the wife of the emperor Justinian, was the daughter of Acacius, who had the care of the wild beasts of the Green faction of Constantinople.
After the death of her father, she and her sisters earned their living as pantomimic actresses; and Theodora, by the charms of her person and her skill in acting, soon became one of the greatest favourites of the stage.
She earned the reputation of being the most beautiful and most licentious courtesan of the city, and Procopius, in his Secret History, has related the most scandalous tales of her amours.
After practising her profession in public and in private at Constantinople for some time, she accompanied Ecebolus, who had been appointed to the government of the African Pentapolis.
But she was soon deserted by her lover, and returned in indigence to the imperial city. On her arrival at the scene of her former glory and infamy, she assumed a virtuous character, retired from the world, and appeared to support herself by spinning. While living in this retirement she attracted the notice of Justinian, who then governed the empire under his uncle Justin, and she gained such a mastery over the affections and the passions of the youthful prince, that he married the fair courtezan in 525, in spite of the vehement remonstrances of his mother and other relatives. On the death of Justin, and the elevation of Justinian in 527, Theodora was publicly proclaimed empress; and not content with conferring upon her this honour, her uxorious husband declared her to be an equal and independent colleague in the empire, and required all public functionaries to take the oath of allegiance in the joint names of himself and of Theodora.
The part which she took in public affairs is related in the life of Justinian. [JUSTINIANUS I.] She died in 548 of a cancer, having retained to the last her hold on the affections of Justinian.
She is represented by the historians as proud and tyrannical in the exercise of power; but as none of her enemies have brought any charge against her chastity after her marriage with Justinian, we may safely conclude that she never proved unfaithful to her husband.
She bore Justinian only one child, a daughter, whom she buried in her life-time. (Procopius, Historia Arcana ;
the graphic sketch of Gibbon, Decline and Fall,
c. xl.; and the authorities quoted in the life of Justinian.)