Theodora,Greatest Woman of the Byzantine Empire,and a Comparison between Justinian,her Husband,and Sultan Suleiman
Here is the story and comparison of two emperors and theirs empresses,and of two empires and their cultures and religions.They ruled fom the same city but with a difference of 1,000 years.Under each man,Justinian and Suleiman,the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires reached their height and glory.In the case of Justinian and Theodora it was a rags to riches story for both of them.
Comparison of the Byzantine and the Ottoman Empires
The two greatest rulers of each empire
The greatest Emperor of the Byzantine Empire was Justinian(483-565),whose capital was Constantinople, and the greatest Sultan of the Ottoman Empire was Suleiman (Solomon)(1494-1566),whose capital was Istanbul (formerly Constantinople till 1453).
Constantinople had a Hippodrome for games,usually chariot races,with capacity for 100,000,more than the Colosseum in Rome,capacity of 50,000 but less than the Circus Maximus of Rome,capacity of 250,000.
Their respective origins
Justinian was born a peasant while Suleiman was the son of the Sultan.Justinian’s uncle Justin later became Emperor (reigned 518–527) and designated him as successor.
The wife of Justinian and the wife of Suleiman
By coincidence Justinian had as his empress a beautiful and very intelligent woman called Theodora(500-548),who helped him govern as an equal.And Justinian was greatly in love with her.According to her 2 contemporary sources,Procopius and John of Ephesus,Theodora began her life as a prostitute in Constantinople.
Suleiman was also in love with his wife,an ex-sex-slave he had freed and then married,a Ukrainian woman named Alexandra Lisowska (1506-1558) that he called Hurrem and who Westerners called Roxelana or “the Ruthenian”.She had great influence over him.Here is the life of Roxelana:
The greatest religious building of each empire
Justinian built the greatest church of the Byzantine Empire,Hagia Sophia or Holy Wisdom and when it was finished said:”O Solomon,I have surpassed you!“King Solomon had built the first Temple of Jerusalem in the 900’s BC and Justinian was referring to that.
During the time of Suleiman there was Sinan (1490-1588),a Christian who was taken at a late age,21 years,and forced to become a Muslim and janissary,or soldier of the Sultan.He was Greek,others,on more evidence,say he was Armenian,and he became the most famous architect in Ottoman history.
He is famous for 2 mosques,copied after the Hagia Sophia.They are the Suleiman Mosque in Istanbul and the Selim Mosque in Edirne.He was responsible for some 300 constructions all over the Empire under 3 sultans.
Justinian and Suleiman were both Lawgivers
Under Justinian Roman law was organized in what is called the Justinian Code,which is the foundation for Western legal law.
Suleiman was called Kanuni or “Lawgiver”.The law of the empire was the Sharia or Islamic Law, which as the divine law was outside of the Sultan’s powers to change.But in an area of distinct law known as the Kanuns (canonical legislation) was dependent on Suleiman’s will alone, covering areas such as criminal law, land tenure and taxation.He collected all the judgments issued by the 9 Ottoman Sultans who preceded him. After eliminating duplications and choosing between contradictory statements, he issued a single legal code,being careful not to violate the basic laws of Islam. When the Kanun laws attained their final form, the code of laws became known as the “Ottoman laws”. Suleiman’s legal code was to last more than three hundred years.
The two were great conquerors
Justinian tried to reconquer the lost western half of the Roman Empire and got alot of it.He conquered the Vandal Kingdom in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and most of southern Iberia Justinian also annexed Lazica, a region on the east coast of the Black Sea that had never been under Roman ruke.Under him the Byzantine Empire reached its height.
Suleiman conquered much of Europe,like Hungary, plus added parts of North Africa and under him the Ottoman Empire reached its height with 33% of Europe under Muslim rule.
The family life of each ruler
Justinian had one wife and no harem of sex-slaves.While Suleiman had a harem of many sex-slaves.Justinian did not kill any of his relatives while Suleiman killed 2 of his sons and 4 of his grandsons.
The life of the great and fascinating Theodora
The main historical sources for her life are the works of her contemporary Procopius,a great historian.Yet he gives 3 contradictory views about her.The Wars of Justinian(545),shows a courageous and influential empress.Later he wrote the Secret History, which was not published at the time.It shows him disillusioned with Justinian and Theodora.While The Buildings of Justinian shows Justinian and Theodora is flattering,as a pious couple.Besides her piety, her beauty is excessively praised.
Her religious conversion at age 20,she became a True Christian
Theodora was Greek and her father was a bear trainer in the Hippodrome of Constantinople.He died and later Theodora worked in a brothel in the capital.When 16, she traveled to North Africa as the companion of a Syrian official named Hecebolus when he went to the Libyan Pentapolis as governor. She stayed with him for almost four years before returning to Constantinople. Abandoned and maltreated by Hecebolus, on her way back to the capital of the Byzantine Empire, she settled for a while in Alexandria, Egypt. She is said to have met Patriarch Timothy III in Alexandria, who was Monophysite, and it was at that time that she converted to Monophysite Christianity.She changed her ways.
She meets and marries Justinian
She returned to Constantinople in 522 and became a wool spinner in a house near the Emperor’s palace.She met Justinian who was heir to the throne of his uncle, Emperor Justin I.Justinian wanted to marry her but could not according to a law that said government officials could not marry women of her former profession and actresses.Empress Euphemia, who liked Justinian and usually refused him nothing, was against it. Justin was in love with Theodora and in 525, when Euphemia had died, Justin repealed the law, and Justinian married her.By then she already had a daughter.
Justinian became Emperor in 527 and as she was very intelligent he allowed her to share his throne and take active part in decision making.
Famous incident told by Procopius
It is in his Secret History,which is very anti-Justinian and anti-Theodora,so the fact it is favorable to her is proof it is true.It is about Theodora saving the throne of Justinian.
Theodora saves the throne of Justinian
Theodora proved herself a worthy and able leader during the Nika riots. There were two rival political factions in the Empire, the Blues and the Greens, which started a riot in January 532, during a chariot race in the hippodrome. They burned many public buildings on fire.
They proclaimed a new emperor, Hypatius, the nephew of former emperor Anastasius I. Unable to control the mob, Justinian and his officials prepared to flee.Theodora was against leaving the palace and said it was important to die as a ruler instead of living as nothing.Her speech convinced them.Justinian had been about to flee and lose his throne.
Justinian ordered his loyal troops to attack the demonstrators in the hippodrome. His generals attacked killed (according to Procopius) over 30,000 rebels. Hypatius was also put to death. Historians agree that it was Theodora’s courage and decisiveness that saved Justinian’s reign.
Watch this video about the event
Theodora as a Feminist
Theodora is considered a pioneer of feminism, because of the laws she passed, increasing the rights of women.As a result of Theodora’s efforts, the status of women in the Byzantine Empire was elevated far above that of women in the Middle East and the rest of Europe.
Theodora participated in Justinian’s legal and spiritual reforms, and her involvement in the increase of the rights of women was substantial. She had laws passed that prohibited forced prostitution and closed brothels. She created a convent on the Asian side of the Dardanelles called the Metanoia (Repentance), where the ex-prostitutes could support themselves.She also:
1.Expanded the rights of women in divorce and property ownership.
2.Instituted the death penalty for rape
3.Forbade exposure of unwanted infants
4.Gave mothers some guardianship rights over their children.
Result of Islam on the Condition of Women in Constantinople
Under Greek law,Roman law,Germanic law(the Germanic tribes were monogamous) and Christian law we have:
1.Prohibition of polygamy
2.Prohibition of sex-slaves
But under Islam the city of Istanbul-Constantinople before and after Suleiman’s legal code,the Ottoman laws,polygamy and sex-slaves were 100% legal.
Before Islam took over in Constantinople in 1453,those 2 things had disappeared,if they ever existed,some 2,000 years ago.