Theodora (11th century)

Theodora Porphyrogenita
Byzantine coin showing Jesus Christ on the left and Empress Theodora on the right.
Empress of the Byzantine Empire
Reign 19 April 1042 – 31 August 1056
Predecessor Zoe Porphyrogenita & Michael V Kalaphates
Successor Michael VI
Co-reign Zoe Porphyrogenita [1]:2038 (1042–1050)
Constantine IX (1042–1055)
Born c. 980
Died 31 August 1056
(aged 75–76)
Burial Church of the Holy Apostles, Constantinople
Dynasty Macedonian
Father Constantine VIII
Mother Helena

Theodora Porphyrogenita ( Greek: Θεοδώρα, Theodōra; 980 – 31 August 1056) was a Byzantine Empress born into the Macedonian dynasty that had ruled the Byzantine Empire for almost two hundred years. She was co-empress with her sister Zoe for two months in 1042 and sole empress regnant from 11 January 1055 to 31 August 1056. She was the last of the Macedonian line, and upon her death the empire entered a period of decline that lasted until the ascension of Alexios I Komnenos in 1081.

Early life

Theodora was the youngest daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VIII and Helena, daughter of Alypius. [1]:503 As an eligible imperial princess, she was considered as a possible bride for the Holy Roman Emperor in the west, Otto III in 996. [2]:253 However, Theodora was overlooked in favour of her sister Zoe, who was selected as the potential bride, but Otto III died before the wedding. [2]:259 From that point onward, Theodora lived a life of obscurity in the imperial gynaeceum. [2]:269 However, after her uncle Basil II died childless, and her father died without siring any sons, she was forced to the centre of imperial politics. [3]:265 Intelligent and possessing a strong and austere character, Theodora defied her father by refusing to marry the man he had chosen to succeed him, Romanos Argyros, stating that Romanos was already married – his wife having become a nun to allow Romanos to marry into the imperial family. [4]:465 Theodora further claimed that since Romanos and she were third cousins, it was too close a blood relationship for marriage to occur. [2]:270 Consequently, Constantine VIII chose Theodora’s sister, Zoe, who married Romanos instead in 1028. [3]:257

With the accession of Romanos, Theodora prudently retreated back into the gynaeceum, with its daily religious routines, [2]:276 but this did not save her from her sister’s envy. Never having forgiven Theodora for being their father’s first choice, [3]:269 Zoe persuaded her husband to appoint one of his own men as the chief of Theodora’s household, with orders to spy on her. [4]:469 Shortly afterwards, Theodora was accused of plotting to usurp the throne with Presian of Bulgaria. Although Presian was blinded and then sent to a monastery, Theodora was not condemned, but in 1031 she was implicated in another conspiracy, this time with Constantine Diogenes, the Archon of Sirmium. [1]:627 Accused of being part of the conspiracy, Theodora was forcibly confined in the monastery of Petrion. Zoe later visited her sister and forced her to take Holy Orders. [4]:471 She would remain there for the next thirteen years, as Zoe managed the empire with her husbands, Romanos III and, after his death, Michael IV.