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Wife of Theodosius II; died c. 460

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Eudocia (EUDOKIA).—Aelia Eudocia, sometimes wrongly called EUDOXIA, was the wife of Theodosius II; died c. 460. Her original name was Athenais, and she was the daughter of Leontius, one of the last pagans who taught rhetoric at Athens. Malalas and the other Byzantine chroniclers make the most of the romantic story of her marriage. Leontius when dying left nearly all his property to his two sons. To Athenais he bequeathed only 100 pieces of gold with the explanation that she would not need more, since “her luck was greater than that of all women”. She came to Constantinople to dispute this will, and was there seen by Pulcheria, the elder sister of Theodosius II, who ruled for him till he should be of age. The emperor had already expressed his wish to marry (he was just twenty years old); both he and Pulcheria were greatly delighted with Athenais. Malalas (op. cit., p. 353) enlarges on her beauty. She was instructed in the Christian Faith and baptized by the Patriarch Atticus. On June 7, 421, she married Theodosius. At her baptism she had taken the name Eudocia. Pulcheria took charge of her education in the deportment that was expected of an empress. Theodosius and Eudocia had one daughter, Eudoxia, who married the Western Caesar, Valentinian III (425-455). It seems that after the wedding a certain rivalry began between Pulcheria and Eudocia and that this was the beginning of the empress’s troubles. In 438 Eudocia made her first pilgrimage to Jerusalem; on the way she stopped at Antioch and made a speech with a quotation from Homer that greatly delighted the citizens—so much so that they set up a golden statue in her honor. From Jerusalem she brought back St. Peter’s chains, of which she sent half to her daughter in the West, who gave it to the pope. The basilica of St. Peter ad Vincula was built to receive this chain (Brev. Rom., August 1, Lect. 4-6).

In 441 Eudocia fell into disgrace through an unjust suspicion of infidelity with Paulinos, the “Master of the Offices”. Paulinos was murdered and Eudocia banished. In 442 she went back to Jerusalem and lived there till her death. She became for a time an ardent Monophysite. In 453 St. Leo I of Rome wrote to convert her. She then returned to the Catholic Faith and used her influence in Palestine in favor of the Council of Chalcedon (451). Theodosius II died in 450, Pulcheria in 453; another dynasty under Marcian took the place of the line of Theodosius the Great. Eudocia, forgotten by the world, spent her last years in good works and quiet meditation at the holy places of Jerusalem. She was buried in the church of St. Stephen, built by her outside the northern gate. Byzantine history offers few so strange or picturesque stories as that of the little pagan Athenian who, after having been mistress of the civilized world, ended her days as an ardent mystic, almost a nun, by the tomb of Christ. Eudocia wrote much poetry. As empress she composed a poem in honor of her husband’s victory over the Persians; later at Jerusalem she wrote religious verse, namely, a paraphrase of a great part of the Bible (warmly praised by Photius, Bibliotheca, 183), a life of Christ in Homeric hexameters, and three books telling the story of Sts. Cyprian and Justina (a legend about a converted magician that seems to be one version of the Faust story; see Th. Zahn, “Cyprian von Antiochien and die deutsche Faustsage”, 1887). The extant fragments of these poems were edited by A. Ludwich, “Eudociae Augustae… carminum graecorum reliquiae” (Leipzig, 1897). See also fragments in P.G., LXXXV, 832 sqq.

Another Byzantine empress of the same name (d. 404), like the above often wrongly called Eudoxia, daughter of the Frank general Bauto, and wife of Emperor Arcadius, was the cause of the first and second exile of St. John Chrysostom. After the fall of the eunuch Eutropius this beautiful but proud and avaricious woman dominated Arcadius. She was the mother of Pulcheria and Theodosius II. The homily against her attributed to St. John Chrysostom (P.G., LIX, 485) is not genuine. Cf. Tillemont, “Hist. des Empereurs” (Paris, 1701), V, 785.


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