Coins of Empress Theodora

‘Women on the throne’ was a less common picture during the ancient and medieval times but was not unheard of. A number of civilizations offer their gratitude to these fine and capable rulers who broke down the stereotypical barriers of the society and left behind a glorious legacy. The Byzantine Empire is no excuse. The Coinage of the Byzantine Empire gives an ample amount of examples of the women ruling with iron fist. Coins of Empress Theodora speak of one such Iron Lady of the Byzantine Empire.

The Byzantine Empire thrived between 491 CE and 1453 CE. As with all patriarchal societies, elite women of the Byzantine Empire were expected to bear children, sew, weave, and generally be confined to their homes. A few imperial women, however, rose to power and issued coins in their own name, either by themselves or with partners. The women rulers of Byzantium left lasting impressions on the coins of the empire, but one woman left particularly strong legacies in the wake of her rule. Theodora was the most famous woman to take the throne. Her political and religious actions caused drastic movement in the empire and her life story would inspire a Greek drama. The Coins of Empress Theodora open up life and reign of this lesser heard Empress.

Theodora was born into the imperial line-as daughter to Emperor Constantine VIII. Her father planned to arrange her marriage Romanos who was a married man. As she refused, her sister, Zoe, was instead presented as a second-choice wife. Romanos and Zoe married in 1028. Zoe remained deeply bitter toward Theodora for being her father’s first choice for the marriage and used her power as an Empress to send her sister to a monastery where she remained for 13 years. In the absence of Theodora, Zoe created havoc in the empire. She took a lover, got her husband killed, and adopted her lover’s nephew to be the new emperor. The Byzantine people tolerated her whims for 13 years. Finally, they demanded the return of Theodora to co-rule with Zoe. Theodora, who retired in the monastery, was forced into accepting the title of co-Empress of Byzantine Empire. As soon as Theodora assumed the power, she was quick to reinstate some stability in the empire. A coin was struck in their name between April and June of AD 1042. Gold Histamenon Nomisma was minted at Constantinople under the Joint Reign of Zoe and Theodora. [1]


Coins of Empress Theodora


The Obverse of the coin depicts Veiled and nimbate bust of the Virgin Mary wearing pallium and maphorium which is decorated on both shoulders with four pearls. Bust of the young Christ with cruciform nimbus is seen over the chest. On the other hand, the reverse depicts the busts of Zoe and Theodora, both crowned with pendants and wearing saccos and loros, supporting and holding together a labarum. This coin was the first issue of Theodora as an Empress of the Byzantine Empire. [2]

However, this Joint rule survived not more than seven weeks. In the month of July of the year 1042, Zoe married for the third time to Constantine Monomachos. This alliance secured the position of the Empress as it put Constantine directly on the Throne of the Emperor. Theodora, on the eve of these developments, stayed in the palace. Zoe did not live to see the fate of her Empire for long. She died less than eight years after her marriage i.e. in 1050. She could not negate Theodora’s influence over the throne. [3] After the death of her sister’s Zoe’s third Husband Constantine, Theodora was able to exert her rights and was proclaimed autokrator, or “emperor,” by the imperial guard at the age of seventy-five. Total 3 Coins of Empress Theodora were struck during her sole-rule: 2 in Gold and 1 in Lead.


Coins of Empress Theodora


The above coin was struck as soon as she was proclaimed Empress. The coin, according to the contemporary standard depicts Jesus Christ with a nimbus standing facing on footstool, wearing pallium and colobium, holding Book of Gospels with both hands on the Obverse. The legend reads “IhS XIS Rex REG-NANtihm”. The Reverse of the coin depicts a standing figure of Theodora wearing a crown and loros. To her left stands nimbate figure of Virgin Mary; wearing pallium and maphorium. Both of them are holding a labarum between them.


Coins of Empress Theodora


Two other Coins of Empress Theodora depicting her sole portrait were issued in the years 1055-1056 both in Gold and Lead. The gold coin depicts Bust of Jesus Christ holding Gospels with letters IC XC to left and right on the Obverse, whereas the reverse depicts crowned bust of Theodora, holding jeweled scepter and cross on globe along with the legend: QEO­W AVGOVC.

The lead coin is similar in fabrication but has little dissimilarities. The Obverse depicts the bust of Christ facing; nimbus cross behind head with five dots in each limb of the cross. His right hand is half-raised in benediction; holding a book of the Gospels with a jeweled cover in left hand. Letters IC-XC to right and left. The Reverse bears the bust of Theodora facing; wearing a crown with pendants and three triangular projections, high jeweled collar, and circular shoulder-piece. She is holding a scepter in her right hand. Her left hand is shown half-raised.[4]

Theodora’s iron-willed period of the autonomous rule did not last and she herself died on 31 August 1056. However, during her short rule, she achieved a lot that could not be met by eventful 14 years rule of her sister Zoe. With her firm administration, she controlled the unruly nobles and checked numerous abuses. Theodora was fit, well and active and disinclined to face her own mortality, despite her age of seventy-six. Theodora became gravely ill with an intestinal disorder in late August 1056. With her death, the Macedonian dynasty’s 189-year rule came to an end. The Coins of Empress Theodora were not much in quantity, but they certify her qualitative rule as well as her skills as an Empress.






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