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Rome's Christian Empress

, 248 pages

11 halftones, 1 line drawing, 7 maps

March 2015



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Rome's Christian Empress

Galla Placidia Rules at the Twilight of the Empire

In Rome’s Christian Empress, Joyce E. Salisbury brings the captivating story of Rome’s Christian empress to life. The daughter of Roman emperor Theodosius I, Galla Placidia lived at the center of imperial Roman power during the first half of the fifth century. Taken hostage after the fall of Rome to the Goths, she was married to the king and, upon his death, to a Roman general. The rare woman who traveled throughout Italy, Gaul, and Spain, she eventually returned to Rome, where her young son was crowned as the emperor of the western Roman provinces. Placidia served as his regent, ruling the Roman Empire and the provinces for twenty years.

Salisbury restores this influential, too-often forgotten woman to the center stage of this crucial period. Describing Galla Placidia’s life from childhood to death while detailing the political and military developments that influenced her—and that she influenced in turn—the book relies on religious and political sources to weave together a narrative that combines social, cultural, political, and theological history.

The Roman world changed dramatically during Placidia’s rule: the Empire became Christian, barbarian tribes settled throughout the West, and Rome began its unmistakable decline. But during her long reign, Placidia wielded formidable power. She fended off violent invaders and usurpers who challenged her Theodosian dynasty; presided over the dawn of the Catholic Church as theological controversies split the faithful and church practices and holidays were established; and spent fortunes building churches and mosaics that incorporated prominent images of herself and her family. Compulsively readable, Rome’s Christian Empress is the first full-length work to give this fascinating and complex ruler her due.

Joyce E. Salisbury is professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay. She is the author of Perpetua’s Passion: Death and Memory of a Young Roman Woman and The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages.

"A soundly researched and elegantly written history of Rome's decline and one of its most important empresses. Joyce Salisbury successfully aims to provide a more complete picture of Galla Placidia by looking at politics, warfare, and theological controversy. Her multifaceted approach and impressive knowledge of Roman social and cultural history makes Rome's Christian Empress a significant contribution to Late Antique scholarship—and a pleasure to read. Salisbury deftly describes the political machinations of an Empire in decline and introduces her characters in very 'human' terms. Very few scholars could weave a narrative that incorporates the complexities of Hunnish travel, the methods of Late Antique midwifery, the political intrigue of the Theodosian court, and the theological struggles of Nestorianism within an emerging Christian orthodoxy."

"A useful, scholarly, and engaging examination of Placidia and late antiquity."

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