January 27, 2017

Saint Marciana, otherwise known as Euphemia, Empress of the Romans (+ 524)

St. Marciana the Empress (Feast Day - January 27);
the bust of Empress Euphemia is from the Museum of Nice.


The Empress Marciana is carried out of life,
By Christ the King into His Kingdom.

Marciana was the wife of Emperor Justin I (518-527), and is more commonly known as Euphemia, though originally known as Lupicina. We know nothing of her origins, although Procopius in his Secret History says that Lupicina was both a slave and a barbarian, and asserted that she had been the concubine of her owner. Critics of Procopius (whose secret history reveals a man seriously disillusioned with his rulers) have dismissed his posthumously published work as a severely biased source, being vitriolic and pornographic, but without other sources, critics have been unable to discredit some of the assertions in the publication. Although its motives are suspect and it cannot be verified, its titillating nature has kept it as a popular reference. In Justin the First: An Introduction to the Epoch of Justinian the Great (1950), Alexander Vasiliev theorized that the original name of his wife (Lupicina) may indicate a linguistic association in another language with prostitution. Vasiliev connected the name to the Latin word "Lupae" (she-wolves). While the word in its singular Latin form "Lupa" could literally mean a female wolf, it also was the epithet or disparaging slur for the lowest class of Roman prostitutes. The derivative Latin word "Lupanar" was the name of a brothel in Pompeii.

The marriage of Lupicina and Justin is estimated to have occurred during the reign of Anastasios I (491-518), when Justin had a prosperous career in the Roman army. When Justin ascended the throne in July 518, both he and his wife were already at an advanced age. Probably as soon as Justin was acclaimed as emperor in the hippodrome, the people there assembled (primarily the circus partisans) clamored that Lupicina change her name to the more respectable Euphemia, and thus she was known henceforth. The name was appropriate, for Saint Euphemia of Chalcedon was associated with the Synod of Chalcedon (A.D. 451); and both Justin and his wife were zealous upholders of the decisions of this Synod (unlike Justin's predecessor, Anastasios I). Soon after the title of Flavia Aelia Marcia was also given to her. In her synaxarion, since she is commemorated as a saint on January 27th, she is strictly known as Marciana.

As empress, we are told, again by Procopius, that she did not interfere at all in affairs of state. However, an official church source which dates to 540, the Chronicle of Edessa, attributes the ecclesiastical policies of Justin to Empress Euphemia. Like many other prominent figures in Constantinople, Euphemia had correspondence with the bishops of Rome; some letters to her from Hormisdas (514-523) survive and one written in her name to him. Little can be gleaned from these letters, save perhaps an indication of the empress's piety (she is called "most pious"), attested also by her construction of the Church of Saint Euphemia.

Since Justin and Euphemia came to the throne at an advanced age, and probably married at an advanced age, they were childless. Therefore their heir was Justinian I, the nephew and adoptive son of Justin. Euphemia favored her husband's nephew and eventual successor, Justinian, but adamantly opposed his marriage to the unrespectable actress Theodora. Only once Euphemia had died, some time before November 524, was it possible for Justinian to organize the removal of the legal impediments to his marriage to a former actress. The widowed Justin proceeded to pass a law allowing intermarriage between social classes, presumably for the sake of his heir. Vasiliev estimated the death of Euphemia to have occurred in 523 or 524. The marriage of Justinian and Theodora has been estimated to 525. Theodora became an equal ruler with her husband and was greatly admired by many.

Euphemia Flavia Aelia Marcia was buried in the Church of Saint Euphemia. And upon his death, Justin I was entombed with her. Her synaxarion states that she was laid to rest in the Church of the Holy Apostles. This may have taken place at a later time.