Byzantine empress and wife of Justinian I; she was very intelligent and influential. She influenced the Corpus Juris Civilis with her intelligence. She also kept Justinian from running away from a terrible riot in 532. In fact she persuaded him to crush it.
So he did!
Then when they were rebuilding Constantinople, they got to build the Hagia Sophia which everyone now considers the peak of Byzantine architecture. So that was a handy turn of events!
All I want in life is some beautiful, luxurious TV series about Justinian and Theodora. I want it to be produced by HBO, I want them to just throw money at it and depict the full splendor of court life. I want drama about Church controversies, about important families, about sex. I want it to cover the period before Justinian marries Theodora, and his family’s opposition to his marriage. I want court intrigue in Constantinople. I want to see the push for conquest westward. I want it to play up all of the divisive views about the couple we get from Procopius and then some.
Seriously - sex, violence, power struggles, it could have everything. I also want them to hire some historians, so they don’t fuck it up.
(Image: Empress Theodora and attendants (mosaic from Basilica of San Vitale, 6th century))
Theodora I and the Nika Riots
Theodora proved herself a worthy and able leader during the Nika riots. There were two rival political factions in the Empire, the Blues and the Greens, who started a riot in January 532 during a chariot race in the hippodrome. The riots stemmed from many grievances, some from Justinian’s and Theodora’s own actions.The rioters set many public buildings on fire, and proclaimed a new emperor, Hypatius, the nephew of former emperor Anastasius I. Unable to control the mob, Justinian and his officials prepared to flee. At a meeting of the government council, Theodora spoke out against leaving the palace and underlined the significance of someone who died as a ruler instead of living as an exile or in hiding, saying, “royal purple is noblest shroud,” meaning better to die an emperor fighting to keep his throne than to run away in fear and live as an exile.
Her determined speech convinced them all, including Justinian himself, who had been preparing to run. As a result, Justinian ordered his loyal troops led by two reliable officers, Belisarius and Mundus, to attack the demonstrators in the hippodrome. His generals attacked the hippodrome, killing (according to Procopius) over 30,000 rebels. Despite his claims that he was unwillingly named emperor by the mob, Hypatius was also put to death, apparently at Theodora’s insistence. Historians agree that it was Theodora’s courage and decisiveness that saved Justinian’s reign. Justinian never forgot that it was Theodora who had saved his throne.
Empress Theodora I is becoming one of my 'favorite' historical figures.
I quite like her salacious history. Who can’t appreciate a woman cunning enough to go from being an actress to the near co-regent of Justinian I? She stirs all kinds of lady-loving feelings in me. This might warrant future Theodora I laden posts.
Image: Bust of a Byzantine empress, possibly Theodora. 6th century. Museum of Ancient Art in the Castello Sforzesco in Milan, Italy.
Theodora I Religious Policy
Theodora worked against her husband’s support of Chalcedonian Christianity in the ongoing struggle for the predominance of each faction. In spite of Justinian being Chalcedonian, Theodora founded a Miaphysite monastery in Sykae and provided shelter in the palace for Miaphysite leaders who faced opposition from the majority of Chalcedonian Christians, like Severus and Anthimus. Anthimus had been appointed Patriarch of Constantinople under her influence, and after the excommunication order he was hidden in Theodora’s quarters for twelve years, until her death. When the Chalcedonian Patriarch Ephraim provoked a violent revolt in Antioch, eight Miaphysite bishops were invited to Constantinople and Theodora welcomed them and housed them in the Hormisdas Palace adjoining the Great Palace, which had been Justinian and Theodora’s own dwelling before they became emperor and empress.
In Egypt, when Timothy III died, Theodora enlisted the help of Dioscoros, the Augustal Prefect, and Aristomachos the duke of Egypt, to facilitate the enthronement of a disciple of Severus, Theodosius, thereby outmaneuvering her husband, who had been plotting for an Chalcedonian successor as patriarch. But Pope Theodosius I of Alexandria, even with the help of imperial troops, could not hold his ground in Alexandria against Justinian’s Chalcedonian followers. When he was exiled by Justinian along with 300 Miaphysites to the fortress of Delcus in Thrace, Theodora rescued him and brought him to the Hormisdas Palace. He lived under her protection and, after her death in 548, under Justinian’s.
When Pope Silverius refused Theodora’s demand that he remove the anathema of Pope Agapetus I from Patriarch Anthimus, she sent Belisarius instructions to find a pretext to remove Silverius. When this was accomplished, Pope Vigilius was appointed in his stead.
The Chalcedonians argued that Theodora fostered heresy and thus undermined the unity of Christendom.
In Nobatae, south of Egypt, the inhabitants were converted to Miaphysite Christianity about 540. Justinian had been determined that they be converted to the Chalcedonian faith and Theodora equally determined that they should be Miaphysites. Justinian made arrangements for Chalcedonian missionaries from Thebaid to go with presents to Silko, the king of the Nobatae. But on hearing this, Theodora prepared her own missionaries and wrote to the duke of Thebaid that he should delay her husband’s embassy, so that the Miaphysite missionaries should arrive first. The duke was canny enough to thwart the easygoing Justinian instead of the unforgiving Theodora. He saw to it that the Chalcedonian missionaries were delayed. When they eventually reached Silko, they were sent away, for the Nobatae had already adopted the Miaphysite creed of Theodosius.
I swear to God, though. If no capable screenwriter gets around to writing that HBO!Justinian-and-Theodora miniseries, I’ll write the damn thing myself.
Just imagine: I could run during the off-seasons of Game of Thrones. People would just switch between quasi-medieval fantasy political drama to actual-medieval political drama + church shenanigans.
Like, it’s so apparent to me that parts of King’s Landing are totally based on Constantinople. I mean, come on, Tyrion Lannister at the Battle of Blackwater Bay uses a form of Greek fire, jfc. THEY HAVE FREAKING RESERVES OF IT.
Fuck it, I should just drop any art history parts of my Plan and just incorporate some random-ass screenplay.
Image : Empress Theodora as show in the popular game Civilization V
The Later Life of Empress Theodora I Wife of Justinian I
Following the Nika revolt, Justinian and Theodora rebuilt and reformed Constantinople and made it the most splendid city the world had seen for centuries, building or rebuilding aqueducts, bridges and more than twenty five churches. The greatest of these is Hagia Sophia, considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and one of the architectural wonders of the world.
Theodora was punctilious about court ceremony. According to Procopius, the Imperial couple made all senators, including patricians, prostrate themselves before them whenever they entered their presence, and made it clear that their relations with the civil militia were those of masters and slaves. They also carefully supervised the magistrates, much more so than previous emperors, possibly to reduce bureaucratic corruption.
Theodora also created her own centers of power like the Hagia Sophia. The eunuch Narses, who in old age developed into a brilliant general, was her protege, and so was the praetorian prefect Peter Barsymes. John the Cappadocian, Justinian’s chief tax collector, was identified as her enemy, because of his independent influence.
Theodora participated in Justinian’s legal and spiritual reforms, and her involvement in the increase of the rights of women was substantial. She had laws passed that prohibited forced prostitution and closed brothels. She created a convent on the Asian side of the Dardanelles called the Metanoia (Repentance), where the ex-prostitutes could support themselves. She also expanded the rights of women in divorce and property ownership, instituted the death penalty for rape, forbade exposure of unwanted infants, gave mothers some guardianship rights over their children, and forbade the killing of a wife who committed adultery. Procopius wrote that she was naturally inclined to assist women in misfortune.
Procopius’ Secret History presents a different version of events. For instance, rather than preventing forced prostitution. Theodora is said to have ‘rounded up’ 500 prostitutes, confining them to a Convent. This, he narrates, even led to suicides as prostitutes sought to escape 'being transmogrified against their will.'
Finally won a game of civ5 (didn’t just run out of turns and end up as Dan Qualye as I normally do). I spent most of the game focusing on religion and culture and managed to not have any war/conflict with anyone! I played as Byzantine (Theodora). I didn’t reach the space age unfortunately but I did occupy much of the Americas. I am super proud of this accomplishment mostly because I actually just assumed I was terrible at the game and would never improve (let alone actually win a game). I probably couldn’t replicate this, not sure how I did it tbh, so I needed to document my success.
10 cities, 11 wonders, founded Eastern Orthodox, 5 hours 53 minutes, Diplomatic victory in 2010.
(Image: The Empress Theodora at the Coliseum. By Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant.)
Early Life of Theodora I
Theodora, according to Michael Grant, was of Greek Cypriot descent. There are several indications of her possible birthplace. According to Michael the Syrian her birthplace was in Syria; Nicephorus Callistus Xanthopoulos names Theodora a native of Cyprus, while the Patria, attributed to George Codinus, claims Theodora came from Paphlagonia. She was born in 500 AD.
Her father, Acacius, was a bear trainer of the hippodrome’s Green faction in Constantinople. Her mother, whose name is not recorded, was a dancer and an actress. Her parents had two more daughters. After her father’s death, her mother brought her children wearing garlands into the hippodrome and presented them as suppliants to the Blue faction. From then on Theodora would be their supporter.
Both John of Ephesus and Procopius (in his Secret History) relate that Theodora from an early age followed her sister Komito’s example and worked in a Constantinople brothel serving low-status customers; later she performed on stage. Lynda Garland in “Byzantine Empresses: Women and Power in Byzantium, AD 527–1204” notes that there seems to be little reason to believe she worked out of a brothel “managed by a pimp”. Employment as an actress at the time would include both “indecent exhibitions on stage” and providing sexual services off stage. In what Garland calls the “sleazy entertainment business in the capital”, Theodora earned her living by a combination of her theatrical and sexual skills.In Procopius’ account, Theodora made a name for herself with her salacious portrayal of Leda and the Swan.
During this time she met the wife of Belisarius, Antonina, with whom she would remain lifelong friends.
At the age of 16, she traveled to North Africa as the companion of a Syrian official named Hecebolus when he went to the Libyan Pentapolis as governor. She stayed with him for almost four years before returning to Constantinople. Abandoned and maltreated by Hecebolus, on her way back to the capital of the Byzantine Empire, she settled for a while in Alexandria, Egypt. She is said to have met Patriarch Timothy III in Alexandria, who was Miaphysite, and it was at that time that she converted to Miaphysite Christianity. From Alexandria she went to Antioch, where she met a Blue faction’s dancer, Macedonia, who was perhaps an informer of Justinian.
She returned to Constantinople in 522 and gave up her former lifestyle, settling as a wool spinner in a house near the palace. Her beauty, wit and amusing character drew attention from Justinian, who wanted to marry her. However, he could not: He was heir of the throne of his uncle, Emperor Justin I, and a Roman law from Constantine’s time prevented government officials from marrying actresses. Empress Euphemia, who liked Justinian and ordinarily refused him nothing, was against his wedding with an actress. However, Justin was fond of Theodora. In 525, when Euphemia had died, Justin repealed the law, and Justinian married Theodora. By this point, she already had a daughter (whose name has been lost). Justinian apparently treated the daughter and the daughter’s son Athanasius as fully legitimate, although sources disagree whether Justinian was the girl’s father.
I created this poster last year for the See America campaign from the Creative Action Network. That time, Harriet Tubman’s name was floated around as a possible new figure for the $20 bill. What do I know? She is going to be the face of the $20 bill. *Excited*
I take pride in my fcs for my muses, from the fcs that I used for Elsa to Sisi to Anne, & finally to Theodora, I take DAMN pride in finding & using the fcs that I did/do. So, I am honestly sort of possessive of them? Weird, I know, with the less than popular/underused/not even used at all fcs, I LIKE being unique. I like the idea of being one of the few or the only one using that fc. It’s even worse when it’s for a canon character because it makes my portrayal even more special imo.
I honestly don’t see a problem in taking pride in unique faceclaims, especially when people always use the same people for that character or type of character. For example, I absolutely took pride in the fact that I used Emilia Clarke (at the beginning, but I later changed fcs), Rebecca Ferguson, & Emily VanCamp for Elsa. Most people used the same ones for Elsa, but I just lol’d & went for different faces. & today, I damn well take pride in using Beren Saat as my main fc Theodora. (true story, I was originally going to use Rebecca Ferguson, but Theodora wasn’t coming to life all that well, but then when I saw Beren after hearing she was cast in Kosem, I just fucking s c r e am ed because she was Theodora). & yes, I admit that as a result, there are times when I am possessive about the fcs, but anyone who has unique/underused fcs will feel the same imo.
Obviously, there’s a limit to everything, but people need to understand that those who have unique/underused fcs often want to keep it that way. Even if they won’t admit it out loud, having a fc that no one else really uses is honest to God a good feeling & makes the blog special.
Look, it’s so frustrating sometimes when you see the same actors over and over again used for the same/similar characters. But when you have someone who is underused it’s kinda like you’re the chocolate chip cookie in a sea of sugar cookies. Both delicious as fuck, but obviously you wanna be the chocolate chip cookie & keep it that way.
& I think that it’s okay to feel that way. There’s a limit, of course, but if someone has a fc that is different from what you normally see, then understand that these people often worked hard to find someone who wasn’t used. (Or they just happened to be on google searching & BAM the fc hits them).
I rather like reading about Empress Theodora. I’m taking a lot of the information with a heaping helping of salt, since so much of it seems like mud slinging, but it’s still really interesting to learn about her role as the co-ruler of the Byzantium empire and how she wielded the power she gained as Justinian’s partner.
I’m not too sure I trust Procopius though, or at the very least I wouldn’t trust him to make an impartial chronicle of her rule.