The Enormously Progressive Female Empress Pulcheria And Her Story

by Shirley Williams
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Pulcheria is an ancient high society woman and political ruler/influencer in the Eastern Roman Empire in the beginning of the first century. She was known for her strong moral beliefs as well as her progressive position as a woman in her time.


Pulcheria was born in Constantinople in 398 to Emperor Arcadius and Empress Aelia Eudoxia. Being born into royalty, she enjoyed a privileged upbringing. While she enjoyed the privilege, she also understood that her privilege came with extreme responsibility. She would need to exhibit this responsibility at a young age when her parents died.


When the emperor and empress died, Pulcheria’s younger brother, Theodosius II, became the new leader. Unfortunately, he was only 7 years old at the time. Pulcheria, a mature 15 years old, was put in charge of him. She was given the prestigious title of “Augusta” at this time. She knew how vulnerable her position was, being a woman. For that reason, Pulcheria decided to take a vow of celibacy which she maintained throughout her life. She hoped this was prevent suitors from trying to take her power. Of course, she knew that her brother would eventually be the one in charge as he got older.

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Beliefs and Relationships

Pulcheria was a devout Christian. She took her religion very seriously. This caused her to have unfavorable views of Jews and other religions in the area. The devotion to religion led to a war with Persia. The Persian king killed one of her bishops, and she encouraged her brother to send troops. The brother and sister team worked well together, and they were victorious in the war. They believed that God assisted them due to Pulcheria’s chastity. Unfortunately, Pulcheria did not get along as well with her brother’s wife, Eudocia. The latter seemed jealous of her sister-in-law’s power. She did what she could to encourage her husband to rely less on his sister. She even left the palace for some time until her brother died.


While it was a relative short reign, Pulcheria became empress for about a month after her brother died. Her rule was not appreciated by the men in court who didn’t like the idea of a woman in charge. In order to retain her power, the empress made a political arrangement to marry Marcian. He became leader, but Pulcheria still had significant influence over him. She insisted that she could never break her vow of celibacy. She also insisted that he execute one of the people who opposed her rule with her sister-in-law.

Death and Legacy

Pulcheria’s death came as a surprise. She made it to her 50s, and she was declared a saint after her death. Her rule in a male-dominated area makes her an interesting character to study, despite her lack of religious tolerance.

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