Aelia Eudocia

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For the wife of Emperor Arcadius, see Aelia Eudoxia.
Aelia Eudocia
Byzantine Empress
Full name Eudocia Augusta
Born c. 401
Birthplace Athens
Died October 20, 460(460-10-20) (aged 58 - 59)
Place of death Jerusalem
Consort to Theodosius II
Issue Licinia Eudoxia
Father Leontius

Aelia Eudocia Augusta (c. 401–460) was the wife of Theodosius II, and a prominent historical figure in understanding the rise of Christianity during the beginning of the Byzantine Empire. Eudocia lived in a world where Greek paganism and Christianity were existing side by side with both pagans and unorthodox Christians being persecuted.[1] Although Eudocia's work has been mostly ignored by modern scholars, her poetry and literary work are great examples of how her Christian faith and Greek upbringing were intertwined, exemplifying a legacy that the Byzantine Empire left behind on the Christian world.

Early life[edit]

Aelia Eudocia was born around 400 A.D. in Athens to a philosopher named Leontius. Leontius taught Rhetoric at the Academy, where people from all over the Mediterranean came to either teach or learn. Eudocia's given name was Athenais, which her parents named her after the city's protector Pallas-Athena.[2] Her father was rich, and had a magnificent house in Acropolis, that had a massive courtyard that young Athenais played in a lot as a child.[2] She had a gift for memorization, and easily learned the poetry of Homer and Pindar, which her father would recite to her.

When she was 12 years old, her mother died and she became her father's comfort, taking on the responsibilities of household chores, raising her siblings and tending to her father. She had two brothers, Gessius and Valerius, who would later be rewarded in court by their sister and brother in law. In return, her father spent all of his past time devoted to teaching her rhetoric, poetry, and philosophy. He taught her "Socratic Virtue of Knowledge, of moderation", and predicted that she would have a great destiny.[3] His teachings and role as her father did greatly prepare her for her destiny. As her father, he was essentially Athenais' everything, and when he died in 420, she was devastated. Even more devastating was that in his will, he left all property to her brothers, and left her only a 100 coins, saying that "sufficient for her is her destiny which will be the greatest of any woman".[3] This bothered Athenais even more, and didn’t think it was fair at all. She had been her father's confidante, and expected more than 100 coins. She begged for her brothers to be fair and give her an equal share of the property, but they refused. Athenais had nothing else in the world, other than 100 coins, and everything she knew and loved were gone.

Athenais then went to live with her aunt, shortly after her father's death at age 20. Her aunt told her to go to Constantinople to "ask for justice from the Emperor", that she would receive her fair share of her father's wealth.[4] Her father greatly impacted her, and influenced her literary work later on in life after she became Empress.

Life as an empress[edit]

Legend has it that when Theodosius II was 20 years old, he wanted to get married. He talked to his sister Pulcheria, who began to search for a maiden fit for her brother, that was either "patrician or imperial blood."[5] His long time childhood friend Paulinus also helped Theodosius in his search.[5] The Emperor's search had begun fortuitously at the same time that Athenais had arrived in Constantinople. Pulcheria had heard about this young girl, who had only 100 coins to her name, and when she met her she was "astonished at her beauty and at the intelligence and sophistication with which she presented her grievance."[5] Upon reporting back to her brother, she told him she had "found a young girl, a Greek maid, very beautiful, pure and dainty, eloquent as well, the daughter of a philosopher," and young Theodosius who was full of desire and lust fell in love instantly.[5]

Athenais had been raised pagan, and had to convert to Christianity in order to marry Theodosius II. The Emperor renamed her Eudocia and made her his wife. They were married on June 7, 421 and there were "reports that Theodosius celebrated his wedding with chariot races in the hippodrome."[6] Her brothers, who had rejected her after their father's death, were fearful of the punishment they thought they were going to receive since she became Empress, so they fled. However instead of punishing them, Eudocia called them back to Constantinople, and Theodosius rewarded them. He made Gessius praetorian prefect of Illycricum and made Valerius magister officiorum.[7] They were rewarded because Eudocia believed that their mean actions had come from jealousy of her destiny, not from a vengeful dark place. He also honored his best friend, Paulinus with magister officiorum, for he had helped find his wife.[7] However, this rags to riches story, though it claims to be authentic and is accepted among historians, leads one to believe that tale may have been twisted due to the detail of how the romance was portrayed. The earliest version of this story appeared more than a century after Eudocia's death in the "World Chronicle of John Malalas, an author who did not always distinguish between authentic history and a popular memory of events infused with folk-tale motifs."[7] The facts are that she was the daughter of Leonitius and she did originally have the name Athenais, according to the Greek historian Socrates of Constantinople, and a contemporary historian named Priscus of Panion; however they leave out any mention of Pulcheria's role in playing match-maker for her brother.[6] The historians Sozomen and Theodoret did not included Eudocia in their history because they were written after Eudocia had fallen into disgrace.[7]


Eudocia had three children with Theodosius II.[8] Licinia Eudoxia, born in 422, was the oldest. Licinia Eudoxia had been betrothed to her cousin, the western emperor Valentinian III since her birth, and did marry on October 29, 437.[9] The second child, Flaccilla, died in 431.[10] Arcadius was the only son and died in infancy. Only a year after she gave birth to her first child, Eudocia was proclaimed Augusta by her husband on January 2, 423.[11]


Upon being named Augusta, she succeeded her sister in law, Pulcheria who had been Augusta since 414. The relationship between the two women consisted of rivalry over power. Eudocia was jealous over the amount of power Pulcheria had within the court, while Pulcheria was jealous of the power Eudocia could claim from her. Their relationship created a "pious atmosphere" in the imperial court, and is probably an explanation as to why Eudocia traveled to the Holy Land in 438.[12] Eudocia went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 438, bringing back with her holy relics to prove her faith.[10] Her relationship with her husband had deteriorated, and with much plea from Melania, a wealthy widow from Palestine and good friend of Eudocia, Theosodius allowed her to go.[13] On her way to Jerusalem, she stopped in Antioch, where "she delivered an encomium of Antioch before the senate of the city, casting it in Homeric hexameters. In it she included the line 'Of your proud line and blood I claim to be.'"[14]

The historical study Theodosian Empresses. Women and Imperial Dominion in Late Antiquity (1982) by Kenneth Holum, further introduced the suggestion that Leontius was a native of Antioch rather than Athens, drawing from the "traditional link" between the two cities and their philosophers. The argument is considered doubtful as the building activity of Eudocia in the 420s focused on Athens rather than Antioch.[15] Holum suggests tha Eudocia may have been named after the great city of Athens, but she would have been born in Antioch. Citizens of Antioch received her message with positive attitude, and she influenced them to "erect two statues in her honor, a gold statue in curia and a bronze one in the museum."[16] She even convinced her husband to "extend the walls of Antioch to take in a large suburb."[17] Furthermore, she also influenced state policy towards pagans and Jews under her husband's reign, and used the powerful influence she had to protect them from persecution.[17] Eudocia also advocated for "reorganization and expansion" of education in Constantinople.[18] Eudocia had been raised and educated in traditional and classical sophist education from Athens, but her goal was to blend classical pagan education with Christianity. This was her way of using her power as Empress to honor teachers and education, something that was very important to her in her life.


Rumor has it that Eudocia was banished from the court towards the latter part of her life for adultery. Theodosius suspected that she was having an affair with his long-time childhood friend, and court advisor Paulinus[disambiguation needed].[10] According to Malalas' account of this story, Theodosius II had given Eudocia a very large Phrygian apple, as a gift. One day, Paulinus had shown the emperor the same apple, not knowing that the emperor had given it to Eudocia as a gift. He recognized the apple, and confronted Eudocia who had sworn she had eaten it. Eudocia's denials made the emperor believe that she had fallen in love with Paulinus and was having an affair, that she would give his best friend the same apple he had given her as a symbol of his love. Theodosius had Paulinus executed, and he dismissed Eudocia from the court in 443.[14] She lived the last part of her life in Jerusalem, where she focused on writing her own literature.


Eudocia died on October 20, 460 and was buried in Jerusalem in the Church of St. Stephens.[19] The empress never returned to the imperial court in Constantinople, but "she maintained her imperial dignity and engaged in substantial euergetistic programs."[20]

Literary work[edit]

Aelia Eudocia. Colored stone inlay on marble from church of Lips monastery (Fenari Isa Mosque), Fatih, Istambul. Archeological Museum.

While Eudocia could have written a lot of literature after leaving the Court, only some of her work survived. Eudocia "wrote in hexameters, which is the verse of epic poetry, on Christian themes."[10] She wrote a poem entitled The Martyrdom of St. Cyprian in two books, of which 800 lines survived, and an inscription of a poem on the baths at Hammat Gader.[10] Her most studied piece of literature is her Homeric cento, which has been analyzed recently by a few modern scholars, such as Mark Usher and Brian Sower. Eudocia is an understudied poet and has been neglected due to "lack of complete and authoritative text.”[21]

Martyrdom of St. Cyprian[edit]

There are three books (or volumes) to this epic poem, which tells the story of how "Justa, the Christian virgin, defeated the magician Cyprian through her faith in God. Cyprian had been hired by Aglaidas to force Justa to love him. It ends with the conversion of Cyprian, his swift rise to the rank of Bishop, and Justa becoming a deaconess, with the new name, Justina."[22] This story is all fiction, although the parallels between Eudocia's character Justa and Eudocia herself are interesting, as both of them converted to Christianity and changed their names upon succeeding to power. Although some of the text has been lost, most of it has been paraphrased by Photius. The poem is very long despite not all of it surviving the centuries, and can be found in Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome, edited by I. M. Plant.

The Baths[edit]

The poem inscribed on the baths at Hammat Gader in Israel was very short, and can be included here, as evidence of her hexameter writing style. The poem was inscribed so visitors could read as they went into the pool.

I have seen many wonders in my life, countless,
But who, noble Clibanus, however many his mouths, could proclaim
Your might, when born a worthless mortal? But rather
It is right for you to be called a new fiery ocean,
Paean and parent, provider of sweet streams.
From you the thousandfold swell is born, one here, on there,
On this side boiling-hot, on that side in turn icy-cold and tepid.
Into fountains four-fold four you pour out your beauty.
Indian and Matrona, Repentius, holy Elijah,
Antoninus the Good, Dewy Galatia, and
Hygieia herself, warm baths both large and small,
Pearl, ancient Clibanus, Indian and other
Matrona, Strong, Nun, and the Patriarch's.
For those in pain your powerful might is always everlasting.
But I will sing of a god, renowned for wisdom
For the benefit of speaking mortals.[23]

Homeric Centos[edit]

The Homeric centos that Eudocia wrote is her most popular and most analyzed poem by modern scholars because Homer was a popular choice to write a centos on. Eudocia's particular centos is the longest Homeric cento, and consists of 2,344 lines.[22] This centos is a clear representation of who Eudocia was, and what she believed in. She wrote an epic poem combining her classical Athens educational background by doing a Homeric centos, but adding stories from the book of Genesis and the New Testament stories of the life of Jesus Christ.

Mark Usher analyzed this poem as a means to understand why Eudocia chose to use Homeric themes as a mean to express her biblical interpretations. According to Usher, Eudocia needed to convey human experience relating to the Bible. She used themes from the Iliad and Odyssey because "they contained all Eudocia needed to tell the Gospel story. Whenever and wherever Eudocia needed to express greatness, pain, truthfulness, deceit, beauty, suffering, mourning, recognition, understanding, fear, or astonishment, there was an apt Homeric line or passage ready in her memory to be recalled."[24] Eudocia's Homeric poetry is essential to understanding her as a Christian woman in early Byzantine Empire, and understanding her role as empress. Her classical educational background is clearly seen in her poetry, which captures her literary talent. She made a point to connect her background love for studying classical Greek literature, with her Christian beliefs.


Eudocia is a featured figure on Judy Chicago's installation piece The Dinner Party, being represented as one of the 999 names on the Heritage Floor.[25][26]


  1. ^ See Gunter Wagner, Pauline Baptism and the Pagan Mysteries (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1967), 260ff.
  2. ^ a b Jeanne Tstastaos, Empress Athenais-Edocia: A Fifth Century Byzantine Humanist. (Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1977), 10.
  3. ^ a b Tsatsos, 11
  4. ^ Tsatsos, 12.
  5. ^ a b c d Kenneth G. Holum, Theodosian Empresses, (University of California Press: Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1982), pp. 112-113.
  6. ^ a b Holum, 115.
  7. ^ a b c d Holum, 114.
  8. ^ Edited by I. M. Plant, Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome (London: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004), 198.
  9. ^ Holum, 183.
  10. ^ a b c d e Plant, p. 198
  11. ^ Holum, 123.
  12. ^ Averil Cameron, The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity (London: Routledge, 1993), 18.
  13. ^ Holum, 184.
  14. ^ a b Holum, 117.
  15. ^ Geoffrey Greatrex, "Aelia Eudocia (Wife of Theodosius II)"
  16. ^ Brian Sowers, "Eudocia: The Making of a Homeric Christian" (PhD diss., University of Cincinnati, 2008), 16.
  17. ^ a b Holum, 118.
  18. ^ Holum, 124.
  19. ^ Geoffrey Greatrex, "Aelia Eudocia (Wife of Theodosius II)," An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors, University of Ottawa (2004), (accessed on May 2, 2011).
  20. ^ Sowers, 6.
  21. ^ M. D. Usher, "Prolegomenon to the Homeric Centos," American Journal of Philology 118, no. 2 (1997): 305.
  22. ^ a b Plant, 199.
  23. ^ Plant, 207-208.
  24. ^ Mark Usher, Homeric Stitchings, (Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1998), 145.
  25. ^ "Eudocia". Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: The Dinner Party: Heritage Floor: Eudocia. Brooklyn Museum. 2007. Retrieved 16 December 2011. 
  26. ^ Chicago, 106.


  • Cameron, Averil The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity London: Routledge, 1993.
  • Chicago, Judy. The Dinner Party: From Creation to Preservation. London: Merrell (2007). ISBN 1-85894-370-1
  • Holum, Kenneth G, Theodosian Empresses, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.
  • Klein, Konstantin, "The patronage of Aelia Eudokia in Jerusalem," "Wiener Jahrbuch für Kunstgeschichte," 60/61 (2011/12): 85-95.
  • Plant, I. M., Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome: An Anthology, London: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004.
  • Sowers, Brian, "Eudocia: The Making of a Homeric Christian," PhD diss., University of Cincinnati, 2008.
  • Tsatsos, Jean, Empress Athenais- Eudocia: A Fifth Century Byzantine Empress, Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1977.
  • Usher, Mark David "Prolegomenon to the Homeric Centos," American Journal of Philology, 118, no. 2 (1997): 305-321.
  • Usher, Mark David, Homeric Stitchings, New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1998.

External links[edit]

Royal titles
Preceded by
Aelia Eudoxia
Byzantine Empress consort
Succeeded by