emperor of the East (A. D. 450-457), was the son of an obscure but respectable man, who had served in the imperial armies.
He was born either in Thrace or in Illyricum, about A. D. 391; and at an early age he entered the imperial army. Of his earlier history we are acquainted with a few trifling stories and adventures. His way to fortune was slow, for in 421, at the age of thirty, he was still a common soldier, or, perhaps, a non-commissioned officer. Some years afterwards he attached himself to the famous general Aspar, and subsequently to his son Ardaburius, as private secretary, obtaining, at the same time, the office of captain of the guards. During fifteen, or perhaps nineteen years, he continued in the service of those eminent men, and found ample opportunities for developing his military talents.
He accompanied Aspar in his unfortunate campaign against Genseric, king of the Vandals in Africa, in 431, when he was made a prisoner of war; but on account of his reputation, and perhaps for services which history does not record, obtained his release, and returned to Constantinople. His history during the following nineteen years is veiled in obscurity; and it is only from subsequent events that we are allowed to conclude that he distinguished himself in no ordinary degree; for the emperor, Theodosius the Younger, having died in 450, his widow, the celebrated Pulcheria, offered her hand and the imperial title to Marcian, on condition that he would not prevent her from continuing the state of virginity which she had hitherto enjoyed; and Marcian, who was then about sixty, consented to it gladly, and married the chaste empress, who was then above fifty.
At that time Marcian held the rank of tribune and senator; and he was so favourably known among the people, that his elevation to supreme power was received by them with applause and demonstrations of joy. His coronation took place on the 24th of August, 450; and the whole transaction, as it seems, was so little premeditated, and was settled in so short a time, that Valentinian, the emperor of Rome, was not even asked to give his consent, which he did, however, at a later period, for he stood in great want of the assistance of a man like Marcian, who, to military renown, acquired in the war against the Vandals and Persians, joined a kind disposition and accomplished diplomatic skill.
Both the Eastern and the Western empire were then in great apprehension from the unbounded ambition and power of Attila, who had no sooner heard of the election of Marcian than he despatched ambassadors to him, demanding, in an imperative tone, the tribute which the younger Theodosius had engaged to pay annually to the king of the Huns. "I have iron for Attila," was the emperor's stern answer, " but no gold." Upon this Apollonius was sent into Attila's camp to negotiate the continuance of peace, and was charged with presents for the barbarian, which he was to deliver on the express condition that they were presents, but no tribute. Attila having declined to admit the ambassador into his presence, though not to accept the presents, Apollonius firmly refused to give up the latter previous to having obtained an audience; and being at last admitted, behaved so and fearlessly, that the king swore he would take bloody revenge. He thought it, however, more prudent to turn his wrath against Valentinian, who had likewise affronted him, by refusing to give up his sister Honoria, whom Attila claimed as his betrothed wife. Without disclosing his intention as to the countries he had chosen for an invasion, Attila sent messengers at once to Rome and Constantinople, who addressed each of the emperors with the haughty and insulting words: " Attila, my lord and thy lord, commands thee to provide a palace for his immediate reception." Upon this he set out for the invasion of Gaul, A. D. 451.
In the same year Marcian assembled the council of Chalcedon, where the doctrines of the Eutychians were condemned.
In the following year, 452, the celebrated Ardaharius, then dux Orientis, defeated the Arabs near Damascus, and made them sue for pence; and Maximin met with similar success against the Blemmyes, who had invaded the Thebais in Upper Egypt.
A strong army was also sent towards the frontiers of the Western empire to assist Valentinian against Attila, who was then invading Italy, and to secure the Eastern empire against any unexpected diversion of the barbarians.
In short Marcian neglected nothing to prepare peace and happiness for his subjects, who had so cruelly suffered under his predecessors.
The death of Attila, in 453, relieved him not only from great and just anxiety, but the subsequent, and almost immediate dissolution of the empire of the Huns, afforded him an opportunity of repopulating those provinces which had been laid waste by the Huns in their previous campaigns against Theodosius. Thus the Eastern Goths received extensive lands in Pannonia; Sarmatians (Slavonians) and Herules, in Illyricum; and Scyri, Alans and Huns, under Attila's youngest son Hernac, in Scythia and Lower Moesia.
The death of the excellent empress Pulcheria, in 454, cased a general affliction; but the popularity of Marcian only gained by it.
In the following year, 455, Valentinian was murdered; Maximin usurped the crown; Italy and Gaul were covered with ruins and blood; and the Vandal Genseric pillaged Rome.
In the midst of these terrible commotions, Marcian secured the peace of his own dominions with his wonted wisdom and firmness; and some disturbances having broken out in Lazica, in 456, which were kindled by the Armenians and Persians, he sent able officers against the latter, who soon compelled the enemy to desist from farther hostilities.
But in the beginning of 457 Marcian fell ill, and after five months' suffering, died on the 26th of June following. His death would have been the signal of great calamities but for the power of Aspar, who caused Leo the Great to be chosen emperor. Marcian had, of course, no issue from Pulcheria.
He had, however, a daughter, the offspring of a former marriage, who was called Euphemia, and was married to Anthemius, who became afterwards emperor of the West. Marcian was decidedly an excellent man, who deserves our admiration for the manner in which he governed his wide dominions, and procured for them domestic and external peace during the terrible expeditions of the Huns and the Vandals. His laudable efforts to put down the venality and corruption of the public functionaries and advocates were crowned with success; and the Codex Theodosianus connobly tains many of his constitutions, from which we may draw a favourable conclusion as to his honesty and wisdom. His orthodoxy caused him to be praised in an exaggerated degree by the orthodox writers. (Evagr. 2.12; Theophan. p. 89, &c.; Theodor. Lect. 1.28; Nicephor. Call. 15.1-4; Priscus, pp. 41, 43, 48, 72. &c.; Zonar. vol. i. p. 45, &c. ; Cedren. p. 343, &c.; Procop. Vand.
1, 4; Malela, pp. 26, 27; Codin. pp. 35, 60, 61; Glycas, p. 262 ; Joel, p. 171.)