Aelia Eudocia (Athens, 401 – Jerusalem, 20 October 460) was the wife of Byzantine emperor Theodosius II. She was born from a Greek philosopher and was educated in rhetoric by her father, a wealthy nobleman of Athens. The story goes that Athenais took upon herself to manage the household and raise her two brothers, when […]
Aelia Eudocia (Athens, 401 – Jerusalem, 20 October 460) was the wife of Byzantine emperor Theodosius II. She was born from a Greek philosopher and was educated in rhetoric by her father, a wealthy nobleman of Athens.
The story goes that Athenais took upon herself to manage the household and raise her two brothers, when her mother died, regardless of the fact that she herself was just 12 years old. Hence it’s reasonable enough that she was pretty disappointed when, after his death in 420, she discovered that her father had practically disowned her, leaving everything to her brothers and reserving for her just the meagre sum of 100 coins.
Her aunt advised her to go to Constantinople and ask justice from the Emperor but Theodosius, who also was 20 years old, was looking for a wife. His sister Pulcheria, who was aiding him in the search, immediately fell in love with Athenais’ beauty, sophistication, dignity and intelligence, and recommended her to his brother who also fell in love with her.
They married in 421 and Athenais, who was born and raised under the Greek Gods, converted to Christianity and was renamed Eudocia, which we might agree is a really ugly name.
Upon becoming Empress, it is said that she forgave her brothers for refusing to split their inheritance with her, like in a bad fairy-tale, and Theodosius gave them official posts.
Pulcheria, however, was to regret having arranged for their union: upon giving birth for the first time, the Empress was given the title of Augusta, previously held by the Emperor’s sister.
Religious devotion was a crucial aspect of reputation, at court, and therefore it’s possible that proving her faith and power was one of the reasons for the Empress to embark on a Pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 438. By 443, however, her relationship with the Emperor had deteriorated and she was ultimately banished from court.
The story is told, among others, by a Syrian chronicler usually referred to as John Malalas: according to him, as in a Shakespearian tragedy, her husband had found another man in possession of a Phrygian apple he had given the empress as a gift, prompting him to suspect her of adultery.
Still retaining the title of Augusta, she returned to Jerusalem where she stayed from 443 to 460 and carried on political intrigues while writing both poetry and prose literature. She was said to be involved in the revolt of the Syrian Monophysites (453) and in several other incidents.
She eventually reconciled with Pulcheria and died in Jerusalem, where she was buried in one of the churches she herself had commissioned.
For some reason, the Orthodox Church venerates her as a saint and her feast day is August, 13th. She’s not to be confused with Eudokia of Heliopolis, a Samarian woman who died as a martyr and is also venerated as a Saint both by the Orthodox and the Roman Catholic Church.
In Antonio Vivaldi’s opera Atenaide, composed in 1728 and then revised in 1709, Athenais is a central character and the plot revolves around the courtship and marriage with Theodosius.
De Scudery has her writing to Theodosius himself.