The Empress Theodora: Partner of Justinian

The Empress Theodora: Partner of Justinian

The Empress Theodora: Partner of Justinian

The Empress Theodora: Partner of Justinian

Synopsis

"There is no other book that gives Theodora as extensive or as penetrating treatment as this one.... The task is worthwhile, because Theodora is a figure of historical importance and great interest and perhaps the only Byzantine woman about whom the sources say enough to make even a short book feasible."--Warren Treadgold, author of A Concise History of Byzantium. Even by modern standards, the Empress Theodora (?-548) had a remarkable rise to power. Born into the lowest class of Byzantine society, she worked as an actress in burlesque theater. Yet she attracted the love of the future emperor Justinian, who, to the astonishment of proper society, made her not only his wife but also his partner in government. Justinian' respect for and trust in Theodora gave her power in her own right unmatched by almost any other Roman or Byzantine empress.In this book, James Allan Evans provides a scholarly, yet highly accessible account of the life and times of the Empress Theodora. He follows her from her childhood as a Hippodrome bearkeeper' daughter to her imperial roles as Justinian' most trusted counselor and as an effective and powerful advocate for the downtrodden. In particular, he focuses on the ways in which Theodora worked to improve the lives of women. He also explores the pivotal role Theodora played in the great religious controversy of her time, involving a breach between sects in the Christian church.

Excerpt

This is a study that grew out of my earlier book on the Justinianic period, The Age of Justinian: The Circumstances of Imperial Power, published in 1996, and it, in turn, emerged from an interest in Procopius of Caesarea, whose contribution to tabloid-style journalism, popularly known as the Secret History, has permanently colored Theodora’s reputation. The conviction grew on me that the empress Theodora deserved a book of her own. Not that she has failed to attract attention in the past. Cardinal Baronius, writing before Procopius’ Secret History was discovered in the Vatican Library, thought she played Delilah to Justinian’s Samson. Edward Gibbon, who had the Secret History to inform his views, hailed her as the “famous Theodora, whose strange elevation cannot be applauded as a triumph of human virtue.” But she has had defenders. Charles Diehl wrote a gallant biography of her almost one hundred years ago, and it is still a valuable study, but he did not allow footnotes to impede his romantic impulses. The best of the more recent books is Anthony Bridge’s Theodora: Portrait in a Byzantine Landscape, but, like Diehl’s biography, it does not cite sources. Footnotes in a book intended to appeal to the general reading public should never overwhelm, but they are a reassuring presence.

There are a number of people whom I want to thank for their encouragement and help: the late Robert Browning whose correspondence was always reassuring, Geoffrey Greatrex of Dalhousie University who kept a constant flow of offprints coming my way, Jim Burr of the University of Texas Press, Wendy Waters, whose help with the maps was invaluable, and, by no means least, my wife, Eleanor, who patiently endured a woolgathering spouse. But in particular I want to thank the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, where I spent a productive year as a Whitehead Visiting Professor . . .

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