500: Theodora, Empress of the Byzantine Empire

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This particular article is the 500th ever posted on this site. I have decided to dedicate it to Theodora, Empress of the Byzantine Empire who also happened to be born around the year 500.

As is quite usual for the time, and especially for a woman, her exact birth date is not recorded. She was probably of Greek Cypriot descent. Her father, Acacius, was a bear trainer in Constantinople, but there is no record of her mother’s name. We do know she was an actress and a dancer. Her parents had two more daughters, and her father died young. Theodora probably served in a brothel from an early age. At the age of 16, she travelled to North Africa with a Syrian official named Hecebolus, who acted as a governor. She stayed there with him for almost four years, before returning to Constantinople. However, he often mistreated her, and she settled for a while in Alexandria in Egypt and later to Antioch.

When she finally did return to Constantinople in 511, she gave up her work and became a wool spinner near the palace, where she apparently drew attention from Justinian, heir to the throne of his uncle, Emperor Justin I. He wished to marry her, but there was a law against it. After his main opponent, the Empress Euphemia, had died, Emperor Justin repealed the law and Justinian was finally able to marry Theodora. By then she had already had a daughter.

Theodora proved herself worthy of the post. She spoke out against leaving the city when new riots broke out, and Justinian ordered his troops to attack the rebels, instead of fleeing and saved his throne. After this Justinian and Theodora went about transforming the city of Constantinople and built among other things, the Hagia Sophia, which still stands today. Theodora, perhaps remembering her own youth, passed laws prohibiting forced prostitution and she closed brothels. To support the former prostitutes she created a convent. She gave women rights in divorce and ownership of property and instituted the death penalty for rape.

Theodora died of a “cancer” on 28 June 548 at the age of 48. She was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople.

About Moniek Bloks 2733 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.


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