Marcian was a member of several Roman imperial families. His father was Procopius Anthemius, Western Roman Emperor between 467 and 472, who descended from Procopius, usurper in 365-366 against Emperor Valens and relative of Emperor Julian's (360-363). Marcian's mother was Marcia Euphemia, daughter of Marcian (Eastern Roman Emperor in 450-457) with an unknown woman. Marcian had three brothers - Anthemiolus, who died in Gaul in 471, Procopius Anthemius and Romulus - and a sister, Alypia, wife of the Western magister militum Ricimer.
To strengthen the bonds between the Western and Eastern Roman empires, Marcian married Leontia, daughter of the Eastern Roman Emperor Leo I and his wife Verina (the elder sister of Leontia's, Ariadne, had married the powerful general Zeno), and was chosen as consul without colleague twice, in 469 and 472.
At the death of Leo I, his nephew Leo II, son of Zeno and Ariadne, succeeded him, but the young Emperor died that same year at the age of 7. Zeno, who had been proclaimed joint emperor with his son, became the only Eastern Roman Emperor, but his succession was not welcomed by many. The people of Constantinople, in fact, considered him a barbarian because of his Isaurian origin (he had even changed his original name, Tarasicodissa, to the Greek Zeno), while some preferred Marcian to him as his wife, Ariadne, was born while Leo I was an obscure soldier, while Leontia was born while Leo was Emperor. Zeno's power was challenged by Basiliscus, Verina's brother, who succeeded in overthrowing Zeno in 475 and held power for one year before Zeno took back the throne.
In 479 Marcian tried to overthrow again Zeno. With the help of his brothers Procopius Anthemius and Romulus, he gathered in Constantinople troops composed by both citizens and foreigners in the house of a Caesarius, south of the Forum of Theodosius, and from there they marched at the same time on the Imperial palace and on the house of Illus, an Isaurian general supporter of Zeno. The Emperor almost fell in the hands of the rebels, who, during the day, overwhelmed the imperial troops, who were hit also by the citizens from the roofs of their houses. During the night, however, Illus succeeded in moving inside Constantinople an Isaurian unit whose quarters were in the nearby Chalcedonia and in corrupting Marcian's soldiers, who allowed Zeno to flee. On the following morning Marcian, understanding that his situation was desperate and that the reinforcements of the Gothic general Theodoric Strabo would have not arrive in time, took refuge in the church of the Holy Apostles, but was arrested with his brothers.
He was sent to Caesarea in Cappadocia with his brothers. With the help of some monks, he tried to escape, but, while his brothers succeeded, he was captured and obliged to become a monk in Tarsus (Cilicia), or imprisoned in Isauria, in the fortress of Papurius. He tried to escape a second time, and this time he succeeded, but, after gathering new troops and attacking Ancyra, he was defeated and captured by Trocundus, Illus' brother.
In 484 Illus organised a revolt against Zeno. As he did not want to take the purple for himself, he freed Marcian and proclaimed him Emperor. Illus freed Verina too (Zeno had sent her in exile), and decided to depose Marcian and to elevate to the throne Leontius; Marcian was then sent to Italy to ask for Odoacer's help.
- Evagrius Scholasticus, Historia ecclesiastica, 3.26.
- John of Antioch, fragment 211.3-4, 214.2.
- Theodorus Lector, 116.10-19.
- Theophanes the Confessor, 126.35-127.11.
- John Bagnall Bury, "X.2 The Revolts of Marcian and Illus (A.D. 479‑488)", in History of the Later Roman Empire, Dover Books , 1958. pp. 395, 397-398.
- Mathisen, Ralph W., "Anthemius (12 April 467 - 11 July 472 A.D.)", De Imperatoribus Romanis
- Smith, Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology, v. 1, pp. [permanent dead link]
Imp. Caes. Procopius Anthemius Augustus II
| Consul of the Roman Empire
with Fl. Zeno
Messius Phoebus Severus,
Imp. Caes. Fl. Valerius Leo Augustus IV,
Caelius Aconius Probianus
| Consul of the Roman Empire
with Fl. Rufius Postumius Festus
Imp. Caes. Fl. Valerius Leo Augustus V