WOMEN OF HISTORY | EMPRESS THEODORA (500 – June 28, 548) (Lena Heady)
The wife of Justinian I, Empress Theodora of the Byzantine Empire was stated at the time to be ‘superior in intelligence to any man’ and her husband seemed to recognise this, letting her rule jointly with him. She is considered by many to be the most influential and powerful woman in the Roman Empire’s history.
Theodora was greatly interested in the rights of women and ever inclined to help women in misfortune. She expanded their rights in property ownership, divorce, and over their children, as well as instituting the death penalty for rape and outlawing the exposure of unwanted infants and killing of wives who committed adultery. She outlawed forced prostitution and sought to end the slave trade of women for brothels, creating convents where those women could go to support themselves and be safe once they’d been freed. These convents also welcomed women fleeing from violent husbands. Because of Theodora’s work, the status of women in the Byzantium Empire stood far above that of the Middle East and the rest of Europe.
Together with her husband, Theodora rebuilt and reformed Constantinople - building or rebuilding aqueducts, bridges and more than twenty five churches including the Hagia Sophia - making it into the jewel of Europe.