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Aelia Eudocia

Eudocia Augusta (c.401 - 460), the wife of Theodosius II, East Roman emperor, was born in Athens.

She was the daughter of the sophist Leontius, from whom she received a thorough training in literature and rhetoric. The traditional story, told by John Malalas and others, states that she had been deprived of her small patrimony by her brothers' rapacity, and betook herself to Constantinople to obtain redress at court. Her accomplishments attracted the attention of Theodosius' sister Pulcheria, who made her one of her ladies-in-waiting and destined her to be the emperor's wife.

After receiving baptism and discarding her former name, Athenais, for that of Aelia Licinia Eudocia, she was married to Theodosius June 7, 421; two years later, after the birth of her daughter Eudoxia, she received the title Augusta. The new empress repaid her brothers by making Valerius a consul and later governor of Thrace and the other, Gesius, prefect of Illyricum.

Other, more contemporary historians like Socrates Scholasticus and John of Panon, confirm many of these details, but omit all mention of Pulcheria's participation in Eudocia's marriage to her brother. This makes other details of Eudocia's activities more understandable, as for example, using her substantial influence at court to protect paganss and Jews.

In the years 438-439 she made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, whence she brought back several precious relics; during her stay at Antioch she addressed the senate of that city in Hellenic style and distributed funds for the repair of its buildings. On her return her position was undermined by the jealousy of Pulcheria and the groundless suspicion of an intrigue with her protégé Paulinus, the master of the offices.

After the latter's execution (440) she retired to Jerusalem, where she was accused of the murder of an officer sent to kill two of her followers, for which act she suffered the loss of some of her imperial staff. Nevertheless she retained great influence; although involved in the revolt of the Syrian monophysites (453), she was ultimately reconciled to Pulcheria and readmitted into the orthodox church. She died at Jerusalem on October 20, 460, having devoting her last years to literature.

Among her works were a paraphrase of the Octateuch in hexameters, a paraphrase of the books of Daniel and Zechariah, a poem on St Cyprian and on her husband's Persian victories. A Passion History compiled out of Homeric verses, which Zonaras attributed to Eudocia, is perhaps of different authorship.

This entry is based on material from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.