Mosaic of the Byzantine Empress Theodora in the Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy Credit: Petar Milosevic / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

In Constantinople, around 500 AD, a girl was born to a poor circus worker and his wife. This child, Theodora, would become an actress, a prostitute, a mistress, a feminist, an empress of the civilized world, and ultimately, a saint.

Her colorful life, in some ways similar to that of Eva (“Evita”) Peron from Argentina, has recently sparked interest with a two-book series by James Conroyd Martin, starting with “Fortune’s Child” and ending by “Too Soon at night.”

The incredible life of Empress Theodora

Schuyler’s story begins with her around the age of five, the second of three daughters born to the wife of a bear trainer at the city’s amphitheater, the Hippodrome. Just a few years after the birth of the third daughter, Acacius died after being mutilated by one of his bears.

Grecian Delight supports Greece

The mother, an actress and dancer whose name is sadly lost in history, hatches a plan for the Greens, the political / sports team that had employed Acacius, to hire her new husband as a replacement bear trainer.

To throw herself at their mercy, she choreographs a dance for her three daughters to perform in front of them at the Hippodrome just before the day’s chariot race. Her plan falls flat when the girls are ignored; however, the opposing team, the Blues, noticed the girls and hired the new stepfather.

As Schuyler grows into her teenage years, she realizes the effect her exquisite beauty has on men. She then becomes a well-known actress and courtesan. Completely fascinated by Theodora, the governor of a Byzantine province in North Africa takes her as his mistress.

Eventually, the relationship deteriorates and he sets her adrift with no way to return to Constantinople. A bishop shelters her and, in doing so, interests her in her belief concerning the nature of Jesus Christ, a belief at odds with Rome – and a Theodora would marry until the end.

Over time, trials and a myriad of difficulties, Theodora eventually returned to Constantinople. There, she begins a Reformed life and one day meets Prince Justinian, nephew of Byzantine Emperor Justin.

Despite the social constraints of the time and many objections, Justinian obtained permission to marry Theodora.

After Justin’s death, Justinian and Theodora reign as equals. Because the new Empress grew up seeing the often low value placed on girls and women, she became an active feminist and demanded that some laws be changed.

Its power extends even to the reign of the Church in Rome, where its influence suppresses a pope and ensures the election of another.

Justinian and Theodora face two major crises in their reign: the world’s first plague pandemic that kills much of the world’s known population, and a massive city rising against the throne.

When the rebels seem to be winning, city leaders, generals, and even Justinian seem ready to flee by means of a loaded and ready-to-go ship.

This is when the most memorable moment in Theodora’s history unfolds. She addresses her husband / emperor, his council and his generals, urging them in a strong and inspiring speech to take heart, stay and fight. She is quoted as saying, “I think purple makes the best shroud.”

New books on Theodora’s life

James Conroyd Martin, the author of the duology, came across the fascinating life of Theodora while studying the Byzantine mosaic masterpieces of Theodora and Justinian in an art appreciation course.

Martin explains, “When the professor finished talking about the exquisiteness of the art, he pointed to the shimmering image of Theodora and said, ‘I’m not a writer, class, but if I am. was, this is the woman I would write about. . ‘ At that point, the idea of ​​writing her story clicked in my head. The mosaics are found in the Basilica of San Vitale, in Ravenna, Italy.

While trying to stay true to what was known about Theodora’s life and times, Martin chose to create probable scenes and dialogues, as well as a main character: Stephen, a eunuch and confidant of Theodora who is chosen to record in handwritten form the story of her life. Like Eva Peron, Theodora died of cancer at a relatively young age.

Martin is delighted with the success of his two books on Theodora. Out of several thousand books, Fortune’s Child won the global grand prize, “Book of the Year,” at the Chanticleer International Book Awards in 2019.

The duology was recorded for audiobooks by fascinating voice actor James Gillies, and Martin is hoping for film dramatization, as well as publication by a Greek publisher. Martin, a longtime educator from Illinois, now lives in Portland, Oregon.

He is also the author of “The Polish Trilogy”, based on the diary of a young Polish countess in the 1790s.

Anyone interested can visit their website, here. Martin’s books are available on Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon CA, and Amazon AU.