chapter  1
29 Pages

Theodora, wife of Justinian (527-48)

Theodora, wife of the emperor Justinian, is one of the figures of Byzantine history of whom non-Byzantinists have sometimes heard. Indeed, the tales related by Procopius of her activities in the hippodrome, and outside of it, prior to her marriage, cast into insignificance stories of more modern royal scandals. More remarkable, however, than the fact that modern tastes for prurient gossip closely resemble those of earlier ages is the realisation that Procopius's narrative was not without foundation. Theodora, who was born c. 497, had been an actress, with all the connotations of sexual immorality and vulgar entertainment which the stage implied. A law had especially to be passed to enable her to marry a man of senatorial rank, let alone the nephew of Justin I and heir presumptive to the empire, and she had had an illegitimate daughter prior to her marriage. Yet Theodora rose triumphant against all possible obstacles: she became empress; advantageously married her family off with regard to their rank and wealth; possessed great sway in matters of state through her influence over her husband; and, like many a repentant prostitute, became a pillar of the faith, albeit of a heretic branch.