Aelia Galla Placidia was born in Constantinople in 388, daughter of Emperor Theodosius the Great and his second wife Galla. Placidia had two half-brothers, Honorius and Arcadius, who became Emperors of the West and East upon their father's death in 395. In the early 390s, her father granted Placidia her own household and the title of Nobilissima Puella (Most Noble Girl) which gave her financial independence and prestige. After her father died, she was raised by her cousin, Serena, wife of the great Magister Militum (Commander in Chief) Stilicho.
The Sack of Rome and Placidia's First Marriage
Placidia went to Rome as part of an envoy sent from Ravenna to negotiate with Alaric, the Visigoth king. The city was under siege and the citizens were rioting when Placidia signed a death warrant for Serena, who had been accused of conspiring with Alaric to take city. Not long afterwards, Alaric attacked Rome and Placidia was taken hostage. She was forced to march south with the Goth nation-army and allied herself with Ataulf, who became king when his brother-in-law Alaric died at sea. Influenced by Placidia, Ataulf became a supporter of Rome, fighting on behalf of the Empire against an uprising in Gaul. He and Placidia were married in Narbonne in 414, uniting, for a time, the Goths and Romans. Forced to leave Aquitaine, the Goths moved to Barcelona in Spain, and Placidia had a son, Theodosius. The child died when he was still an infant, and Placidia suffered a second and crushing bereavement when Ataulf was murdered.
Placidia's Marriage to Constantius
After Ataulf's death, Sigeric, a tribal chief, seized the crown and threatened Placidia's life. Placidia returned to Ravenna, and, on her brother's insistence, married a Roman general, Constantius. Together they had two children, Justa Grata Honoria, and a son who would become Emperor Valentinian III. Constantius was crowned co-Emperor and Placidia was made Augusta (Empress) in 421. After Constantius's death later the same year, a scandal erupted when Honorius made sexual overtures to Placidia. She fled Ravenna and took her children and household to Constantinople.
Placidia's Fight for the Crown
Honorius died of lung disease, possibly a pulmonary embolism. His death left a vacuum in the Western Empire, which was quickly filled by the usurper Johannes. The Eastern Emperor, Placidia's nephew Theodosius II, finally recognized the claim of Valentinian and sent an army to fight Johannes on behalf of Placidia. Johannes was overthrown and put to death in 425.
Valentinian was crowned Emperor with Placidia as his regent. She remained Augusta and Regent for twelve years, during which time she was involved in the building of several churches in Rome, Rimini and Ravenna. She continued to hold a position of great influence until her death in 450.
Although called the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, the exquisite chapel in Ravenna is not her burial place. She was buried in Rome, her coffin placed next to the small silver coffin of her first child, the baby Theodosius.