"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Byzantine Empresses

Those who know the history of the East-Roman Empire are not unaware of the role that women played at court and elsewhere, sometimes for good, sometimes for evil, often for both. Judith Herrin's 2004 book Women in Purple: Rulers of Medieval Byzantium looked at three of them: Irene, Theodora, and Euphrosyne. Now a new book examines two of them: James Allan Evans, The Power Game in Byzantium: Antonina and the Empress Theodora (Continuum, 2011), 288pp.

About this book, the publisher tells us:
A fascinating exploration of the corridors of power in Byzantium of the time of Justinian (527-565), this book reveals how Empress Theodora and Antonina, both alumnae of the theatre, were remarkable examples of social mobility, moving into positions of power and influence, becoming wives of key figures. Theodora had three aims: to protect those Christians who would not accept the Chalcedonian Creed; to advance the careers of her family and friends; and to defend the poor and assist the defenceless and, in particular, women – a mission which she claimed publicly. Finally, there was the allure of power, and though the exercise of power cannot be qualified as an ‘aim’, there can be no doubt that Theodora loved authority: she made and unmade marriage contracts, and appointed men to office, or destroyed them if they got in her way. Antonina was both friend and agent, and equally ruthless. She managed her husband, Belisarius, and advanced his career, though she was unfaithful to the marriage bed, and would outlive the main players of the age of Justinian.
We are also given the table of contents:
Preface  1. The Background of the Story \ 2. The Scum of Society \ 3. The Rise to Power \ 4. The Remarkable Career of the Young Belisarius \ 5. Antonina in Love \ 6. Victory and Defeat in the Ecclesiastical Arena \ 7. Theodora’s Riposte \ 8. The Fall of John the Cappadocian \ 9. The Theodosius and Antonina Affair Continued \ 10. Plague and Intrigue\ 11. Theodora Helps to Found an Anti-Chalcedonian Church\ 12.  The Agony of Italy \ 13. Postlude: The Ending of the Era of Reconquest \ Appendix I: Two Contemporary Witnesses \ Sources \ Bibliography \ Index

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