Asteroid Files: Theodora

Full disclosure- I came to learn about this week’s asteroid by playing lots and lots of Civilization V. But when I came to realize just who she was and how badass she was, she became one of favorite characters to play, and someone I strove to channel and emulate.

The Astronomy
: 440 Theodora is a small Main belt asteroid. It was discovered by E. F. Coddington on October 13, 1898 at Mount Hamilton. It was his second asteroid discovery. (What? That’s it? Jesus….)

The History: Theodora (c. 500 – 28 June 548) was empress of the Byzantine Empire and the wife of Emperor Justinian I. She was one of the most influential and powerful of the Byzantine empresses. Some sources mention her as empress regnant with Justinian I as her co-regent. Along with her husband, she is a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church, commemorated on November 14. Her father, Acacius, was a bear trainer of the hippodrome’s Green faction in Constantinople. Her mother, whose name is not recorded, was a dancer and an actress. Her parents had two more daughters. After her father’s death, her mother brought her children wearing garlands into the hippodrome and presented them as suppliants to the Blue faction. From then on Theodora would be their supporter. Both John of Ephesus and Procopius relate that Theodora from an early age followed her sister Komito’s example and worked in a Constantinople brothel serving low-status customers; later she performed on stage. Lynda Garland  notes that there seems to be little reason to believe she worked out of a brothel “managed by a pimp”. Employment as an actress at the time would include both “indecent exhibitions on stage” and providing sexual services off stage. In what Garland calls the “sleazy entertainment business in the capital”, Theodora earned her living by a combination of her theatrical and sexual skills. In Procopius’ account, Theodora made a name for herself with her salacious portrayal of Leda and the Swan. At the age of 16, she traveled to North Africa as the companion of a Syrian official named Hecebolus when he went to the Libyan Pentapolis as governor. She stayed with him for almost four years before returning to Constantinople. Abandoned and maltreated by Hecebolus, on her way back to the capital of the Byzantine Empire, she settled for a while in Alexandria, Egypt. She is said to have met Patriarch Timothy III in Alexandria, who was Miaphysite, and it was at that time that she converted to Miaphysite Christianity.

She returned to Constantinople in 522 and gave up her former lifestyle, settling as a wool spinner in a house near the palace. Her beauty, wit and amusing character drew attention from Justinian, who wanted to marry her. However, he could not: He was heir of the throne of his uncle, Emperor Justin I, and a Roman law from Constantine’s time prevented government officials from marrying actresses. Empress Euphemia, who liked Justinian and ordinarily refused him nothing, was against his wedding with an actress. However, Justin was fond of Theodora. In 525, when Euphemia had died, Justin repealed the law, and Justinian married Theodora. By this point, she already had a daughter (whose name has been lost). Justinian apparently treated the daughter and the daughter’s son Athanasius as fully legitimate, although sources disagree whether Justinian was the girl’s father. Theodora proved herself a worthy and able leader during the Nika riots. There were two rival political factions in the Empire, the Blues and the Greens, who started a riot in January 532 during a chariot race in the hippodrome. The riots stemmed from many grievances, some from Justinian’s and Theodora’s own actions. The rioters set many public buildings on fire, and proclaimed a new emperor, Hypatius, the nephew of former emperor Anastasius I. Unable to control the mob, Justinian and his officials prepared to flee. At a meeting of the government council, Theodora spoke out against leaving the palace and underlined the significance of someone who died as a ruler instead of living as an exile or in hiding, reportedly saying, “royal purple is the noblest shroud”. Her determined speech convinced them all, including Justinian himself, who had been preparing to run. As a result, Justinian ordered his loyal troops, led by the officers, Belisarius and Mundus, to attack the demonstrators in the hippodrome, killing (according to Procopius) over 30,000 rebels. Despite his claims that he was unwillingly named emperor by the mob, Hypatius was also put to death, apparently at Theodora’s insistence. Justinian never forgot that it was Theodora who had saved his throne.

Following the Nika revolt, Justinian and Theodora rebuilt and reformed Constantinople and made it the most splendid city the world had seen for centuries, building or rebuilding aqueducts, bridges and more than twenty five churches. The greatest of these is Hagia Sophia, considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and one of the architectural wonders of the world. Theodora was punctilious about court ceremony. According to Procopius, the Imperial couple made all senators, including patricians, prostrate themselves before them whenever they entered their presence, and made it clear that their relations with the civil militia were those of masters and slaves. “Not even the government officials could approach the Empress without expending much time and effort. They were treated like servants and kept waiting in a small, stuffy room for an endless time. After many days, some of them might at last be summoned, but going into her presence in great fear, they very quickly departed. They simply showed their respect by laying face down and touching the instep of each of her feet with their lips; there was no opportunity to speak or to make any request unless she told them to do so. The government officials had sunk into a slavish condition, and she was their slave-instructor. ” They also carefully supervised the magistrates, much more so than previous emperors, possibly to reduce bureaucratic corruption. Theodora also created her own centers of power like the Hagia Sophia. The eunuch Narses, who in old age developed into a brilliant general, was her protege, as was the praetorian prefect Peter Barsymes. John the Cappadocian, Justinian’s chief tax collector, was identified as her enemy, because of his independent influence. Theodora participated in Justinian’s legal and spiritual reforms, and her involvement in the increase of the rights of women was substantial. She had laws passed that prohibited forced prostitution and closed brothels. She created a convent on the Asian side of the Dardanelles called the Metanoia (Repentance), where the ex-prostitutes could support themselves. She also expanded the rights of women in divorce and property ownership, instituted the death penalty for rape, forbade exposure of unwanted infants, gave mothers some guardianship rights over their children, and forbade the killing of a wife who committed adultery. Procopius wrote that she was naturally inclined to assist women in misfortune. Procopius’ Secret History presents a different version of events. For instance, rather than preventing forced prostitution, Theodora is said to have ’rounded up’ 500 prostitutes, confining them to a convent. This, he narrates, even led to suicides as prostitutes sought to escape ‘the unwelcome transformation.’

Why She Matters: If you skimmed over the history I understand, but read it- its good. I love this bitch. God, she is incredible! She comes up from absolutely nothing, (her father’s death left her family destitute), and by becoming an actress and dancer she climbs up through the social ranks, becoming a courtesan and eventually the empress of the Byzantine Empire at its peak. After Rome fell, and the dark ages caused the rest of the west to languish, Byzantium was a light of hope and knowledge. Theodora convinced Justinian to institute a wide range of social, and spiritual reforms, and creates some of the greatest architecture from that time, but only AFTER she saves her coward of a husband’s throne for him. This is a woman who clawed her way to the top and was NOT going to lose an inch of that ground, not for anyone. She is completely Hell on high heels and was a force of a woman. She was a force of nature. Wherever she is in your chart is where you can channel that strength and use it in your own life.

To find out where she shows up in your chart, go to astro.com, put in your birth details and in the extended options, all the way at the bottom, there will be a menu of additional objects. Under that is a blank space where you can enter the number 440, for Theodora. Once you have it entered, generate the chart! Where does Theodora affect your life? Let us know in the comments below!