Today women are given several opportunities other individuals are denied: these opportunities include but aren’t limited to divorce rights and property ownership. When asked whom to thank for the civil liberties they possess women often answer “Harriet Beecher Stowe”, “Susan B. Anthony” or even “Elizabeth Cady Stanton”. These women are very important. However, a very well-spoken, prevalent, independent, and distinct woman dates back to 527 A. D. A woman by the name of Theodora paved the way of women’s rights for women today as well as of her time period. Early life for Theodora is somewhat of a mystery (Cesaretti 3).
By the time she was born; there were two factions; the Greens and the Blues. The factions served as a supporter’s club they managed the Hippodrome and its entertainment. But they also had a certain amount of political influence. In the Hippodrome the Greens and the Blues could convey the voice of the people to the emperor. Theodora’s father, Acacius was the bear keeper for the Greens at the Hippodrome in Constantinople (Evans 13). Information about Theodora’s father is practically little to nothing. In the civilian hierchy, the personnel of the Hippodrome ranked at the bottom of the social pyramid (Evans 15).
Therefore, it is evident that Theodora was not a very popular person in her childhood. According to Cesaretti, “In all actuality Theodora came from the lowest rungs of society as an actress and courtesan”. Marriage is what changed Theodora’s life and social hierchy. In 522, Theodora returned to Constantinople from living with a lover in Africa. By this time, she was a changed woman. She did not go back to her old way of impoverished life and acting: this was indeed a far cry from her earlier life as acting was seen as equal to prostitution in those days.
Theodora found a simple cottage to reside in. It was there that she met Justinian, the emperor’s nephew. He was much older than she, but the two fell in love. Justinian wanted to marry her, but, by law, he could not. Under Byzantine law, peasants could not marry members of the upper classes (Cesaretti 11). But Justinian was not to be stopped from marrying Theodora. He used his position as a member of the royal family to get the law changed. In 525, Justinian and Theodora were married. And, in 527, they were crowned emperor and empress.
Empress Theodora and Justinian did not officially rule as joint monarchs. However, Theodora had great power and influence (Evans 51). She used her influence to create several new laws to protect women and their rights. The things Theodora made possible for women is essential in building onto the grand history women would embark on in the future. These laws Theodora developed granted women more rights in divorce and allowed women to inherit and keep property. They also made forced prostitution illegal and created the death sentence for rape (Evans 33).
Empress Theodora is also recognized for saving Justinian’s reign. In 532, a riot broke out, at the hippodrome, between two rival political groups: the Blues and the Greens (Evans 46). Riots soon turned into a revolt. Many public buildings were destroyed. Unable to control the mob, Justinian and his advisors got ready to flee. Then, at a meeting of the government council, Theodora spoke out. She told Justinian that death was better than exile and disgrace. Her speech convinced them all. Justinian’s generals attacked the rebels and eventually restored order (Evans 60).
Jone Lewis asserts that “Theodora had a real effect on the political decisions of the empire. Justinian writes, for instance, that he consulted Theodora when he promulgated a constitution which included reforms meant to end corruption by public officials. ” Empress Theodora died of cancer on June 28, 548. Her body was buried in one of the churches the emperor and empress had had built in Constantinople (Cesaretti 37) Although Justinian ruled for 20 more years, it is said that he never recovered from her death and went every day to light candles at her grave (Cesaretti 49).
Taking everything into consideration, Empress Theodora paved the way for women’s rights. She was able to move up in society despite the normality of society. Theodora saved her husband’s throne, like most women. She made divorce an option. Women were then able to own property. Theodora made these changes despite opposition and adversity. When individuals give glory to modern western women they often times neglect a very special woman in history: Empress Theodora.
* Cesaretti, Paolo. Theodora. New York: Magowan Publishing, 2001. Print * Evans, J. A. S. The Empress Theodora: Partner of Justinian. Austin: University of Texas, 2002. Print. * Lewis, Jone J. “EmpressÂ Theodora.” About.com Women’s History. Biography of Byzantine Empress Theodora, 31 Jan. 2012. Web. 2 Feb. 2013