Queen of the World - 3

By Christopher Zoukis  Image courtesy historycentral.com

While they waited, Theodora and Justinian connived to upset the political and economic well-being of Constantinople.  They were both members of a liberal-extremist group called the Blue Faction.  The Blue Faction was made up of young anarchists who despised everyone but other Blue Factionists, because everyone else was stupid, and unsophisticated.  Therefore the Blue Faction should be the power elite, not these other bumpkins.

Theodora and Justinian urged the Blue Faction to wreak notorious acts, acts which would unsettle the government, proving that Emperor Justin and Empress Lupicina were too old, too feeble, and incapable of continuing to rule.  Then Justinian could step-in, take over, and provide needed stability and decisiveness.

 Justinian, because of his position of power – that of Patrician and heir-apparent – would provide protection from the city magistrates for the Blue Faction’s help.  And not only protection, but also financial support and, after his goal was achieved, cash payoffs to those of great boldness.

Violence became the means that justified the end.  Urban muggings, robberies, and murders occurred all over the city.  The magistrates looked the other way, because they knew who was behind it, and who their protector was.  So they did what was politically and personally prudent – nothing.

In the end, though, Justinian’s conspiracy backfired on him.  Rather than destabilizing the government, it cut a chasm between him and the magistrates.  

Lupicina died in 523.  After a suitable period of grief and sympathy had passed, Justinian presented Emperor Justin with an amended marriage law, which, by coincidence, Justinian had available.  Emperor Justin sanctioned the amendment.

The amended marriage law did not refer to Theodora by name, but it may as well have.  For it stated that any reformed actress who was presently living an honorable life could marry a man of high-rank, especially if she was repentant and had the title of Patrician.  The approval of this law by Emperor Justin gave Theodora immediate social acceptance.  She was in like flint.  Like the worm, which becomes a butterfly, Theodora transfigured from notorious to illustrious in the twinkling of an eye.

Planning the forthcoming wedding now occupied Theodora’s time and talents.  On an unknown day in an unknown month, at an unknown location, in 525, the wedding occurred.  What is known was that Theodora wore a white gown with a veil.  Rings were exchanged, vows taken, pledges given, and wine drunk from the unity cup by husband and wife.   

Two years later, Emperor Justin, now eighty years old and suffering the ravages of gangrene in one leg, decided he’d had enough.  He vacated his throne in 527, giving his royal seat over to Justinian.  Three months later, on August 1, 527, the retired Emperor Justin died, poisoned by his infected blood. 

Having “received imperial power,” supposedly from God, Justinian immediately began persecuting anyone who was not an orthodox Christian.  Jews, Pagans, Manicheans, and Samaritans suffered for their faith, or according to Justinian, their lack of correct faith.  Along with religious persecution, a cloak of graft and corruption covered many of Justinian’s government officials.  The people of Constantinople, and especially the two primary politial parties, the Greens and the Blues, confronted Justinian in the Hippodrome with the charges of corruption.  Justinian refused to respond, and walked out.

Angered by such arrogant disdain, the general populace rioted, setting fire to public buildings, looting, fighting.  Justinian called out the military to put down the riots.  Unfortunately, on the way to the city center the soldiers encountered a group of priests who were trying to act as peacemakers, urging the people to stop their rioting.  The soldiers, believing the priests were obstructing lawful military action against rebels, attacked the priests and trampled them down.  This act infuriated the rebels, who went crazy, driving the soldiers back to their barracks.