Anicia Juliana was an important aristocratic woman during the reigns of Anastasius, Justin and Justinian. She was the daughter of the Emperor of the West, Flavius Anicius Olybrius and the granddaughter of Valentinian III. She was the sole patron of the lavish Church of Hagios Polyeuktos built by the year 527, which was a modeled on Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem.
The life of Anicia Juliana is known to us in some detail. She was born around A.D. 463 to Flavius Anicius Olybrius (who was Emperor of the West in 472) and Placidia the younger, daughter of Valentinian III. In 479 she was offered in marriage to Theodoric the Amal, but this match did not take place. Soon thereafter she was married to Flavius Areobindus Dagalaifus with whom she had only one son, Flavius Anicius Olybrius Junior who was consul in the East as a very young boy in 491. The latter had at least two daughters and presumably no son. Areobindus was still alive in 512 when the crown was pressed upon him in the course of a popular riot against the Emperor Anastasius, an honor which he avoided by flight. Juliana is known to have built other churches in addition to Hagios Polyeuktos. Juliana died around 527 early in the reign of Justinian.
After Anicia Juliana's death, it is accorded that her son Olybrius was somehow implicated in the Nika riots of 532 and was exiled by Justinian, who confiscated his property (presumably including the palace and church). Some years later he was allowed to return, and his property was restored to him. Nothing further is heard of this ancient and illustrious family, which must be supposed to have died out.
Gregory of Tours records that the Emperor Justinian requested the wealthy Juliana to make a contribution to the public treasury. She feigned to be willing to do so and invited the Emperor to visit her in her house after a given period of time during which she might be able to bring her treasure together. Meanwhile, she called in craftsmen, handed them all her gold and directed them to cast it into plaques which were to be affixed to the roof of Hagios Polyeuktos. After this had been done, Juliana invited the Emperor to come and, having taken him to the martyr's church, pointed to its roof. “My poverty,” she said, “is contained in this work. Do with it whatever you please.” Thus she was able to avert Justinian's rapacity. While the story contains fabulous elements, its golden roof is confirmed by the epigram in the Anthology and it also correctly she was old and that the church was close to her palace.
Anicia Juliana in the Vienna Dioscorides
Anicia Juliana is depicted like the Olympian Zeus, in a rigid, frontal pose, seated on the curule chair. The figures that flank her can be interpreted as personifications of her virtues: Magnanimity (on her right) and Prudence (on her left). A tiny winged cupid stands to Juliana's right and presents her with the codex.
A New Temple for Byzantium: Anicia Juliana, King Solomon, and the Gilded Ceiling of the Church of St. Polyeuktos in Constantinople by J. Bardill
The Palace of Lausus at Constantinople and its Collection of Ancient Statues by Mango, Francis, and Vickers
Excavations at Sarachane in Istanbul, Volume 1 By R. Martin Harrison