The Roman Emperor Whose Wife Refused To Save Him When He Was Buried Alive

History is filled with many love stories, despite the fact that love was often not the most important thing when it came to a marriage. Historical couples like John and Abigail Adams (per Britannica) and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (per History) were known for their devotion to each other. Even fictional characters like Romeo and Juliet (via Shakespeare Birthplace Trust) or King Arthur and Queen Guinevere (also via Britannica) have inspired people in their pursuit of true love. Sadly, not all marriages were made with love in mind and sometimes ended in tragic ways.

One historical marriage that didn't work out so well was an ancient one, dating back to the Byzantine Empire. It involved a man who wasn't supposed to be king, an infant son, and the breakup of the Western Roman Empire (per Vintage News). The reign of Emperor Zeno was a tumultuous one that came to an end due to a bizarre combination of natural causes and lack of compassion on the part of his wife.

Who was Emperor Zeno?

According to Britannica, Zeno was born in the modern day region of Anatolia (Turkey), although the date of his birth is unknown. His birth name was Tarasicodissa and he went by that name for most of his life. He became a chieftain and caught the eye of Emperor Leo I by revealing a plot against him (per World History). Zeno rose through the ranks and became the emperor's master of soldiers, as well as his consul, a powerful member of his government.

Once he earned the emperor's trust, Zeno then married Leo I's daughter, Ariadne. This union was a bit unusual for the time due to the fact that emperors didn't generally marry their children off to foreigners, unless they were getting something in return (per World History). While the marriage was for strategic purposes, Leo I did get a male heir out of the deal when Zeno and Ariadne had a son, also named Leo. Unfortunately, young Leo would inherit the title of emperor long before he reached his majority, when Leo I suddenly passed away. As a result of this, young Leo's father, Zeno, took on the title of emperor in the child's stead.

Zeno's bizarre demise

Emperor Zeno technically had two different reigns, but neither of them really went well for him. His first tenure was short-lived, and his second was longer, but very tumultuous. Zeno's reign as emperor saw religious conflicts, domestic rebellions, and the eventual disintegration of the Western Roman Empire (per Ancient Origins). His unstable rule came to an abrupt end when he fell ill and died on April 9 in the year A.D. 491.

Zeno's final illness isn't exactly clear, but according to Ancient Origins the possibilities ranged from dysentery, epilepsy, or drunkenness. Whatever the cause, he was believed to be dead and placed into his sarcophagus. Three days later screams could be heard coming from the sarcophagus. Turns out the emperor wasn't really dead; he had just been unconscious. Unfortunately for him, he would die anyway, as legend says his wife, Ariadne (above), refused to open it, despite her husband's desperate pleas (per Vintage News). If this did indeed happen, Ariadne essentially allowed her husband to die by being buried alive.