Important Individuals in History Project: Empress Theodora (c. 500-548) Theodora of Byzatium, also known as Empress Theodora, was the empress of the Byzantine Empire and the wife of Emperor Justinian I. Along with her husband; she is a saint in the Orthodox Church. Theodora was born into the lower class of Byzantine society in Constantinople around the year 500 CE to a bear keeper for the circus and an actress/dancer. Her father died when Theodora was a child; her mother in need of money introduced her daughters to the field of entertainment (Diehl 9-11).
At the age of fifteen, she was extremely beautiful and began working as a dancer and actress. She emerged as a comic actress in burlesque theater and she was renowned for her animal acts. Theodora became very popular on and off-stage due to her revealing her body in public. However, during the time acting was considered disreputable so Theodora left the theater for the profession of spinning wool (Steinem 29).
Before meeting Justinian she served as the mistress of a wealthy man who was appointed governor over the small province, Pentapolis; with which she had her first child which she did not want.
Theodora moved with the man to Pentapolis however he later dismissed her and she was left with no money (Diehl 14). Later in her life, as she was living in Alexandria; she became an adherent of the Monophysite sect of Christianity when she met the leaders of the Monophysite religion. Theodora converted to Christianity and renounced her previous lifestyle (Diehl 23). Soon after, Theodora caught the attention of the emperor’s nephew Justinian and the two fell in love.
Under Constantinopolitan law, marriage across classes was prohibited but Justinian used his position in the royal family to have the law changed. In 523, Theodora married Justinian. In 527, Justinian I made her the joint ruler of the empire, and regarded her as a full partner in their ruler ship. In 548, Empress Theodora died of an unknown cancer. Her body was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles (Steinem 30). Empress Theodora created many important laws to protect women’s rights.
They included the death sentence for rape; protection of women in divorce cases; the right of women to inherit property and keep their dowry; protection from abusive husbands; the right to teach Christianity; and prohibitions against the practice of selling children into slavery to pay off parental debts. Theodora also purchases the freedom of many girls who had been sold into prostitution or slavery. Women’s rights and their position in society were protected and respected (Steinem 30). Theodora was also Byzantium’s first practitioner of abortion.
She advocated the rights of married women to commit adultery and the rights of women to be socially serviced, helping to advance protections and delights for them. Theodora’s achievements for women were not as a modern feminist but rather as a drive to give women the same legal rights as men (Diehl 139) After Theodora’s law was passed, if a woman was to be found committing adultery the woman would travel to the palace and expose herself of her actions. However if suing for divorce, her husband was very unfortunate as to not have any proof of his charges in court.
He would be sentenced to pay his wife an amount equal to the bride’s family’s gift to the bridegroom. The man would be publicized aggressively and put in prison, while the lady would experience freedom from her unpleasant consequences. The wife was protected against mistreatment and sudden decisions of the husband. The husband could not beat his wife without a legal reason. He could not kick her out from his home and if his wife was forced to spend a night away from home resulting in embarrassment, the husband had to blame himself and no one else. Diehl 142) On January 13, 532, during the Nika uprising; her advice and leadership for a strong response caused the riot to be stopped and saved the empire. When a crowd of people arrived at the Hippodrome for the races, the crowd had been insulting Justinian and riots broke out, Fires were started and the palace was under conflict. Theodora convinced her husband to stay in Constantinople rather than flee the city.
Listening to Theodora, Justinian stood his ground and stayed in the city and rather sent his loyal troops into battle. The coup was prevented and Justinian’s reign remained intact. Steinem 30) Theodora is considered a great female figure of the Byzantine Empire, and a creator of feminism; because of the laws she passed, increasing the rights of women. As a result of Theodora’s efforts, the status of women in the Byzantine Empire was raised higher than the women in the Middle East and the rest of Europe.
Diehl, Charles. Theodora: Empress of Byzantium. New York, New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co. , Inc. , 1972. Print. Charles Diehl was a French historian who was a leading authority on Byzantine art and history. He received his education at the Ecole Normale Superieure and later taught classes on Byzantine history at the Sorbonne. Diehl was the author of several influential books on Byzantine art and history. This source covered all the information necessary to my research. The information I found was about the entire life of Empress Theodora. I found this source more useful than all others because it gave detailed information about her life from birth to death. This source provided all the achievements she accomplished. Steinem, Gloria. Herstory: Women Who Changed the World.
United States of America: Byron Preiss Visual Publications, 1995. 29-31. Print. Gloria Steinem is an American feminist, journalist, and social activist who was the leader of the women’s Liberation Movement. She was a columnist for New York magazine and Ms. Magazine. In 2005, Steinem co-founded the Women’s Media Center. This source covered an outline of Theodora’s life. It briefly told about her childhood and accomplishments but never went into depth of how she did or what she did. This source only gave the outcome of her actions. I found this source to be a good outline and the Diehl book to be more depth of Steinem’s source.
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Empress Theodora. (2017, Mar 24). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/empress-theodora/