In 388 Aelia Eudoxia arrived in Constantinople, the new capital city of the Roman Empire, as an orphan. Her father, a magister militum (master of soldiers) was presumably killed in battle in France and her mother’s fate is unrecorded.
Eudoxia was taken into the household of Promotus, a friend of her father’s, where she was raised and educated alongside his two sons, as well as the emperor’s sons, Arcadius and Honorius.
Some years later in 395, Emperor Theodosius I died and was succeeded by eighteen year old Arcadius. Due to his relative youth, Arcadius was assigned a protector – Praetorian prefect Rufinus. Rufinus hoped to gain control of Arcadius by marrying him to his daughter, but a rival faction led by palace official Eutropius got there first and arranged for Eudoxia to marry Arcadius instead – without Rufinus’ consent.
The two teenage rulers went on to have a generally successful marriage. Considered extraordinarily beautiful and highly intelligent by her contemporaries, Eudoxia divided political opinion. She was immensely strong willed and perceived by many as domineering; holding too much control over the emperor.
Her influence was certainly wide. Eudoxia involved herself in legal matters, in one case preventing court action against a general who bribed her. She was also active in the affairs of the church, patronising the Nicene Creed, paying for religious processions and involving herself in Christian celebrations and vigils, often appearing without her husband.
By 400, Eudoxia was officially known by the title Augusta (Empress) and was depicted on Roman coinage. A statue was dedicated to her, and her husband even renamed the town of Selymbria Eudoxiopolis in honour of his wife.
As with all powerful women, Eudoxia’s enemies had much to say about her. The historian Zosimus accused her of being easily manipulated by the women of her court, as well as claiming that her son Theodosius was the result of an affair with a courtier. Philostorgius concedes that Eudoxia was cleverer than her husband, but that she was very arrogant, and a barbarian.
She made her greatest enemy in John Chrysostom, the Patriarch of Constantinople. As a church leader, John rejected flamboyant dress and expensive parties. He publicly spoke against extravagant women’s fashion, which the empress took as a personal criticism. Eudoxia used her influence in the church to have John banished.
However, he had been popular with the common people who threatened to turn against the emperor and empress. Eudoxia had to call the bishop back almost as soon as judgement was passed. Reinstated, John continued to antagonise Eudoxia, comparing her to the biblical seductress Salome and making complaints about a statue erected to the empress.
He was banished again, and this time did not return.
Eudoxia died while she was still in her twenties, due to complications in childbirth. Her son, Theodosius later became Emperor, and one of her four daughters, Pulcheria, eventually became an empress as powerful as her mother.
Theodosian Empresses: Women and Imperial Dominion in Late Antiquity – Kenneth G. Holum
A to Z of Ancient Greek and Roman Women – Marjorie Lightman, Benjamin Lightman