Roman Empire, Galla Placidia - Regent of the Empire

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Born in 392 to the emperor Theodosius I, Galla Placidia was present in Rome during its siege from 408-410, and was captured by the Visigoths in 410. Their leader Ataluf, seeking peace with the emperor Honorious, who was half brother of Placidia, killed the two rival Gallic emperors Jovinus and Sebastianus in 413. To ensure amity, Honorius offered Placidia to him as a wife and they married in 414 with a lavish ceremony. Ataluf and Placidia’s only son Theodosius died in infancy in 415, the same year that Ataluf was himself killed by Eberwolf, a former devoted follower of the Germainc chieftain Sarus, who had died fighting under Jovinus and Sebastianus. Thus ended the fledgling Romano-Visigothic line. 

Sarus’ brother Sigeric was acclaimed the new king of the Visigoths, and the remaining children of Ataluf from a previous marriage killed, and treated Placidia with contempt, even making her walk 12 miles alongside captives as he rode ahead on his horse. These actions prompted a relative of Ataluf’s named Wallia to usurp him. Having taken power, he chose to surrender to Honorius, using Placidia as a peace offering. Her half brother immediately married her off to Constantius III in 417. They had two children, a girl named Justa Grata Honoria and a son named Valentinian.

Placidia was now once again a part of the Roman court, and became regularly involved with political issues. In 418 there was a papal succession crisis, and letters from Placidia herself to bishops survive as she fervently urged them to assist in choosing a new Pope. In 421 Constantius was proclaimed Augustus alongside the childless Honorius, but died later that year. The widow Placidia then became very close to her half brother, but they were eventually forced from the Western Empire in disgrace due to circulating rumours of incestuous love. They escaped to the Eastern Empire and were received warmly by the Emperor Theodosius. Honorius died shortly after, leaving the Western Empire without a ruler. After several attempts by various men to gain the position, including Joannes who was killed in 425, Valentinian III, aged 4, was put forward. Placidia became the regent of the Empire until he was 18 and fit to rule.

In the later years of her life, the threat posed by Attila the Hun threat grew more and more imposing. In 450 her daughter Iusta Grata Honoria wrote to Atilla asking him to rescue her from an unwanted marriage a Roman senator being arranged for her by the imperial family. She had included her engagement ring in the letter, and Attila interpreted this as a wedding proposal. He contacted Valentinian, accepting the offer and asking for the entire Western Empire as a dowry. The shocked Valentinian wrote to Atilla retracting the offer and quickly married Honoria off to Flavius Bassus Herculanus. Atilla insisted on the validity of his claim to Honoria, and used the premise of collecting his bride to ravage Italy from 451 to 453. Placidia however did not live to see this, as she died in 450.

Galla Placidia AV Solidus. Rome, AD 426-430. DN GALLA PLACIDIA PF AVG, pearl-diademed and draped bust right, wearing necklace and crowned above by the hand of God; christogram on shoulder / VOT XX MVLT XXX, Victory standing left, supporting long jewelled cross, star in upper field; R-M across fields, COMOB in exergue. C 13; RIC 2007; Depeyrot 45/2; LRC 826. 4.47g, 21mm, 12h.

Extremely Fine.

Ex Numismatica Ars Classica 54, 24 March 2010, lot 656.