Fifty Shades of Theodora: A Twisted Tale of Sex, Swans, and Unflattering Mosaic Portraits.

Good [insert applicable time of day], readers! Hot off the presses, we’ve got a nice slice of scandal pie to brighten up your [insert applicable day], because rather than read about the Iberian campaigns of Justinian as I most definitely probably completely 100% should be doing, I decided to make much better use of my time and yours.

Theodora, just lounging in her opulent bower observing thelittle people with their little lives below. You know, as one does.

I’d like to introduce you all to a friend of mine, the Empress Theodora, wife of the aforementioned Iberian-campaigning Justinian. She lived in a fun little time called “the 6th century,” in this hip and happenin’ place called “the Byzantine Empire,” and whooodawgy did she get up to some shit. At least, according to the Late-Antique best-seller, The Secret History, by the imperial advisor and one of the last historians of the classical world, Procopius.

PSYCH, it was never a best-seller because not only was it unpublished for over a millennium because it was supah salacious and 99.999997% bullshit, there was no such things as a best-seller list in the 6th century! HISTORYFACT’D!!!1!

But for the sake of your average, casual, johnny-come-lately, historical-sex-scandal-reading public, we’re going to give The Secret History the historical credibility and r-e-s-p-e-c-t for which its author so long pined—and now appears to have finally achieved in the hearts of Classics majors everywhere, and as an ironic footnote in the Pulitzer Prize winning a mildly popular internet blog.

Now there are certain things we know about Theodora that are just regular, “truth” facts, and don’t come from Procopius. I shall make a list, because I am feeling unambitious today (slorry):

  1. She was born in poverty in 500 A.D.
  2. Her father TRAINED MUTHALUVIN BEARS, and her mother was a dancer and an actress. In Late-Antique terms, I’m not even being glib when I say Theodora’s mom was a straight up prostitute.
  3. Her dad died and her mother sold her and her sister at a relatively early age to a low-rent brothel which catered specifically to soliders, and Theodora eventually moved up to become a stage performer. But she’s totally only doing it to pay for college, guys.

*modern artist’s rendition of Procopius*

Here’s where we enter the salaciously murky world of historical conjecture (mmmmmm….). According to our erstwhile chronicler, Theo apparently made a name for herself in the redlight district of Istanbul Constantinople Istanbul Constantinople Istanbul Constantinople with an extra special version of Leda and the Swan. I think Procopious describes the show much more better than I ever could, so to him I cede the blog floor (bloor):

“Often, even in the theatre, in the sight of all the people, she removed her costume and stood nude in their midst, except for a girdle about the groin: not that she was abashed at revealing that, too, to the audience, but because there was a law against appearing altogether naked on the stage, without at least this much of a fig-leaf. Covered thus with a ribbon, she would sink down to the stage floor and recline on her back. Slaves to whom the duty was entrusted would then scatter grains of barley from above into the calyx of this passion flower, whence geese, trained for the purpose, would next pick the grains one by one with their bills and eat.”


But I’ll be a sonovabitch if she’s not rockin’ that eyebrow scarf and jimmy-jangles pearl shit.

‘Round about this time, at the weary old age of 16, Theodora became the bangmaid of an imperial official named Hecebolus, who whisked her away to that most romantic of second-rate late Roman military outposts, the Libyan Pentapolis in North Africa. She put up with his abandonment, beatings and sleep apnea, for no apparent reason (aside from the glaringly obvious) for four years before returning to Constantinople. She gave up actressing and became a woolspinner near the palace, but her reputation for—WAIT FOR IT—her wit, beauty, and character—DIDN’T EXPECT THAT DID YOU NO NEITHER DID I IT’S OK—drew the heir apparent, Justinian’s, eye.

Welp, ladiez, he was a romantic, and wanted to hit-it-and-not-quit-it. Unfortunately, not only was there a law against marrying those of the hooker persuasion, his aunt was not down with having a trollop prancing about the royal digs, dropping goosefeed out her vajay for all to see and sample. But, then his aunt kicked it, and Justinian’s uncle, the emperor, changed that law, since he had a soft spot for interpretative dance, and Justinian Put.A.Ring.On.It. in 525. This was good of him, considering he’d knocked Theodora up in the interim period (or maybe somebody else had, whichever you prefer, we don’t actually know, hey! this is a fun game).

This is sooooo nyyyyyycccceeeee.

Two years later, she was empress of one of the largest and richest empires in the Late Antique world. I have to assume that this is the highest an illiterate, homeless, stripping single mom has ever climbed, without her own Lifetime movie…. YET. According to Procopius, she continued to skank-it-up with basically e’rybody and their brother, and Justinian was too blinded by her magic thighs to notice. Because, as we all know, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, or break a biddy of her sex-addiction AMIRITE??

As empress, any time Theodora (apparently) had between doling out handies and blahjays to every Thomas, Dickus, and Harricus, she spent engaged not in the ways of the secular flesh, but in charity and progressive legislation for women, since they were considered second class citizens or property or some historyfact shit like that. She passed laws that prohibited forced prostitution, closed brothels, expanded women’s divorce and property rights, instituted a death penalty for rape, gave mothers guardianship over their children were they to leave their husbands, and forbid killing a woman for adultery. This elevated the status of women in Byzantium far above their contemporaries in the Middle East or the rest of Europe. She also opened a convent specifically for ex-prostitutes where they could either live the rest of their lives or learn another trade to support themselves. Blerg. She was the S’est of the SBWs.

Incidentally, Procopius described Theodora’s convent as being the forced confinement of 500 prostitutes, who wanted to go back to having sex with multitudes of faceless, abusive men for pennies so badly that lots of them committed suicide to escape being “transmogrified against their will”!!!!!!1! But, he did also drop the TMZ x-clusive truthbomb that Justinian and Theodora were demons whose heads detached from their bodies and roamed the palace at night. Soooo, Imma go with Procopius. On everything.

Anywho, Theodora died in 548 and Justinian was genuinely like super sad about it, and continued to carry out a lot of causes she believed in and put her in official portraits with him and stuff like that. So it was nice. The end.


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