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Theodora (497-548) to be a oriental empress, wife of the emperor Justinian I and also the most powerful woman in oriental history.

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Born from humble origins, Theodora reigned end the byzantine Empire alongside her husband native 527 until her death in 548. Lock would preeminence together in a gold period of oriental history.

Highly intelligent and political astute, she would use her influence to promote religious and society policies and significantly broaden the civil liberties of women.

Here space 10 facts around the ‘Golden Queen’ the the oriental Empire.

1. She led one unconventional at an early stage life

Theodora was the daughter of Acacius, a bear-keeper who operated for the Hippodrome the Constantinople. Little is recognized of her early years.

Her mother, whose name is no recorded, to be a dancer and also actress. ~ Acacius’ death, her mommy remarried and also began Theodora’s acting career.


Mosaic the Theodora at the Basilica of san Vitale (Credit: Petar Milošević / CC).


Along v her two sisters, Comitona and also Anastasia, Theodora would come to be an actress, dancer, mime artist and comedian. Through 15, she to be the star the the hippodrome.

At the time, lot of what was called “acting” would have affiliated sexual or indecent performances top top stage. Theodora would have been – as many actresses were – a boy prostitute.

According come the salacious works of the sixth century byzantine historian, Procopius that Caesarea, Theodora worked in a brothel offer low-status customers before performing ~ above stage.

Off stage, Theodora was claimed to have had many lovers and held wild parties. Top top stage, she was claimed to have got fame an especially for a lurid portrayal the Leda and the Swan.

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2. She exit her exhilaration career aged 16

At the period of 16, Theodora walked away from her acting career to become mistress come a Syrian official called Hecebolus, the governor of what is now known as Libya.

She accompanied Hecebolus ~ above his travels to north Africa, and stayed through him for virtually 4 years before returning to Constantinople.

Abandoned and maltreated through Hecebolus, she later resolved for a when in Alexandria, Egypt, whereby she do a living together wool spinner.


Hippodrome the Constantinople, wherein Theodora worked during her childhood (Credit: Paul K / Flickr).


3. She converted to one early form of Christianity

After her connection with Hecebolus broke down, Theodora join an ascetic ar in the desert near Alexandria, wherein she convert to a branch of early on Christianity, Monophysitism.

Monophysite Christianity held that Jesus Christ’s nature was purely divine, vice versa, orthodox Christianity believed that Jesus’ nature was both human and divine.

During her reign with Justinian, she would be known to explicitly work versus her husband, that was the leader that the byzantine church and also protector of orthodoxy.

She would certainly protect and house monks that adhered come monophysite beliefs, also using the great Palace the Constantinople to do so. Justinian was claimed to have moved significantly in favour that monophysitism in the direction of the finish of his life.

Theodora is credited with supporting, and ultimately achieving the adoption, of Monophysitism in Nubia around 540 CE.

4. She and Justinian were an unlikely match


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Mosaic that Justinian ns at san Vitale in Ravenna (Credit: The Yorck Project).


After she conversion, Theodora travelled to Constantinople where she met Justinian, that was 20 years her senior.

A farmer’s child from present-day Serbia, Justinian moved to the resources to work-related for his uncle Justin, and also to assist in his climb to power and also eventual ascension to the throne.

Justinian was said to have been bring away by Theodora’s intelligence and also beauty, and also made she his mistress prior to marrying she in 525.

When Emperor Justin I died in 527, Theodora to be crowned empress the Rome, in the very same coronation ceremony together her husband.

5. Justinian changed the legislation to get married her

Theodora’s background meant she was no legally enabled to marry Justinian. Roman legislation from Constantine’s time prevented anyone of senatorial location from marrying actresses.

In order come legalise their marriage, Justinian had actually a law readjusted to raise she status and created another to permit her come marry.

Their marriage was against the express wishes of Justinian’s aunt, the empress Euphemia, that was it s her a previous slave and also prostitute.

The couple were said to have actually matched each other in intelligence, ambition and also energy. Together, they heralded a new era because that the oriental Empire and also its people.

6. She wielded significant influence in politics affairs


Mosaic of Empress Theodora in mountain Vitale in Ravenna (Credit: public domain).


Justinian cure his mam as his intellectual partner, and in doing so Theodora to be able to have actually a significant impact top top the political decision of the oriental Empire.

Although she was never made co-regent, many thought that it was she that ruled Byzantium and also not she husband.

Theodora’s name appears in virtually all the law passed during the period, and also she received foreign envoys and also corresponded with foreign rulers – duties usually bring away by the ruler.

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7. She to be an ardent support of women’s rights

Theodora might in countless ways be described as very early feminist. She is mental as among the an initial rulers come recognise the rights of women.

As empress, she collection up a home where prostitutes can live in peace. She operated for women’s marriage and dowry rights, championed anti-rape legislation, and was donate of young girls who had actually been sold into sexual slavery.

Her regulations banished brothel-keepers native Constantinople and all other significant cities that the empire. She expanded the civil liberties of ladies in divorce and property ownership, banned forced prostitution, and gave ladies guardianship rights over their children.

However return she did a great deal to help women and girls in need, Theodora was well-known to attack women of higher standing who endangered her position, consisting of the empress Euphemia.

8. She oversaw the rebuilding the Constantinople


The current structure of Hagia Sophia was constructed between 532 and 537 top top the orders of Justinian I and Theodora (Credit: Rabe! / CC).


During her and also her husband’s reign, Constantinople to be rebuilt and reformed to become the many splendid city the people had seen for centuries.

Aqueducts, bridges and churches to be built and rebuilt – the greatest of them was the Hagia Sophia, taken into consideration the epitome of oriental architecture and one that the world’s greatest architectural wonders.

9. Her death dealt a severe blow to oriental politics

Theodora died in 548 at the age of 48, perhaps or cancer the gangrene. Her fatality had a visible influence on Justinian, who never remarried.



After a duration of deep mourning, Justinian would rule for an additional 17 years. Theodora’s prestige in oriental political life have the right to be prove by the truth that little significant legislation days from the duration between she death and also that of her husband’s in 548.

Theodora’s daughter (from before her marriage to Justinian) would go ~ above to have actually three sons, all of who became prominent numbers in byzantine politics.

10. She was overlooked and misunderstood by historians

Despite play a key role in byzantine history, Theodora was mainly overlooked by historians and also scholars.

Most that what us know around her comes from Procopius’ ‘Secret History’, i m sorry was composed after her death and also regarded by numerous as exaggerated gossip.

In it, “Theodora-from-the-Brothel” is described enabling geese to peck serial from her lower torso, dance naked but for a ribbon, and has she saying she regrets the God gave her only three orifices because that pleasure.

She is defined as gift vulgar, jealous, filled with insatiable lust and also possessing cold-blooded self-interest, shrewishness and mean-spiritedness.

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Procopius go on to explain her husband Justinian as a headless demon, and also he clearly saw the pair in a negative light. He additionally took worry with Antonina, the wife of Justinian’s basic Belisarius, who was illustrated as constantly scheming v Theodora.

Featured image: The Empress Theodora in ~ the Colosseum through Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902)