Empress Theodora (497-548 AD) was the most powerful woman in Byzantine history. Here are 5 reasons why she totally kicked butt.

1. Her dad was a bear keeper:

That’s right. Although little is known about the Empress’ early life, we do know that her father was a bear keeper at the circus in Constantinople.

bear

2. She was probably a prostitute:

Before charming and subsequently marrying Emperor Justinian I, Theodora was a popular actress—which at the time was often synonymous with prostitution. She was also known to have had at least one child out of wedlock.

via IMDB

via IMDB

3. She was the brains behind the empire:

Many of Theodora’s contemporaries believed she was the one making the decisions during Justinian’s reign. Their proof? Her name was on many of the laws passed during her husband’s rule, and very little significant legislation was passed after her death.

Oil painting of Theodora by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant

Oil painting of Theodora by Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant

4. She was really into women’s rights:

During her time as Empress, she passed strict laws prohibiting the trafficking of young girls and adjusted divorce laws to give more rights to women.

Rosie

5. She prevented a revolt:

When Justinian’s advisors told him to flee during the Nika riots in 532, Theodora advised him to stay and fight for the throne. It’s a good thing he listened to his lady. His general ended up quelling the uprising and Justinian ruled until his death in 565.

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Mosaic of man who may have been Belisarius, general under Justinian who helped quell the Nika revolt