My favourite Byzantine
After posting a couple of days ago on some lesser-known Byzantine empresses, I thought I had to put together something on my favourite, Theodora, wife(and spine-stiffener) to Justinian.
I've found for her some wonderful resources on the web, most notably Justinian, Theodora and Procopius, "a web directory about 6th-century Byzantium and its greatest historian". It includes a complete text, with a commentary to which you can add, of Procopius's Secret History, so called because he wrote it for posthumous publication, while in the meantime writing more or less sycophantic stuff for earlier consumption.
There's an excellent introductory biography here and the famous Ravenna mosaic portraits.
I've posted elsewhere about how certain sorts of women attract certain sorts of sexual slanders, and Justinian as the powerful empress who might have originally been an actress was open to the hottest accusations that antiquity could come up with, which was pretty hot indeed. Gibbon, of course, had to repeat them in his Rise and Fall, but did so in the classic "scholarly" way. In the text he wrote: "Her murmurs, her pleasures, and her arts must be veiled in the obscurity of a learned language." His footnotes, in Greek, revealed all.
As for the spine-stiffening, well that's why she's my favourite empress. After the five-day Nika revolt in 532AD, and the proclamation of Hypatius as emperor in Byzantium, Procopius (no friend of hers), quotes her as saying as Justinian and all of the couriers, locked in the palace, plan to flee:
"As to whether it is wrong for a woman to put herself forward among men or show daring where others are faltering, I do not think that the present crisis allows us to consider whether we should hold one view or another.
"For when a cause is in the utmost peril there seems to be only one best course--to make the very best of the immediate situation. I hold that now if ever flight is inexpedient even if it brings safety.
"When a man has once been born into the light it is inevitable that he should also meet death. But for an emperor to become a fugitive is a thing not to be endured . . .
"If you wish to flee to safety, emperor, it can easily be done. We have money in abundance; yonder is the sea; here are the ships.
"However . . . as for me, I hold with the old saying that royalty makes a fine winding sheet'"
They stayed, and re-established control. There was a massacre of the other side. Of course.