On the walls of the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy in front of the Enthroned Christ mosaic, stands the mosaic panel of Justinian I of the Byzantine Empire and his wife, Empress Theodora. In the mosaic of Justinian I, he wears a Tyrian purple robe; rulers of the Byzantine Empire used the color purple as the imperial color. Justinian is also depicted with a golden halo around his head; symbolizing him as the delegate of Christ’s power on earth, and surrounded by a retinue of members of the court, church, and warriors. Opposite to Justinian’s panel is the mosaic of Theodora. Like her husband, Theodora wears Tyrian purple robes, surrounded by attendants, and also possesses a halo around her head. The position of Theodora’s mosaic illustrates her status as a co-regent, though lower than Justinian’s by its location to the left of the Enthroned Christ rather than the right. Reigning from 527 to 548, Empress Theodora was heavily involved in Justinian’s rule, as her husband seemed to rely on her. Theodora, “meaning gift of God,” is remembered for her beauty, intellect, and ruthless ambition.
Although it was Justinian who was the emperor of the Byzantium Empire, Theodora’s powerful influence on the Byzantium government established her as a prominent and competent ruler who controlled political, social, and religious policies in her own right, and was essential to keeping Justinian in power.
Born in 500 as the daughter of a bear keeper and an actress, Theodora would rise from her common birth to the Empress of the Byzantine Empire. Theodora was born in a Christian but later converted to a Monophysite Christian; the idea that the one true nature of Jesus was divine, a contrast to the beliefs of orthodox ...
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...n’s right and worked with her husband to advance the cause of women during this time. Ever the shrewd empress, Theodora possessed the courage to tell the emperor of the Byzantine empire, her husband, that his persecutions of an opposing Christian sect were erroneous and harmful to his power and people. Theodora may have possibly foreseen another insurrection similar to the Nika Revolt if Justinian had not ceased the persecutions. And even though Theodora’s efforts to mitigate peace between Monophysites and Orthodox Christians did not prove to be fruitful, her ambitions for religious unity within the empire illustrated her ability to see look past her beliefs as a Monophysite for peace. Empress Theodora’s influence on the Byzantine government allowed for the perseverance of Justinian’s power, the advancement of women’s rights, and the attempts of peace in the church.
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