Empress of the Eastern Roman Empire
Aelia Pulcheria
Coin of Aelia Pulcheria
Reign 28 July 450 – July 453
Coronation 28 July 450
Full name Aelia Pulcheria
Born 19 January 399
Died 453
Consort Marcian
Royal House House of Theodosius
Father Arcadius
Mother Aelia Eudoxia

Aelia Pulcheria (January 19, 399 – 453) was the daughter of the Eastern Roman Emperor Arcadius, a great influence on her brother Theodosius II and wife to Emperor Marcian. She is honoured as a saint by the Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Churches.


Pulcheria was born as the daughter of the Emperor Arcadius and his Frankish-born wife Aelia Eudoxia. She was named after a daughter of Theodosius I and Aelia Flaccilla, who was born in 378 and died in 385.

As the eldest child of Arcadius, she became an influential figure when her seven-year-old brother Theodosius II became emperor in 408. At first the praetorian prefect Anthemius governed in Theodosius' name. In 414, Pulcheria was proclaimed Augusta by the senate and assumed the regency for her brother. To avoid being forced into a marriage she took a vow of virginity . She was a devout Christian and influenced her brother and later also his wife, Aelia Eudocia, in that direction.

Pulcheria tended to rely on the support of the various Germanic military officers she appointed, such as the Alan Aspar and tolerated the Arianism practised by the Germanic tribes. By 416 Theodosius was capable of ruling by himself, but she remained a very strong influence. She also assisted her brother in procuring marriage to the Athenian Aelia Eudocia in 421.

In 414 she had Theodosius remove all pagans from the civil service.

In the controversy regarding Nestorius, whom the emperor had appointed Patriarch of Constantinople, Pulcheria sided with Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria and persuaded him in that direction. Nestorius was condemned at the Council of Ephesus (431) and exiled in 435. Pulcheria's stance earned her the enmity of the partisans of Nestorius.

Pulcheria gradually lost her influence on her brother to Eudocia, whom she now regarded with jealousy. Eventually both women were expelled from the court due to the influence of the eunuch Chrysaphius. Pulcheria retreated to a suburb where she lived the life of a nun.

Pulcheria returned to court in 449 and when Theodosius died a year later, she openly struggled with Chrysaphius for the rule. Pulcheria gained the support of Aspar and married general Marcian (born in Illyricum), declaring that Theodosius had declared him his successor. The marriage was arranged with the understanding that he respect Pulcheria's vow of chastity. Pulcheria then had Marcian execute Chrysaphius.

Together with Marcian, she helped organize the Council of Chalcedon in 451, which condemned Monophysitism and the events of the pro-Monophysite "Robber Synod" of Ephesus of 449. The abbot Eutyches and Patriarch Dioscurus of Alexandria, the two main actors at Ephesus, were deposed and exiled and Flavian of Constantinople, who was mistreated at Ephesus and died shortly afterwards, was declared a martyr.

Pulcheria also commissioned many new churches in Constantinople, especially to the Virgin Mary. Among them the most important is the Church of St. Mary of the Blachernae.

She died in July 453, leaving Aspar as the dominant influence on Marcian, who himself died in 457.

Pulcheria and Marcian is recognized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church, and she and Marcian are both recognized by the Eastern Orthodox Church, with their feast day celebrated on February 17.

In literature

In 1672, Pierre Corneille wrote Pulchérie, a comedy inspired by the end of the life of the empress and her marriage with Marcian.

Royal titles
Preceded by
Aelia Eudocia
Byzantine Empress consort
Succeeded by

See also


  • Warren Treadgold, A History of the Byzantine State and Society, Stanford, 1997.
  • Catholic Encyclopedia, "Pulcheria".

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