“I promise to keep my hands to myself”
“Keep your filthy paws to yourself Attila”
Can you be a saint and have a thing for Attila the Hun, the 'Scourge of God'? Apparently Empress Pulcheria did, if you at least watch Sign of the Pagan. In this film Pulcheria gets to snog the Hun in an attempt to save the Roman Empire from immediate collapse and save her chaste love Marcian to become the next Emperor. The film is otherwise ridiculous, though Jack Palance does make a good 'Attila'.
The saint bit comes in because Pulcheria is officially a saint for both Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. Her 'badge' of honour is that she stayed a virgin despite marrying Marcian and crashed Christian unity. More of that latter.
Pulcheria was born in around 399, just before the 'glorious' Fifth Century in Roman History. Her father was Emperor Arcadius, the CEO of the Roman Empire (East) based in Constantinople. Pulcheria's mother Eudoxia died in childbirth when she was five. Three years later her father died in 408 (unlamented), leaving her an imperial orphan with two younger sisters and a brother. He became Emperor Theodosius II at the age of seven. Since the rest of her family were also still at primary school, political and military power was held by castrated bureaucrats (eunuchs) and parade ground generals (lackeys). Despite this, they did get round to commissioning and building the famous 'Theodosian' triple walls walls to keep out undocumented barbarians from crossing into Constantinople.
The young emperor was quite content with these terms of business. Theodosius got the titles and attributes but could spend all day playing games or watching chariot racing in the Hippodrome. Being a useless emperor was a well established family tradition. This went on until 414 when Pulcheria - fed up with being treated like a 'silly little girl' by men like Patrician Anthemius - took power on behalf of her brother. She became an empress and de-facto ruler at the grand age of 15.
Pulcheria's power grab was unchallenged by Theodosius. Her uncle Emperor Honorius in the Roman Empire (West) equally made no protest about his niece nabbing power. Pulcheria's aunt Galla Placidia would have objected but she was in Gaul on a compulsory vacation as Queen of the Goths. Pulcheria for her part now became the objective for ambitious match-makers who wanted a connection with the imperial family. It was then that apparently Pulcheria swore off any male companionship and stated her plan was to remain 'unsullied by anyone but Jesus'. This was apparently done as an apology to the Church for her mother's supposedly impious treatment of St. John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople who had called Eudoxia a whore and had been banished. That Chrysostom had been a religious bigot, anti-semite, anti-women was no barrier to Pulcheria who eventually had the old shit's corpse returned from exile and raised to the status of a saint.
Pulcheria got used to be the Empress Bee in Constantinople. In 421 she found her brother a wife via an imperial dating service. Her name was Aelia Eudocia. The couple married as Mr and Mrs Empress/Emperor. Pulcheria expected a compliant sister-in-law, the two women would eventually fall out on the issue of religious affiliations. 'Prissy' Pulcheria managed to force her rival to move to Jerusalem where she joined a rival Christian sect. Pulcheria was satisfied with that result.
She did receive a different kind of challenge from her aunt Galla Placida. After being both a Goth Queen and the wife of Emperor Constantius III, Galla had fled with her family to Constantinople to avoid a forced marriage to an imperial usurper Ioannes. Pulcheria took an instant dislike to Galla Placida. Whether it was earlier career as a Goth or whatever, the two women avoided social contact unless required for protocol.
This Ancient Roman stand-off lasted a year until a compromise was reached. Theodosius's daughter Licinia Eudoxia aged three would marry Galla Placida's son Valentinian (later Emperor Valentinian III). With that agreed, Galla Placida could piss off back to Rome with an army supplied from Constantinople. Deal done! Please punch your seal here.
It may seem a bit of distraction when your country is surrounded by enemies and your sister-empire in the West is collapsing under attack but what really got Pulcheria interested in was God-bothering. It was also the only hobby she shared with her brother and his wife. To make it easier to follow, this how the Christian sects would line up:
- Nicene Christians. They believed in God came in three flavours but everything tasted the same. The 'Father, Son and Holy Ghost' trinity. What we think Christianity is today.
- Arian Christians. Jesus was a special man, God was alone. All else was paganism
- Nestorian Christians. Jesus's mother was Mary but she wasn't special.
- Monophysite Christians. Jesus was all God. No human there. He had one nature, permanently pissed off.
- Gnostics. Dirty Jesus trippy hippies.
If you excluded some of the even less 'mainstream' Christians (the Judeo-Christain hybrid known as the Ebionites for example), that pretty much included everyone. Three attempts were made to resolve these decisions. The end result that the meetings caused more splits as people misunderstood what had been agreed. This had happened before at the First Council of Nicaea which had dumped on the Arians. In the first 5th century meeting at the First Council of Ephesus in 431, there was a struggle at doctrinal dominance with the Nestorians. Their leader Nestorius (Archbishop of Constantinople) lobbied hard for his theology and even accused the Roman authorities of interference by circulating a codex accused Pulcharia of nightly entertaining seven lovers in her large bed. The Nestorians were shown the door (and hit with it as well) when they lost the argument. Since being on the losing side meant you also had to shut up and accept the result, the Nestorians crossed the border into Persia to avoid having their testicles roasted.
The second great bust up happened in 451 at another 'Christian Peace Conference' in Chalcedon, one that was supposed to have be done at another meeting two years earlier.Then some of those who had been so keen to shit-kick the Nestorians, were themselves thrown out. This happened in arguments about Jesus's true nature to say the blue-eyed boy of Christian fundamentalist illustrators was all spirit and physically from another dimension.They were called the Monophysites, the one track minders. They were also told to collect their sandals and fuck off but only got as far as Alexandria in Egypt where most people believed in this particular nonsense as compared to anything else on offer.
Pulcheria was able to attend these meetings because of her political role. what - if any impact - she made on the debates isn't known but for her work at the council she got the coveted 'Saint Award of 451' from the Catholics and Orthodox.
More Family, Huns, Bad girls and Sex!!?Edit
Though life in the Eastern Half of the Roman Empire was going well, the situation in the West had got a lot harder. Pulcheria blamed the weakness in Rome and Ravenna (the working capital of the Western Empire) on those in charge. Particularly Galla Placidia. In 439 Emperor Valentinian III made the trip to the East to collect his promised bride. Pulcheria was pleased to see that Galla Placida hadn't made a return trip but was instead represented by her daughter Justa Grata Honoria. According to the various stories, Justa Grata Honoria hadn't come over on her volition but had been sent away from the West for her sexual fun and games with palace employees. Galla sent Pulcheria a scroll recommending 'stern discipline' for her daughter. Pulcheria happily agreed but was afraid of Justa Galla Honoria and sent her back home.
All this may have been forgotten in history if it hadn't been for Attila the Hun. His rapidly built empire was located north of the Danube in what is now Hungary (a permanent name memorial for his residence). Attila was in the position to grab either half of the Roman Empire by the balls and demand payment. In addition, he had formed a handy alliance with Genseric the Vandal who had a navy and could equally go on rape/pillage expeditions to distract the Romans.
Pulcheria claimed she was all out for fighting the Huns but that it was her brother who had kept paying the blackmail money. When the lolly ran out, the Huns attacked. Theodosius had then drew the Huns a map where all the bank deposits were held in the Western Roman Empire before he was killed in when his horse tripped and threw him into the air killing the emperor.
One Woman AloneEdit
The emperor's death left Pulcheria in sole control of the Eastern Roman Empire. The only blood relatives were her cousin Emperor Valentinian and her niece Licinia Eudocia and her young daughters. They were in Rome. For about a month Pulcheria ruled alone as Empress but the senate in Constantinople insisted she couldn't do the job solo. Pulcheria would have to have a husband. The Huns may be back at anytime.
A special 'show' was designed for Pulcheria to choose a husband. She insisted that who was lucky to be with her would have to swear off all sex and leave her alone. A well connected civil servant called Marcian took up the offer. He was an unexciting choice as emperor but that suited Pulcheria. Any temptations to break her virginity vows were a more stud-like companion would get no traction with Marcian.
Pulcheria died in 453. She missed out the final unravelling of Attila the Hun's career, the Vandal sack of Rome and general other beastliness. Pulcheria achieved her aim to be saint and got it. Her virginity untouched, though her enemies said that was all white washing. Did she ever kiss Attila the Hun? Were there photos?? The chronicles are silent but other sources (Hollywood) had other ideas.
Sign of the PaganEdit
Pulcheria can be seen in the 1953 film about Attila the Hun titled Sign of the Pagan. In this we learn the brutal conqueror acted a bit like Dracula when confronted by a cross, going weak at the knees and dribbling. Jesus is after you Hun! Pulcheria in this film shows little of her saintly side and dresses quite racily. She can also dance - a lot - which isn't surprising as the empress was played by the ballet dancer Ludmilla Tchérina.
There are a few fights and the action moves from all over the place before ending up in Rome (a city neither the real Pulcheria and Marcian are known to have visited). The Huns are stopped, mainly by Pope Leo and his Godly Orchestra outside the city. Later Attila is stabbed to death by his new wife whilst fighting with Marcian. All total nonsense and contrasts with another Attila film a year (1954) later called Attila: Scourge of God. There is no Pulcheria in this one but you do get Sophia Loren as Justa Grata Honoria and her 5th century bra. She doesn't dance. Pity.
No saints were harmed in the making of this article. More's the pity.
- ↑ Arcadius was a useless prig
- ↑ Should have been called the Anthemine Walls after Anthemius who was the praetorian prefect who ordered their construction
- ↑ No hippos. Only dromes
- ↑ Prime Minister and Court Fool is the rough modern equivalent.
- ↑ Jesus was an ordinary Jo
- ↑ She would have been one woman in a room full of hirsute holy rollers
- ↑ No evidence provided for this assertion but didn't St. Paul say all women are dangerous, inadequate men?
- ↑ See above.
Marcian (in the East)