Ariadne (empress)

Ariadne (empress)

Aelia Ariadne (died 515) was the the Empress consort of Zeno and Anastasius I of the Byzantine Empire.


Ariadne was a daughter of Leo I and Verina. Her mother was a sister of Basiliscus.

Ariadne had a younger sister, Leontia. Leontia was first married to Patricius, a son of Aspar. Their marriage was probably annuled when Aspar and another of his sons, Ardabur, were assassinated in 471. Leontia then married Marcian, a son of Anthemius. The couple led a failed revolt against Zeno in 478-479. They were exiled to Isauria following their defeat. [Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, vol. 2]

An unnamed younger brother was born in 463.He died five months following his birth. The only sources about him are a horoscope by Rhetorius and a hagiography of Daniel the Stylite. [Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, vol. 2]


Ariadne was born prior to the death of Marcian (reigned 450 - 457). [ [ Hugh Elton, "Leo I (457-474 A.D.)"] ] . In January, 457 Marcian succumbed to a disease, allegedly gangrene. He was survived by his daughter Euphemia and his son-in-law Anthemius. [ [ Geoffrey S. Nathan, Marcian (450-457 A.D.)] ] .

Leo was at this point the tribune of the Mattiarii, a regiment wielding the mattea (Latin for mace) as their weapon. He was proclaimed Emperor with the support of Aspar, the magister militum ("Master of soldiers"). On 7 February, 457, Leo was crowned by Patriarch Anatolius of Constantinople, the first such coronation known to involve a Patriarch. [ [ Hugh Elton, "Leo I (457-474 A.D.)"] ] . At this point Ariadne became a member of the imperial family.

In 461, Leo founded the Excubitors as a counterbalance to the Germanic soldiers under Aspar. He recruited the majority of its members from among the sturdy and warlike Isaurians. In 466, Tarasicodissa, an Isaurian officer of the Excubitors came forth with evidence that Ardabur, a son of Aspar, was guilty of treason. [ [ Hugh Elton, Zeno (AD 474-491)] ] . The scandal caused a rift in the relations of Leo and Aspar, leaving the former relying even more on the Excubitors.

In 467, the alliance of Leo and Tarasicodissa was sealed with the marriage of Ariadne to the officer. To make himself more acceptable to the Roman hierarchy and the native Greek-speaking population of Constantinople, her husband changed his name to Zeno. Their only known son Leo II was born within the year.

Empress mother

In 471, Aspar and Ardabur were murdered within the Great Palace of Constantinople by orders of Leo. Leo earned the nickname "Macelles" (the Butcher) for the manner of the deaths. [Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire, vol. 2] Zeno was left by default as the main supporter of Leo within the Byzantine army. [ [ Hugh Elton, "Leo I (457-474 A.D.)"] ] .

Leo II was proclaimed Caesar in October, 473 and effectively became the designated heir to the throne. By virtue of being the closest male relative of Leo I. On 18 January, 474, Leo I died of dysentery. His grandson immediately succeeded him. [ [ Hugh Elton, Leo II (AD 474)] ] . Ariadne had become the Empress mother.

Since Leo II was too young to rule himself, Ariadne and her mother Verina prevailed upon him to crown Zeno as co-emperor, which he did on February 9, 474. When Leo became ill and died on November 17, Zeno became sole emperor, with Ariadne as his Empress consort.

Empress consort

The new reign was not particularly popular. The barbarian origins of Zeno caused antipathy towards his regime among the people of Constantinople. Furthermore, the strong Germanic portion of the military, led by Theodoric Strabo, disliked the Isaurian officers that Leo I brought to reduce his dependency on the Ostrogoths. Finally, Zeno alienated his fellow Isaurian general Illus.

Basiliscus and Verina took advantage of the situation to form a conspiracy against their imperial in-law. In 475, a popular revolt against the emperor started within the capital. The uprising, received military support by Theodoric Strabo, Illus and Armatus and succeeded in taking control of Constantinople. Verina convinced her son-in-law to leave the city. Zeno fled to his native lands, bringing with him some of the Isaurians living in Constantinople, and the imperial treasury. Basiliscus was then acclaimed as "Augustus" on 9 January 475 [There exists a horoscope made on the day of Basiliscus' coronation —12 January 475, at 9 am—, probably by a supporter of Zeno. The horoscope, preserved with the horoscopes of other two usurpers of Zeno through Arab sources, correctly predicts the end of Basiliscus' rule in two years. See cite book |last=Barton |first=Tamsyn |title=Power and knowledge: Astrology, physiognomics, and medicine under the Roman Empire |year=2002 |month=Dec |publisher=University of Michigan Press |id=ISBN 0-472-08852-1 |pages=p. 60 ] at the Hebdomon palace, by the palace ministers and the Byzantine Senate. [ Tradition allowed the Senate to recognise an usurper, thus Basiliscus was the new lawful ruler. However it was the first military-based succession in the last one hundred years (Friell).] The mob of Constantinople got its revenge against Zeno, killing almost all of the Isaurians left in the city. [cite book |last=Bury |first=John Bagnall |authorlink=J.B. Bury |title=History of the Later Roman Empire |origyear=1923 |url= |accessdate=2006-08-23 |chapter= XII.1 The Usurpation of Basiliscus (A.D. 475‑476) |chapterurl=*.html|year=1958|publisher=Dover Books |pages=pp. 389–395 ] [cite book |last=Friell |first=Gerard |coauthors=and Stephen Williams |title=The Rome That Did Not Fall |year=1998 |month=December |publisher=Routledge |id=ISBN 0-415-15403-0 |pages=pp. 184–186 ]

However Basiliscus managed to estrange himself from most of his key collaborators. Patricius, the magister officiorum and lover of Verina, was executed to prevent her aspirations to elevate him to the throne. As a consequence, Verina later intrigued against Basiliscus, because of her lover's execution. [Bury. According to Candidus, after the death of Patricius, Verina intrigued in favour of Zeno, but her plan was discovered by Basiliscus, and only the intercession of Armatus spared her life.] Theodoric and Armatus were promoted to "magister millitum" and "magister militum praesentialis" and were vying for authority. Finally, the support of Illus was most likely wavering, given the massacre of the Isaurians allowed by Basiliscus. [cite book |last=Smith |first=William |authorlink=William Smith (lexicographer) |title=Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology |origdate=1870 |url= |accessdate=2006-08-23 |publisher=C. Little and J. Brown |location=Boston |pages=p. 466 ] [cite book |last=Friell |first=Gerard |coauthors=and Stephen Williams |title=The Rome That Did Not Fall |year=1998 |month=December |publisher=Routledge |id=ISBN 0-415-15403-0 |pages=pp. 184–186 ]

In 476, both Illus and Armatus defected to the side of Zeno In August, Zeno besieged Constantinople. The leader of the Pannonian Goths, Theodoric the Amal (later known as Theodoric the Great) had allied to Zeno. Theodoric would have attacked Basiliscus and his Thracian Goth "foederati" led by Theodoric Strabo, receiving, in exchange, the title of "magister militum" held by Strabo and the payments previously given to the Thracian Goths. It has been suggested that Constantinople was defenseless during Zeno's siege because the "Magister Militum" Strabo had moved north to counter this menace. The Senate opened the gates of the city to the Isaurian, allowing the deposed emperor to resume the throne. Ariadne was still his Empress consort.

In 479, Ariadne came into conflict with her husband over the fate of her mother. Verina had attempted to assassinate Illus and had become his prisoner. She had supported the revolt of her other son-on-law Marcian even during her captivity. Ariadne endea­voured to obtain her release, first from Zeno, and then from Illus, to whom the emperor referred her. Illus not only refused her request, but charged her with wishing to place another person on her hus­band's throne. This irritated her; and she, like her mother, attempted to assassinate Illus. Jordanes ascribes her hatred to another cause: he says that Illus had infused jealous suspicions into Zeno's mind which had led Zeno to attempt her life, and that her knowledge of these things stimu­lated her to revenge. The assassin whom she em­ployed failed to kill Illus, but cut off his ear in the attempt. The assassin was taken, and Zeno, who appears to have been privy to the affair, was un­able to prevent his execution.

The affair does not seem to have had long-term effects in their marriage. She remained married to Zeno to his death on 9 April, 491. The widowed Augusta was able to choose his successor for the throne and a second husband for herself in the person of Anastasius, a palace official ("silentiarius"). He was proclaimed Emperor on 11 April and they were married on 20 May [ [ Hugh Elton, "Anastasius (AD 491-518)"] ] . Their marriage remained childless.

She died in 515 and was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles. Anastasius was buried besides her in 518. [ [ Hugh Elton, "Anastasius (AD 491-518)"] ]


External links

* [ Profile of her father Leo in the Prosopography of the Late Roman Empire]
* [ Profile of her sister Leontia in the Prosopography of the Late Roman Empire]
* [ Her listing, along with her parents, in "Medieval Lands" by Charles Cawley]

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