Theodora (wife of Theophilos)

Last updated
Theodora (greek icon XIX c).jpg
Theodora as a saint, in a 19th-century Greek icon
Venerated in Eastern Orthodox Church
Feast 11 February
Amorian or Phrygian dynasty
Michael II 820829
with Theophilos as co-emperor, 822829
Theophilos 829842
with Constantine (c. 833835) and Michael III (840842) as co-emperors
Michael III 842867
under Theodora and Theoktistos as regents, 842855, and with Basil I the Macedonian as co-emperor 866867
Preceded by
Leo V and the Nikephorian dynasty
Followed by
Macedonian dynasty

Theodora (Greek : Θεοδώρα, Medieval Greek:  [θeo'ðora] c. 815 – after 867) was a Byzantine empress as the spouse of the Byzantine emperor Theophilos, and regent of her son, Michael III, from Theophilos' death in 842 to 855. For her restoration of the veneration of icons, which ended the Byzantine Iconoclasm, she is venerated as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church; her Feast Day is February 11. Several churches hold her as their patron saint.

Greek language Language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

Theophilos (emperor) Byzantine emperor

Theophilos was the Byzantine Emperor from 829 until his death in 842. He was the second emperor of the Amorian dynasty and the last emperor to support iconoclasm. Theophilos personally led the armies in his lifelong war against the Arabs, beginning in 831.

Michael III Byzantine emperor

Michael III was Byzantine Emperor from 842 to 867. Michael III was the third and traditionally last member of the Amorian dynasty. He was given the disparaging epithet the Drunkard by the hostile historians of the succeeding Macedonian dynasty, but modern historical research has rehabilitated his reputation to some extent, demonstrating the vital role his reign played in the resurgence of Byzantine power in the 9th century.



Originally from Paphlagonia, Theodora was of Armenian aristocratic descent. [1] The names of her parents were preserved in Theophanes Continuatus, the continuation of the chronicle started by Theophanes the Confessor. They were Marinos, a drungarios, and Theoktiste Phlorina. Some modern genealogists, including Cyril Toumanoff and Nicholas Adontz, have suggested a link of Theodora's family with the Armenian noble clan of the Mamikonian. According to Nina Garsoïan in the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium , however, "[a]ttractive though it is, this thesis cannot be proven for want of sources." [2] Thus genealogists attribute Mamikonian ancestry to Marinos; he is an alleged son of Artavazd Mamikonian, who was head of the House in the 770s. Artavazd headed a large-scale Armenian rebellion against the Abbasid Caliphate that was crushed in the Battle of Bagrevand in 775, after which the family lost power, and many of its members found refuge in Byzantium. Manuel the Armenian, a leading general of Theophilos, was her uncle.

Paphlagonia geographical object

Paphlagonia was an ancient area on the Black Sea coast of north central Anatolia, situated between Bithynia to the west and Pontus to the east, and separated from Phrygia by a prolongation to the east of the Bithynian Olympus. According to Strabo, the river Parthenius formed the western limit of the region, and it was bounded on the east by the Halys river. The name Paphlagonia is derived in the legends from Paphlagon, a son of Phineus.

Armenians ethnic group native to the Armenian Highland

Armenians are an ethnic group native to the Armenian Highlands of Western Asia.

Theophanes Continuatus or Scriptores post Theophanem is the Latin name commonly applied to a collection of historical writings preserved in the 11th-century Vat. gr. 167 manuscript. Its name derives from its role as the continuation, covering the years 813–961, of the chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor, which reaches from 285 to 813. The manuscript consists of four distinct works, in style and form very unlike the annalistic approach of Theophanes.

Theodora was a sister of Bardas and Petronas. Theophanes also records three sisters: Kalomaria, Sophia and Irene. Irene reportedly married Sergios, brother of Patriarch Photios I of Constantinople.

Bardas was a Byzantine noble and high-ranking minister. As the brother of Empress Theodora, he rose to high office under Theophilos. Although sidelined after Theophilos's death by Theodora and Theoktistos, in 855 he engineered Theoktistos's murder and became the de facto regent for his nephew, Michael III. Rising to the rank of Caesar, he was the effective ruler of the Byzantine Empire for ten years, a period which saw military success, renewed diplomatic and missionary activity, and an intellectual revival that heralded the Macedonian Renaissance. He was assassinated in 866 at the instigation of Michael III's new favourite, Basil the Macedonian, who a year later would usurp the throne for himself and install his own dynasty on the Byzantine throne.

Petronas was a notable Byzantine general and leading aristocrat during the mid-9th century. Petronas was a brother of Empress Theodora and hence brother-in-law of Emperor Theophilos, under whom he advanced to the rank of patrikios and the post of droungarios of the Vigla regiment. After Theophilos' death, he played a role in the ending of Iconoclasm, but was sidelined along with his brother Bardas during the minority of his nephew, Michael III, when power was held by the regent Theoktistos. In 855, Petronas and Bardas encouraged Michael III to seize control of the government: Theoktistos was murdered, Theodora banished to a monastery, Bardas became Michael's chief minister, and Petronas was tasked with the war against the Arabs. In 863, he scored a crushing victory at the Battle of Lalakaon, a feat which marked the gradual beginning of a Byzantine counter-offensive in the East. Promoted to magistros and domestikos ton scholon, he died in 865.


Modern representation of Theophilos' choice Emperor Theophilos chooses his wife.jpg
Modern representation of Theophilos' choice
Late 14th century icon illustrating the "Triumph of Orthodoxy" under the Byzantine Empress Theodora and her son Michael III over iconoclasm in 843. The empress is identified on the top left. (National Icon Collection 18, British Museum) Triumph orthodoxy.jpg
Late 14th century icon illustrating the "Triumph of Orthodoxy" under the Byzantine Empress Theodora and her son Michael III over iconoclasm in 843. The empress is identified on the top left. (National Icon Collection 18, British Museum)

In 829, Theophilos succeeded to the throne. He was sixteen-years-old and unmarried. The following year his stepmother, Euphrosyne, proclaimed a bride-show. Potential brides from every theme travelled from their homelands to Constantinople, Theodora among them. The poet Kassia was said to have taken part.

Euphrosyne, was a Byzantine empress by marriage to Michael II. She was a daughter of Byzantine emperor Constantine VI, the last representative of the Isaurian dynasty, and his empress Maria of Amnia.

Bride-show custom according to which Byzantine emperors and Russian tsars chose a wife from among a group of unmarried women presented to them

The bride-show was a custom of Byzantine emperors and Russian tsars to choose a wife from among the most beautiful maidens of the country. A similar practice was also existent in Imperial China.

Constantinople capital city of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, the Latin and the Ottoman Empire

Constantinople was the capital city of the Roman Empire (330–395), of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, of the brief Crusader state known as the Latin Empire (1204–1261) and of the Ottoman Empire (1453–1923). In 1923 the capital of Turkey, the successor state of the Ottoman Empire, was moved to Ankara and the name Constantinople was officially changed to Istanbul. The city is located in what is now the European side and the core of modern Istanbul. The city is still referred to as Constantinople in Greek-speaking sources.

The bride-show took place in May, 830, and Theodora was chosen to become empress, probably by her new mother-in-law. The marriage took place on 5 June 830, in Hagia Sophia. Euphrosyne soon retired to a convent and Theodora remained the only Augusta.

Hagia Sophia Museum in Istanbul, Turkey

Hagia Sophia is the former Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal cathedral, later an Ottoman imperial mosque and now a museum in Istanbul, Turkey. Built in AD 537 at the beginning of the Middle Ages, it was famous in particular for its massive dome. It was the world's largest building and an engineering marvel of its time. It is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture and is said to have "changed the history of architecture".

Empress consort

Theodora as depicted in the Menologion of Basil II Theodora II.jpg
Theodora as depicted in the Menologion of Basil II

The family of Theodora seems to have followed her to court. Her brothers became officials and her sisters married into the court aristocracy. During her own marriage she bore Theophilus five daughters and two sons, the younger of whom became the future Michael III.

Despite the fact that Theophilus was an iconoclast, Theodora held fast to the veneration of icons which she kept in her chambers in the imperial palace. One story holds that a servant witnessed her venerating her icons and reported her to the emperor. When her husband confronted her about the incident she stated that she had merely been "playing with dolls." [3] Two of her icons are kept at the monastery of Vatopedi on Mount Athos to this day and are referred to as "Theodora's Dolls". They are displayed annually on the Sunday of Orthodoxy.

Theodora is said to have intervened to save Lazarus Zographos from further torture under her husband. Whether their opposing religious beliefs strained their relationship is unclear. Theophilus' health however eventually failed and he died on 20 January 842. He was about twenty-nine years old.

Empress Regent

Gold solidus of Theodora's regency, with her on the obverse and her son Michael, the nominal emperor, and her daughter Thekla on the reverse. Solidus-Michael III-sb1686.jpg
Gold solidus of Theodora's regency, with her on the obverse and her son Michael, the nominal emperor, and her daughter Thekla on the reverse.

Following the death of her husband, Theodora served as regent for her son Michael. She overrode Theophilus' ecclesiastical policy and summoned a council under the patriarch Methodius, in which the veneration, but not worship, of icons (images of Jesus Christ and the saints) was finally restored and the iconoclastic clergy deposed.

She carried on the government with a firm and judicious hand; she replenished the treasury and deterred the Bulgarians from an attempt at invasion. [4] However, it was during her regency that a vigorous persecution of the Paulician heresy commenced.

In order to perpetuate her power she purposely neglected her son's education, and therefore must be held responsible for the voluptuous character which he developed under the influence of his uncle Bardas, [4] who was Theodora's brother and likewise of Mamikonian heritage. [5]

Theodora endeavoured in vain to combat Bardas's authority; in 855 she was displaced from her regency at his prompting, and being subsequently convicted of intrigues against him was relegated to the monastery of Gastria in 857. [6] [7] Both Bardas and Michael would eventually be assassinated by Basil I, who would then usurp the throne and establish the Macedonian Dynasty. Theodora would die sometime after her son's murder in 867. It is probable that Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Stephen I and emperor Leo VI the Wise who is ancestor to the all latter emperors of Macedonian Dynasty are Theodora grandsons. She was canonized in recompense for her zeal on behalf of the restoration of icons as objects of veneration. [4] Her feast day is February 11.


The daughters of Theodora being instructed in the veneration of the icons by their grandmother Theoktiste. Miniature from the Madrid Skylitzes MadridSkylitzesDaughtersOfTheodoraFol44v.jpg
The daughters of Theodora being instructed in the veneration of the icons by their grandmother Theoktiste. Miniature from the Madrid Skylitzes

Theodora and Theophilos had seven children. Listed here in the order given by Theophanes:


The incorrupt relics of St. Theodora the Empress are kept in the Cathedral of the Most Holy Theotokos Speliotissis in Corfu, Greece. The relics are carried in procession on the Sunday of the Triumph of Orthodoxy, the first Sunday of Great Lent.


  1. ODB, p. 255.
  2. ODB, p. 1279.
  3. Arne Effenberger, "Images of Personal Devotion: Mosaic and Steatite Icons", in Byzantium: Faith and Power (1261-1557), ed. Helen C. Evans (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004), 210.
  4. 1 2 3 Chisholm 1911.
  5. Christian Settipani, Nos Ancêtres de l'Antiquité

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Royal titles
Preceded by
Byzantine Empress consort
Succeeded by
Eudokia Dekapolitissa