Thursday, January 4, 2018

New Biography: The Crazy Life Of The Roman Princess Galla Placidia

Galla Placidia and her eventful life perfectly showcased the hectic state of affairs that the Western Roman Empire found itself enduring (and eventually collapsing from) during the 5th century. She was a daughter of Emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395) and Empress Galla. Upon Theodosius’ death, two of Galla Placidia’s brothers were crowned as emperors, one to rule the East and another to control the West. Galla Placidia, herself, was left to the care of the powerful general Stilicho (or more specifically, his wife, Serena), under whose direction she learned Latin and Greek, as well as other subjects that women of the time were expected to be know, such as sewing and weaving.

The young princess stayed in the Western Empire during the reign of her brother, Emperor Honorius (r. 393-423), mostly residing in the city of Rome. Yet times were not easy—for various reasons (but mostly because of pressure from the Huns) a large coalition of peoples, including the Vandals, Suevi and Alans, crossed the Rhine into Roman Gaul in 406, throwing the empire into chaos. A former Roman mercenary named Alaric brought the havoc straight to the heart of the Western Empire. After becoming king of the Visigoths, Alaric eventually led his people to besiege Rome. He arrived at the city walls first in 408, but was paid off by the Roman Senate. He attacked again in 409, but was once more convinced to withdraw from the city. Finally, in 410, King Alaric and the Visigoths besieged Rome for one last time, with no intention of withdrawing from the city. Instead, they looted the city for three days, stealing wealth and harassing the locals, but keeping most of the city remarkably intact. Around this time, or perhaps during the earlier sieges, the Visigoths captured Galla Placidia. King Alaric hoped he could use the princess as leverage in his negotiations with Emperor Honorius. Alaric, however, had miscalculated—Honorius and Galla Placidia were not friendly siblings.

Continue reading about Galla Placidia's impressive waves of political weakness and strength, HERE.

Picture attribution: (Supposed miniature of Galla Placidia on top of a destroyed city painted by Thomas Cole (1801–1848), both [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).

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