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“Married to a hairy barbarian and then sold off to Roman thug? You betcha I'm am through with men!”
“Come to visit an old stiff? (1577)”
Galla Placidia (388-450) (Go-Go-Gal to her pals), Empress of the West Roman Empire, Princess of the Purple Nurples and Mistress of the Testicles, was one of the last notable matrons of an imperial legacy stretching back to Augustus. Abducted by the Goths, married to a flatulent German, wife of an emperor and mother of another, Galla could well have ended up as Attila the Hun's mother-in-law if only events had twisted a certain way. She later became a somewhat pious, priggish woman but a determined mistress of her own fate.
Galla shines well during this murky period as the wheels of the Western end of the Roman World came flying off. In later years she spread her name by being a generous benefactor of churches which was always good to get yourself posthumous praise. A building dedicated to her still stands in Ravenna in Italy, looking like brick built public lavatory on the outside. It is called the 'Mausoleum of Galla Placidia' and inside you can see three tombs. One was supposed to be hers but all are now empty.
Galla was born in about 388 to Emperor Theodosius the Great and his second wife Galla. She was surrounded by what was left of Imperial glamour. Her grandfather was Valentinian I, an uncle Valentinian II and two half brothers (and half witted too), the boy-losers Arcadius and Honorius. Galla's parents were both dead by the time she was six so she lived in Rome with her brother, creepy Honorius.
Quite early on it was established that Galla was by far the brightest of her siblings. She loved living in Rome and stayed there when her weasel brother scuttled off to Ravenna because he was scared of the Alaric the Goth. Galla said she entrusted the legions to defend the city but then left Rome in case she was wrong. It was whilst she was looking for a more secure place to stay that Galla was captured by the Goths and brought to the tent of Alaric. No funny stuff is recorded (surprisingly) but he now counted her as a spoil of war and added her to the wagons when the Goths carried away their loot from a burning Rome in 410.
edit Life with the Goths
Since her brother was too mean or scared to have her ransomed, Galla was obliged to follow the Goths as they moved from Italy to Spain to avoid famine and overinflated tourist prices. Galla was eventually 'encouraged' (or die instead) to marry King Athaulf of the Goths - or as they were now, the Visigothic Touring Armed band. Athaulf had led the Visigoths since Alaric had died in Italy. He was a dreamer of a multicultural Roman Empire where Romans and Goths could intermingle and exchange fashion ideas and cultural artifacts. Galla gave birth to a son called Theodosius 'Half Roman, Half Goth' but he died young and was then quickly followed by Athaulf. The new Visigoth king had no use for another man's widow - and was a 'pure culture Goth'. He was also a bit hungry and so in a deal, swopped grain deliveries and exhanged Galla for his sackfuls.
edit Back with the Romans
Galla was sent back to Ravenna. She was dismayed to discover that the idea of getting her back wasn't Honorius's but his steel sandal capped associate Constantius. He declined a gold payment and instead claimed Galla as his new bride. Life amongst the Goths had made Galla rebellious and she also had some interesting tattoos which would entertain if seen in full. The couple had two children, the future Valentinian III and Justa Grata Honoria. Breeding requirement over, Galla banned Constantius from the bedroom.
In 421 Honorius was arm twisted into making Constantius a co-emperor. This move didn't go down well with Honorius's nephew, Emperor Theodosius II in Constantinople. He declined to accept either Constantius or Galla as imperial colleagues and binned their Christmas cards if they carried the titles from the senders. Constantius planned to attack the 'Easterners' but then suddenly died - suggesting he had enemies close to home. Honorius was also suspected and when his interest in Galla turned incest-keen, she left Rome and re-located to Constantinople - taking her children with her and a five year supply of fresh diapers.
edit Out in East
Galla Placidia was provided with a suite of rooms in the great imperial palace in Constantinople. However they were situated on the windward side of the Hippodrome, the city's entertainment centre. Chariot racing, bear wrestingly and other sports to keep the locals entertained made Galla's rooms almost uninhabitable on the big event days. She would then sit in the main purple box where her nephew Emperor Theodosius, his wife Aelia Eudocia and sisters Arcadia and Pulcheria would glare and sneer at her. Theodosius liked his little cousins and agreed that his younger daughter Licinia Eudoxia would marry Valentinian once he had cleared potty training and chewing sandals.
When she leant her brother had died back in Ravenna, Galla urged her family to support her to retake the Western Empire but Theodosius wanted some 'payment' and refused to take Galla's gold plated Western Roman Empire credit cards at face value. Galla signed away most of the Balkans and a few spare sapphires. There was then a delay as the new emperor in Ravenna, a papyrus doodler called Ioannes turned out to have some powerful friends. In particular a Roman general called Flavius Aetius who was unhappy that Galla had been giving away the Western Empire to the East. After a further dither (two years) finally Theodosius gave the go ahead and the Easterners invaded Italy. Ioannes was caught, mutilated, embarrassed, humiliated and finally head his head removed. Aeitus was out of town when this happened and arrived back in Ravenna too late to save Ioannes or his body parts from further abuse.
edit Galla and Aetius
Since Valentinian was still too young to make much sense, Galla ran the Western Roman Empire with her generals. The Visigoths remained in both Gaul and Spain. Also in Spain were the Vandals, there for the last 15 years on a destructive tour of Iberia. Galla had little love for any barbarians but the Vandals in particular made her spit.
The Vandals were driven towards the sea but in a lucky find, they discovered a Roman fleet at rest in a harbour with nearly all the sailors on shore leave and local wenching. The Vandal leader Gaiseric seized the ships and set sail to North Africa, he said, because a job offer to him and his people had been made by the local big noise there, a Roman called Boniface. The Vandals sailed in and started to act like conquerors. Marching along the coast they attacked Hippo and caused St.Augustine to break off from his turgid writing to act as a defender. The locals thought that with God and Augustine on their side, they could resist the Vandals. But in a 'classic fail', Augustine died and the city fell to the Vandals. They were Christian vandals - not like the boorish Huns or the Anglo-Saxons - but followed their own writings and saw Jesus as the 'super vandal' of his time.
Boniface returned to Rome where Aetius ensured his rival got the blame and a short sword delivered into the guts. That settled it. Aeitus was now the top general and became the guardian/tutor/trainer of Valentinian. The young wastrel was happy to let 'uncle Aeity' to be the de facto ruler and it got him out from under the skirts of his mother.
Since her son was due to marry his cousin, Galla next looked for a suitable husband for daughter Justa Grata Honoria. However, Honoria unwisely fell for the smarmy charms of a courtier and lost her cherry to a seducer called Eugenius. The ingenious Eugenius carried on the secret affair with the imperial princess but Galla noticed her daughter was blushing everytime Eugenius knelt down to tie of his sandals and deduced Honoria had been a bad girl. Valentinian was all for having her executed but Galla persuaded him to just let her go to Constantinople in disgrace and permanent seclusion in a drafty nunnery. She became Sister Dishonoria as a reminder of why she had been banished.
The Roman Empire finally lost Carthage in 439 to the Vandals who then went on to raid the shipping. Galla spent more time in Rome to get away from both Aeitus and Valentinian. Her hopes that 'little Val' would be any good as emperor had long vanished. So she moved to Rome and took up residence in the sprawling imperial palace on Palatine Hill. The city had finally cleared away the debris from the Visigoths last gig there and Rome seemed to be on the bounce up again.
During this time it seems Justa Honoria was let out of her nunnery and came back to Rome. Her virtual imprisonment hadn't improved Justa's temper and desire for some edgy relationships. So when she learnt her brother told her he had sold her marriage rights to a wealthy, crabby old senator called Bassus Herculanus, Justa Honoria did what any woman in that situation would do:She sent a letter and a ring to Attila the Hun to see if he was single and up for taking over the Roman Empire.
Valentinian blew up once he got this news. This time he was really keen to execute Justa Honoria but Galla once again intervened, threatening to spank Valentinian's botty in front of the entire imperial court if he killed his sister. Since Attila was already marching towards the Roman Empire's frontiers, Valentinian put the issue aside for now. Galla wasn't going to be Attila's mother-in-law after all and died shortly after in 450.
edit Life after Death
Galla Placidia is said to have died in Rome where her body was preserved like a waxy faced saint and wheeled up to Ravenna to be placed inside a building dedicated to her. The former empress was said to have been enthroned on an ivory chair and sat their silently for the next 1100 years, growing her fingernails through her gloves.
Galla's corpse outlasted the Eastern Roman (Byzantine Empire) which would have given her some satisfaction, only to be incinerated by a careless gawper looking inside her cracked tomb in 1577. Her body went up appropriately like a Roman Candle and turned to ashes.
Galla Placidia: Now what have you learnt?
- You could marry a Goth and survive the experience.
- A Roman general is more barbaric than the barbarians.
- Invite Attila the Hun's parents for dinner next time.
- Keep away from candles if you're dead and dried out.