Empress Galla Placidia – Rome’s Champion of Christianity

By Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Galla Placidia was one of Rome’s last empresses. During her time as both Princess and Empress, she would see Rome as it steadily declined into a weak nation that would eventually fall in 476 into the hands of the Barbarian tribes. Galla Placidia held immense power during her years. She would be involved in the changes that would lead to Rome’s fate. She would see Rome become a Christian nation, Rome’s weakness and Barbarian tribes settled throughout the West.

Galla Placidia was the daughter of Theodosius I and his second wife, Galla. Her father had established a dynasty where they would rule by his blood and not by merit.[1] He made his sons, Arcadius, the Emperor of the East, and his second son, Honorius, the Emperor of the West. He made his daughter, Honoria, the “Most Noble Princess”.[2] It was through Theodosius’s bloodline that helped Galla establish power and eventually secure her son’s throne.

Theodosius was also a champion of Christianity. He had set up a Council of Nicaea that established the Nicene Creed.[3] He forbade paganism in his realm.[4] It was because of his Christian efforts that Galla Placidia would follow in her father’s footsteps. She would one day make Rome an entirely Christian nation. She would set up many churches, establish Church practices, and declare religious holidays within her realm.

When Theodosius I died, Galla Placidia and her brother, Emperor Honorius, went to live with the top military general, Stilicho. Stilicho was at this point the most powerful man of the Western empire. Under his care, Galla Placidia was taught Latin and Greek. She also learned how to spin, weave, and sew.[5] Stilicho planned on connecting himself to the Theodosian royal family. He married his daughter to Honorius and planned to marry Galla Placidia to his son, Eucherius, whom she was reluctant to marry.[6] Luckily for Galla Placidia, Stilicho and Eucherius met their end, so she did not have to marry him.

Honorius and Galla Placidia did not care for each other.[7] When the Visigoths sacked Rome in 410 A.D., they took Galla Placidia as a hostage. Alaric, the King of the Visigoths, kidnapped her in order to make a bargaining deal with Honorius.[8] However, Honorius did not care about his sister and left her with the Visigoths. When Alaric died shortly afterwards, Ataulf became his successor. The Visigoths settled in Spain.[9] In 414 A.D., Galla Placidia married Ataulf and became Queen of the Visigoths.[10] She gave birth to Theodosius. Historians suggest that Galla Placidia planned to displace her incompetent brother, Honorius, and set up a Gothic-Roman empire.[11] However, her dreams were short-lived because Theodosius died and Ataulf was assassinated in 415 A.D.[12]

After Ataulf’s death, Galla Placidia was returned to her brother, Honorius. He forced her to marry Constantius, a Roman general.[13] Galla Placidia made the best of her situation by giving birth to two children, Valentinus, and Justa Grata Honoria.[14]

On 8 February 421, Honorius made Constantius his co-emperor and made Galla Placidia empress.[15] Constantius immediately regretted being emperor. This was because he was not given the freedom he was used to as a soldier.[16] He died in September 421 of pleurisy.[17] When Constantius died, Galla Placida took her children and went to live in Constantinople. She stayed there until Honorius died and a usurper took his place.[18] Her nephew, Theodosius II, Emperor of the East, chose Valentinus as Emperor and made Galla Placidia Empress Regent. Galla Placidia ruled for eight years.[19]

During her time as Empress Regent, she fought off usurpers and invaders who threatened her son’s throne.[20] She presided over religious issues of her day, one of them being if Mary was the son of God.[21] She established church services, holidays, and theology that the Catholic Church would follow.[22] She built churches. Her lasting achievement was the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia that is still being visited today.[23] One thing she could not control was the growing power of her general, Aetius. He eventually became ruler during her son’s reign in all but name.[24]

After eight years of rule, Galla Placidia stepped down as regent to Valentinus. He married Theodosius II’s daughter, Licinia Eudoxia.[25] Galla Placidia’s daughter, Honoria, whom Galla Placidia made Empress at eight years old, and did not have a husband. Honoria decided to choose her own husband, Atilla the Hun.[26] This made Valentinus so mad that he threatened execution, but Galla Placidia intervened.[27] Honoria quickly disappeared from public life.[28] She died sometime before 455. Some suggest it was by her brother’s orders.[29] Galla Placidia died on 27 November 450 at the age of sixty-two.[30] She had lived a full life in the Roman political arena, and her commitment to the Christian faith changed Rome to a Christian empire. She was also Queen of the Visigoths, so it is hard to imagine a more varied life by a powerful woman.

Sources:
“Aelia Galla Placidia.” Britannica Academic, Encyclopædia Britannica, 13 Aug. 2017.
Herrin, Judith. Unrivalled Influence: Women and Empire in Byzantium. Princeton University
Press, US, 2013.
“Placidia, Galla (c. 390–450).” Dictionary of Women Worldwide: 25,000 Women Through the
           Ages, edited by Anne Commire and Deborah Klezmer, vol. 2, Yorkin Publications,
2007, p. 1520.
Salisbury, Joyce E. Rome’s Christian Empress: Galla Placidia Rules at the Twilight of the
           Empire. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2015.

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[1] Salisbury p. 18
[2] Salisbury p. 17
[3] Salisbury p. 23-24
[4] Salisbury p. 31
[5] Salisbury p. 42
[6] Salisbury p. 52
[7] Salisbury p. 43
[8] Salisbury p. 73-74
[9] Salisbury p. 100
[10] “Aelia Galla Placidia.” para. 2
[11] Herrin p. 252
[12] “Aelia Galla Placidia.” para. 2
[13] Salisbury p. 116
[14] Salisbury p. 118
[15] Salisbury p. 129
[16] Salisbury p. 130
[17] Salisbury p. 131
[18] Herrin p. 252
[19] Herrin p. 252
[20] Salisbury p. 146
[21] Salisbury pp. 203-204
[22] Salisbury pp. 203-204
[23] “Aelia Galla Placidia.” para. 2
[24] “Placidia, Galla (c. 390–450).” p. 1520
[25] Herrin p. 253
[26] Herrin p. 253
[27] Salisbury p. 189
[28] Herrin p. 254
[29] Salisbury p. 196
[30] “Aelia Galla Placidia.” para 2.






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