Theodora, Eastern Roman Empress
Greek: Θεοδώρα, Eastern Roman Empress
|Also Known As:||"Theodora of Byzantium", "of Constantinople"|
|Death:||Died in Constantinople, Constantinople, Byzantium|
|Cause of death:||Cancer|
Daughter of Acacius "The Bear Keeper" and Balbilla
|Occupation:||Eastern Roman Empress|
|Managed by:||Lynn Diane Riemann|
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About Theodora Eastern Roman Empress
Theodora (Greek: Θεοδώρα) (c. 500 - June 28 548), was empress of the Byzantine Empire and the wife of Emperor Justinian I. Like her husband, she is a saint in the Orthodox Church, commemorated on November 14. Theodora is perhaps the most influential and powerful woman in the Byzantine Empire's history.
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 claims Theodora came from Paphlagonia.
Her father, Acacius, was a bear trainer of the hippodrome's Blue faction in Constantinople. Her mother, whose name is not recorded, was a dancer and an actress. After her father's death, her mother brought her children wearing garlands into the hippodrome and presented them as suppliants to the crowd.
Both John of Ephesus and Procopius (in his Secret History) relate that Theodora from an early age 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 would earn her living by a combination of her theatrical and sexual skills. Theodora made a name for herself with her portrayal of Leda and the Swan, where she stripped off her clothes as far as the law allowed, lying on her back while some attendants scattered barley on her groin and then some geese picked up the barley with their bills. She also entertained notables at banquets and accepted a multitude of lovers.
Procopius mentions that during her time as a prostitute, Theodora was familiar with all the methods to induce an abortion.
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 to the capital of the Byzantine Empire, she settled for a while in Alexandria, Egypt. She is said to have met the Patriarch Timothy III in Alexandria, who was Monophysite, and it was at that time that she converted to Monophysite Christianity.
From Alexandria she went to Antioch, where she met a Blue faction's dancer, Macedonia, who was perhaps an informer of Justinian. It may have been Macedonia who provided Theodora to Justinian, presenting her as a person whom it would be useful to know and as a fellow aficionado of the Blues, as her father was on the side of this faction while working at the hippodrome, and Justinian was their supporter.
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 managed to marry 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.
Theodora Eastern Roman Empress's Timeline
Byzantium (Constantinople), Istanbul, Turkey
June 28, 548
Constantinople, Constantinople, Byzantium
Empress of Byzantine