chapter  2
19 Pages

Sophia (565-601 +)

John of Ephesos describes her as Theodora's niece, and Sophia's own statement about her demented husband, 'The kingdom came through me, and it has come back to me: and as for him, he is chastised, and has fallen into this trial on my account, because he did not value me sufficiently, and vexed me',3 implies a close relationship to the former empress Theodora. It also shows her as marked by a love of domination and a belief that the imperial power was hers by right. She even adopted the official nomenclature Aelia Sophia, using the title (Aelia) given to the empresses of the Theodosian house and their successors, which had been dropped by Euphemia and Theodora. Indeed, according to Averil Cameron, Sophia 'emerges as a figure as powerful and in many ways more interesting than her aunt'.4 In fact, Sophia not only played an influential part in government, but one that was publicly recognised: something that Theodora never achieved or, indeed, aspired to. 5 Sophia is one of the prime examples of the dynastic marriages which Theodora orchestrated to the advantage of her family. She may have been the daughter of Theodora's elder sister Komito and the general Sittas, a marriage which Justinian (by which we may assume Theodora) arranged on his accession.6 As Sophia already had a married daughter, Arabia, when she

came to the throne, Sophia herself was presumably born no later than 535 and must have been married and Arabia born by 550: Arabia was married to Badouarios, Justin's successor as europalates.7 Theophanes records that a son, Justus, had died prior to the couple's rise to power.8 It is in fact very probable that Sophia's marriage to Justin was arranged by Theodora, in the same way and at the same time as she arranged the match between her grandson Anastasios and Joannina, in both cases for the aggrandisement of her family. In this case the marriage must have taken place before 548, which would place Sophia's birth closer to 530, not long after the marriage of Komito and Sittas. As Theodora's close relative it is inconceivable that Sophia did not learn about the realities of power from Justinian's court, both during her aunt's lifetime and afterwards as wife of the europalates, in charge of the running of the imperial palace. Theodora may herself have groomed her for power and apparently planned for her to assume the purple as her successor.