Thursday, March 15, 2012

Theodora (500-548)

Theodora was born around the year 500. No one knows where. Her father worked at the racetrack in Constantinople. Her mother was an actress and prostitute. When her father died, her mother abandoned her and her sisters. To earn money, she worked as an actress and prostitute like her mother.

When she was 16 years old, she was taken to North Africa as the mistress of a Roman governor. He beat her badly. Four years went by before she finally got away from him. After wandering for two years, she made her way back to Constantinople.

The 22-year-old Theodora knew she was beautiful, smart, and funny. She also knew she was tired of such a hard life. She decided she would try to get a 40-year-old man, Justinian, to marry her. Justinian’s uncle was the Roman emperor. Justinian married Theodora in 525. In 527 he became emperor of  Rome and Theodora became empress.

In January 532, a riot broke out at the racetrack. For six days fires burned all over Constantinople and thousands were killed. People attacked the palace to kill Justinian and make a new man emperor. Justinian turned to run away but Theodora told him it was better to die on his feet than to live on his knees. Justinian then told his men to fight back. They did. They ended the riot and saved his life.

With their political troubles behind them, Theodora and Justinian decided to build the largest and most beautiful church building in the world. Tradition tells us that 10,000 men worked on the project daily from 532 to 537. The result, still impressive to this day, was Hagia Sophia.

In 542 Constantinople was hit by a plague. At its worst, over 5,000 people died each day. Even Justinian got sick. Theodora, however, did not like to see her husband sick and would not let him die. She had men bring her snow from the mountains so that she could cool his fever. She took care of him day and night and he got better.

As empress, Theodora had new laws written to protect the rights of women. For centuries, they were the best laws for women found anywhere.

Theodora died of cancer on June 28, 548. Just before she died, a mosaic of her was made in a church in Ravenna (in what is now Italy). The Orthodox Church declared her to be a saint and celebrates her life on November 14.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.