Justinian and Theodora –

In Italy, there is an ancient church where one can find images full of colors and stony characters. We refer to the mosaics of the Church of San Vital, in Ravenna. These mosaics illustrate the majestic faces of the byzantine emperor justinianthe Empress Theodora and their corresponding retinues.

who was this couple of emperors who seriously observe the visitor who enters San Vital? Why are they portrayed on the walls of that church, far from the place where they were born? If you are interested in the history of Rome, you can also take a look at the most important roman emperors

Justinian, the one who never sleeps

Far from what it may seem Justinian Y Theodora They had humble beginnings. Flavius ​​Petrus Sabbatius Iustinianus, as he was actually called Justinianhad been born about 482 AD in Tauresium, Thrace (present-day Serbia), and was an Illyrian of Latin culture.

His intellectual training was above all legal. He was a caring administrator and a tireless worker. “The emperor who never sleeps”, he was called by his contemporaries. A high concept of duty and also of his rights always guided his conduct. “What is greater and holier than the imperial majesty?” he had him write in front of the Justinian Code.

His rise to power begins in the year 518, when his uncle Justin becomes the new emperor. Three years later, Justiniano is named consul and, months later, general of the Army in the East. He had to wait until 527 for his uncle to name him co-emperor, seeing that he would soon die. And he did. Four months after his appointment.

The emperor Justinianconservative and linked to the glorious past of the Roman empire, considered himself in charge of restoring power as God’s chosen one. He was the head of the chosen people, who was responsible for restoring the unity of the Church.

However, the man was not without his weaknesses. He had great courage to conceive vast undertakings, but he was cautious and very proud of his authority, which made him an emperor of incredible vanity. He came to give his name to 27 cities, certain bodies of officials and a class of students.

Justiniano always worried about conspiracies, a very recurrent problem in the history of Byzantium. According to the Byzantine chronicler of him, “his ears were open to slander, and he had a poor tolerance for the success of his subordinates”. Belisarius and John of Cappadocia experienced this facet of his behavior worse than anyone else.

The last Roman emperor, as they came to know him, tried to recover the splendor of the Roman Empire. For this, he wanted to emulate Theodosius I the Great, recovering the territories that his empire came to possess. He didn’t get it.

Teodora, your great support

His wife, Theodora, the empress of Byzantium, exerted a great influence on this wavering spirit. This is indicated by the important place that her image occupies in the Church of Saint Vitalmade by order of the same Justinian.

In his youth, the fate of Theodora it did not foreshadow anything. Her early life was surrounded by mystery. The most favorable traditions tell that she had come from Paphlagonia to Constantinople as a wool weaver.

However, Procopius, in his Secret History, states that she was the daughter of a tamer of wild animals, and that Theodora She had been an actress and a prostitute. Before dressing in imperial purple, a long career had dragged her through the populous cities of the East.

To tell the truth, it seems difficult to refute these assertions: Theodora –this at least is certain- had children before marriage, and was undoubtedly an actress (a negligible profession at the time). And it is that Justinian a law had to be enacted that authorized repentant actresses to take legitimate husbands, which until then had been prohibited.

Beyond her past, as empress Theodora He showed great dignity, without ever denying his origins. Throughout her reign, she protected women, and helped hundreds of actresses and prostitutes to get out of her situation.

Theodora she always kept her enmity with the aristocracy, going so far as to force the senators to prostrate themselves before her. But at the same time she knew how to show great courage, she did not hesitate to intervene in political life, to fight the great Western project of Justinianand in protecting the Monophysites who were persecuted by imperial law.

Love story

Not much data has been kept on The love story of Justinian and Theodora. The writings that have reached our days, do coincide in the way in which this couple met. It all happened on a hot spring afternoon in 522in which Justinian was walking through the streets, when he fell in love with a young woman spinning with a spinning wheel in a humble doorway.

That lower-class young lady was Teodora, who had decided to leave her dubious past behind, devoting herself to the name art of weaving. Everyone talks about love at first sight. A love that sparked daily, because Justiniano came down to see Teodora knit every afternoon. Everything from a certain distance and an almost impossible anonymity.

Everything changed the day Justiniano took the step and decided to offer him his first words. The greatest fear of the future emperor was the difference in age, because he was 20 years older than Teodora. Despite this, they hit it off wonderfully and their relationship, every day, was more intense.

It was a matter of time before Justiniano took Teodora to the palace and he did. The self-confidence, friendliness and beauty of Teodora they were enough to marry her, but had to change the law to do so. And time showed that he was right.

Justiniano and Teodora not only shared a bed and loved each other as a couple, but as a government team they were relentless. At that time, Justiniano was consul, but also insecure and hesitant. In fact, his extravagances are recognized. Hence the responsible and wise presence of Theodora, was key to the future of any decision he made.

Teodora was his most loyal adviser. A confidante to whom to tell everything, including decisions about the empirefor her to give him her opinion.

Until his death in 548, he presided over the destinies of the empire at the side of Justinianas in the Ravenna paintings.

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