PULCHERIA OF CONSTANTINOPLE: THE GIRL OF THE GOLDEN HORN
(Afterward known as "Pulcheria Augusta, Empress of the East.") A.D. 413.
There was trouble and confusion in the imperial palace of Theodosius the Little, Emperor of the East. Now, this Theodosius was called "the Little" because, though he bore the name of his mighty grandfather, Theodosius the Great, emperor of both the East and West, he had as yet done nothing worthy any other title than that of "the Little," or "the Child." For Theodosius emperor though he was called, was only a boy of twelve, and not a very bright boy at that.
His father, Arcadius the emperor, and his mother, Eudoxia the empress, were dead; and in the great palace at Constantinople, in this year of grace, 413, Theodosius, the boy emperor, and his three sisters, Pulcheria, Marina, and Arcadia, alone were left to uphold the tottering dignity and the empty name of the once mighty Empire of the East, which their great ancestors, Constantine and Theodosius, had established and strengthened.
And now there was confusion in the imperial palace; for word came in haste from the Dacian border that Ruas, king of the Huns, sweeping down from the east, was ravaging the lands along the Upper Danube, and with his host of barbarous warriors was defeating the legions and devastating the lands of the empire.
The wise Anthemius, prefect of the east, and governor or guardian of the young emperor, was greatly disturbed by the tidings of this new invasion. Already he had repelled at great cost the first advance of these terrible Huns, and had quelled into a sort of half submission the less ferocious followers of Ulpin the Thracian; but now he knew that his armies along the Danube were in no condition to withstand the hordes of Huns, that, pouring in from distant Siberia, were following the lead of Ruas, their king, for plunder and booty, and were even now encamped scarce two hundred and fifty miles from the seven gates and the triple walls of splendid Constantinople.
Turbaned Turks, mosques and minarets, muftis and cadis, veiled eastern ladies, Mohammedains and muezzins, Arabian Nights and attar of roses, bazars, dogs, and donkeys—these, I suppose, are what Constantinople suggests whenever its name is mentioned to any girl or boy of to-day,—the capital of modern Turkey, the city of the Sublime Porte. But the greatest glory of Constantinople was away back in the early days before the time of Mohammed, or of the Crusaders, when it was the centre of the Christian religion, the chief and gorgeous capital of a Christian empire, and the residence of Christian emperors,—from the days of Constantine the conqueror to those of Justinian the law-giver and of Irene the empress. It was the metropolis of the eastern half of the great Roman Empire, and during this period of over five hundred years all the wealth and treasure of the east poured into Constantinople, while all the glories of the empire, even the treasures of old Rome itself, were drawn upon to adorn and beautify this rival city by the Golden Horn. And so in the days of Theodosius the Little, the court of Constantinople, although troubled with fear of a barbarian invasion and attack, glittered with all the gorgeousness and display of the most magnificent empire in the world.
In the great daphne, or central space of the imperial palace, the prefect Anthemius, with the young emperor, the three princesses, and their gorgeously arrayed nobles and attendants, awaited, one day, the envoys of Ruas the Hun, who sought lands and power within the limits of the empire.
They came, at last,—great, fierce-looking fellows, not at all pleasant to contemplate—big-boned broad-shouldered, flat-nosed, swarthy, and small-eyed, with war-cloaks of shaggy skins, leathern armor, wolf-crowned helmets, and barbaric decorations, and the royal children shrunk from them in terror, even as they watched them with wondering curiosity. Imperial guards, gleaming in golden armor, accompanied them, while with the envoys came also as escort a small retinue of Hunnish spearmen. And in the company of these, the Princess Pulcheria noted a lad of ten or twelve years—short, swarthy, big-headed, and flat-nosed, like his brother barbarians, but with an air of open and hostile superiority that would not be moved even by all the glow and glitter of an imperial court.
Then Eslaw, the chief of the envoys of King Ruas the Hun, made known his master's demands So much land, so much treasure, so much in the way of concession and power over the lands along the Danube, or Ruas the king would sweep down with his warriors, and lay waste the cities and lands of the empire.
"These be bold words," said Anthemius the prefect. "And what if our lord the emperor shall say thee nay?"
But ere the chief of the envoys could reply, the lad whose presence in the escort the Princess Pulcheria had noted, sprang into the circle before the throne, brandishing his long spear in hot defiance.
"Dogs and children of dogs, ye dare not say us nay!" he cried harshly. "Except we be made the friends and allies of the emperor, and are given full store of southern gold and treasure, Ruas the king shall overturn these your palaces, and make you all captives and slaves. It shall be war between you and us forever. Thus saith my spear!"
And as he spoke he dashed his long spear upon the floor, until the mosaic pavement rang again.
Boy emperor and princesses, prefect and nobles and imperial guards, sprang to their feet as the spear clashed on the pavement, and even the barbarian envoys, while they smiled grimly at their young comrade's energy, pulled him hastily back.
But ere the prefect Anthemius could sufficiently master his astonishment to reply, the young Princess Pulcheria faced the savage envoys, and pointing to the cause of the disturbance, asked calmly:
"Who is this brawling boy, and what doth he here in the palace of the emperor?"