Pulcheria – 398 – 453 – Constantinople

Ancient Turkey, Constantinople

Pulcheria

Aelia Pulcheria was a political powerhouse in the Eastern Roman Empire, combining immense strength of will with shrewd political intellect. Effectively ruling in one form or another from the age of fifteen, she re-shaped both the political and religious landscape of Constantinople.

The daughter of Emperor Arcadius, Pulcheria was not short of strong female role models growing up. Her mother was Empress Aelia Eudoxia and her aunt was the formidable Galla Placidia. Pulcheria was just ten years old when her father died and left her seven year old brother Theodosius II behind to rule.

Initially Theodosius was placed into the care of two regents. However, once Pulcheria reached the age of majority at fifteen, she proclaimed herself regent over her little brother.

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Coin depicting Aelia Pulcheria (source)

Pulcheria had very clear ideas about how the palace and empire ought to be run. While her mother, Aelia Eudoxia, was very religious and influential within the church, she was also known for her lavish parties and extravagant style of dress. Pulcheria was the polar opposite.

She ran her palace like a monastery, organising regular prayers and chanting, readings from the scriptures and weekly fasting. Pulcheria and her sisters gave up luxurious clothes and jewellery and took vows of virginity.

As well as evidence of her piety and generally being good for public relations, Pulcheria’s choice to remain a virgin may have been politically motivated, as it meant she could avoid the risk of losing her power to a husband.

Pulcheria also set to work educating little Theodosius in preparation for his becoming emperor. This training included how to dress and appear in public, how to speak well and generally maintain an air of dignity, as well as how to be a good Christian leader.

However, Theodosius did not share his sister’s single mindedness. While historians describe him as kind and likeable as a man, they also say that he was often careless, easily led and tended to neglect the administration of the empire. This led to Pulcheria retaining much of her influence even once Theodosius became emperor.

She embarked upon numerous building projects, paying for the construction of churches and houses for the poor in Constantinople. So much infrastructure was built in her name that an entire district of the city was named Pulcherianai in her honour.

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Late Roman statue of either Aelia Flacilla or Pulcheria, from Cyrprus (source)

Among Pulcheria’s other good works, she reviewed the cases of bishops who had been unfairly exiled during her father’s reign and invited them to return. This included bringing back the remains of her mother’s greatest enemy, John Chrysostom.

Despite her philanthropy, Pulcheria and Theodosius’ more unsavoury policies cannot go unacknowledged. Both siblings were very anti-Jewish and worked on laws to prevent or restrict Jewish worship in Constantinople. This included forbidding the construction of Synagogues and destroying those already existing.

Another way in which Pulcheria involved herself in religious affairs was as a key player in the debate over giving the Virgin Mary the title Theotokos (‘birth-giver to god’). She presided over the Ephesus and Chalcedon church councils and advised on many church policies.

In July of 450, Theodosius II died in a horse-riding accident, aged 49. Pulcheria quickly took total power over the empire, ruling alone for at least a month before marrying an ex-soldier tribune called Marcian.

Despite her marriage, Pulcheria did not give up her principles and ensured that Marcian made a promise to respect her vow of virginity. The last three years of the empress’ life were dedicated to the Virgin Mary. She built three churches in the Theotokos’ honour in Constantinople.

The empress died in 453, after forty years in power. Even in death, Pulcheria was working for her people, leaving a note in her will to distribute her remaining wealth amongst the poor of the city.

Pulcheria is a saint in both the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. After her death Pulcheria was made a Saint by both the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church, with feast days on 10th September and 7th August respectively.


References:

Theodosian Empresses: Women and Imperial Dominion in Late Antiquity – Kenneth G. Holum

A History of Byzantium – Timothy E. Gregory

On Wikipedia:

Pulcheria

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Olympias – c.361/368 – 408 – Constantinople

Ancient Turkey, Constantinople

Olympias

Olympias (also known as Olympias the Younger and Olympias the Deaconess) dedicated so much of her time and money towards good works and charity that John Chrysostom told her that she had done ‘almost too much’.

As with Marcella, Paula and Fabiola before her, Olympias began life as a wealthy noblewoman of lofty lineage. She grew up in Constantinople, at the time the capital of the Roman Empire, and was ethnically Greek.

Like every good Roman woman she was married to a man of equal status once she reached adulthood. Her husband Nebridius was Prefect of Constantinople, making her social position even more public. When Nebridius died and left Olympias widowed, she chose not to remarry, but instead focussed her efforts on supporting the church as a deaconess.

Olympias was not the first woman to be ordained as a deacon in the church. The Didascalia (a Christian treatise from the third century) encourages bishops to appoint women to these positions in the church hierarchy because women were often capable of ministering to other women while male deacons might not be appropriate:

“Appoint a woman for the ministry of women. For there are homes to which you cannot send a male deacon to their women, on account of the heathen, but you may send a deaconess … Also in many other matters the office of a woman deacon is required.”

Olympias herself personally financed and oversaw the construction of a hospital and an orphanage and dedicated much of her time to caring for monks exiled from Nitria (Egypt).

She attracted the attention of the Archbishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, with her good works and the two became lifelong friends. The friendship got her into trouble when Chrysostom was banished after his feud with the Roman Empress, Aelia Eudoxia. Olympias herself was exiled in 404 to Nicomedia (Turkey), where she remained for the last four years of her life.

Olympias is honoured as a Saint in the Roman Catholic (feast day 17th December) and Eastern Orthodox Church (feast day 25th July).


In the arts:

Olympias is one of the 140 Colonnade saints which adorn Saint Peter’s Square.

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Saints on the colonnade, St Peter’s Square, The Vatican (Source)


References:

Catholic onlineSt. Olympias

This Female Man of God: Women and Spiritual Power in the Patristic Age – Gillian Cloke

On Wikipedia:

Phile – c. 50 BCE – Priene, Greece

Ancient Turkey, Turkey

Phile

Phile lived in the Greek city state of Priene, which was under Roman rule. She was honored for her services to the city and the first woman elected Magistrate.

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Ruins at Priene

A wealthy woman, Phile personally paid for the construction of a reservoir and aqueduct for the city in 50 BCE. The funding of public works by private citizens was encouraged under the Emperor Augustus who wished to see his Empire modernised.

History doesn’t tell us how Phile was able to pay for such a huge project, but she must have been independently wealthy somehow, whether she was widowed or by some other means.

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Aqueduct of Segovia, Spain

We do know that the city of Priene was grateful to their benefactress – Phile was honoured by public decree. She was also rewarded in another way; by being elected Magistrate – the first woman to achieve this post.

To the ancient Romans, Magistrates were not lawyers, but the highest government officers. They often held some excecutive and judicial powers (and would be advised by jurists, who knew the law). Phile was probably responsible for supervising public works in the city.


References:

Roman Wives, Roman Widows: The Appearance of New Women and the Pauline Communities – Bruce W. Winter

Participating in Public: Female Patronage and Economic Prominence at Hellenistic Priene – Ashley Eckhardt

On Wikipedia:


Image Credits:

Agora of Priene” by Ken and Nyetta – Flickr: Agora of Priene.

Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Acueducto1 Lou“.

Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Artemisia I – fl.480 BCE – Caria, Anatolia

Ancient Turkey

A naval commander who advised the most powerful man in the world and brought Athens to its knees…

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She was a capable ruler, formidable admiral and the only person who dared to contradict the King of Persia; Artemisia I of Caria stands out not only in her own time, but in history as a remarkable woman.

As ruling queen of Caria (now in modern day Turkey) she sided with Xerxes I, the King of Persia in his campaign against the Greek states, actively participating in battle.

Born sometime in the mid-5th Century BCE, Artemisia took the throne of Halicarnassus following the death of her husband. By 480 BCE she had allied herself with Xerxes I, the powerful King of Persia who was hell-bent on invading Greece.

A capable naval commander, Artemisia leapt into the fray, personally leading five ships in the Battle of Artemisium.

Following this battle, Xerxes gathered his naval commanders to ask them their opinions on fighting another battle at sea, rather than sending his fleet to Peloponesus to wait for the dissolution of the Greek armies. All of the commanders recommended that Xerxes go to battle – except Artemisia. She (basically) said:

Look, Xerxes, the Greek navy is much stronger than your navy. You’ve got Athens now, what do you want to start another fight for? If you move towards Peloponesus you’ve got a definite win – they don’t have enough food anyway and won’t hold out for long. I know you’re impatient to get this whole invasion thing over with, but I’m telling you, Xerxes, pal, if you go through with this battle you’ll end up worse off.

Xerxes praised Artemisia for her sound advice – before promptly disregarding everything she’d said and launching into battle. Artemisia (probably after some heavy eye rolling) rallied her troops and prepared to attack.

"William Rainey - Death of the Persian admiral at Salamis" by William Rainey, (1852-1936)

“William Rainey – Death of the Persian admiral at Salamis” by William Rainey, (1852-1936)

The Battle of Salamis took place in September 480 BCE and Artemisia led five of the best ships in the fleet. Following the previous battle, she also had a price of 10,000 drachmas on her head as a reward to any Athenian captain who could take her alive.

The Queen was extremely cunning and her tactics were brutal. Before the battle, she had had a disagreement with King Damasithymos, who was also on the Persians side. During battle, Artemisia found herself pursued by a Greek vessel into a corner, with only friendly ships in front of her. Unable to see a way out, she ordered that the Persian flags be pulled down, and to attack one of the friendly ships – that of Damasithymos. Once the Greeks saw her attack a Persian ship, they turned away and left her alone – assuming that Artemisia’s ship had switched sides. Damasithymos’ ship was sunk and there were no survivors.

Seeing this, Xerxes (who was pretty disappointed in the rest of his navy) remarked; ‘My men have become women and my women men.’ – High praise considering the extremely sexist attitudes of the time.

After the battle, the king rewarded Artemisia with a full suit of Greek armour and asked for her advice yet again. Should he head to Peloponnese himself and head up his invasion of Greece? Or should he withdraw and leave his General in charge.

Once again, Artemisia’s response demonstrated a keen political mind and sound judgement:

‘Leave your General here and head home. Then if he wins, you get all the glory, because he works on your behalf. But if he loses, it’s no biggie – you’d still be safe and no one cares about your General. Either way, you’ve burnt Athens to the ground – mission accomplished.’

This time, Xerxes did the smart thing and followed Artemisia’s advice.


References:

Stratagems, Book 8Polyaenus 

The HistoriesHerodotus 

The Encyclopaedia of Women in the Ancient World – Joyce Salisbury

On Wikipedia:


In Fiction:

In The 300 Spartans (1962) Artemisia is played by Anne Wakefield.

300: Rise of an Empire (2014) portrays heavily fictionalised versions of both Artemisia and Xerxes.

Artemisia of Caria is a character in the book Creation by Gore Vidal.

Puduhepa – fl. c. 1250 BCE – Harpissa, Hittite Empire

Ancient Turkey

A signatory of the world’s first known peace treaty, a priestess, politician, lawyer, judge, midwife and diplomat, Puduhepa ruled for seventy years and is the most influential Queen you’ve never heard of….

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In 1274 BCE, General Hattusili was returning home from the battle of Kadesh. He stopped to rest in the city of Lawazantiya, where he was welcomed by the high priest. He also met the priest’s daughter, Puduhepa, a beautiful priestess. Later that night, Hattusili dreamed of the Goddess Ishtar, who instructed him to marry Puduhepa.

The following day he returned to the temple to request the priestess’ hand in marriage, to which she assented. From that day onwards they were partners in all things. They returned to Harpissa as husband and wife, and within a few years Hattusili rose to the throne with Puduhepa as his queen (Tawananna).

“Puduhepa” by Firaktin2Kayseri.jpg: Klaus-Peter Simonderivative work: Zunkir (talk) – Firaktin2Kayseri.jpg. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The Hittite empire (now modern day Turkey) is defined by its regular clashes with the Egyptians and Hattusili was often away at war, leaving Puduhepa to run their Kingdom. Even when Hattusili was present, it was made clear that Puduhepa ruled beside him as his primary counsel.

Queen Puduhepa liked to keep busy. She retained her status as priestess of Ishtar, regularly performing rituals and offering prayers for the health of her husband and the strength of her Kingdom. She gave advice to her husband and regularly involved herself with legal cases, becoming supreme judge of the Kingdom.

While many ancient Queens took up some administrative responsibility when it came to the affairs of their kingdoms, Puduhepa also turned her focus outwards to international relations. She brokered a number of political marriages between Hattusili’s many children and the royal families of Babylon and Egypt. She was instrumental in the drawing up of the world’s first written peace treaty between Egypt and Hattusili and formed a strong diplomatic relationship with Great Royal wife Nefertari,

Hittite version of the peace treaty.

Hittite version of the peace treaty.
“Istanbul – Museo archeol. – Trattato di Qadesh fra ittiti ed egizi (1269 a.C.) – Foto G. Dall’Orto 28-5-2006”. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons

who sent her gifts and called her ‘sister’.

‘Speak to my sister Puduhepa, the Great Queen of the Hatti land. I, your sister, (also) be well. May your country be well. Now, I have learned that you, my sister, have written to me asking after my health. You have written to me because of the good friendship and brotherly relationship between your brother, the king of Egypt, The Great and the Storm God will bring about peace, and he will make the brotherly relationship between the Egyptian king, the Great King, and his brother, the Hatti King, the Great King, last forever… See, I have sent you a gift, in order to greet you, my sister… for your neck (a necklace) of pure gold… coloured linen maklalu-material, for one royal dress for the king…’

When her husband died and her son Tudhaliya IV became king, Puduhepa did not withdraw, but continued to use her influence under the (badass) title of Goddess Queen.


References:

Historical Dictionary of the HittitesCharles Burney 

A Day in the Life of PuduhepaJudith Starkson for the Unusual Histories blog

PuduhepaJulia Richardson

The Hittites DocumentaryThe Smithsonian Channel

On Wikipedia: