Aelia Eudocia

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For the wife of Emperor Arcadius, see Aelia Eudoxia.
Aelia Eudocia
Byzantine Empress
Hagia Eudokia.jpg
Born c. 401
Died October 20, 460(460-10-20) (aged 58 - 59)
Spouse Theodosius II
Issue Licinia Eudoxia
Full name
Eudocia Augusta
Father Leontius

Aelia Eudocia Augusta /ˈli.ə jˈdʃə ɔːˈɡʌstə/ (Late Greek: Αιλία Ευδοκία Αυγούστα; c. 401 – 460 AD), also called Saint Eudocia, 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 either Athens or Antioch,[2][3] she was born to a family of Greek descent,[4][5][6][7][8] her father was a Greek philosopher named Leontius.[9] 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.[10] Her father was rich, and had a magnificent house in Acropolis which had a large courtyard in which young Athenais frequently played as a child.[10] She had a gift for memorization, and easily learned the poetry of Homer and Pindar, which her father would recite to her. From her father Leontius she received a thorough training in literature and rhetoric.

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 time teaching her rhetoric, poetry, and philosophy. He taught her the Socratic virtue of knowledge of moderation, and predicted that she would have a great destiny.[11] His teachings and role as her father prepared her for her destiny. Her father had a great impact on her, and influenced her literary work later on in life after she became Empress.

When he died in 420, she was devastated. In his will, he left all his property to her brothers, and left her only 100 coins, saying, "Sufficient for her is her destiny, which will be the greatest of any woman."[11] She had been her father's confidante, and expected more than 100 coins as a legacy; she begged her brothers to be fair and give her an equal share of their father's property, but they refused.

Athenais then went to live with her aunt, shortly after her father's death when she was 20. Her aunt told her to go to Constantinople to "ask for justice from the Emperor," confident she would receive her fair share of her father's wealth.[12]

Life as an empress[edit]


A coin depicting a portrait of Aelia Eudocia, 425-429 AD.

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."[13] His longtime childhood friend Paulinus also helped Theodosius in his search.[13] 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."[13] 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.[13][14]

Athenais had been raised pagan, and upon her marriage to Theodosius II converted to Christianity.[15] She then became known as Eustacia or Eustaxia.[citation needed] They were married on June 7, 421 and there were "reports that Theodosius celebrated his wedding with chariot races in the hippodrome."[16] 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 Illyricum and made Valerius magister officiorum.[17] They were rewarded because Eudocia believed that their mean actions had come from jealousy of her destiny, not from a vengeful dark place.[dubious ] He also honoured his best friend, Paulinus with the title of magister officiorum, for he had helped find his wife.[17] 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."[17] The facts are that she was the daughter of Leontius 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.[16] The historians Sozomen and Theodoret did not included Eudocia in their history because they were written after Eudocia had fallen into disgrace.[17]

Blending Christianity with Classical culture[edit]

While on her pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 438, Eudocia stopped in Antioch, and during her stay she addressed the senate of that city in Hellenic style and distributed funds for the repair of its buildings. She was very conscious of her Greek heritage,<[8] as her famous address to the citizens of Antioch showed. In an official speech to the citizens of Antioch she referred to their Greek ancestry, which she shared with them[18] 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.'"[19][20] The last words of Eudocia's oration brought down the house.[20] The citizens of Antioch celebrated the Empress Eudocia with her christian Hellenism[20] and commemorated Eudocia by erecting a golden statue of her in the curia and one of bronze in the museum.[18][20][21] On her return her position was undermined by the jealousy of Pulcheria and the groundless suspicion of an intrigue with her protégé, Paulinus, the master of the offices.

The historical study Theodosian Empresses. Women and Imperial Dominion in Late Antiquity (1982) by Kenneth Holum, further introduced the suggestion that her father, 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.[22] Holum suggests that Eudocia may have been named after the great city of Athens, but she would have been born in Antioch. She even convinced her husband to "extend the walls of Antioch to take in a large suburb."[23] 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.[23] Eudocia also advocated for "reorganization and expansion" of education in Constantinople.[24] 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 honour teachers and education, something that was very important to her in her life.


Eudocia had three children with Theodosius II.[25] 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.[26] The second child, Flaccilla, died in 431.[27] 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.[28]

Pilgrimage to Jerusalem (438-439)[edit]

A mosaic depicting Eudocia in the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Sofia, Bulgaria

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,[dubious ] and is probably an explanation as to why Eudocia travelled to the Holy Land in 438.[29] Eudocia went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 438, bringing back with her holy relics to prove her faith.[27] 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.[30]


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.[27] 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. Theodosius 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, and had given his best friend the same apple he had given to her as a symbol of his love. Theodosius had Paulinus executed and he dismissed Eudocia from the court in 443.[19]

In Jerusalem (443-460)[edit]

Eudocia returned to Jerusalem in ca. 443, where she lived for the last part of her life. In Jerusalem she focused on her writing. Here she was accused of the murder of an officer sent to kill two of her followers, for which she suffered the loss of her imperial staff;[15] she nevertheless retained great influence. Although involved in the revolt of the Syrian Monophysites (453), she was ultimately reconciled to Pulcheria and readmitted into the Orthodox Church. She died an Orthodox Christian[31] at Jerusalem on October 20, 460, having devoting her last years to literature. She was buried in Jerusalem in the Church of St. Stephens.[32] The empress never returned to the imperial court in Constantinople, but "she maintained her imperial dignity and engaged in substantial euergetistic programs."[33] Eudocia died on 20 October 460 and was buried in the Church of St Stephen,[15] one of the churches she had herself built in Jerusalem.[34]

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."[27] 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.[27] 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."[35]

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."[36] 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 Hammat Gader poem[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 it 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.[37]

The line "Of the Empress Eudocia" flanked by two crosses is set above the poem. This title line was added after the carving of the main inscription, making room for some doubt whether the poem was indeed authored by Eudocia. Clibanus is the name given to the source of the hot water. After praising his qualities and those of his many springs ("the thousandfold swell"), the poem enumerates "four-fold four", thus sixteen different parts of the bath complex, fourteen of which bear a name; these names include Hygieia (the pagan goddess of health), a whole range of pagan personal names, "holy Elijah" referring to the prophet, and two refer to Christians - a nun and a patriarch.[38]

Homeric Centos[edit]

The Homeric centos that Eudocia composed is her most popular and most analyzed poem by modern scholars because Homer was a popular choice to write a cento on. Eudocia's centos are the longest Homeric centos, and consist of 2,344 lines.[36] These centos are a clear representation of who Eudocia was, and what she believed in. She wrote an epic poem combining her classical Athens educational background by composing 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."[39] Eudocia's Homeric poetry is essential to understanding her as a Christian woman in the 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.[40][41]


  1. ^ See Gunter Wagner, Pauline Baptism and the Pagan Mysteries (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1967), 260ff.
  2. ^ "Eudocia.". Retrieved 2014-10-11. Eudocia, original name Athenais (b. c. 400, Athens—d. Oct. 20, 460, Jerusalem), wife of the Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II. She was a highly cultured woman who, in rivalry with her sister-in-law, the empress Pulcheria, exercised great influence over her husband until her withdrawal from Constantinople. Athenais, as she was then called, came from Athens, where her father, Leontius, was a pagan philosopher. 
  3. ^ Lightman, Marjorie (2008). A to Z of Ancient Greek and Roman Women. Infobase Publishing. p. 115. ISBN 9781438107943. Athenais was born in either Antioch or Athens, the daughter of Leontius, a prominent sophist and teacher of rhetoric… 
  4. ^ Duncan, Alistair (1974). The noble heritage: Jerusalem and Christianity, a portrait of the Church of the Resurrection. Longman. p. 28. ISBN 058278039X. In 438 the Empress Eudocia, wife of Theodosius II, visited Jerusalem. On her return to Constantinople, after donating towards the building of new churches, she was displaced in court circles by her sister-in-law because of her Greek origin. Only one part of her churches remains. 
  5. ^ Morgan, Robin (1996). Sisterhood is global: the international women's movement anthology. Feminist Press. p. 270. ISBN 1558611606. Greek women also were visible during the Byzantine period. In 421 CE, Emperor Theodosius II married a pagan Athenian woman, Athenais; after baptism she became Eudocia. 
  6. ^ Mahler, Helen A. (1952). Empress of Byzantium. Coward-McCann. p. 106. OCLC 331435. Athenais, daughter of the Athenian scholar, Leontius. Before the wedding she would receive in holy baptism the name of his mother, the exalted Empress Eudoxia but because of Athenais' Greek origin the name would be pronounced Eudocia. 
  7. ^ Cheetham, Nicolas (1981). Mediaeval Greece. Yale University Press. p. 12. ISBN 0300105398. Immensely proud of her Hellenic ancestry and culture, Eudocia dominated her… 
  8. ^ a b Cuming, G. J. ; Baker, Derek ; Ecclesiastical History Society (1972). Popular belief and practice: Volume 8 of Studies in church history. CUP Archive. p. 13. ISBN 052108220X. Eudocia herself, the daughter of a pagan Athenian philosopher, embraced the new faith in a mood of total acceptance. Very conscious of her Hellenic heritage, as her famous address to the citizens of Antioch showed, 
  9. ^ Bradbury, Jim (2004). The Routledge companion to medieval warfare. Routledge. p. 91. ISBN 0415221269. Theodosius married Athenais, renamed Eudocia, a Greek philosopher's daughter. 
  10. ^ a b Jeanne Tstastaos, Empress Athenais-Edocia: A Fifth Century Byzantine Humanist. (Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1977), 10.
  11. ^ a b Tsatsos, 11
  12. ^ Tsatsos, 12.
  13. ^ a b c d Kenneth G. Holum, Theodosian Empresses, (University of California Press: Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1982), pp. 112-113.
  14. ^ Holum, Kenneth G. (1989). Theodosian Empresses: Women and Imperial Dominion in Late Antiquity. University of California Press. pp. 112–114. ISBN 0520068017. When Pulcheria received the girl in the palace, she was astonished at her beauty and at the intelligence and sophistication with which she presented her grievance. Assured by the two aunts that Athenais was indeed a virgin, and, moreover, that she has received an excellent classical education from her father, the empress hastened to report to her brother. She had found "a young girl, a Greek maid, very beautiful, pure and dainty, eloquent as well, the daughter of a philosopher." "Enflamed with desire, as any youth would have been." 
  15. ^ a b c
  16. ^ a b Holum, 115.
  17. ^ a b c d Holum, 114.
  18. ^ a b Hunt, E. D. (1984). Holy Land pilgrimage in the later Roman Empire, AD 312-460, Parts 312-460. Oxford University Press. pp. 229–300. ISBN 0198264496. As the empress on a 'state visit', Eudocia contributed to building improvements in Antioch, and her stay there, obviously a famous event in the city's annals, was commemorated in a bronze statue. In a formal speech to the citizens in praise of Antioch she struck a welcome chord by referring to their Greek ancestry, which she proudly shared with them – a theme which was capped by a concluding verse adaptation of Homer. 
  19. ^ a b Holum, 117.
  20. ^ a b c d Bury, J. B. (2008). History of the Later Roman Empire from Arcadius to Irene, Volume 1. Cosimo, Inc. pp. 131–132. ISBN 1605204048. The journey of Eudocia to Jerusalem (in spring 438) was marked by her visit to Antioch, where she created a great effect by the elegant Greek oration which she delivered, posing rather as one trained in Greek rhetoric and animated with Hellenic traditions and proud of her Athenian descent, than as a pilgrim to the great christian shrine…The last words of Eudocia's oration brought down the house – a quotation from Homer, "I boast I am of your race and blood." The city that hated and mocked the Emperor Julian and his pagan Hellenism loved and feted the Empress Eudocia with her christian Hellenism ; a golden statue was erected to her in the curia and one of bronze in the museum. 
  21. ^ Brian Sowers, "Eudocia: The Making of a Homeric Christian" (PhD diss., University of Cincinnati, 2008), 16.
  22. ^ Geoffrey Greatrex, "Aelia Eudocia (Wife of Theodosius II)"
  23. ^ a b Holum, 118.
  24. ^ Holum, 124.
  25. ^ Edited by I. M. Plant, Women Writers of Ancient Greece and Rome (London: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004), 198.
  26. ^ Holum, 183.
  27. ^ a b c d e Plant, p. 198
  28. ^ Holum, 123.
  29. ^ Averil Cameron, The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity (London: Routledge, 1993), 18.
  30. ^ Holum, 184.
  31. ^ "Eudocia". Retrieved 2014-10-11. Eudocia, original name Athenais (b. c. 400, Athens—d. Oct. 20, 460, Jerusalem), wife of the Eastern Roman emperor Theodosius II…Eudocia was sympathetic to Monophysitism—a heresy that maintained that Christ's human nature is absorbed in his divine nature—but she died an orthodox Christian. 
  32. ^ Geoffrey Greatrex, "Aelia Eudocia (Wife of Theodosius II)," An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors, University of Ottawa (2004), (accessed on May 2, 2011).
  33. ^ Sowers, 6.
  34. ^ Aviva Bar-Am (14 September 2009). "St. Stephen's Monastary - The brothers' work". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 6 January 2016. 
  35. ^ M. D. Usher, "Prolegomenon to the Homeric Centos," American Journal of Philology 118, no. 2 (1997): 305.
  36. ^ a b Plant, 199.
  37. ^ Plant, 207-208.
  38. ^ Maureen W. Yeung (2002). Faith in Jesus and Paul: A Comparison with Special Reference to 'Faith that can remove mountains' and 'Your Faith has Healed/Saved you'. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2. Reihe (WUNT II), 147. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. pp. 74–76. ISBN 978-3-16-147737-9. Retrieved 6 January 2016. 
  39. ^ Mark Usher, Homeric Stitchings, (Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1998), 145.
  40. ^ "Eudocia". Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: The Dinner Party: Heritage Floor: Eudocia. Brooklyn Museum. 2007. Retrieved 16 December 2011. 
  41. ^ 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