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Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Theodora

THEODORA, the wife of the emperor Justinian (q.v.), was born probably in Constantinople, though according to some in Cyprus, in the early years of the 6th century, and died in 547. We shall first give the usually received ac count of her life and character, and then proceed to inquire how far this account deserves to be accepted. According to Procopius, our chief, but by no means a trustworthy authority for her life, she was the daughter of Acacius, a bear-feeder of the amphitheatre at Constantinople to the Green Faction, and while still a child was sent on to the stage to earn her living in the performances called mimes. She had no gift for either music or dancing, but made her self notorious by the spirit and impudence of her acting in the rough farces, as one may call them, which delighted the crowd of the capital. Becoming a noted courtesan, she accompanied a certain Hecebolus to Pentapolis (in North Africa), of which he had been appointed governor, and, having quarrelled with him, betook herself first to Alex andria, and then back to Constantinople through the cities of Asia Minor. In Constantinople (where, according to a late but apparently not quite groundless story, she now endeavoured to support herself by spinning, and may there fore have been trying to reform her life) she attracted the notice of Justinian, then patrician, and, as the all-powerful nephew of the emperor Justin, practically ruler of the em pire. He desired to marry her, but could not overcome the opposition of his aunt, the empress Euphemia. After her death (usually assigned to the year 523) the emperor yielded, and, as a law, dating from the time of Constantine, forbade the marriage of women who had followed the stage with senators, this law was repealed. Thereupon Justinian married Theodora, whom he had already caused to be raised to the patriciate. They were some time after (527) admitted by Justin to a share in the sovereignty; and, on his death four months later, Justinian and Theodora became sole rulers of the Roman world. He was then about forty -four years of age, and she some twenty years younger. Procopius relates in his unpublished history ( AvcKSora) many repulsive tales regarding Theodora's earlier life, but his evident hatred of her, though she had been more than ten years dead when the Anecdota were written, and the extravagances which the book contains, oblige us to regard him as a very doubt ful witness. Some confirmation of the reported opposition of the imperial family to the marriage has been found in the story regarding the conduct of Justinian's own mother Vigilantia, which Nicholas Alemanni, the first editor of the Anecdota, in his notes to that book, quotes from a certain "Life of Justinian" by Theophilus, to which he frequently refers, without saying where he found it. Since the article JUSTINIAN (q.v.) was published, the pre sent writer has discovered in Rome what is believed to be the only MS. of this so-called life of Justinian; and his examination of its contents, which he has lately published, makes him think it worthless as an authority. See article Theophilus.

Theodora speedily acquired unbounded influence over her husband. He consulted her in everything, and allowed her to interfere directly, as and when she pleased, in the government of the empire. She had a right to interfere, for she was not merely his consort, but empress regnant, and as such entitled equally with himself to the exercise of all prerogatives. In the most terrible crisis of Justin ian's reign, the great Nika insurrection of 532, her courage and firmness in refusing to fly when the rebels were attack ing the palace saved her husband's crown, and no doubt strengthened her command over his mind. Officials took an oath of allegiance to her as well as to the emperor (Nov., viii.). She even corresponded with foreign ambassadors, and instructed Belisarius how to deal with the popes.