Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Theodora I., empress

Theodora (10) I., empress, wife of Justinian I., daughter of Acacius, a bear-keeper at the amphitheatre at Constantinople, who died in the reign of Anastasius when she was 7 years old. When old enough, she appeared on the stage, as her elder sister had done. Though from the whole animus of his work and the absolute silence of all other writers we may infer that Procopius exaggerates, yet we may well believe that her life was an abandoned one, without believing all his scandalous stories. Reduced to great distress, she in appearance or reality changed her mode of life, and supported herself by spinning wool. Justinian, nephew of the reigning emperor Justin, married her, and succeeding his uncle in 527, caused her to be crowned as empress regnant, but not till 532 does she appear to have exercised a preponderating voice in public affairs. She died of cancer in June 548. Unlike her husband, she was an ardent Monophysite. Her influence was unbounded, her cruelty insatiable. She assumed an especial jurisdiction over the marriages of her subjects, giving the daughters of her former associates to men of high rank, and marrying noble ladies to the lowest of the people.

Her portrait in the mosaics at St. Vitale at Ravenna has been well engraved in Hodgkin's Invaders of Italy, vol. iii. 606.

Sources.—The three works of Procopius, esp. the Anecdota; Evagr. H. E. iv. 10, 11; Victor. Tunun. Chron.; Liberat. Breviar. 20–22; Lib. Pont., Vitae Silverii et Vigilii.

Literature.—Gibbon, cc. 40–41; Dahn, Prokopius von Cäsarea; Hodgkin, Invaders of Italy, iii.–iv.; Prof. Bryce, in Contemp. Rev. Feb. 1885; M. Debidour, Thesis (pub. in 1877), who tries to make the best of Theodora.