The Empress Ariadne and the Politics of Transition

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


The Empress Ariadne (d. 513/515)—whose period in power stretched between the fifth and sixth centuries—transformed the Late Roman traditions that imperial women such as Helena, Eudokia, and Pulcheria had so successfully developed. Her reign marks the transition to the altered conception of the imperial woman that emerged in the early Byzantine period. Theodosian predecessors had mostly elaborated Roman imperial imagery, but with Ariadne a new sensibility starts to materialize. Her identity is conveyed through normative visual language, and Ariadne’s images carved out of luxury materials do not even bear her name, so strongly does her imperial identity override any individual meaning.The eldest daughter of the Emperor Leo I and Verina, Ariadne had no brother to follow Leo to the throne. The Empire now without a male heir, Ariadne became the transmitter of imperial rule. The Empress Ariadne assumed an unprecedented level of authority in the nebulous moments between emperors, and this chapter will focus on how these dynamics are reflected in the official ivories. She determined a sequence of three emperors in her roles as mother and wife, for after her son ruled, Ariadne’s two husbands, Zeno and Anastasios, reigned in succession. Fundamental changes made in coinage during her rule with Anastasios also impart a sense of rupture in the official imagery of her reign. This flux sets the backdrop for arguments later in this book, for the numismatic record has too often been confined to the narrow domain of specialist studies, and its importance within broader visual culture neglected.


Imperial Image Sixth Century Imperial Couple Imperial Identity Late Roman Period 
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© Anne McClanan 2002

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  • Anne McClanan

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