Roman Empress Theodora in Constantinople (Istanbul) (AD 527-548)

Theodora was the wife of Justinian. Her father was a bear trainer for Constantinople’s hippodrome, and her mother was a dancer and actress. After her father’s death, Theodora earned her living as an actress and prostitute. During a visit to Alexandria, Egypt, she was converted to Monophysite Christianity. When she returned to Constantinople in 522, she left her former lifestyle and began working as a wool spinner in a house near the imperial palace. Emperor Justinian was attracted to her beauty and married her in 525.

Theodora was a co-ruler with Justinian for twenty-one years, from 527 to 548. She was one of the most influential and powerful empresses in the history of the eastern Roman empire. Theodora promoted the rights of women. She established laws that prohibited forced prostitution and closed brothels. She created a convent called Metanoia (Repentance), where ex-prostitutes could support themselves. She expanded the rights of women in divorce and property ownership, instituted the death penalty for rape, gave mothers guardianship rights over their children, and outlawed the killing of a wife who committed adultery.

While Justinian was a strong defender of orthodox Christianity rooted in the Chalcedon Creed, Theodora was an active supporter of Monophysite Christianity. Theodora died in June 548 at the young age of forty-eight.