Historical Prologue: Women of the Houses of Constantine and Theodosios

  • Anne McClanan
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The first centuries of the Roman Empire witnessed important developments in the role and representation of the empress, but the powerful empresses of the Houses of Constantine and Theodosios during the fourth and fifth centuries provide the precedents most relevant to early Byzantine women’s patronage and other public displays of authority. Livia (58 b.c.–a.d. 29), the wife of the first Augustus, looms large as a paradigm for Roman women, whether imperial or not. Livia’s patronage in Rome inspired women’s patronage throughout the Empire, such as that of Eumachia of Pompeii.1 The very presence of women in public monuments is constitutive of the imperial period, for in the Republican era only Cornelia, as the mother of the Gracchi, had a public statue.2 Domitia offers another important first-century example of a Roman empress who wielded authority quite independent of her husband. Eric Varner recently demonstrated that a new diademed portrait type was introduced a mere two weeks after her husband’s accession to the throne. This portrait type continued to be promulgated after her banishment on charges of adultery. After perhaps hastening Domitian’s demise, Domitia escaped the ignominy of her husband’s damnatio memoriae and continued to be represented during the reign of Trajan.3


Imperial Image Imperial Cult Ruler Cult Roman Woman Imperial Period 
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© Anne McClanan 2002

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  • Anne McClanan

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