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Galla Placidia

Augusta Galla Placidia Regent for Emperor Valentinian III

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Galla Placidia was a powerful figure, an empress and regent. As her biographer Stewart Irvin Oost, says, she "played at least as important a role as any other figure in the history of the Western Empire throughout the first half of the critical fifth century...." Despite this, the date of her birth is not known for certain, but was between A.D. 388 and 393.

Galla Placidia was the daughter of Roman Emperor Theodosius I (379-395) and his second wife, Galla, the daughter of Valentinian I. She was the half-sister of the young Roman emperors Honorius (393-423) and Arcadius (383-408), the aunt of Theodosius II and Pulcheria, the wife of Athaulf, King of the Goths, and then of Flavius Constantius (421) (who was promoted to co-emperor with Honorius shortly before his death), and the mother of Valentinian III.

When, under the leadership of Alaric, the Goths sacked Rome in August 410, they took Galla Placidia with them to Gaul.

Galla Placidia Marries

After the death of Alaric, Athaulf became the king. Galla Placidia married him in Narbo in January 414 -- against the wishes of her half-brother Honorius, and had a son named Theodosius who died soon thereafter. Following the death of Athaulf in 414, the Goths returned Galla Placidia to the Romans who wanted her to marry Flavius Constantius, who had succeeded Stilicho to power. Reluctantly, Galla Placidia did so and produced two children, Justa Grata Honoria and Valentinian. When, on February 8, 421, Constantius was made co-emperor (Constantius III) in the west by Honorius, Galla Placidia was named Augusta. Constantius died on September 2, 421. Galla Placidia and her childless half-brother Honorius became very close for a while, but then they quarreled.

Galla Placidia Flees to Constantinople

Galla Placidia fled with her children to Constantinople in 423 to escape a charge of aiding her brother's enemies. Although earlier Theodosius hadn't recognized the imperial elevation of Constantius and therefore, the status of his aunt as Augusta, he welcomed her, and soon recognized both her status and the legitimacy of her son as heir. Honorius died soon after, on August 27 of the same year. A usurper John assumed the throne in Ravenna. Theodosius set out to win the throne back for his family. When the imperial party reached Thessalonica the young Valentinian was made Caesar.

Galla Placidia - The Power Behind the Throne

Placidia was regent for her young son for the next 12 years. She had legislation passed in her son's name (according to Oost), stating that the emperor was subject to the laws of the land, as opposed to the situation in the east where the emperor was above the law. Galla Placidia was also involved in the power play between Felix, Boniface, and Aetius, who has been called the last of the Romans. Earlier, Placidia is thought to have been involved in the conspiracy against the Vandal Stilicho and the subsequent execution of Serena, Stilicho's wife and Galla Placidia's cousin. Galla Placidia is also counted a devout Christian who was involved in church building and restoration.

Tomb of Galla Placidia

Augusta Galla Placidia died in Rome on November 27, 450. There is a mausoleum at Ravenna (referred to as the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia) that is claimed as her final resting place, but it likely that she was buried elsewhere.

Sources

"Justa Grata Honoria," by J. B. Bury. The Journal of Roman Studies Vol. 9 (1919), pp. 1-13.

"Galla Placidia and the Law," by Stewart Irvin Oost. Classical Philology Vol. 63, No. 2 (Apr., 1968), pp. 114-121.

"'Galla Placidia Augusta,' by Stewart Irwin Oost" reviewed by W. H. C. Frend. The Classical Review, New Ser., Vol. 20, No. 2. (Jun., 1970), pp. 218-219.

"Some Problems in the History of Galla Placidia," by Stewart Irvin Oost. Classical Philology Vol. 60, No. 1 (Jan., 1965), pp. 1-10.

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