The Female Desire for Imperial Authority in Byzantium: The Case of Zoe and Theodora

The Female Desire for Imperial Authority in Byzantium: The Case of Zoe and Theodora

By Sanja Mesanovic

Toleration and Repression in the Middle Ages (2002)

Introduction: Female desire for imperial power was present during the entire Byzantine era It was manifested in a variety of forms by women close to emperors, who were their mothers, sisters, daughters or even mistresses. In the 11th and 12th centuries the presence of strong women from the imperial family in political life was particulary significant and often crucial. Such was the case of Zoe and Theodora, the women from the Doukas family and of the Comnenian court. On this occasion, we intend to focus on Zoe and Theodora and the aspect of their mutual relationship, during the years of their political engagement.

After the death of their father, Constantine VIII, Zoe and Theodora became central political figures due to their non-contested heritage to the throne in the society that, theoretically, was non-hereditary. Since the heirs were women, this non-contested right to the throne of Zoe and Theodora created an ideological gap. However, the practical Byzantines found the solution according to which the elder sister, Zoe became a legitimazer of the mail rulers by marriages or adoption. But this didn’t give the so much wanted political stability to the Byzantine state. One of the reasons for this was the very same Zoe and Theodora. They fougth one another driven by their desire for imperial authority and supremacy, which each of them expressed in a different way.

Click here to read/download this article (PDF file, starting on page 217)

Sign up to get a Weekly Email from

* indicates required

medievalverse magazine