Actress, Empress, Saint
Oxford University Press 2015
Thanks to the writings of Procopius and other detractors, the Byzantine empress Theodora (c. 495-548 CE) has long been viewed as a depraved and spiteful woman who was a negative influence on her husband Justinian. In his new book Theodora: Actress, Empress, Saint (Oxford University Press, 2015), historian David Potter draws upon a wide range of sources to offer a very different view of her life and times. From relatively humble beginnings she became a successful actress and the mistress of a powerful Byzantine official. After being abandoned by her lover, she caught the attention of Justinian, who married her in spite of the risk that doing so posed to his chances of becoming emperor. Once she became empress in 527, she not only undertook the considerable duties of empress but served as well as an influential adviser to her husband, shaping the politics, religion, and society of her age. By setting her into the context of 6th century Byzantium, Potter fills in many of the gaps in our understanding of Theodora, showing in the process just how remarkable she was as both a person and as a leader.