a woman in wisdom. She became learned beyond the women of her time, could use the Latin and Greek tongues with elegance and effectiveness. She dressed simply, lived frugally, and, withal, was a devout Christian.
She and her brother Theodosius were joint rulers, but, owing to her superior abilities, she governed both the state and him. She sought to give him the bst possible instruction, but she could not give him taste or capacity. He could hunt, paint, carve, and transcribe manuscripts, but for the science of government he cared little.
She sought a wife for her brother and found one in the person of Athenais, daughter of a heathen sophist of Athens. He had left his fortune to his sons, declaring of his daughter, that her learning and beauty were in themselves a sufficient fortune.”
Driven out by her brothers, she came to Constantinople and appealed to the empress. Pulcheria was so impressed with her accomplishments, that she decided upon her for a sister-in-law. The beauty of Athenais captivated Theodosius, as her ambition had Pulcheria. She became a Christian under Pulcheria’s instruction, was married to Theodosius in 421, and was raised to the rank of Augusta. She was given the new name of Eudocia.
Her brothers she not only forgave, but raised to the dignity of consuls and prefects.
She paraphrased in verse the first eight books of the Old Testament, also the prophecies of Daniel and Zechariah. In 428 she made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem marked by showy magnificence. In Jerusalem she became infected with the Eutychian heresy, and through her influence it made considerable progress in Syria, but the misfortunes of her daughter Licinia led her to obtain a reconciliation with the Church. At Antioch she delivered an oration seated on a golden throne. Her return to Constantinople was a triumph.
Her influence superseded that of Pulcheria over Theodosius. He paid no heed to affairs of state. He did not even read the state documents which he signed. His sister, to rouse him from indolence, prepared a document, which he signed without reading, in which he sold to her is wife. Pulcheria refused to allow her to come, and showed him the paper in which he had sold to her his wife, to be a slave. The lesson did not please the emperor, and greatly offended his wife.
Pulcheria was at length banished, and Eudocia sought to rule the empire, but disorder followed. Theodosius became jealous of his wife, and publicity separated from her. The cause of his jealousy, it is said, was on account of his observing a beautiful apple which he had presented to her in the hands of Paulinus, his master of the offices. The execution of Paulinus did not appease the anger of the emperor, but Eudocia was stripped of her royal honors, and degraded in the eyes of the nation.
She made a second pilgrimage to Jerusalem, where she died. With latest breath she protested that she never transgressed the bounds of innocence and friendship with her supposed favorites.
Pulcheria was restored her old place and power. Theodosius died in 450, and his sister was unanimously proclaimed Empress of the East.
After the death of her brother, she married Marcianus, not from choice, but for the good of the empire, and raised him to the rank of Augustus. Pulcheria still held the reins of the government, although Marcianus was the nominal emperor.
She is said to have been “the first woman to whose publicly recognized sway the Romans submitted.” Gibbon, the historian, says of her: “The piety of a Christian virgin was adorned by the zeal and liberality of an empress.” With all the cares of the empire, she was a mother to the poor and suffering, and at her death she left her possessions to be used for them.
Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.