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August 13, 2019

Empress Eudocia and the Apple of Discord

According to the Chronographia of the ecclesiastical historian John Malalas (c. 491-578), upon being named Augusta by her husband Emperor Theodosius II on 2 January 423, Eudocia succeeded her sister-in-law, Pulcheria, who had been Augusta since 414.

The relationship between the two women consisted of rivalry over power. Eudocia was jealous over the amount of power Pulcheria had within the court, while Pulcheria was jealous of the power Eudocia could claim from her. Their relationship created a "pious atmosphere" in the imperial court, and probably explains why Eudocia traveled to the Holy Land in 438.

Eudocia went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 438, bringing back with her holy relics to prove her faith. Her relationship with her husband had deteriorated, and with much pleading from Melania, a wealthy widow from Palestine and good friend of Eudocia, Theodosius allowed her to go.

One day in the year 443 the emperor Theodosius was on his way to visit a church during the feast of Theophany with his retinue. A citizen who approached him gave the emperor as a gift a Phrygian apple that was extremely large. The emperor’s entourage were impressed by this oddity.

The citizen was awarded with a sum of money (150 nomismata) for his trouble. Theodosius sent the apple to the empress Eudocia. Eudocia, in turn, sent the large apple to her favorite, Paulinus, who also happened to be the emperor’s magister officiorum (master of offices), which was a top government rank.

We should note here that in old Greek culture, the gift of an apple from a woman to a man was a symbol of love. The woman who bestowed such a gift on a man did so to communicate special feeling.

Paulinus, we should also mention, was a very handsome man and long-time friend of Theodosius from childhood.

Paulinus did not know that the apple he received from Eudocia had originally come from Theodosius. He therefore gave it to the emperor, who recognized it immediately. This act sealed his fate.

Theodosius concealed the apple and approached Eudocia; he then began to question her about the apple. “Where is the apple? What has happened to it?” he asked her. “I ate it,” was Eudocia’s reply. He asked her to swear to the truth of her statement, to swear that she did not give it to any man, and she swore that it was true.

The emperor then produced the hidden apple, proving her to have lied. Thus were the seeds of suspicion sown in his mind about the nature of the relationship between Eudocia and his friend and minister Paulinus. Rumors of their liaison swirled around the court. Eventually, he had Paulinus executed in A.D. 444.

Everyone knew that Paulinus had been put to death on account of Eudocia. In grief and mourning, she left Constantinople to pray and work in Jerusalem. She retained her rights as empress, but focused her energies on social work and writing.

Her work was so successful and effective in Jerusalem that again the jealousies of Theodosius were aroused. He sent one of his men, named Saturninus, to probe into the activities of Eudocia in Jerusalem. Saturninus even had two close confidants of the empress, priests named Severus and John, slain.

But Eudocia took her revenge on Saturninus by causing him to be assassinated soon after this. She spent the remainder of her life in charitable and religious work in the Jerusalem area. Theodosius made no further effort to monitor her.

Although involved in the revolt of the Syrian Monophysites in 453, she was ultimately reconciled to Pulcheria and readmitted into the Orthodox Church. She died an Orthodox Christian in Jerusalem on 20 October 460, having devoted her last years to literature. She is commemorated as a Saint on August 13th.

Eudocia was buried in Jerusalem in the Church of Saint Stephen, one of the churches she had herself built in Jerusalem. The empress never returned to the imperial court in Constantinople, but she maintained her imperial dignity and engaged in substantial euergetistic programs.