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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An imagined life, 16 July 2012
E. L. Wisty "World Domination League" (Devon, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Galla Placidia: The Last Roman Empress (Women in Antiquity) (Paperback)
The problem with trying to create biographies of ancient figures is the sheer paucity of sources. So often, they turn into histories of the age in which the figure under question lived, rather than a portrait of that figure. It's far worse of course when it comes to women, and authors choose such subjects as an attempt at an ideological 'redressing the balance' against the domination of male figures in history.

So, much in here is constructed from what might have happened. Or then again, might not. If there had been an epithalamium written for the wedding of Galla to the Visigothic king Athaulf, it might have contained such-and-such a theme. She might possibly have visited the tomb of her relative Constans on her way to Spain. If a panegyric had been written for Galla in Rome, it might have sounded a little like the one which Julian wrote for Eusebia, the wife of Constantius II. The Ashburnham Pentateuch manuscript might have been a gift from Galla to her daughter-in-law Licinia Eudoxia. Had there been an elegy for the funeral of Galla it might have been a bit like one written by Claudian or Merobaudes. Well you get the picture.

Hagith Sivan does however write an interesting and engaging work, but it's really in a way more about the lives of the Roman aristocracy in the age of the Constantinian and Theodosian dynasties than a genuine biography of Galla.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Galla Placidia, 23 Feb 2014
Keen Reader "lhendry4" (Auckland, New Zealand) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Galla Placidia: The Last Roman Empress (Women in Antiquity) (Paperback)
This book was recommended to me by another Amazon reviewer (thanks, E L Wisty).

When Aelia Galla Placidia married the Gothic chieftain Athaulf in AD 414 she was the granddaughter and daughter of Roman emperors, Valentinian I (364-375) and Theodosius I (379-395), respectively, sister of one reigning emperor, Honorius (395-423), and aunt of another reigning monarch, Theodosius II (408-450). Yet her marriage was not universally welcomed. The circumstances of her being in the Gothic camp were strange enough, and politically difficult for her relatives and peers. Within a year Gallia Placidia had borne Athaulf a son Theodosius, who died, and within a short while Athaulf was also dead, assassinated by opponents of his policies. By 417, Galla Placidia had been married to Constantius, her brother Honorius’s most valued military commander. In 419 she gave birth to a son, Valentinian (later emperor Valentinian III) for whom she would obviously have harboured imperial ambitions. By 421 Constantius had been elevated to coemperor and Augustus and shortly thereafter Galla was also proclaimed as Augusta. Clearly she was a politically intelligent and determined woman, and her tumultuous life after the death of Constantius in 421 until her death in 450 demonstrates that.

This book is interesting not only in that it seeks to tell the life of a woman from a time when sources on women’s place in history was scant. But it also seeks to recreate, if you like, the times in which Gallia Placidia would have lived. From available sources, the atmosphere and process of weddings, funerals and lives lived, and the role of legal jurisdiction and Christianity are also brought to life for the reader. While some scholars may dispute this as ‘serious scholarship’ I think in the circumstances it is more than acceptable to bring depth to a life whose specific sources are largely missing. The author is always very clear when she is using information to ‘build’ a likely scenario from Galla Placidia’s life, so there is never any attempt to deceive, merely an attempt to bring colour and depth to otherwise lacking material. Literary sources, including excerpts from letters are offered to show what type of woman Galla Placidia was, and her political and religious allegiances.

In 449 Galla’s daughter Iusta Grata Honoria had hastened the invasion of the Huns by corresponding with Atilla. It would appear that her brother Valentian III granted her life to her mother after this treachery. Galla Placidia’s last public appearance was in 450, at the very public and grand reinternment ceremony in Rome of her son Theodosius III who had died as a baby more than three decades earlier. She apparently died late in 450. It seems that Galla’s later life was spent attempting to confirm the authority of her family and their position in the Empire, as well as helping to keep the peace on the borders and ensure the supremacy of the Nicene creed of the Church. By 455 the Valentinian-Theodosian dynasty had failed, with Valentinian III being killed, and Attila arriving at the gates of Rome. What followed in the West was a whole new story.

This is a most interesting book; what is known about Galla Placidia, and what can be conjectured go to make up the story of a most remarkable woman, not only for her time but for any era. She was obviously a remarkably shrewd woman, who understood and used political and religious means to try to ensure not only her own life but also the life of her familial dynasty.
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Galla Placidia: The Last Roman Empress (Women in Antiquity)
Galla Placidia: The Last Roman Empress (Women in Antiquity) by Hagith Sivan (Paperback - 1 Aug 2011)
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