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 Theodora

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Caro
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PostSubject: Theodora   Wed Mar 01, 2017 11:11 pm

On NZ's National Radio the other day there was an interview with Bettany Hughes, who was talking (mostly) about Istanbul.  She said one of her most favourite historical figures was Theodora, wife of Justinian.  She said she had risen from lower beginnings by way of sleeping her way to the top, and had then brought in a range of reforms for women and others.  When I went to the Britannica site it said she was probably the influence for most of the legislative changes during Justinian's reign. 

I didn't know much (anything?) about her before this and wonder what more is known about her, and how she was accepted so readily, though I know other women with similar backgrounds had gained power like this, so it's not impossible.

And I didn't know Bettany Hughes before this, not that that is unusual.  We get some historians on the History Channel on SKY, but otherwise most of the British historians I know come from here or The Oldie.
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PaulRyckier
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PostSubject: Re: Theodora   Wed Mar 01, 2017 11:34 pm

Caro,

have a lot to say about Theodora. Read about her for the first time now some 20 years ago.
But still heavely involved in an interesting debate on Historum about the European Union...

Kind regards, your friend, Paul.
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Caro
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PostSubject: Re: Theodora   Fri Mar 03, 2017 4:19 am

Thanks, Paul.  I'll look forward to your comments when you have the time to give them.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Theodora   Fri Mar 03, 2017 10:08 am

A sultry dame, even after one and a half millennia ....



Procopius did her no favours with his "Secret History", the main source of our information about her today, in which she comes across as the subject of Meredith Brooks' biggest hit. However sterling work in legislating against enforced prostitution of young females, her banning of "honour killings" as performed even today in Pakistan and environs, actively opposing religious bigots with "jumped up" authority (she included popes in that category), her conflict resolution skills during the Nika Riots, and all done quite independently from Justinian's authority (and sometimes even against his own counsel), mark her out as one of history's most formidable and accomplished female rulers.

The fact that Belisarius took commands directly from her without question and without ever checking first with Justinian, in fact acting specifically on her instructions in his own most successful military and political achievements, speaks volumes. As does the fact that after her death Justinian actually increased efforts to continue the conciliatory religious and political reforms she had initiated even though some of them impacted directly on his authority and prestige according to the rules and mores of the day.

Huge respect for the woman.
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LadyinRetirement
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PostSubject: Re: Theodora   Sat Mar 04, 2017 10:45 pm

I read about her many years ago in Robert Graves' "Count Belisarius".  It was a well-written (in my opinion) novel but based on Procopius' writings so it may not be very accurate - well at least not in relation to Theodora.  Was she a successful prostitute before she became an empress - or was that put about by her enemies?
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PostSubject: Re: Theodora   Sat Mar 04, 2017 11:22 pm

Caro, quick reply...


See about Theodora also my message from 17 Nov.2016.
https://reshistorica.historyboard.net/t1048-in-our-time
And in Justinianus' legal codes:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b082j2q2


Kind regards, Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: Theodora   Sun Mar 05, 2017 3:57 pm

I checked up because I had a niggle at the back of my mind - did R Graves base his book about Belisarius (and tangentially Theodora and Justinian) on Suetonius' writings. Anyway, Wikipedia, albeit the article is short, confirms Procopius was indeed the source. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Count_Belisarius Seutonius of course was the source R Graves used for "I, Claudius" and its sequel.
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PostSubject: Re: Theodora   Sun Mar 05, 2017 10:43 pm

Thanks for all that information.  Nordmann, great picture of a very beautiful woman.  What is it from? Doesn't quite look like a coin or from a statue.  If Procopius was unreliable, where has accurate information about Theodora come from?  Writings on Justinian?  Though from one of those sites Paul pointed me to, it sounded as if he and others writing had not much time for either of them, though Eastern religions regard him as a saint. 

I have never read any Robert Graves, though I have always meant to read I, Claudius. Maybe I even own it.
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PostSubject: Re: Theodora   Mon Mar 06, 2017 12:49 pm

@Caro wrote:
great picture of a very beautiful woman.  What is it from?

It's an icon, though a copy of a copy of a copy etc, as is usual in that genre. The site I borrowed it from didn't say, but a lot of image searches later I can deduce that it comes from a 17th century Orthodox church in Istanbul and is based on a famous icon that used to be an object of pilgrimage in St Sofia before it became a mosque. Other copies of the same icon are of varying sultriness quotients, but I'll stick with my one - she's a stunner!
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: Theodora   Mon Mar 06, 2017 2:18 pm

@Caro wrote:
If Procopius was unreliable, where has accurate information about Theodora come from?  Writings on Justinian?  

Procopius wrote the only extant info about both Theodora and Justinian, and reading between the lines one can deduce a lot about the lady which is probably accurate. P's problem was not so much dissing the girl (which he certainly did about her early life) but that he found himself in the position hated by all misogynists in which he had to list a whole plethora of achievements and wise counsel made by a woman without ever giving her credit much for them. His main problem was that not once but several times her hubby Justinian initially opposed her, this being on public record, then on as many occasions after she was proven right placed also on public record that he'd been wrong and should have listened to her from the start. At one time even suggesting a triumph for the missus in Constantinople at which he publicly apologised to her, no less. If you read the bit about deposing the pope you can really see P's dilemma. On the one hand it was one of Belisarius's most notable (and popular) actions. On the other hand the general was doing exactly what she'd sent him there to do, the interfering woman-type that she was, always meddling in things beyond her station etc. P manages to say both things in the one sentence!

Funnily enough there has traditionally always been huge academic debate regarding exactly why Procopius took against Justinian so - even by the lad's own account the emperor was well regarded, ruled well, expanded the empire and almost reclaimed its old glory, and generally left behind a legal foundation which everyone subsequently benefited from. It is assumed that P was probably in a huff after having been himself sacked by Belisarius, so just took against the whole regime.

However few have questioned his atrocious treatment of Theodora - if anything the wiser and more accomplished of the ruling husband and wife team. As a woman, it appears, academia has always supposed it was only fitting that her integrity and good reputation - despite the copious evidence to the contrary - should have been questioned, even by her peers. A touch of Samuel Johnson's dog about their regard for her, alas.
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PostSubject: Re: Theodora   Mon Mar 06, 2017 11:16 pm

@Caro wrote:
Thanks for all that information.  Nordmann, great picture of a very beautiful woman.  What is it from? Doesn't quite look like a coin or from a statue.  If Procopius was unreliable, where has accurate information about Theodora come from?  Writings on Justinian?  Though from one of those sites Paul pointed me to, it sounded as if he and others writing had not much time for either of them, though Eastern religions regard him as a saint. 

I have never read any Robert Graves, though I have always meant to read I, Claudius. Maybe I even own it.


Caro,

I found the book from Charles Diehl that I mentioned in a former message and that I read in the time from the local library and which seems to be an honest approach:
https://www.amazon.com/Theodora-Empress-Byzantium-Charles-Diehl/dp/0804412308
It is still in the local library, but now in the archive and one need a special permit to borrow it. And I now see that it is from 1930.
A much recenter work and it has good comments from Peter Brown a well known historian from which I read also works about the antiquity.
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2015/11/19/empress-theodora-who-transformed-world/
And the book from David Potter:
https://www.amazon.com/Theodora-Actress-Empress-Saint-Antiquity/dp/0199740763

I think or I will ask the library to buy it or I will buy it myself...

And also this:
https://www.awesomestories.com/asset/view/Empress-Theodora-Ancient-Champion-of-Women-s-Rights
And the source Wink
https://www.awesomestories.com/asset/view/About-Us


And some mosaics from a city in Libya called Theodorias:
http://www.livius.org/articles/place/theodorias-qasr-libya/

That is all for the moment...

Kind regards, Paul.
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