Sunday, 1 May 2005

Theodora (A.D. 500-548): The Whore who Became Empress


Theodora (mosaic from Ravenna, Italy)


Theodora was the daughter of a Byzantine bear-tamer at the Hippodrome (the Byzantine version of the Roman arena). Her father died when she was little, leaving behind a wife, Theodora and her two sisters Comito and Anastasia. The widow re-married but things did not improve for them financialy. As soon as the girls were old enough she put her daughters on the stage, which in those days was a profession which inevitably led to prostitution. The eldest, Comito was already an accomplished courtesan by the time Theodora started to assist her. It was not too long until she too became a prostitute. She was infimous. As she could not play any musical instruments or dance, according to Procopius, she "merely sold her attractions to anyone who came along, putting her whole body at his disposal". She would also perform outrageous acts on stage, which only added to her notoriety. She was said to be given to "unlimited self-indulgence. Often she would go to a dinner party with ten young men or more, all at the peak of their physical powers...and would lie with all her fellow diners in turn, the whole night long. When she had reduced them all to a state of exhaustion she would go to their servants, as many as thirty on occasions, and copulate with every one of them."

Theodora met Justinian, magister militum praesentalis in Constantinople and in 523 they got married. He became emperor in 527 A.D. She was a clever, cunning woman and quickly showed a talent for governance and got involved in many aspects of state business. She had laws passed that prohibited forced prostitution, gave women more rights in divorce cases, allowed women to inherit and own property and made rape a crime punishable by death.

Theodora died of cancer in A.D 548.

References: "The Secret History", by Procopius of Caesarea, The Loeb Classical Library, published by Harvard University Press

Links:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodora_(6th_century)

http://womenshistory.about.com/library/bio/blbio_theodora.htm

5 comments:

gettinggrip said...

Hi. I enjoy reading your blog, especially things not famously known about historical figures. Very interesting. I have included your blog to my list of "regularly-read blogs".

Alterior said...

Many thanks! :-) It is really nice to know that people are enjoying all this!

Take care!

Light said...

Ahh, good old Theodora. I do wonder how much of the secret history is true, and how much is just the slanders of a man who resented so much influence being wielding by a woman. Either way, it's a cracking read.

Alterior said...

Absolutely. :-))))

histrynut said...

Theodora was just one of millions of women at that time to be abused by the 'system'. Even Justinian's Aunt "Euphemia" had earmarkings of having been a prostitute/slave prior to her marriage to Justin. Euphemia's name Lupanicia(sp?) afterall was apparently a typical prostitute's name until she'd had it changed to Euphemia. The amount of abuse/humiliation that a child prostitute suffered growing up in a hypodrome - eventually becoming Empress -, makes you wonder how vicious but yet wise to the ways of the world she can become.... and I think Theodora exemplifies all of this.