History meme – T H E O D O R A (527-565) was a Byzantine empress, the wife of emperor Justinian I, and one of the most powerful women in Byzantine history. Her intelligence and political acumen made her Justinian’s most trusted adviser and enabled her to use the power and influence of her office to promote religious and social policies that favoured her interests.

Little is known of Theodora’s early life; Her father was a bear keeper at the Hippodrome in Constantinople and she became an actress while still young. When Justinian met her, he was attracted by her beauty and intelligence, and made her his mistress, then raised her to the rank of patrician, and in 525 he married her. When Justinian succeeded to the throne in 527, she was proclaimed augusta.

Theodora exercised considerable influence, and many were led to believe that it was she, rather than Justinian, who ruled Byzantium. Her name is mentioned in nearly all the laws passed during that period. She received foreign envoys and corresponded with foreign rulers, functions usually reserved for the emperor. Her influence in political affairs was decisive, as illustrated in the Nika revolt of January 532. The two political factions in Constantinople, the Blues and the Greens, united in their opposition to the government and set up a rival emperor. Justinian’s advisers urged him to flee, but Theodora advised him to stay and save his empire, reportedly saying: “Those who have worn the crown should never survive its loss. Never will I see the day when I am not saluted as empress.”

Although an escape route across the sea lay open for the emperor, Theodora insisted that she would stay in the city, quoting an ancient saying, “Royalty is a fine burial shroud.” Subsequently, Justinian’s general, Belisarius, herded the rioters into the Hippodrome and cut them to pieces.

Theodora is remembered as one of the first rulers to recognize the rights of women, passing strict laws to prohibit the traffic in young girls and altering the divorce laws to give greater benefits to women. She also spent much of her reign trying to mitigate the laws against the monophysites.

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