Sunday, June 22, 2008

Galla Placidia, Empress

Daughter of Roman Emperor Theodosius the Great. She was the sister of the eastern Emperor Arcadius and the Roman Emperor Honorius. Aged 7 (395), her mother died in childbirth and this was followed by the death of her 49yo father at Milan. Galla was in Rome under the care of her father's niece Serena when this sad news reached her. She remained in Rome with Serena.

Aged 21, Galla was in Rome when the Visigoths besieged the city (410) and she was taken hostage. When Alaric, the Visigoth King died, the Imperial court at Ravenna demanded the return of the Princess Galla - she was not returned immediately but treated with courtesy by her Christian captors who kept bargainning for her release. Still an honoured captive, the Visigoth King Atahaulf decided he wanted to marry her and make her Queen of the Visigoths (412). Galla herself appeared to be receptive to this but her brother Emperor Honorius was appalled and demanded her return. Defying her brother, Galla married Atahaulf at Narbonne (414) and moved to the Visigoth capital at Barcelona. This marriage barely lasted one year for Atahaulf was murdered (415) - his dying wish was for Galla to be returned to the Imperial court at Ravenna - she was aged 27.

Unfortunately for her, the new King Sigerice mistreated her but he himself was murdered only a week after his accession. Sigerice was succeeded by the Goth Wallia, who agreed to send Galla back to Ravenna. Two years after her return, Galla was married - against her will - to Constantius (417) though she had done her best to fend off his advances. That same year, she gave birth to a daughter Justa Grata Honoria, and a son Flavius Placidus Valentinianus (418).

Galla was made Augusta/Empress by her brother the Roman Emperor Homorius (421) and her husband was made co-Emperor. Shortly after, her husband died of pleurisy and 33yo Galla was ordered to return to Rome by her Emperor brother. Fearing for her own safety and that of her children, Galla fled to Constantinople, where her nephew (the son of her brother Arcadius) ruled as Emperor Theodosius II (421). Life at the eastern court was not all that easy for Galla - she was disliked and distrusted by her nephew. Roman Emperor Honorius died at Ravenna (423) and Eastern Emperor Theodosius II grudgingly granted Galla and her son Valenntinian imperial rank. The following year (424) Theodosius organised the invasion of the Western/Roman Empire - he was accompanied by Galla and her two children. Galla's 6yo son was hailed as Roman Emperor Valentinian III (425) and 36yo Galla effectively controlled the Western Empire for the next ten years, although as a woman she was unable to enforce her will through control of the Roman Legions but instead used her wiles to manipulate rival generals, bu shrewdly playing them off against court officals. Galla acted as effective regent for her son until court intrigue, rebellion and invasion sapped her of her power.

Galla's daughter Honoria, sister of Emperor Valentinian, fled Rome and sought protection fro the Hun leader Attila in order to avoid marriage (449) - though Attila claimed that this act constituted a marriage proposal and so he accepted Honoria as an affianced bride and demanded half the Western Empire as her inheritance. Galla didn't live long enough to see the conclusion of this (the eventual Hun invasion of Rome), dying at Ravenna aged 68 (450) - her nephew, the Eastern Emperor Theodosius II dying the same year.

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