Thursday, February 23, 2012
Everyone has heard about Cleopatra.
Not everyone has heard of Theodora which is sort of a bummer.
I recently learned about her in my art history class and I want you to hear about her, too, insofar as I understand.
Theodora was the daughter of a bear trainer in Byzantine Constantinople. Bear trainer as in her dad trained the bears for the Colosseum. Her mom had an equally scandalous job--she was an actress which meant, at the time, that she entertained not just on the stage but also between the sheets.
Theodora followed in her footsteps.
So, Justinian wanted to marry her. The thing was that Justinian was going to be an emperor. Emperors marrying prostitutes was frowned upon for some reason. (Picture the Pres of the US marrying a prostitute...Prolly wouldn't win him many votes.) So he talked his uncle into changing the law so that emperors could marry former prostitutes.
So, they got hitched and Justinian claimed the daughter which may or may not have even been his.
Together, Justinian and Theodora began to rebuild aquaducts, build the Hagia Sophia and otherwise fix up shit that was broken. Which was great for the Roman Empire in the long run but in the short run, this was expensive shit. So he raised taxes.
Not all the Romans were crazy about paying high taxes.
I mentioned the Colosseum, right? Well, back in the day there were four big teams: The Reds, The Blues, The Greens and the Yellows. People loved and supported one team, even wearing togas and such colored to match their favorite teams. (Think modern people wearing Ohio State hoodies or Steelers jackets.)
The Blues and the Greens started a revolt against Justinian called the Nika riots. They were out for blood and Justinians advisers said, "Dude, get the hell out of Rome. They are gonna kill you."
Theodora said, "Uh-uh, cupcake. Get some balls about you. I am not going back to hooking just cuz you are being a bitch." Or, more accurately, "Those who have worn the crown should never survive its loss. Never will I see the day when I am not saluted as empress."
So, Justinian listened to her, not his advisers. He called the leaders of the Blues and Greens into his palace after days of siege.
"I just wanted to mention what a huge supporter I have always been of the Blues. Y'all rock. So here, I got you some gold, " Justinian said (paraphrased a lot.)
"We're good," said the Blues. And they packed up their chariots and such and went home.
The Greens were still pissed and told them so.
And Justinian shrugged and said, "See, I had a feeling you would say that." He then had all of them killed.
And Justinian and Theodora stayed the ruling power in Europe. Theodora passed laws to help women like, "No, you aren't going to kill a woman for cheating on her husband. That punishment does NOT fit the crime." And, "Rape is illegal. That shit has got to stop." And, "Dude, just because you have a penis, you shouldn't be able to take a woman's baby away. Women get some guardianship rights over the kids they carry for 9mos and give birth to."
She is hailed as a great feminist and altogether a kick ass woman.
But she got cancer and died before she turned 50. Justinian is recorded as weeping openly at her funeral and continued to enact laws that Theodora passed/had gotten the ball rolling on.
He died 15yrs later.
And the thing was, before this class, I knew NONE of that. I knew lots about Cleopatra (power hungry and willing to kill her own siblings for the throne) but nothing about awesome Theodora.
Which is just sad.
Okay, hope you enjoyed your history-as-told-by-Virg lesson for the day.