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Theodora the Armenian

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Solidus-Michael III-sb1686

Theodora depicted as ruler on this coin, with her son Michael, nominally emperor, and her daughter Thecla on the reverse.

Theodora (Greek: Θεοδώρα, c. 815 - after 867) was a Byzantine Empress as the spouse of the Byzantine emperor Theophilus, and Regent of the Byzantine Empire from 842 to 855. She is venerated as a Saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church; her Feast Day is February 11.


Originally from Paphlagonia, Theodora was of Armenian aristocratic descent.

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. Genealogies attribute Mamikonian ancestry to Marinos; he is an alleged son of Artavazd Mamikonian, who was head of the House in the 770s.

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.


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.

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.

Empress consort

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." 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.

Triumph orthodoxy

Late 14th-early 15th century icon illustrating the "Triumph of Orthodoxy" in 843. Theodora is depicted in the upper register with her son Michael. (National Icon Collection 18, British Museum)


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. 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, who was Theodora's brother and likewise of Mamikonian heritage.[1]

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. She died after his assassination at the hands of Basil I, thus witnessing the end of the dynasty she had worked so hard to preserve. She was sainted in recompense for her zeal on behalf of the restoration of icons as objects of veneration. Her feastday is February 11.


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

  • Constantine, co-emperor from c. 833 to c. 835.
  • Thekla (born c. 831 - after 867). She was named Augusta and her image appears in coinage during the regency of her mother. Later exiled to a monastery by her brother Michael. She was recalled and was a mistress of Emperor Basil I the Macedonian.
  • Anna (born c. 832). Exiled into the monastery of Gastria. Never recalled.
  • Anastasia (born c. 833). Exiled into the monastery of Gastria. Never recalled.
  • Pulcheria (born c. 836). Exiled into the monastery of Gastria. Never recalled.
  • Maria (born c. 838). Married the Caesar Alexios Mouseles. Her husband was placed in command of Byzantine Sicily but was later accused of conspiring to gain the throne. Forced to retire into a monastery. Maria was not alive in 856 when her sisters were exiled from the court.
  • Michael III (19 January 840 - 23 September/24 September 867), who succeeded as emperor.

Royal titles
Preceded by
Byzantine Empress consort
Succeeded by
Eudokia Dekapolitissa
Preceded by
Maria of Amnia
Titled Dowager Empress-Mother.
Empress-Mother of the Byzantine Empire
833-835, 842- 867
Succeeded by
Zoe Karbonopsina


  1. Christian Settipani, Nos Ancêtres de l'Antiquité


External links

bg:Теодора IIfa:تئودوراko:테오도라 (9세기)ro:Teodora a II-a ru:Блаженная Феодора sr:Теодора (9. век) sv:Theodora (800-talet)

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