Things were now out of control. Total chaos and anarchy ruled Constantinople, not Justinian or his Empress. Beyond belief, women left their homes, flocked into the streets and urged their men to fight, to attack the royal palace.
Inside the palace, Emperor Justinian and his high-ranking officials discussed fleeing the city, which appeared to them to be their only option, if they wished to continue to live.
Again beyond belief, because women, even Empresses, did not address such Councils, Theodora rose and spoke to the gathered group of men. She told them that flight was not only unthinkable, it was cowardly. She urged them to send troops to the Hippodrome, where the rebels had now massed to select their own leader, to annihilate the rebels.
Shocked by her words and the fire in her eyes, the Council did as she suggested. Troops marched on the Hippodrome, where they entered and wiped out the rebels. 30,000 to 50,000 people fell to the sword inside the Hippodrome. In the days after the carnage, the property of all individuals who had joined the rebellion was confiscated. Justinian used much of this wealth to reward his supporters, one of whom was Theodora. She received the bulk of the confiscated monies and lands.
This episode set the pattern for the rest of Theodora’s life as Empress. Anyone who spoke ill of her or her husband, anyone who disagreed, anyone who wrote and published derogatory words was killed outright, imprisoned and tortured, exiled, or castrated. And always, the property and money of the dissenters was confiscated.
Theodora’s power was absolute, and not to be questioned.
Theodora had always been an ardent Monophysitic Christian, defined as a person who believes that Christ had but one nature, that of divinity. His so-called ‘humanity’ was only an illusion, a kind of costume, which He assumed to ease his dealings with real humans. With the absolute power of Empress at her disposal, she attempted to facilitate the reunification of the Monophysites and the Orthodox Church. She worked towards this goal, but doctrinal differences and jealousies prevented it ever happening. The rights of women, though, Theodora did improve. Laws were passed giving women the right to not only own property, but to buy and sell it. It is for this reason that Theodora is glorified as one of the first feminists of history.
Her distinction as a feminist is specious. Theodora had no interest in women’s rights or equality. Theodora loved only Theodora – and money and power. The new realty laws merely legitimized her already vast land holdings and made it possible for her to openly transact business. If other women benefitted, it was coincidental, not intentional.
In 537, in a final attempt to reconcile the various religious factions in the Empire, the Roman, the Orthodox and the Monophysitic, Theodora ordered the removal of Pope Silverius, replacing him with Vigilius, who was Theodora’s personal choice. Theodora exiled Silverius to the island of Pontia (present day Ponza), where he eventually died. Some historians say not of natural causes.
Most conveniently, the new Pope, Vigilius, found himself believing that Christ did indeed have ‘one nature’ rather than two. However, the western, Roman world found this revised doctrine difficult to swallow, indeed impossible. When Vigilius realized this, fearing political-religious ramifications that could easily sink his ship, he procrastinated on his new Monophysitic faith.
Once again, Theodora’s monophysitic machinations failed, which must have frustrated her mightily, as her stratagems usually provided victory. In this case, though, the events were too big, too complex for her to control. So she backed off and waited and hoped for a more propitious moment to arrive. It never did.
Like most people with absolute power and too much wealth, the Emperor and Empress could satisfy their whims. So Theodora and Justinian went on a building spree, erecting new churches and civic buildings all across the Empire. And each new edifice carried murals, mosaics, monograms and statues of the Emperor and Empress. No one would ever forget them.
Later, Justinian almost died of the bubonic plague. Theodora nursed him for weeks, praying to God to deliver him, offering her death in his place. Which presents a touching love story to the unjaded, who like to cite her passion and devotion. The reality of the situation was this: if Justinian did not recover, Theodora would have been forcibly retired, because for all her posturing and posing, without him she was nothing. She wore the royal purple because of him she married. Her power extended from his person, not from hers.
After his recovery, Theodora involved herself in petty political squabbles and in arranging marriages between the sons and daughters of nobles. It’s as if Justinian’s near death weakened her somehow. Part of her aggressive arrogance departed her.
Then cancer defeated her. For Theodora this must have been humiliating, since for her all of life was a naked power struggle. And up until now, she had always won.
When reading even an outline of Theodora’s life, she appears to be the reincarnation of the biblical Jezebel, the dire and frightening wife of King Ahab. You can read about her in I Kings, chapter 16, if interested. Jezebel, like Theodora, was a character strong, domineering, self-willed and forceful. And where Theodora was an enthusiastic Monophysite, Jezebel was a fanatical follower of Baal Melquart, the chief god of the pagan city Tyre, which was the main Mediterranean seaport of the Phoenicians (present-day Syria). The name of Baal Melquart’s girlfriend was Asherah. And similar to Jezebel, who tried to gain equal rights for Baal and Asherah by expunging Yahweh, so Theodora wanted to expunge the human portion of Christ, thus gaining proper recognition for God.
Moreover, Jezebel’s joy in absolute power rivaled Theodora’s. Both of these sweet ladies gobbled up real estate as fast as they could, and were not shy about the means they used to gain it. Confiscation and trickery being two of the preferred methods.
It truly does almost make one believe in the New Age doctrine of previous lives, soul transmigration and reembodiment.
Like the Blue Men, Theodora was certainly a different kind of creature, one who closely resembled a human being. A startling hue of blood ran through her veins. And it gave her the capacity to go from a common prostitute, hustling the next client, to Empress of the Roman Empire, giving her despotic power, where, incidentally, she became one of the world’s wealthiest women. She did it all with a “mad pleasure” just like the Blue Men.
Yet despite her obvious and overt sins, there was a weird spirituality about Theodora. She was Christian, although of an off-brand – a Monophysite. In that sense, she was like the Blue Men, who, supposedly, had been cursed for some unknown sin. They, too, carried a strange spirituality with them – the result of having once been angels.
Both the Blue Men and Theodora command our attention because their stories are so peculiar, yet so fascinating and entertaining. Sadly, though, both the Blue Men and Theodora swim in the cold northern latitudes and mists of history, forgotten, or nearly so.