Faction Politics and the Transfer of Power at the Accession of Marcian (450 C.E.)


§1.1 Following the death of Theodosius II on July 28, AD 450, an undistinguished military officer of provincial origin, Marcian, was elevated to the eastern imperial throne.[1] The circumstances surrounding Theodosius’ accidental death and Marcian’s unexpected rise to power have received less scholarly attention than they deserve, given their concurrence with the climax of the most divisive theological conflict of the fifth century, the miaphysite/dyophysite Christological controversy. Marcian’s elevation and his subsequent reversal of Theodosius’ theological policy sparked a violent church schism that continued to plague the empire under Justinian in the sixth century, and whose repercussions are still felt in the Catholic and Orthodox churches today. Those scholars who have treated the events of 450 in detail have significantly advanced our understanding of the circumstances surrounding Marcian’s accession, but they have tended to oversimplify the socio-political forces at play. This paper is primarily a summary and analysis of the extant prosopographical data made with a view towards reconstructing a fuller picture of the military and theological/ecclesiastical factions that made up the court political scene in the final years of Theodosius’ reign and in the ensuing interregnum. Following the analysis, I will put forward my own theory, that the choice of Marcian as emperor represented a careful compromise between disgraced military factions seeking a return to imperial favor, the dyophysite partisans brought to grief at the Second Council of Ephesus, and the emperor’s sister, Pulcheria, anxious to return to the imperial palace from which she had been exiled years before.

Previous scholarship

§2.1 The earliest sources for Theodosius’ death are chronicle entries; they contain very little detail and even less that is not obviously propagandistic or at least fanciful.[2] The essential facts, however, are clear.Theodosius fell from his horse while hunting along the River Lycus and suffered a spinal injury; [3] he died in Constantinople either later that day or two days later, on July 28, and was buried on July 30.[4] On August 25, Marcian, a military officer of Thracian origins who had served as tribune and domesticus for the general Aspar, was proclaimed and crowned emperor.[5] He married the now fifty-one-year-old Pulcheria, joining himself to the last living member of the Theodosian dynasty’s eastern branch in order to legitimize his reign.[6]

§2.2 Two scholars, Kenneth Holum and Richard Burgess, have examined Marcian’s accession in detail. Holum, in his groundbreaking study Theodosian Empresses, argues that Pulcheria herself chose Marcian as her husband and the new emperor. He suggests that Pulcheria saw Marcian as someone with whom she could work to eradicate the miaphysite heresy and establish dyophysite orthodoxy, and that she used her political capital and well-developed reputation for piety to set him securely on the throne.[7] Later Byzantine sources, such as Theophanes Confessor, do state that Pulcheria chose Marcian, contradicting earlier sources such as John Malalas, which make the improbable claim that Theodosius himself chose Marcian on his deathbed.[8]

§2.3 Burgess, however, strongly criticizes Holum’s interpretation.[9] He argues that the sources emphasizing Pulcheria’s role derive from a polemical miaphysite tradition, originating with the sixth-century hagiography Vita Dioscori.[10] This miaphysite tradition was subsequently adapted into the “modified orthodox” version, perpetuated by Theophanes Confessor, which attracted Holum’s attention.[11] Since neither of these versions reflects the original “official” version contained in John Malalas and other sixth-century sources, Burgess believes they should be rejected.[12] Burgess proposes an alternate candidate as the man behind Marcian’s accession: the general Aspar, who, he suggests, must have bullied Pulcheria into marrying his own candidate in order to bolster his waning political influence.[13]

§2.4 Holum and Burgess, then, have each made an argument for an individual emperor-maker, Pulcheria or Aspar. Nevertheless, to name a single figure in Theodosius’ highly politicized court as directly responsible for such an important choice is to risk over-simplification and certainly to marginalize the other members of the political factions to which they belonged and through which they gained or failed to gain influence and power. In an effort to counteract this insufficiency in Holum’s and Burgess’s otherwise extremely insightful work, I will examine Aspar, Pulcheria, and other political players as members of factions and participants in the wider political scene of the imperial court in the 440s.

Military factions: Alano-Gothic and Isaurian

§3.1 Flavius Ardabur Aspar had a long and often illustrious career, serving as a magister utriusque militiae [14] under Theodosius, Marcian, and Leo I (r. 457–474).[15] He first appears in the sources in 424, accompanying two generals to Italy, his father Ardabur and Candidianus, in a successful campaign to replace the western usurper Ioannes (r. 423–425) with Theodosius’ preferred candidate, his cousin Valentinian (III, r. 425-455).[16] At this time it is likely that he had already been appointed an MVM. Following a campaign against the Vandals in Africa with the western MVM Bonifatius, Valentinian named him consul for 434.[17] After the Hunnic invasion of 441, he negotiated a truce with Attila the Hun, [18] but during the invasion of 447, he and another general, Ariobindus, suffered defeats, and a third general, Arnegisclus, was killed.[19] He is next mentioned, along with Ariobindus, in 449; the contemporary historian Priscus describes both generals as “[carrying] no weight with the Emperor…[because] they were unreliable barbarians.” [20] Two sources report his presence at Theodosius’ deathbed, and he is mentioned in a letter in 451.[21] Around 453, Aspar’s son Ardabur was made MVM per Orientem, [22] but Aspar himself does not appear in any source again until 457, when upon Marcian’s death his sponsorship purportedly gained Leo the imperial throne.[23] In 466, Ardabur was dismissed, allegedly because he had engaged in treasonous activities with Persia. Several further accusations were subsequently leveled against father and son, and Leo executed both for treason in 471.[24] Their executions paved the way for the rise to prominence of Zeno (r. 474–491) and his son Leo (II, r. 474).[25] Multiple sources attest that Aspar was an Arian, which, whatever it might mean about his doctrinal proclivities, strongly supports explicit statements that he was a Goth or an Alan.[26] His ethnic status is also confirmed by his successive marriages into the families of the MVM praesentalis Plinta, another attested Arian, and of Theoderic Strabo, leader of the so-called Thracian Goths in the 470s.[27]

§3.2 From these sources a picture emerges of a coalition of barbarian generals spanning several generations that can conveniently be termed “Alano-Gothic.” [28] The senior members of this coalition were Aspar’s father Ardabur and Plinta. Aspar’s action in the field with Ariobindus and Arnegisclus make them likely candidates for the second generation; in the third generation were Aspar’s sons and Theoderic Strabo. It is important to note, however, that prior to his sponsorship of Leo in 457 there is no indication that Aspar was superior in position or influence to other military figures, Alano-Gothic or otherwise.[29]

§3.3 Not all of Theodosius’ generals, however, belonged to the Alano-Gothic coalition. Another major military figure in the final years of Theodosius’ reign was Flavius Zeno, a native Isaurian (not to be confused with his fellow Isaurian, the Emperor Zeno).[30] Isauria, a portion of the Taurus Mountains in Cilicia Tracheia, was inhabited by unromanized tribes who from the latter half of the third century had proved extremely difficult to subdue entirely.[31] Sources record unrest in Isauria around the time of Zeno’s elevation to the rank of MVM per Orientem in 447, and his promotion is likely to have been an effort to settle the trouble in the region by giving one of the Isaurian warlords the clout necessary to control his rivals.[32] After his successful defense of Constantinople from Attila in that same year, he was rewarded with the consulship for 448.[33] Zeno is last mentioned, as MVM and patricius, in 451.[34] Four other military men are attested as having close ties to Zeno: his brother (name unknown; dead by 448), the comes Rufus, the MVM praesentalis (attested 443–51) Apollonius, and Apollonius’ brother (name also unknown). Zeno’s brother and Rufus were also Isaurians; Apollonius’ and his brother’s ethnic status is not mentioned by any source.[35]

§3.4 In 449–50, Zeno tangled with the influential court eunuch and spatharius Chrysaphius.[36] As part of a diplomatic arrangement, the daughter of Saturninus, Theodosius’ comes domesticorum, had been promised as a wife to Attila’s secretary Constantius.[37] Zeno, unhappy with this arrangement, kidnapped the woman and married her to Rufus; after Rufus’ death, the woman was married to Apollonius’ brother.[38] Theodosius responded to this affront by confiscating the woman’s dowry, which must have been sizeable, and Zeno apparently blamed Chrysaphius for this retaliation.[39] It is unclear whether his objection to the surrender of a wealthy woman to Attila’s court is bound up with a general objection to Theodosius’ policy of appeasement towards Attila, but it is certainly possible. Priscus records that, after this incident, Theodosius feared that Zeno would attempt to usurp him, and a fragment based on Priscus’ account records imperial military action against him.[40] The fragment seems to imply that Zeno was in open revolt and was attempting to retreat into the Isaurian mountains. No source records the end result of this action, but since Zeno was still in service in 451, he must have been reconciled either with Theodosius or Marcian.

Imperial policy towards Attila

§4.1 During the last decade of Theodosius’ reign, the empire lay under the constant threat of raid and invasion by Attila’s confederated barbarian armies, who were staved off with varying success by means of bribes in the form of subsidies of gold. In 441, Attila led his troops into Moesia Prima (modern-day Serbia), capturing Viminacium, Sirmium, Singidunum, and Margus, before moving down the valley of the Margus and capturing Naissus in Dacia Mediterranea. By the end of the season a one-year truce had been arranged by Aspar, who was serving at the time in the region.[41] In 442, however, the Huns returned, assaulting Ratiaria in Dacia Ripensis and moving east along the Danube into Moesia Secunda (modern-day Bulgaria). After another season of fighting a second truce was arranged, this time probably under the auspices of the magister officiorum Nomus.[42]

§4.2 After the truce of 442, the imperial administration did not pay the annual subsidies owed to the Huns, either the seven hundred pounds of gold guaranteed by the treaty of Horreum Margi (438/440), or a larger amount agreed upon as part of the subsequent truces.[43] Nevertheless, there was no significant military action on the part of the Huns until 447, when they swept back into Illyricum and Thrace in what Marcellinus Comes referred to as “a mighty war, greater than the previous one,” reaching as far south as Thermopylae.[44] Arnegisclus (at this time MVM per Thracias) died in battle against Attila; [45] Aspar and Ariobindus suffered defeats as well.[46] Following a battle in the Chersonese (the Gallipoli peninsula), Attila demanded six thousand pounds of gold to account for the neglected subsidies, a subsidy of 2,100 pounds per year in future, and twelve solidi as ransom for each of his captives.[47]

§4.3 Priscus offers a scathing indictment of the terms of the truce concluded after 447:

The Romans pretended that they had made these agreements voluntarily, but because of the overwhelming fear which gripped their commanders they were compelled to accept gladly every injunction, however harsh, in their eagerness for peace. They paid over the installments of the tribute, heavy as they were, although both their own wealth and that of the imperial treasuries had been squandered not on necessities but upon disgusting spectacles, unreasonable displays of generosity, pleasures and dissolute banquets, such as no right-minded person would participate in, even in times when things were going well, even if military matters were of no concern to him.[48]

It is not immediately clear at whom Priscus is directing this criticism, but it is obvious that he considers some of Theodosius’ generals to be responsible (those concerned with τὰ ὅπλα, “military matters”), and it is unlikely that he considered the Alano-Gothic contingent the guilty party. It was Anatolius, recalled from his post as MVM per Orientem and promoted to praesentalis, who negotiated with Attila and presumably accepted the terms that Priscus characterizes so negatively.[49] It is likely that Ariobindus’ defeat resulted in a demotion from his post as MVM praesentalis, which he had occupied since perhaps 434, and that Anatolius was promoted in his place.[50] Meanwhile, Zeno was promoted in Anatolius’ place as MVM per Orientem.[51] In the aftermath of the fighting of 447, the post of MVM per Thracias was vacant because of Arnegisclus’ death; it was filled by Theodulus, who would participate with Anatolius in subsequent negotiations with Attila.[52] The second MVM praesentalis post had been occupied since 443 by Zeno’s ally Apollonius, who is not attested in action against the Huns.[53] Aspar himself is not attested in a particular position prior to or during the war, but no other general is attested as MVM per Illyricum and it is difficult to explain why, if someone else filled this post, that person is not mentioned as engaging with the Huns in 447.[54] By 449 the post was filled by Agintheus; perhaps Aspar was demoted also.[55]

§4.4 A picture thus emerges of a shakeup among the magistri militum following the defeats of 447; four out of the five posts were filled with new appointees, and both Aspar and Ariobindus were probably demoted. Priscus’ criticism of military officers, therefore, is not directed at the Alano-Goths, but rather at Anatolius, Zeno, and the other new appointees.Priscus himself records that in the period following the war of 447, the imperial government was “collecting [its] forces and appointing generals.” [56] Priscus also records the imperial ambassador Maximinus’ opinion that by 449 “the generals Areobindus and Aspar carried no weight with the emperor…they were unreliable barbarians.” [57] The evidence, then, strongly suggests that the Alano-Gothic faction was in disgrace following the disastrous events of 447, and had been passed over in favor of new generals and Zeno’s Isaurian faction. They remained on the sidelines, however, awaiting an opportunity to return to imperial favor.

Religious factions

§5.1 Even as the imperial court dealt with the aftermath of 447, a theological controversy erupted in the city. On November 8, 448, Eusebius, Bishop of Dorylaeum, denounced the august archimandrite Eutyches as a heretic before Flavian, patriarch of Constantinople, and the Constantinopolitan Home Synod. After several summonses, Eutyches finally appeared before the synod on November 22, was interviewed and summarily condemned by Flavian for refusing to acknowledge the two natures of Christ after the incarnation.[58] Eutyches, however, claimed that the records of his hearing had been falsified and demanded an examination for fraud and a new trial at an ecumenical council.Theodosius, who seems to have been on Eutyches’ side from the beginning of the controversy, [59] announced the new council on March 30, 449.[60] He also ordered hearings to investigate the November Home Synod meetings; considerable doubt was cast on their proceedings, but a conclusive decision was postponed until the council.[61] The council assembled at Ephesus and held its first session on August 8; a second session followed on August 22.[62] Dioscorus, the miaphysite patriarch of Alexandria, presided. He suppressed a letter sent by Leo I, bishop of Rome, supporting Flavian’s condemnation of Eutyches, and brought about the deposition of Flavian and Eusebius, as well as of several other dyophysite bishops: Ibas of Edessa, Daniel of Carrhae, Theodoret of Cyrrhus, and Domnus, patriarch of Antioch.[63] With both his rival patriarchs eliminated, Dioscorus, along with his ally Juvenal of Jerusalem, and with imperial support, imposed miaphysitism on the empire. He installed his apocrisiarius Anatolius as the new patriarch of Constantinople; Anatolius in turn installed the sympathetic Maximus in Antioch.[64]

§5.2 It is likely that Theodosius’ support for Eutyches derived from the influence of Chrysaphius, who apparently had close ties to the archimandrite. Liberatus of Carthage records that his connection with Eutyches began when the latter served as Chrysaphius’ baptismal sponsor.[65] Both Gelasius I of Rome and Theodorus Lector also mention Eutyches’ close connection with Chrysaphius.[66] Theodorus also names the magister officiorum Nomus “and his supporters” as Eutyches’ allies.[67] Certainly Chrysaphius’ and Nomus’ support, along with the emperor’s approval, would have been enough to encourage the archimandrite to oppose Flavian. The silentiarius Magnus accompanied Eutyches at his appearance before the Synod on November 22, and again at a hearing on April 27, 449.[68] Similarly, the former praefectus urbis and praefectus praetorio Florentius was invited by Theodosius to oversee the synod on November 22 and was involved in an April 13 hearing.[69] If their presence indicated any personal support for Eutyches, however, it cannot be established. Whether or not Eutyches had other supporters in the imperial administration, civil or military, is likewise unknown. It is clear, however, that despite Eutyches’ status support in the Constantinopolitan monastic community was mixed; twenty-three other local archimandrites signed the declaration of the Home Synod against him after November 22.[70]

§5.3 Of these twenty-three archimandrites, Martin, Faustus, and Job refused to support Eutyches against Flavian, according to their reports at the Council of Chalcedon in 451.[71] Leo also corresponded with the loyal archimandrites, naming Martin, Faustos, and a fourth, Manual, and urging them to continue their support throughout the controversy.[72] Information about dyophysite activity in the court and in Constantinople is otherwise non-existent. Although Leo’s correspondence with Pulcheria is preserved, it reveals only that she was unable to exert any influence over Theodosius to help the dyophysite cause.[73] Nevertheless, some of Flavian’s former suffragan and metropolitan bishops must have sympathized with his fate, and Pulcheria’s status and reputation for piety would have made her a natural rallying point for episcopal and monastic resistance against the decisions of Ephesus II. When Theodosius’ death provided the dyophysites with an opportunity to act, it was Pulcheria who was able to re-occupy the palace and establish a foothold in advance of their miaphysite rivals.

Chrysaphius and Pulcheria

§6.1 Several sources report that Chrysaphius was responsible for Pulcheria’s retreat from the palace to a private residence outside Constantinople sometime around 443.[74] Holum has argued convincingly that Chrysaphius’ rise to power was made possible by Pulcheria’s not-so-voluntary exile and her consequent loss of influence over her brother; Chrysaphius thus worked to make it impossible for Pulcheria to return to the palace.[75] Two main readings of the sources regarding Pulcheria’s eventual return have been proposed.First, that Theodosius altered his ecclesiastical policy, exiled Chrysaphius, and welcomed Pulcheria back some time in the early months of 450; [76] and second, that she seized the opportunity to return to the palace of her own accord following Theodosius’ accident. The latter reading is considerably more probable.

§6.2 The first reading depends upon several later Byzantine sources that record the story of Chrysaphius’ exile, the earliest of which is Theophanes Confessor.[77] Theophanes relates that, sometime after Ephesus II, Theodosius was stricken with remorse, and blaming Chrysaphius for abuses perpetrated by the miaphysites, had him exiled to an unnamed island.[78] Theophanes’ account, however, is extremely problematic. It is a conflation of events occurring over an eight- or nine-year period (443/4–51) taken from several sources and fitted into a single year’s entry, and the complete absence of chronological order suggests considerable ignorance or carelessness on the part of the compiler. The passage relating Chrysaphius’ exile has no parallel in any earlier source, although its subject matter and placement in the entry suggest that it may have originated with Theodorus Lector.[79] Nevertheless, in the absence of earlier and better sources, pace Holum, there is no compelling reason to accept the story of Chrysaphius’ exile.[80]

The interregnum and the accession of Marcian

§7.1 As I noted above, none of the extant sources give any reliable information about Theodosius’ death and the interregnum beyond the most basic facts. Malalas and Theodorus Lector agree that he was taken back to the palace after his fall and before he died from his injuries. Theodorus has the emperor die the very same day as his accident; Malalas, two days later.[81] Burgess is inclined to prefer Theodorus’ version on textual grounds; [82] at any rate, it is entirely believable that a serious spinal injury would have dispatched the emperor in short order. The deathbed scene involving Pulcheria and Aspar, recorded by Malalas and others, is, as Burgess has established, propagandistic and almost certainly false.[83] Priscus might have been expected to record Theodosius’ death in detail, but if he did, his account did not catch the interest of later excerptors and so has been lost to us. Only speculation about the emperor’s final hours and the interregnum remains possible, as Holum and Burgess both recognized. Building upon what I have laid out above regarding the military and religious factions active within the imperial court, I will now offer some speculations of my own.

§7.2 Once Theophanes’ story about Chrysaphius’ exile has been rejected, it must be assumed that the spatharius would have been poised to take charge of the palace when Theodosius was brought back in his injured state. The dying emperor would have been placed in the hands of the cubicularii, and Chrysaphius was the de facto director of the palace cubiculum. Nevertheless, the situation would also have provided an opening for Pulcheria. Despite the ongoing feud between her and the eunuch, this crisis would have been the perfect opportunity for the emperor’s sister to talk her way back into the palace; it would have been difficult to refuse her if she expressed a wish to visit her dying brother. Pulcheria must have had genuine feelings of grief when the news of Theodosius’ accident reached her. As an experienced political operator and zealous dyophysite, however, she would also have realized that the accident presented her with her last, best chance to convince Theodosius to recant his miaphysite heresy. No such recantation occurred; either Pulcheria was unable to gain access to the emperor with a dyophysite priest, or Theodosius was unwilling to change his position, or he was unable to speak at all. The last option is perhaps most likely, considering the sparse information in the sources.

§7.3 When Pulcheria had gained access to the palace, however, that would not have meant access to its bureaucracy, the cubicularii, who controlled access to the emperor and, perhaps more importantly, would have been indispensable for organizing a new emperor’s coronation ceremonies.[84] Chrysaphius controlled the cubiculum, [85] and Chrysaphius would have been very wary of Pulcheria’s movements. She could not have dealt with the spatharius without help.

§7.4 Enter the Alano-Gothic generals and their military network: Pulcheria must have been accustomed to working with Aspar, Ariobindus, and their subordinates; it was during her years in the palace before Chrysaphius’ rise to power that they had been promoted into high offices, and it is easy to imagine that they had maintained connections with her, especially once their political clout had taken a serious blow in 447.[86] Ariobindus had died the year before, [87] but Aspar and the lower-ranking Alano-Gothic officers would have been able to provide her with the necessary manpower to remove Chrysaphius from the palace and imprison him.

§7.5 Whether Chrysaphius was imprisoned before or after Theodosius’ funeral cannot be determined, but once he was removed, a new emperor had to be found as quickly as possible. Miaphysite partisans in the city would have been agitating for an emperor who would continue to support them, and with the patriarchs Anatolius, Maximus, and Dioscorus to support them, they would have proved difficult to combat in the long term. Why then did the interregnum last nearly a month? In the absence of sources the best explanation is that the negotiating parties were unable to reach an agreement during that time. If a new emperor were to repudiate the miaphysites, he and Pulcheria would need the full support of the dyophysite faction and of the bishop of Rome. In order to be sure of Leo’s support, a new ecumenical council, called with the purpose of overturning Ephesus II, would have been a requirement.[88] Even if there were a viable candidate among the Alano-Goths who was not actually a member of the Arian church, it is unlikely that he would have been accepted by the dyophysites in their tenuous position. Furthermore, if Zeno and his Isaurian troops were still in revolt when Theodosius died, Pulcheria and the Alano-Goths would have been faced with the choice of either pursuing military action against them, or including Zeno in the negotiations. Given that Zeno was still in service in 451, it seems that they chose negotiation. Zeno, as has been suggested above, may have been demanding a more aggressive policy towards Attila. Since his prestige derived largely from his success in the field in 447, it is likely that he required opportunities for action for himself and his troops in order to maintain his authority. The Alano-Goths may well have felt similarly, and may also have been still smarting from the defeats they had suffered at Attila’s hands. All of these generals, Aspar, Ardabur, Apollonius, Zeno, and doubtless others whose names do not survive would have had to be guaranteed honors and offices, and it might have proved almost impossible to please them all.

§7.6 That the Alano-Gothic faction outnumbered the Isaurian faction is likely, given their long-term establishment in the Balkans and in the capital, and so Zeno’s negotiating position would have been the weaker. Hence, it is not surprising that a candidate who had at least some allegiance to Aspar, Marcian, was selected.[89] For Pulcheria and the dyophysites, the ideal candidate would have been one who would garner respect from the Alano-Goths, but not be one of them himself. Marcian’s pious wishes for ecclesiastical unity, as expressed by the ecclesiastical historian Evagrius, are no doubt hyperbolic, but it is hard to imagine that Pulcheria would have accepted a candidate who was not known for his dyophysite sympathies.[90]

§7.7 The decision that Pulcheria would marry whatever candidate was chosen must have been an obvious one made early on in the negotiations. Since Valentinian III could not be made to confirm their choice quickly enough to beat out the miaphysites, any candidate would have to avail himself of the closest available connection to the dynasty. Naturally, as Burgess points out, pro-Marcian sources prefer to ignore Pulcheria’s now thirty-seven-year-old vow of virginity, while miaphysite sources latch onto it as a means to defame the empress.[91] For those negotiating the succession, however, it cannot have been a serious issue; a woman of Pulcheria’s age could not have been expected to produce an heir, and so there would have been no point in requiring her to break her vow. The lack of a chance for a future heir was unfortunate, but it could not be helped; Pulcheria was the only member of the family available to legitimize Marcian.

§7.8 Once Marcian had been crowned, he and Pulcheria quickly set to work to convene their new council at Chalcedon and to undo the effects of Ephesus II. As far as the dyophysites were concerned, Marcian’s worthiness and orthodoxy were quickly established beyond doubt. A few words remain to be said, however, about the military factions. As noted above, there is no real evidence that Aspar’s position within the Alano-Gothic faction prior to 447 was one of exceptional leadership or authority. Certainly he was one of the highest-ranking generals in the empire, but he does not seem to have served as MVM praesentalis, the most prestigious office. Likewise, there is no evidence that he was the recipient of further honors after Marcian had taken the throne; one of Theodoret’s letters places him at court in 451, but he does not appear again until after Marcian’s death in 457.[92] At some point during the period 447–57, he built up enough military capital to be able to install Leo on the throne. There is, however, no evidence that he exercised any unusual influence over Marcian during his reign; in contrast, his activities under Leo are well-recorded. Zeno’s career under Marcian is even more of a blank. He appears in the Acta of Chalcedon in 451, and Jordanes reports that he died in Marcian’s reign, but no more is known about him.[93] Apollonius too disappears shortly after Marcian’s accession.[94] Ariobindus had died in 449.[95] Perhaps their disappearances mark Aspar’s rise to the highest prominence in the Alano-Gothic faction. Only Ardabur, however, is recorded as receiving a promotion during Marcian’s reign, after a military victory in Thrace.[96]

§7.9 The fact that none of these influential military figures appears to have played a significant role in Marcian’s reign suggests strongly that, despite their role in the negotiations by which Marcian was chosen, Marcian, once crowned, was both capable and independent. His military experience, coupled with Pulcheria’s long-term involvement in court and ecclesiastical politics, must have made them a formidable pair. It is likely that they were more than capable of preventing their generals from taking on a larger role than their offices required. Their age, however, and perhaps Pulcheria’s old vow, prevented them from producing an heir. Marcian’s choice to marry his daughter from a previous marriage, Marcia Euphemia, to the general and future western emperor Anthemius (r. 467–472) probably represents an effort to designate as a potential heir someone outside the Alano-Gothic faction.[97] When Marcian died in 457, however, Anthemius could not compete with Leo, who had all of Aspar’s prestige behind him, and he was obliged to continue his career as a general for the time being.[98] With the accession of Leo, the Alano-Goths seemed preeminent, but Leo turned against his benefactors and towards their old rivals, the Isaurians, allowing the second Isaurian Zeno an opportunity to achieve military prominence and eventually the imperial throne.[99]


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