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Marcian. Yes, sure you remember him? That actor who played Native Americans when un-pc Hollywood called them 'Red Indians'. Had that deep voice, spoke lines in films as if he had received the script carved in stone. Died young too (though his hair turned grey in his 20s). That's the one, fought with Jack Palance in Sign of the Pagan. A film about a Hun called Hun and a guy whose name appeared to be 'Martian' - though he wasn't green and had no sticky on antennae producing from his head. Yes him. Was a Roman Emperor in the 450s, helped foster the first great schism in Christianity that persists today. Yep, that Marcian or as Jeff says, Martian. Not related to Rocky Marciano or Robert De Niro.


Empress Pulcheria chooses the man with the longest sword to be her husband. Note Roman soldier with his head too small for his helmet.

Keen students of Hollywood historical inaccurate films will ask:What is Marcian doing fighting with Attila? - which is the correct question. Attila's main enemy was Aetius, or for those with a liking of cut-price heroics, Powers Boothe in a bad comb over in a mini-series with that Scots shouter,King Leonidas of Sparta as the infamous Hun.

For those without comedic tastes, the so-called experts at Wikipedia think they have an article about Marcian.

edit Life begins after 50


'Didn't we meet in a previous life Jack?' Jeff Chandler and Jack Palance discuss reincarnation and an unexploded bomb.

Marcian was probably in his 60s when he got the shout to become Roman Emperor (in the Eastern Division, no Superbowl) in 450. Until then he had been a soldier, a middle ranking bureaucrat and someone who had the misfortune to be captured by Gaiseric the Vandal whilst on holiday in Tunisia. He hadn't realised the Vandals had invaded North Africa and was caught just wearing his hat by the jeering vandals. That should have been the end of Marcian but Gaiseric in one of his rare generous moods, released Marcian but kept hold of his hat. Marcian moved to Constantinople where he got the job of Domesticus, a title that essentially meant he was Emperor Theodosius II valet. At least he was allowed to keep his balls unlike the palace eunuchs.


Pulcheria with her glowing hat halo. Power of sainthood.

In 450 Theodosius fell off his horse which then fell on him. His sister Pulcheria (a typical ballsy female member of the Theodosian dynasty) had already been an Empress some years past but had spent most of her time diverting money from the imperial treasury into church building and providing homes for sick and retired donkeys. She was also a virgin and had vowed to save herself for Jesus in the next life. But the Roman Empire in the East required an emperor and that usually meant someone of the male persuasion. There was also another potential contender for the title, Pulcheria's cousin Emperor Valentinian III who was misruling what was left of the West Roman Empire from a lounging couch in Ravenna. Having already lost North Africa to the Vandals (the Goths had got most of Gaul and Spain in the time of Emperor Honorius), Valentinian said it would be 'no problem' coming over to the East and setting up business over there.

So under extreme pressure from all around her, Pulcheria was forced to make a choice. She could have chosen a young thruster to be her companion but instead chose the paunchy and flabby Marcian, a widower with one daughter Marcia Euphemera. He was proclaimed emperor and installed symbolically in Pulcheria's bed. Nothing happened. He said Pulcheria wore a nightdress made of thick curtains with her hair in curlers. She said Marcian may have had the longest sword she had ever seen (not difficult as she hadn't seen any before) but that it stayed limp all night long. Official chroniclers said Pulcheria kept to her promise of perpetual virginity so wouldn't have wanted any marital humping of any kind. The next day they moved to opposite ends of the Imperial palace.

edit Religion matters


Emperor Marcian and Empress Pulcheria rump polishing their thrones as they sit through another long argument about angels and pinheads.

The biggest lobby group in the Roman Empire (the christians) were asking for a new church council to repudiate the last church council held just two years earlier in Ephesus which had supported the Nestorian view of Christ. The church leadrs wanted to hold this in Constantinople but Marcian was wary about allowing armies of rival christians fighting each other. The Nestorians refused to appear (expecting a rigged agreement)but another christian group - called the Monophysites (in red surplices and white shorts) who had their opinions on Christ's exact nature (he was simply divine) did arrive. They were strong in Egypt. Opposing both extremes (in their view) were the centrist christians in an all blue kit - in honour of the Virgin Mary. They got to be called the 'Emperor's Lapdogs' or 'Melkites' in Greek.

Marcian attempted to square this particular triangle. This was going to be a Dogma eat Dogma fight as both leading bishops/managers hated each other. The Monophsites believed that Christ was an all in one guy - god bits and human bits all mixed together. The Melkites said this was all crap and that none of the Monophysites would be walking that night. Jesus had two natures (good guy/bad cop) and you would never know which one would turn up.

Pulcheria showed her unbiased approach by wearing blue throughout the council meeting, held in Chalcedon. Marcian said that Emperor Constantine the Great had a similar problem at the First Council of Nicaea and had got a consensus by threatening everyone with a visit to the lion cages in a local arena. No one was afraid of 'old flabby guts' so his threat was ignored. The 'Blues' won, arguing that their definition of Christ's true nature was the right one and anyone who wore red was a devil kissing heretic. They preferred to be called 'Chalcedonians' after the city where the final 'agreement' was hammered out. The Monophysites walked out and took their spiritual orbs with them. It was the worst result for the Roman Empire since the Arians had lost on penalties, anathemas and out right condemnations in 325.

edit Eff off Attila


'What's under your skirt Marcian?'. Attila the Hun threatens the privates of the Eastern Roman Empire.

In the midst of all this deadly theological banter, Marcian discovered the Eastern Empire had been paying bribes to the Huns not to hit them or steal their pocket money. So Marcian cancelled the standing order and defied Attila to collect. Not exactly a heroic defiance to Attila the Hun or Jack Palance come to that. Attila marched off West to scare the pants of the Romans there and, unlike the film Sign of the Pagan, Marcian did precisely nothing. How he expected his half of the Roman Empire would be stronger if the Western bit fell off the edge is anyone's guess. In the end Attila lost to Aetius in battle and then got scared off from attacking Rome by Pope Leo. The Hun threatened to fly in 'from the sun' but died after a mammoth shagging session with his new Goth wife.

Marcian celebrated this as a 'sign of God' and was also happy when the 'Blues' Church (Come on Chalce!) said they would make Marcian a saint for his support after he died. When Pulcheria died in 453, she got the saintly fast track too, a funeral in bright blue.

edit Vandals

No sooner had the Huns gone when the Vandals turned up. Unlike the other German tribes, the Vandals had taken to naval warfare and had already sunk a few Roman fleets. They raided both Roman Empires without much discrimination. This changed in 455 when Emperor Valentinian III was assassinated by his successor Petronious Maximus. Marcian requested the return of Valentinian's family as his wife was the daughter of Theodosius II. Petronius Maximus declined but then Rome got jumped on by Vandals in a dark street and was thoroughly ransacked. Marcian gave no assistance. His own military commanders urged an attack on the Vandals but Marcian refused. Gaiseric still had his hat and he (Marcian) was superstitious. He would do nothing and stuck by his inaction.

edit Death


Jeff Chandler as Cochise and Rock Hudson playing his son Taza. At least Hudson wasn't asked to play a Roman emperor in a movie but he made up for it off screen.

Marcian had hoped to pass the imperial throne to his daughter Marcia Euphemera and her husband Anthemius but he died suddenly in 457 after a bout of 'extreme praying'. The silly sod had refused to take his medication and had keeled over during one extremely dull sermon from the newly enthroned Patriarch of Constantinople. Anthemius said his father-in-law had promised him 'the empire' but instead got a desk job counting peasants along the River Danube frontier. The imperial throne went to the extremely unqualified, semi-literate Thracian strong man who became Emperor Leo I.

Preceded by:
Theodosius II
Roman Emperor
Succeeded by:
Leo I (in the East)

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