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“I agree with Bishop Nestorius”
“I agree with Bishop Cyril. Nestorius is a heretic.”
“I agree with my wife Eudocia. Pulcheria is a pushy cow.”
“I have banished my wife. Pulcheria was right.”
In the days of the Roman Republic, the title emperor was an honorary title for any successful general who had got the better of effete Greeks, crafty Parthians or mud splattered barbarians. It meant in effect 'Commander in Chief'. Therefore it did suggest that to be such a person, you would have required at least some years out in the military field. The Roman Empire as established by Augustus tried to follow this rule. Some previous emperors had been on the young side (like Gordian) or young and perverted (Elagabalus). Theodosius II was still on his milk teeth when he became Emperor in the Eastern Empire at the age of 7 in 408.
Theodosius's uncle Emperor Honorius was the 'senior' member of the purple empowerment team but he was over in Italy with his chickens. Rome had already gone through one sacking by Alaric the Goth in 410 and the Visigoths and allies had broken the Rhine frontier and were roaming round Gaul and Spain unchallenged. Theodosius's father, the cheap games fixated Arcadius had left instructions that Theodosius be brought up to emulate his grandfather namesake Theodosius the Great but that wasn't to happen either. The new emperor's primary interests were religious disputation and watching his wife and elder sister slug it out over who got access to his imperial ear. He never outgrew the unkind but correct moniker 'Theodosius the Little'.
A word about this sister before we continue. Her name was Pulcheria and like her aunt Galla Placida was to show, proof positive that the Romans would have been better off junking the male heirs of Theodosius the Great and supporting the females in the family. Pulcheria was 10 when her father died (her mother was already dead) and was sure she knew more about how to run the Roman Empire. Denied the regency of baby brother, Pulcheria grabbed power a couple of years later at the grand age of 15 and proclaimed herself 'Augusta' - in effect, Empress of the East and therefore in effect equal to Theodosius. To prevent any sexual monkey business with her brother, Pulcheria and her two sisters Arcadia and Martina pledged themselves to perpetual virginity and wore heavy clothing that sparked off an electrical charge if you got too close.
Theodosius's city of Constantinople had already long burst its original boundaries and so it was decided to build a new wall in reflect this fact. They were built especially tough as a triple whammy to defer any but the most bone headed attacker. The 'Theodosian Walls' as they got to be called did a good job. It needed the invention of effective artillery in the 15th Century to knock a hole big enough to gain access.
Walls besides, Theodosius II and his government gave no help to the Western Roman Empire as it was attacked by Visigoths, Vandals, Hooligan Huns and such like. The excuse was always 'well, we are making sure the Persians don't attack you from the South East' and so Honorius's empire shrank like a mouldy old prune.
Not that Theodosius had a shortage of other barbarians to deal with in the Balkans. The latest incomers were the Huns and a confederate array of other Germanic skull crushers including the Ostrogoths, Lombards and the Gepids.
edit Wives and Relatives
It must have been a bit grim at court for Theodosius with his sisters running the empire. Pulcheria also banned 'filthy pagans' from imperial jobs and ordered the demolition of synagogues with the jews still inside. In Alexandria mobs took the empress's overt bigotry as a call to hunt down and kill the philosopher Hypatia as being (a) a know-it all woman and (b) a pagan and (c) for all the reasons listed above. Theodosius doesn't seemed to have shared this fanaticism but went along with it.
The emperor wasn't given a look-in on who was to be his bride either. Pulcheria arranged that too, finding a Greek woman called Athenais. She also happened to be a pagan (i.e. follower of the old Olympian Gods) but was baptised and converted with the new name Eudocia. Pulcheria thought she would be a wimp to match her brother but once enthroned as Empress Eudocia, Pulcheria now had a new rival to handle.
It was around this time that unexpected family refugee from Ravenna arrived. This was Empress Galla Placidia with her two children, Honoria and Valentinian, later to be emperor Valentinian III. Galla Placidia had already survived marriage to a Visigoth warlord who had looted her from Rome in 410 and then later hooked up with a Roman general Constantius who was to briefly co-rule the Western Empire with Honorius. Widowed again, Galla had to escape some incestuous pawing by her brother and moved to Constantinople.
Uncomfortable with three pushy women in the palace (sister, wife and auntie), Theodosius retreated to his study to renew a private interest in religion. Even this didn't stop Galla Placidia from locating the miserable Theodosius, so he got rid of her and her family by supplying a fleet to return to Ravenna and reclaim the Western Roman Empire from a upstart bureaucrat who called himself Emperor Ioannes (Honorius having previously died from a chicken related illness). To sweeten the deal - Theodosius promised his daughter Eudocia Juvenillia as a marriage mate for the young Valentinian when she became of age - and deducted most of the Balkans from the Western Empire as 'expenses' to his own half of the imperial domain. Ioannes was 'retired' (what was left got fed to the pigs) and the Roman world was re-united under the same family again.
edit Something About Mary and Did Jesus Take a Shit?
Christianity had been the official state religion of the Roman empire since Theodosius the Great. All other alternatives had been officially closed down or given over to active persecution. If you were rich and well connected, paganism was still a popular badge worn secretly by many artistocrats who were appalled that they were regarded as 'equals in front of God' along with the local plebians or worse - slaves.
In the previous century the early Church had got into bitter and bloody conflict with each other over whether Jesus had been a man with special powers (the SuperJesus option) or just God walking about Earth in a fleshy form. The former (the 'Arians') had lost that argument and got the boot out of all their lucrative positions in the Church as the latter Catholic and Orthodox Christians predominated with their famous 'God-in-Three-Forms' (Old Man, Young Man and the smoke in between), a doctrine later called 'Trinitarianism'. The Arian Christians had fled amongst the barbarians beyond the borders where their message received a better welcome and cartload of converts amongst the Goths and Vandals.
In the Western end of the Roman Empire there was Saint Augustine writing about his sinful past and generally having a real miserable life. In the Eastern half, men of religion took to disputations and hurling calls of heretic against each other. The Latin speaking West never understood why the Greek rabbiting East loved this nit picking so much. Something in the water perhaps?
The new dispute started off about the Virgin Mary. Theodosius's head man, Nestorius the Patriarch of Constantinople argued a mortal woman couldn't give birth to a God, that was very much old style pagan stuff. She was the 'Mother of Christ', Jesus's mortal bits and pieces. Emperor Theodosius thought that seemed reasonable and called a Church Council to make that the Dogma of the Day. However in Rome the Pope had kittens and said this was heretical and damned nasty business. He was supported by Patriarch St.Cyril of Alexandria. A supposed man of God who had organised riots against Jews in his home city and had preached against women having an education (and receive a stoning instead), Cyril wanted to have Nestorius burnt as a heretic. A compromise saw Nestorius was stripped of office and his crozier broken in two.
But then the extreme anti-Nestorians went to the other theological end and said Jesus had no human hang ups and doubted if he even needed the rest room after a drink with the apostles. Cyril wasn't so sure to go that that far (which is why he is St.Cyril to this day) but plenty of his supporters did (they were called the Monophysites - One Track Minders) and were lead by Timothy the Weasel of Alexandria. Theodosius again agreed that argument could also be true and declared everyone was a winner.
Well as was the nature of things, the Church had endless councils to argue about it this until finally a new 'centre' agreed to drop both the Nestorians with their too earthly Jesus and the Monophysites with their unblemished god approach. Jesus was both human and divine and that this struggle was what made him understand the pain of dying. In fact by the time they had agreed, Theodosius was dead and in a place to test the truth of all religious positions about the status of Jesus or not.
edit Back to the Family
Theodosius's relative luxury of listening to wild eyed churchmen with beards was interrupted by some domestic issues. His wife Eudocia and sister Pulcheria had grown to despise each other. Theodosius was sat on by both of them until a scandal about Eudocia finding huggy comfort with the palace eunuchs got her exiled by Pulcheria.
Then a few years later, Theodosius's cousin Valentinian made the trip over. He had been promised a bride and wanted to take one of his cousins. In return he dropped his own sister Honoria off with Theodosius. Honoria had been marked down for some dull marriage but instead she had written to Attila the Hun (as you do) to rescue her. The so called brotherly emperors hastily dispatched embassies to Attila to bribe him to attack the other bit of the Roman Empire. The Western Empire lost that bidding war so Attila packed up his horde and marched towards Gaul. As for Theodosius, he was dead. Not stabbed by a rival or a family member or even an over enthusiastic religious nut. The emperor was killed by his horse doing the buckeroo on him and tossing his imperial almightyness right over its head and into the river, breaking Theodosius's neck.
Marcian (in the East)