Thursday, April 16, 2015

Joyce E. Salisbury's "Rome’s Christian Empress"

Joyce E. Salisbury is professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay. She is the author of Perpetua’s Passion: Death and Memory of a Young Roman Woman and The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Rome's Christian Empress: Galla Placidia Rules at the Twilight of the Empire, and reported the following:
Half of page 99 is a map of the divisions of Spain, ca. 411, and the narrative talks about “shifting imperial usurpers who needed high taxes to function” and “benevolent barbarians.” This page represents a couple of things about my book: 1) It has seven maps which show my interest in the intersection of history with geography as the movement of peoples shapes the organization of the land. This includes large spaces – Spain and the Hunnish Empire –as well as urban spaces – Barcelona, Ravenna, and Constantinople. 2) My account includes the crumbling of the Roman Empire in the West as tribes carve up the land.

The map on page 99 also signals that the publisher generously allowed illustrations, and there are thirteen in addition to the seven maps. This book is also about art and how people see themselves and how they are remembered. The cover has an image of Galla Placidia with her two children. It is a rare portrait of a fifth-century woman, and the reader can turn to page 161 to see the earliest portrayal of the Virgin Mary in the West – resembling Placidia complete with her pearls.

Where is my eponymous heroine on page 99? Traveling into Spain with her barbarian kidnapper turned husband as they head to Barcelona. They plan on creating a dynasty to challenge her brother, Honorius, the emperor who spent so much time in his palace with his eunuchs that he didn’t produce an heir. But things did not turn out as planned, and Placidia had many more struggles before she could leave barbarian-held Spain and take the imperial throne.
Learn more about Rome's Christian Empress at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue