Holy Sinner Empress Theodora

(ORDO NEWS) — The Byzantine Empire of that period of history is a world filled with palace intrigues, deceit and cruelty used in the struggle for power.

Ruled the country since 527 AD – Emperor Justinian the First, who left behind a memory for centuries, but his wife Theodora surpassed him in this field, since it was she who actually ruled Byzantium.

Interestingly, after birth, such ups and downs were not foreseen in her fate, since she was born in a simple family of circus performers, and when she grew up, she also became a circus performer.

True, the gods deprived her of her talent for circus art, and without hesitation, she chose an easier way to earn a living and became a hetero.

Or, to put it simply, a “courtesan” living at the expense of a rich lover.

In this field, she discovered real talent, and she gained fame as an educated and skillful girl in love pleasures, but at some point she fell under the influence of sermons conducted by the Alexandrian Patriarch Timothy the Fourth and decided to break with her craft as a priestess of love and began to lead a righteous life.

It is worth noting that her renunciation of the priestess of the most ancient craft on Earth appeared in her biography after she became the empress. In this regard, historians have great doubts about the fact of renunciation of prostitution.

In fairness, it should be noted that hetaera is not the same as a “prostitute”, this craft can be compared with Japanese geishas. But even with this in mind, such an occupation was certainly not considered honorable in those days.

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Actress and courtesan Theodora before meeting Emperor Justinian. France, 1888

After becoming Empress, Theodora used her power to “correct” her biography. For example, the meeting of Theodora with her future husband and future emperor at that time, the heir to the throne, Justinian, is described in this way:

“Theodora was walking through the streets of Constantinople and the heir Justinian, looking out the window, saw her and immediately fell in love. Soon the lovers were married.”

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Empress Theodora. Mosaics in the Basilica of San Vitale

But in order for a girl from a poor family of circus performers, a former circus performer and hetaera, to become the wife of the emperor, it would apparently not be enough for her just to walk the streets of Constantinople, but she should put her love skills into practice and in the historical documents of that time this version traceable.

  • Historical reference. The Secret History of Procopius of Caesarea

Born in Caesarea, Procopius received a good education at that time in the school of rhetoric, then continued his studies at law school, and then managed to attract the attention of the emperor of Rome, Justinian, with his talent, who made Procopius an adviser to the most famous commander of the Roman Empire, Flavius ​​Belisarius.

Procopius became a direct participant and chronicler of all the decisive events in Byzantium and left several literary works to future generations, although they can rather be called memoirs, since their plots are not fictional, but are based on real events restored from the diaries of Procopius himself.

He described the events that took place in the period from 527 to 546 AD, which makes his writings a unique evidence of the historical events of that period recorded by a contemporary of these events.

Such literary works of Procopius as: “History of Wars” and “Secret History” have survived to our times, which just describes the history of Emperor Justinian and his wife, Empress Theodora.

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Sarah Bernhardt in Sardou’s play “Theodora” (drawing by D. Clarin, 1902)

However, historians of that time claim that, having become the wife of Emperor Theodore, she not only began to lead a righteous life, but also tried to erase all references to her past.

Some short-sighted lovers from her past, imprudently talked about their relationship with her when she was hetero and after such stories disappeared without a trace. Very soon, there were no more people who wanted to spoil the reputation of the empress.

True, with all her “righteousness”, the empress, in an effort to get rid of her “dark” past, did not stop at nothing, and it is she who is credited with the mysterious disappearance of her son, who was born to her even before her marriage to the future emperor.

Before marriage, she also managed to give birth to a daughter, but her brother’s fate passed and she lived quietly and comfortably, and the empress even brought her son and her grandson closer to the court and contributed to his marriage to the daughter of a very influential and famous commander Belisarius.

And such righteousness and cruelty followed her life hand in hand. So, Theodora ordered to build an underground prison under the palace, in which all those who dared to cross her path disappeared forever.

The prisoners lived in the pitch darkness of the dungeon, on the same water and bread, and the empress forbade their overseers to talk to the prisoners.

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Emperor Justinian. Mosaics in the Basilica of San Vitale

The Imperial Palace under the Empress was constantly shaken by all sorts of intrigues.

The wife of the commander Belisarius, whose daughter Theodora married her grandson in her youth, just as she was a hetero, but if the empress, having ascended the throne, broke with the past, then Antonina continued to lead a wild life in marriage.

Belisarius adopted a boy named Theodosius and raised him as his own son, and when he grew up Antonina made him her lover.

Belisarius heard rumors about his wife’s indecent behavior, and several times he even caught lovers at the scene of the “crime”, but turned a blind eye to what was happening.

But when the servants told him about what was happening in his bedroom in his absence, he flared up and ordered the death of Theodosius.

But someone managed to warn the dissolute young man and he managed to escape from the inevitable punishment. And what awaited the whore Antonina? Nothing.

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“Courtesan” – image of Tullia d’Aragona by Joseph Heinz the Elder

She was able to calm her husband and even got him to forgive her for her sins. Belisarius forgave his wife and, as a gift as a sign of reconciliation, gave his wife those servants who had reported on her.

Antonina ordered that the talkers’ tongues be cut off, chopped into pieces, and the remains put in bags and thrown into the sea. Belisarius also forgave Theodosius, who was allowed to return to his father’s house.

It is easy to guess that soon the love affair between Antonina and Theodosius flared up with renewed vigor.

The son of Antonina, whose name was Photius, informed Belisarius about the new affair of his unfaithful wife. Belisarius was Photius’ stepfather and, without hesitation, suggested that he kill Theodosius. “Ordered” in modern terms.

With Antonina, her husband decided to deal personally. While he was hatching plans for cruel revenge, Antonina’s son and his henchmen caught her lover, but Photius was afraid to kill him, fearing the revenge of his mother. The servants who paid for their long tongues were still fresh in their memory.

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Empress Theodora. Spain, XIX century

Theodosius was taken away from Antonina and her jealous husband and thrown into a secret underground prison.

Belisarius was sure that his wife’s lover had been executed and was already intending to deal with the unfaithful Antonina, when suddenly Empress Theodora herself intervened in this family triangle.

She had an extensive network of spies and spies, who told her about the impending murder of her friend. Theodora, using her unlimited power, which was ensured by the position of her husband, literally forced Belisarius to reconcile again with his wife, a harlot.

Belisarius, gritting his teeth, agreed, but he was not going to let his wife cheat on her so easily and pondered how to take revenge on her and not fall out of favor with the emperor.

Theodora also did not waste time and instructed her spies to find out where the lover of her friend Theodosius was hidden.

When it was not possible to find out the place of his imprisonment, she ordered the people loyal to Belisarius to be kidnapped and under torture to find out from them where Theodosius was being held.

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Civilization V. Theodora: Dancer, Actress, Empress

Photius, whom Belisarius instructed to kill his wife’s lover, suffered the most. He was secretly kidnapped by the henchmen of the Empress and brutally tortured. However, despite all efforts, Photius did not reveal the whereabouts of Theodosius, who had been kidnapped by him.

But this did not stop Theodora’s spies from finding her friend’s lover. They took him to the palace and the empress hid him in her palace. After that, Antonina met him there, committing adultery under the roof of the emperor’s palace, where her husband could not invade.

It is not known how long this debauchery would have lasted, but Theodosius suddenly fell ill and died suddenly.

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Empress Theodora with retinue

These events give an idea of ​​the personality of Theodora and her passion for intrigues and they were not always so “harmless”.

Amalasunta – the queen of the Ostrogoths was the regent for her young son Atalaric, who was listed as king. The Ostrogoths were essentially ruled by her, and not by her son, and the rules were very cruel.

However, she was distinguished not only by cruelty, but also by intelligence. She was a good politician and built good relations with Byzantium. Naturally, no one liked the constant executions of nobles objectionable to the queen – a conspiracy was ripening.

Noble Goths spread false rumors about the queen, trying to discredit her honor. For example, they spoke. that she commits adultery with a commoner.

Moreover, the unequal lovers even wanted to run away, but allegedly her mother, having learned about this, sent knights who seized the fugitives and brought them back to Ravenna (the capital of the Gothic state).

The commoner’s lover was castrated and then executed in front of his mistress Amalasunta. Such a “grey eminence” is ready to forgive his mother, of course, she could not.

During one of the church services, she poured poison into the communion cup and gave it to her hated mother to drink from the cup. Death caught the queen mother right at the church altar with a bowl in her hands.

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Justinian I and Theodora. A still from the 1954 Franco-Italian film Theodora, Empress of Byzantium

Whether these rumors were true or it was a lie, but it had its effect on the people and on the young king Athalaric, who completely believed them and hated his mother.

To annoy her, he fell into unrestrained drunkenness and depravity. Whether such behavior harmed his mother is not known, but the king himself soon died of syphilis.

The death of her son was not beneficial to the queen, since he died before reaching adulthood and never became a real king. Amalasuntha was her son’s regent, but not the official heir to the throne.

Power slipped away and in pursuit of it she offered herself as a wife to her cousin Theodahad, but on the condition that he would become king only in words, and in fact she would rule the country.

Of course, he agreed, they played a magnificent wedding and he ascended the throne, but he did not fulfill his promises and, becoming king, ordered his wife to be arrested.

Amalasnta was arrested and sent into exile on an island in the middle of Lake Bolsena in the Central Appenines. But Amalasunta was not going to rot on this island until the end of her days, and through her close associates, she turned to the emperor of Byzantium with a request to give her shelter in his palace.

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G. Semiradsky. Socrates finds his student Alcibiades at the hetaera
  • Historical reference. hetaerae

Getters were not slaves, but free women, although initially this term was assigned precisely to slaves. Free women did not shun free relationships and soon became the mistresses of rich men.

Moreover, the “profession” of the hetaera itself was a very honorable occupation. These women played a big role in public life, because they had a good education, the ability to conduct a dialogue, played musical instruments and had other equally sought-after talents.

Getters, they are also courtesans, also influenced political life, since their lovers were men holding high positions in the state hierarchy.

Usually, women who led a lifestyle of “getters” never married, although occasionally there were exceptions to this rule. Getters led a carefree lifestyle being fully paid by their “patrons”.

One of the famous Greek hetaeras, Aspasia, married the head of Athens, Pericles. This woman possessed not only beauty, but also intelligence. Young Socrates came to her house to discuss with her questions of interest to him and listen to her reasoning on this topic.

At that moment, Socrates was only twenty years old and he was not yet a famous philosopher, but when he became one, he always said that he owed it to Aspasia.

If Justinian agreed, then she would become inaccessible to her enemies, and soon she would be able to regain her throne, relying on the power of the ruler of Byzantium.

Everything could have turned out well for her, but Justinian told his wife Theodora about her request. She pretended to agree that he would help Amalasunta. She herself, while her husband sent ambassadors who were supposed to demand that the queen be handed over to them, ordered her to be killed.

Moreover, she gave her order to the same ambassador who was sent by her husband with the order to release Amalasunta and deliver her to Byzantium. It was then that it became clear who the real ruler of Byzantium was – the ambassador obeyed the order not of the emperor, but of his wife.

The ambassador managed to organize everything in such a way that it would seem that this was the work of the Goths themselves. He sent a group of noble Goths to the island, whose relatives had previously been executed by Amalasuntha.

Arriving at the place of confinement, they seized the queen and boiled her alive in boiling water. This method of execution does not speak of the extreme cruelty of the Goths, while this type of execution was very common not only among the Goths, but also in Byzantium itself.

Theodora achieved her goal and showered the performer with honors and gifts. She was the real ruler of Byzantium. A simple woman who, with the help of her mind and cruelty, has always achieved her goals.

Who was she – a sinner or a saint? Even her contemporaries could not understand this. In the written historical sources that have come down to us, she appears in the gloomy colors of a cruel murderer and in the bright clothes of a righteous woman.


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