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EMPRESS AELIA GALLA PLACIDIA

(around 390; died on November 27, 450)

The daughter of Roman Emperor Theodosius I the Great, she was captured by the Visigoths of Alaric during the sack of Rome in 410 and abducted as hostage. She was married on January 1, 414, to Alaric’s heir Ataulf in Narbonne, southern Gaul. The son she bore died in his first year of life and was buried in Barcelona.

After the assassination of Ataulf, she was returned to Ravenna in early 416, ransomed for 600,000 measures of grain. Here in January 417 she married the general Constantius, whom she bore a daughter Justa Grata Honoria and a son Placidius Valentinian (419).

Her half-brother, Honorius, Emperor of the West, proclaimed Constantius his joint ruler in 421, while Placidius obtained the title of Augustus. But in the same year, Constantius died, and when her relations with her brother, as well as the whole situation in Ravenna, became dangerous, Galla and her children fled in spring 423 to Constantinople to the court of her nephew, Theodosius II.

But Honorius died in the summer of the same year, and in Rome Joannes, previously primicerius notariorum (head of the civil service) became the new Roman emperor. Theodosius, however, supported the claim of his underage relative Valentinian, who was proclaimed Caesar in August 424 in Salonica. From here in the early spring of the following year a Byzantine fleet with troops commanded by Ardaburius set sail

The ships carrying Placidia and her children were wrecked somewhere off the coast of Dalmatia. Out of gratitude for her salvation, Galla vowed to raise a church dedicated to St John the Evangelist, which she really did later build, together with her daughter. And while the Italian-bound army was mustering in Salonica, the most suitable base for interventions in the Adriatic basin, Galla and her children took up residence in Diocletian’s Palace, and waited the development of events in Ravenna.

But by the following summer, from Aquileia she promulgated a constitution in the name of Augustus Theodosius and Caesar Valentinian.

In autumn 425 the usurper Ioannes was arrested and executed. As early as October 23 of the same year, the six-year-old son of Galla was proclaimed Emperor Valentinian III, and Honoria, but a year older, became an Augusta. The mother took over the role of regent.

Thus Galla spent a few summer months of 425 with her children in Split. The grave of some dignitary of her train (with valuable grave goods exhibited today in the Archaeological Museum in Split), placed before the threshold of the crypt of the Small Temple of Diocletian’s Place, as well as the eloquent epitaph mentioning a court lady from the Galla circle on a sarcophagus found in the Basilica of St Euphemia in front of the Golden Gate, tell us that the imperial family’s passage through Split left a profound mark.

Indeed, judging from everything, Galla can be connected with the conversion of the Small Temple (most often called Jupiter’s Temple) into a Christian church dedicated to St John, which in the early Middle Ages became the baptistery of Split Cathedral. Thus it can be classified among the many other fulfilled vows (like the renovation of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the Basilica San Paolo furoi le mura in Rome, and the building of churches in Ravenna) made by this princess of the long face, dark eyes, in whom ran Roman and Illyrian, Hispanic and Gothic blood.