Posted by: ken98 | April 21, 2010

The First Empress Marries a Roman Horatio Alger

Day 222 – Ken here (W)(4-21-2010)
(DEF II, v.3, ch.34,35 pp.320-330)(pages read: 1420)

A short day again here in Gibbon-land, but more fruitful than yesterday.

We end chapter 34 with the death of Theodosius II at 53, the accession of Pulcheria (his sister) as reigning empress (the first Roman empress) and her taking Marcian as her husband to be co-emperor. Chapter 35 begins the long introduction to the attacks of Attila on Gaul, and a little on the Visigoths

The Story
End of Theodosius, But No Great Shakes, His Sister Takes Over
  • Theodosius II (The Younger) (Eastern Emperor) dies, after being thrown from his horse and injuring his spine
  • The government is not affected greatly – his sister (Pulcheria) who had been ruling all along, was hailed the Empress
  • Pulcheria takes a sober, stable husband (Marcian) who becomes the emperor
  • Marcian rose out of the civil service and original low status to become a Senator (a la Horatio Alger)
  • Pulcheria takes Marcian with the understanding that their “marriage” will never be consummated
  • Marcian is considered one of the very good emperors of the Eastern Empire, reforming finance, taxes, but letting the West go its own way and allowing it to fall to pieces – some maintain Marcian had a hand in Attilla’s death in 453 (450-457)

    Attila Prepares to Attack Gaul (450)
  • Attila sends threatening embassies to both Constantinople and Ravenna – but decides on attacking Ravenna

    The Roman General Aetius and Attila the Hun – Best Buddies at First
  • General Aetius spends his youth learning war from the Huns
  • Aetius leaves his son to be educated by the Huns
  • Aetius flees to the Huns when he falls out of favor with the Western Empire
  • After the fall of General Boniface in the West, Aetius reigns alone as the power behind the throne – behind Valentinian III

    Visigoths and Gaul under Theodoric (419-451)
  • The Visigoths forge alliances by marriage between the Vandals, Suevi
  • Genseric (Vandal) accuses of Theodoric’s daughter (Genseric’s son’s wife) of trying to poison him
  • Cuts off her nose and ears and sends her back to Theodoric
  • The Visigoths do not avenge her because Genseric suggests to the Huns that they attack Gaul


    Another Watershed Crossed – Bishops in Visigothic Gaul Attempt to Prevent Romans from Attacking – Its 435 And Its Already the Middle Ages

    Bishops routinely tried to mediate between opposing armies in Medieval Europe. However, this behavior is unusual in Late Roman times, especially when the attacking party is the Roman Army, the defending party is barbarian (Visigoths living in Gaul), and the mediator who is trying to prevent bloodshed is the Orthodox Christian bishop living under the Visigothic King.

    This from Gibbon:

    Count Litorius succeeded to the command; and his presumption soon discovered that far different talents are required to lead a wing of cavalry, or to direct the operations of an important war. At the head of an army of Huns, he rashly advanced to the gates of Toulouse, full of careless contempt for an enemy whom his misfortunes had rendered prudent, and his situation made desperate. The predictions of the augurs had inspired Litorius with the profane confidence that he should enter the Gothic capital in triumph; and the trust which he reposed in his Pagan allies encouraged him to reject the fair conditions of peace which were repeatedly proposed by the bishops in the name of Theodoric

    (DEF II, v.3, p.328)

     Coin of Emperor Marcian - a gold solidus.  Marcian was one of the first "good" emperors of the Eastern Roman Empire - everyone liked him - even his very powerful wife Pulcheria - the Empress and the person REALLY in charge of the East for 40 years

    Last Word…
    Marcian – the Late Roman Horatio Alger

    Gibbon likes Marcian and describes him in glowing colors. He is a kind of latter-day self-made man. He would have been a graduate of the Carnegie Course had he been around in the early 20th century. As it is, Marcian’s is a rags-to-riches story, and Gibbon delights in telling the tale (Marcian IS considered one of the good, Late Roman, Early Eastern emperors).

    This from Gibbon:

    The emperor Theodosius did not long survive the most humiliating circumstance of an inglorious life. As he was riding or hunting in .the neighbourhood of Constantinople, he was thrown from his horse into the river Lycus: the spine of his back was injured by the fall; and he expired some days afterwards, in the fiftieth year of his age, and the forty-third of his reign.

    His sister Pulcheria, whose authority had been controlled both in civil and ecclesiastical affairs by the pernicious influence of the eunuchs, was unanimously proclaimed empress of the East; and the Romans, for the first time, submitted to a female reign. No sooner had Pulcheria ascended the throne than she indulged her own and the public resentment by an act of popular justice. Without any legal trial, the eunuch Chrysaphius was executed before the gates of the city; and the immense riches which had been accumulated by the rapacious favourite served only to hasten and to justify his punishment. Amidst the general acclamations of the clergy and people, the empress did not forget the prejudice and disadvantage to which her sex was exposed; and she wisely resolved to prevent their murmurs by the choice of a colleague who would always respect the superior rank and virgin chastity of his wife.

    She gave her hand to Marcian, a senator, about sixty years of age, and the nominal husband of Pullcheria was solemnly invested with the Imperial purple. The zeal which he displayed for the orthodox creed, as it was established by the council of Chalcedon, would alone have inspired the grateful eloquence of the catholics. But the behaviour of Marcian in a private life, and afterwards on the throne, may support a more rational belief that he was qualified to restore and invigorate an empire which had been almost dissolved by the successive weakness of two hereditary monarchs. He was born in Thrace, and educated to the profession of arms; but Marcian’s youth had been severely exercised by poverty and misfortune, since his only resource, when he first arrived at Constantinople, consisted in two hundred pieces of gold which he had borrowed of a friend. He passed nineteen years in the domestic and military service of Aspar and his son Ardaburius; followed those powerful generals to the Persian and African wars; and obtained, by their influence, the honourable rank of tribune and senator. His mild disposition and useful talents, without alarming the jealousy, recommended Marcian to the esteem and favour of his patrons; he had seen, perhaps he had felt, the abuses of a venal and oppressive administration; and his own example gave weight and energy to the laws which he promulgated for the reformation of manners

    (DEF II, v.3, ch.34, p.321-322)

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