Cleopatra Essay Research Paper TheodoraTheodora was the

Cleopatra Essay, Research Paper


Theodora was the wife of Justinian I who was crowned Emperor of the Byzantine Empire

in 527 AD. As his wife, she ruled by his side, as his partner, and her intelligence helped to

advance the Empire.

The exact place of her birth has not been agreed upon. While some historians say she was

born on the island of Crete off the coast of Greece, others speculate that she might have been

born in Syria. Whichever the case, she was brought up as the daughter of a bear trainer who

worked at the Hippodrome (a huge stadium-like circus), in Constantinople. She worked there as

a mime, and later as a full time actress. At the time, acting was not a highly esteemed occupation

especially for women, so the term ‘actress’ was considered synonymous with the term ‘prostitute’.

While on stage she was remembered for her daring entertainment skills, off stage however, she

lived a normal youthful life and was most remembered for her wild parties.

At the age of 16, she traveled to northern Africa as the companion of an official. She

stayed there for 4 years before returning to Constantinople. She stopped by Alexandria, the

capital of Egypt and here she adopted Monophysitism. This was a form of Christianity that

believed that Jesus Christ was wholly divine and not both human and divine as was the orthodox

Christian belief. Monophysites were thus not liked by orthodox Christians since their teachings

did not conform to those of the orthodox church. On conversion to Monophysitism, she gave up

her former lifestyle, and upon reaching Constantinople in 522, settled down as a wool spinner in

a house near the palace of the Emperor. It was while in this humble lifestyle, at the age of 20,

that she drew the attention of Justinian, then a government official.

Theodora was not only beautiful, but intelligent, witty and amusing, which is perhaps

why she won Justinian’s love so much that he appealed against an old Roman law that forbade

officials from marrying actresses in order to marry her. Justinian and Theodora were married in

525. In 527, Justin, the emperor of Byzantium, and Justinian’s father died. The couple assumed

control of the Empire and were crowned Emperor and Empress on 4th April of that same year.

They ruled unofficially as joint monarchs with Justinian allowing Theodora to share his thrown

and take active part in decision making.

Perhaps the most significant event during Empress Theodora’s rule was the Nika revolt in

which she proved herself a worthy and able leader. During this event, two rival political groups

started a riot at the Hippodrome. They set many public buildings on fire and proclaimed a new

emperor. Justinian and his officials, unable to control the crowd prepared to flee, but Theodora

spoke up and gave a moving speech about the greater significance of the life of someone who

died as a ruler, over that of someone who lived but was nothing. Her determined speech

convinced Justinian and his officials and they attacked the Hippodrome, killing over 30,000

rebels and emerging victorious. Historians agree that it was Theodora’s courage and

determination that save Justinian’s empire.

Throughout the rest of her life, Theodora and Justinian transformed the city of

Constantinople, building it into a city that for many centuries was known as the most wonderful

cities in the world. They built aqueducts, bridges, and more than 25 churches, the most

significant of these being the Hagia Sophia – ‘Church of Holy Wisdom’. To women, Theodora

may well be considered a noble pioneer of the women’s liberation movement. She passed on

laws prohibiting forced prostitution and established homes for prostitutes, passed rights that

granted women more rights in divorce cases, instituted the death penalty for rape and established

laws allowing women to own and inherit property. She also provided safe shelter for

Monophysite leaders who faced opposition from the majority orthodox Christians, even though

her husband Justinian was an orthodox Christian.

Empress Theodora died on 28th June, 548. Her body was buried in the Church of the

Holy Apostle, one of the splendid churches that she and Justinian had built in Constantinople.

Beautiful mosaics in Empress Theodora’s remembrance exist to this day at the Church of San

Vitale at Ravenna in Northern Italy. Even after her death, her spirit lived on, and in this way she

was able to have influence on the Empire. Through what she had began, Justinian was able to

bring harmony between the Monophysites and the Orthodox Christians, and the status of women

in the Byzantine Empire was elevated high above that of the women in the Middle East and


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