After a century in which imperial women – apart from Constantine’s mother and wife – were only discerned for dynastic reasons, it was Theodosius I who placed a new emphasis on the empress’ representative function as well as her political role by honouring his wife Flaccilla with the title of Augusta and distributing coins that showed her portrait. His successors followed this example and henceforth wives, sisters and daughters of emperors appeared as representatives of the emperors’ reign on a regular basis.
While imperial women, especially those bearing the title of Augusta, appear more frequently in public, coins as well as statues erected in public places, and insignia and titles worn by imperial women distinguished them, not only as members of the imperial family, but also as representatives of the ruling emperor.
In addition Theodosian women regularly sought contact with prominent individuals of their time as well as with various social groups, on whose acceptance and consensus the emperors reign depended, often using the opportunity to ostensively express appropriate virtues like humility, philanthropy, civilitas etc. Referring to the empresses’ public appearances and their official representation contemporary sources frequently portray them as powerful and politically influential personalities participating in imperial reign.
I would like to highlight the interdependency between the official representation and self-portrayal of imperial women on the one hand and its reception in late roman public life on the other, thus showing how the role of the roman imperial women evolved in 5th century roman Empire to that of co-regnant.