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Aelia Eudoxia (wife of Arcadius)

Wendy Mayer

Australian Catholic University

Much like the later empress Theodora, Eudoxia has been the subject of a largely negative press. Zosimus (Historia nova 5.18.8), writing almost a century after her death, records that it was widely claimed that her fourth child, the only son and heir, Theodosius II, had been fathered by one of her husband's courtiers, John; and himself goes on to describe her as "abnormally willful", stating that she ultimately served the insatiable desires of the palace eunuchs and the women who surrounded her, by whom, he alleges, she was controlled (5.24.2). In a continuation of the use of excessively emotive terms he describes her attitude towards the bishop of Constantinople at that time, John Chrysostom, as one of "hatred" (5.23.2). Philostorgius, who lived in Constantinople throughout Arcadius' reign, is slightly more positive in that he states that "the woman was not a dullard like her husband" and that "she possessed no small degree of barbarian arrogance" (HE 11.6).[[1]] Ps-Martyrius, also a direct contemporary, in his funeral oration on John Chrysostom alludes to her as a second Jezebel, a captive of the devil "clothed in the insatiable power of greed and considerable wickedness" (P 478a-b).[[2]] The overwhelming image of the empress as, at best, emotionally volatile is not helped by Socrates' allegation that, on hearing that Eudoxia was machinating to convoke a second synod against him, John Chrysostom preached a notorious sermon which began: "Again Herodias rages…again she dances, again she seeks to have the head of John on a plate" (HE 6.18.4-5).[[3]]

From such tenuous roots, a variety of negative portrayals of Eudoxia have grown. At the very least, Eudoxia is usually said to have moved with fellow conspirators to take over power on the death of Eutropius.[[4]] At the extreme she has been characterized as "cruel, full of hatred, greedy for money and honors, hot-tempered, of a corrupt nature, with a warped conscience", totally subject to her passions, "employing in turns subterfuge and violence in order to satisfy her ambitions" - in short, all of the worst excesses that one would expect of a woman of barbarian lineage.[[5]] Most views fall somewhere in between, but the majority include elements of "barbarian" volatility and of the notion of a power- and glory-hungry individual.[[6]] The few moderating views have been those of Geoffrey Nathan, who argues that Eudoxia is more notorious than her real influence upon the eastern principate warrants,[[7]] and Kenneth Holum, who reviews and presents the details of Eudoxia's life as empress with a dispassionate eye.[[8]]

When attempting to recover the historical Eudoxia it takes a great deal of care to sift fact from fiction. In particular, the sources which 'document' her relationship with John Chrysostom and with other bishops who visited Constantinople during her short life,[[9]] reveal a side to her role as empress which has been either underestimated or overlooked. Attention to the way in which Eudoxia involved herself in ecclesiastical affairs not only restores some much-needed balance to our picture of her, but also helps to bring to light some of the motives behind the more negative of the reactions to her in the sources.

Eudoxia's Early Life

Little is known about Eudoxia's early life, other than that she was the daughter of Bauto (Philostorgius, HE 11.6), a Frank of some prominence in the western court, since he was magister militum in the early 380s under Gratian and a consul in 385.[[10]] Holum claims that her mother was Roman and that she was therefore only a semibarbara, but it is not clear from what source he derives that information.[[11]] Whatever the case, it is evident from the way she is portrayed in the sources that her "barbarian" ancestry was sufficient for the label to be used to effect against her. We next hear of her at Constantinople in the context of the household of Promotus (Zos., 5.3.2), which gives rise to the assumption that she had somehow made her way to the eastern capital after her father's death in 388.[[12]] Since Promotus was magister militum in the east in 386-91, with a common link with Bauto in the person of Arbogastes,[[13]] who succeeded Bauto as magister militum in the west, it is possible that the transition of Eudoxia from her father's household to that of Promotus may have occurred before Bauto's death and have had something to do with Promotus' elevated status in the eastern court at that time and her father's ambitions. Whatever the case, as Holum has noted,[[14]] Zosimus asserts that after Promotus' death in 392, his two sons either lived with or moved in the ambit of the sons (Honorius and Aracadius) of the emperor, Theodosius, and that one of Promotus' sons had Eudoxia with him. If this is the case, then Eudoxia was raised in close proximity to the eastern court, under the tutelage of first Promotus and then his widow, Marsa, and was well known to Arcadius before their marriage.  In support of a privileged upbringing and perhaps also the possibility that she was being groomed as a vehicle for her father's or foster-father's ambitions, is the information that Eudoxia had access to education, since we are told that her former tutor Pansophius was consecrated bishop of Nicomedia in 402 (Soz., HE 8.6.6).

Why Eudoxia was Arcadius' bride of choice, and why the wedding was conducted on 27 April 395, scarcely three months after the death of his father on 17 January of that year and well before Theodosius' body had arrived back in Constantinople for burial, are open to debate, but best explained by either the desire of the grand chamberlain Eutropius to wrest control of the young emperor away from Rufinus, the praetorian prefect of the east and appointed guardian, or the desire of the young emperor himself to take control of his own life.[[15]] Several factors lead to this conclusion. Rufinus was distracted on the death of Theodosius by Stilicho's attempt to take control of both east and west; Promotus and Rufinus had been bitter enemies and it had been Rufinus who had engineered Promotus' downfall (Zos., 4.51); and Rufinus had a daughter of marriageable age through whom he intended to secure his control over Arcadius. Under these conditions, whatever the motivation, Arcadius' selection of and swift marriage to a wife from the household of Promotus would have been a slap in the face to the ambitions of Rufinus. To soften the story and to account for Arcardius' choice of Eudoxia as a bride over the daughter of Rufinus, it is alleged that Eudoxia was of extraordinary beauty and that Eutropius manipulated Arcadius into favoring her by showing him a portrait (Zos. 5.3), but it is unlikely that this is more than a convenient fiction, especially so when we consider that they had known each other for some six or seven years.

Eudoxia's role at court
It is only after her rise to the position of empress, namely in the nine and a half years between 27 April, 395 and her premature death on 6 October, 404 that we have an opportunity to observe Eudoxia at work, and then only in a very piecemeal way. From the point of view of her role as a Roman matron and as the vehicle for securing the Theodosian dynasty, Eudoxia was a model consort. Once she fell pregnant in late 396, she produced children with increasing rapidity. Out of seven pregnancies, five children survived infancy (Flaccilla b. 17 June, 397; Pulcheria b. 19 January, 399; Arcadia b. 3 April, 400; Theodosius II b. 10 April, 401; and Marina b. 10 February, 403).[[16]] If ps-Martyrius is to be believed, two pregnancies (due late in 403 and late in 404, respectively) ended not in miscarriages, as previously supposed, but stillbirths, the second leading to the death of the empress from hemorrhaging and infection.[[17]]

The precise nature of Eudoxia's role in political affairs is more difficult to assess. It is probable that her fecundity gave her considerable standing at court. It is also clear that in the progress of events the rise to dominance of the Gothic general Gainas, the dismissal of Eutropius from office in late July or early August 399, the latter's execution in mid-September or later in 399,[[18]] and the subsequent proclamation of Eudoxia as Augusta on 9 January, 400 are connected and were defining points in the lives of both Eudoxia and her husband. Who was behind the move to have the honorific title bestowed on her, however, and what it meant in effect, are matters of dispute.[[19]] In terms of her standing within the eastern capital and provinces her elevation to Augusta did result in a real and documentable change in status. Eudoxia was now permitted to wear the paludamentum of purple and the imperial diadem. From the time of her elevation until her death coins were struck in gold, silver and bronze by the eastern mints. These bore images of her clothed as an Augusta, with the cognomen Aelia, and on the obverse a picture of a disembodied hand reaching down to crown her with a wreath. As Holum has pointed out, the cognomen and the image of the hand of God were all carefully selected iconographic tools designed to cement her place in the Theodosian succession and to promote the divine origins of her coronation.[[20]] In addition to the minting of coins, not long after the proclamation official images of Eudoxia (laureatae), requiring a public reception similar to those of a male Augustus, were circulated throughout the provinces and within a few years had reached Italy and the western court, leading to a letter of criticism to Arcadius from Honorius.[[21]] The silver statue of Eudoxia erected on a porphyry column and marble base in the Forum Augusteum of Constantinople by the urban prefect Simplicius in late 403,[[22]] is an example of support in at least inner eastern imperial circles for the public promotion of the empress as Augusta.

The image of Eudoxia as the symbolic partner in a divinely instituted imperium, that was so carefully and widely cultivated at a public level, however, can not be thought to reflect the workings of the eastern principate in practice. Whatever the speculation at the time about her private role in court intrigue and in the twin exiles of John Chrysostom, Eudoxia had no legislative capacity, no imperium in any concrete sense, and there are no grounds for thinking that within the political sphere of the palace she ever overtly moved beyond the constraints imposed upon her. In line with Nathan's argument regarding Arcadius' activities during the years 400-404, it would be a mistake to see her as a partner in power. On the other hand, the sources do suggest that it is valid to view her as nonetheless powerful by virtue of her role as a conduit to the emperor's favors.[[23]] Whether Eudoxia was manipulated by others in this regard, as Zosimus alleges, or whether she used her position to manipulate for her own ends those who sought her assistance, is difficult to determine.

Eudoxia as patron of the Nicene church
Where we do see Eudoxia exercising independent authority is not in the political realm but the ecclesiastical. Holum has noted her patronage of the nighttime anti-Arian processions instigated in Constantinople by the Nicene bishop, to which she contributed at her own expense silver crosses with candles and the services of one of her eunuchs, Brison, as choirmaster.[[24]] Her role in the spectacular public events surrounding the importation of new martyrs' remains to Constantinople is also significant.[[25]] On at least one occasion she persuaded Arcadius to stay home on the initial day of the celebrations, instead drawing all eyes to herself by solemnly following the coffin throughout the night, divested of her Augustal clothing and bodyguards, and participating prominently in the vigil at the martyrium.[[26]] We see the same focus on the empress as the half of the imperial couple concerned with religious affairs in the events surrounding John Chrysostom's return to Constantinople after his first brief exile. Eudoxia is the sole imperial representative in the public adventus ceremony played out on the Bosporus, where again she is seen exhibiting her piety (eusebeia) prominently in the midst of the populace.[[27]]

The impression that Eudoxia seized the model of the emperor as patron of the church that had been established by Constantine and then, on her elevation to Augusta, moved to detach the role from Arcadius and to appropriate it for herself, creating an identity which allowed her to operate by divine mandate at her husband's side, yet on her own cognizance, is reinforced by other events. Palladius (Dial. 8) and Sozomen (HE 8.8) are both clear that, when the "Origenist" monks from Egypt appeal directly to Eudoxia for assistance, it is she who decrees that a synod be convoked and Theophilus, the bishop of Alexandria, be called to answer his case before it. Palladius adds that she was well informed as to the circumstances of the monks' case before they approached her. Neither expresses any surprise at the authority of her actions. Again, at the time of the dispute between John Chrysostom and Severian of Gabala, it is Eudoxia who appeals to John to reconcile himself with Severian and who then forces his hand by recalling Severian to Constantinople from Chalcedon (Socr., HE 6.11; Soz., HE 8.10). It is also telling that in the months prior to John's second and final exile, when bishops who supported his cause were attempting to sway imperial opinion, it is to Eudoxia that appeals were addressed, not her husband (Palladius, Dial. 9).


When the sources present an empress, on the one hand, as totally manipulated, and, on the other, as the machinator in various plots, while at the same time playing on conventional stereotypes of the barbarian woman, it sends up a flag of warning. Eudoxia exhibits many of the same qualities (piety, humility, fecundity) as her predecessor Flaccilla, who like her was a barbara, was honored with the title Augusta, and saw her imperial image disseminated on coins and other media throughout the provinces.[[28]] Yet the two have received a markedly different reception. This requires some explanation. Eudoxia became exposed as a target on two fronts. The first was her proclamation as Augusta only six months into her third pregnancy, before she had borne a male heir for the principate. It is possible that the subsequent birth of a daughter led people to question the appropriateness of the move and contributed to the rumor, when she finally bore a son in her fourth pregnancy, that he had been fathered elsewhere. The second front was her adoption of the role of patron of the imperially favored (i.e. Nicene) church. While her guiding hand on this front enabled her to help direct the development of the dynastic religion for her husband and children, it left her dangerously exposed to criticism by those who objected to the directions in which she bestowed her largesse and to the content of her decisions. It is in this light that we should view the charges that she was "arrogant", that she "hated" the bishop of Constantinople and actively sought his downfall, and that she had embarked upon a "war against the church". Her contribution to ecclesiastical affairs at Constantinople, and throughout the eastern provinces via the bishops who sought her patronage when visiting the capital, needs acknowledgment. It is also probable that, through establishing a model for the engagement of imperial women of the east at a high level in the ecclesiastical sphere, she paved the way for her daughter, Pulcheria.


For the sake of completeness a number of older works have been included. Those of von Hahn-Hahn, Seeck and Holum represent the few in which Eudoxia has been examined in her own right. More frequently she has been depicted in terms of her "conflict" with the bishop John Chrysostom. The chapter devoted to her by Holum remains the most complete study to date.

Dacier, H., Saint Jean Chrysostome et la femme chrétienne au IVe siècle de l'église grecque, Paris, 1907, 45-116.

Funk, F.X., "Johannes Chrysostomus und der Hof von Konstantinopel", Theologische Quartalschrift 57 (1875) 449-80

Hahn-Hahn, I. von, Eudoxia die Kaiserin. Ein Zeitgemälde aus dem 5. Jahrhundert, Mainz, 1866.

Holum, K., Theodosian Empresses. Women and Imperial Dominion in Late Antiquity, Berkeley, 1982, 48-78.

Ludwig, F., Der hl. Johannes Chrysostomus in seinem Verhältnis zum byzantinischen Hof, Braunsberg, 1883.

Mayer, W., "Constantinopolitan Women in Chrysostom's Circle", Vigiliae Christianae 53 (1999) 265-88.

Seeck, O., art. "Eudoxia. 1)", Pauly-Wissowa 6 (1909) coll. 917-25.

Van Ommeslaeghe, F., "Jean Chrysostome en conflit avec l'impératrice Eudoxie. Le dossier et les origines d'une légende", Analecta Bollandiana 97 (1979) 131-59.


[[1]]The Greek term for "woman" used by Philostorgius (to gynaion) has a patronizing, even contemptuous ring.

[[2]]Ps-Martyrius has recently been identified as Cosmas, a deacon who had been baptized by John Chrysostom and who was an ardent supporter of his cause. The funerary speech itself has been dated to the winter of 407/8, making it a critical witness to events at Constantinople in the years 398-407. See T.D. Barnes, "The Funerary Speech for John Chrysostom (BHG3 871 = CPG 6517)", Studia Patristica 37 (2001) 328-45, who provides a translation of the passages in which Cosmas (Ps-Martyrius) describes with relish the still-birth suffered by Eudoxia at the time of each of Chrysostom's exiles (336-7). It is noteworthy that he uses the same term as Philostorgius for "the woman", when referring to Eudoxia, which Barnes translates as "the hag". For Ps-Martyrius Eudoxia is the instigator of a war against the church (P 524b), which Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria, joins as co-conspirator.

[[3]]Socrates says that the sermon simply incited the empress to even greater anger, thus reinforcing the image that the alleged sermon provokes.

[[4]]See most recently R.C. Blockley, "The Dynasty of Theodosius", in A. Cameron and P. Garnsey (eds), The Cambridge Ancient History XIII. The Late Empire A.D. 337-425, Cambridge, 1998, 116: "The empress Eudoxia, in alliance with members of the senatorial élite, moved to take over power…"; and 117: "Eudoxia and her allies dominated the government of the east for the next four years".

[[5]]H. Dacier, Saint Jean Chrysostome et la femme chrétienne au IVe siècle de l'église grecque, Paris, 1907, 47: "Eudoxie, cruelle, haineuse, avide d'argent et d'honneurs, âme emportée, nature viciée, conscience dévoyée…"; and 58: "Nous l'avons dit, depuis qu'elle était impératrice, Eudoxie n'obéissait qu'à ses passions: injuste, cruelle, elle était femme à ne reculer devant rien pour la satisfaction de ses appétits, employant tour à tour la ruse et la violence pour satisfaire ses ambitions". In adopting this view she builds on the scholarship of Amédée Thierry and Aimé Puech before her.

[[6]]C. Baur, John Chrysostom and His Time II. Constantinople, eng. trans., Westminster MD, 1960, 32 describes her as possessed of "a vivacious, sanguine temperament" and proceeds to damn her with faint praise: "Eudoxia was not without good qualities. At the side of an upright man, she might have become a distinguished empress. But natural strength of character was lacking in her, and as far as guiding the Emperor was concerned, she was as yet too young, too inexperienced and, above all, too feminine. Her credulity, and her hasty passionate disposition were soon made the most of, by all sorts of tale-bearing and insinuations" (33). This view that her pairing with a "weak" emperor brought out her vanity and ambitions can be seen in F.X. Funk, "Johannes Chrysostomus und der Hof von Konstantinopel", Theologische Quartalschrift 57 (1875) 458: "An der Seite eines schwachen und beschränkten Gatten, der stets das Bedürfnis empfand, von Andern geleitet zu werden, mußte sie selbst die Herrschaft an sich ziehen, wenn sie nicht unter dem Befehl eines Dritten stehen wollte, und es war ihr nicht genug, die oberste Leitung der Geschäfte thatsächlich in ihrer Hand zu haben, sie wollte auch rechtlich und gesetzlich Herrscherin sein, vertauschte darum mit Beginn des Jahres 400 ihren seitherigen Titel Nobilissima mit dem Titel Augusta und ließ, um gleich dem Kaiser die Huldigung und Berehrung des Volkes in ihrem Bildniß entgegen zu nehmen, ihre Statue in den Provinzen des Reiches umherführen." J.N.D. Kelly, Golden Mouth. The Story of John Chrysostom - Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop, London, 1995, 110, who presents a less emotive view, follows Philostorgius in stating that she outstripped Arcadius in intelligence and therefore quickly dominated him, and in the use of adjectives like "volatile" and "impulsive" (272), and "vivacious and strong-willed" (110). Cf. J.H.W.G. Liebeschuetz, Barbarians and Bishops. Army, Church, and State in the Age of Arcadius and Chrysostom, Oxford, 1990, who calls her "passionate and easily offended" (196) and "extremely strong-willed and at the same time hypersensitive" (202).

[[7]]Arcadius, DIR: "While there were several events in which she played a crucial part, they were not terribly important moments during Arcardius' reign". Liebeschuetz, Barbarians, 196-202 also downgrades her role.

[[8]]Theodosian Empresses. Women and Imperial Dominion in Late Antiquity, Berkeley, 1982, 48-78.

[[9]]In particular, Palladius' Dialogue; the church histories of Socrates, Sozomen and Theodoret; and the Life of Porphyry by Mark the Deacon.

[[10]]PLRE I, 159-60 s.v. Flavius Bauto.

[[11]] Theodosian Empresses, 52.

[[12]]Holum, loc. cit.; Seeck, "Eudoxia. 1)", Pauly-Wissowa 6 (1909) 917.

[[13]]PLRE I, 750-1 s.v. Flavius Promotus. The careers of Bauto and Promotus have many points in common and are markedly similar.

[[14]]Theodosian Empresses, 52 n. 18.

[[15]]The second view is proposed by Nathan, Arcadius.

[[16]] For sources for the names and dates see the documentation provided in PLRE II, 410 s.v. Aelia Eudoxia 1. The eldest, Flaccilla, died before 408, since she is not mentioned among the children who survived their father (Soz., HE 9.1).

[[17]]See n. 2 above.

[[18]]Regarding the dates see W. Mayer, "'Les homélies de s. Jean Chrysostome en juillet 399'. A second look at Pargoire's sequence and the chronology of the Novæ homiliæ (CPG 4441)", Byzantinoslavica 60/2 (1999) 285-6 and literature.

[[19]]On the questions of the initiative and timing see Alan Cameron in A. Cameron and J. Long with L. Sherry, Barbarians and Politics at the Court of Arcadius, Berkeley, 1993, 170-3, who argues that it was the praetorian prefect (praefectus praetorio per orientem) Aurelian, who, with the courtiers Saturninus and John, had formed a power bloc and was attempting to use Eudoxia to exert his influence over Arcadius. Holum, Theodosian Empresses, 67, had argued against this possibility on the grounds that Gainas was in control of Constantinople and Aurelian and his associates already in exile at the time. He went on to propose that the initiative may have come from Eudoxia herself. Cameron's carefully revised chronology of events, however, which places the exile of Aurelian, Saturninus and John only in April 400 (ibid., xii), undercuts Holum's arguments. Holum's alternative suggestion (69) that the court promoted Eudoxia in response to Gainas in an attempt to rouse public support for the eastern principate at a time of crisis likewise falters on the chronology, but otherwise bears some merit.

[[20]]Theodosian Empresses, 65-6.

[[21]] Coll. Avell. 38.1. Holum, Theodosian Empresses, 66-7.

[[22]] Socr., HE 6.18; Soz., HE 8.20. Regarding the inscription at the base of the statue see J. Gottwald, "La statue de l'impératrice Eudoxie a Constantinople", Échos d'Orient 10 (1907) 274-6. Both Socrates and Sozomen describe the public festivities that accompanied the erection of the statues as the final straw in the strained relationship between Eudoxia and the bishop, John Chrysostom.

[[23]]For examples see W. Mayer, "Constantinopolitan Women in Chrysostom's Circle", Vigiliae Christianae 53 (1999) 284-5.

[[24]]Socr., HE 6.8 (Eudoxia provided silver crosses and tapers; her eunuch led the chanting); Soz., HE 8.8 (no mention that Eudoxia provided the silver crosses, but says that her eunuch was appointed to regulate the processions, pay costs and prepare hymns). Holum, Theodosian Empresses, 54.

[[25]]Holum, Theodosian Empresses, 55-8.

[[26]] The events are recorded in encomiastic terms by John Chrysostom, Hom. dicta postquam reliquiae martyrum.

[[27]]John Chrysostom, Sermo post reditum a priore exsilio 2, where he dwells at length on her role in swaying the emperor and at the same time using her private resources to keep his whereabouts secret and his enemies at bay. At the close of the homily he styles her as "mother of the churches, feeder of monks, patroness of saints, staff of beggars". Cf. Soz., HE 8.18, who appears to have had access to the sermon, and who adds that Eudoxia sent her personal eunuch Brison to fetch John and then housed him on his return at her own suburban estate, Marianae. If the Life of Porphyry by Mark the Deacon is accepted as a valid source, then Eudoxia's securing of an edict permitting destruction of the Marneion at Gaza is an example of her exercise of ecclesiastical patronage beyond the confines of Constantinople. She is alleged to have provided thirty-two marble columns for the Christian church to be built on the site. See Holum, Theodosian Empresses, 54-6.

[[28]] See Holum, Theodosian Empresses, 22-44, 53-8.

Copyright (C) 2002, Wendy Mayer. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

Comments to: Wendy Mayer

Updated: 24 August 1998

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