The Empress in Late Antiquity and the Roman Origins of the Imperial Feminine
Master of Arts, Department of History, Simon Fraser University, Spring (2011)
This thesis looks at the position of the empress in Late Antique Byzantium, and seeks to trace the processes by which imperial women came to wield power, and actively participate in governance. In this context, Julio-Claudian and early imperial constructions of the imperial feminine help highlight the continuities and changes that shaped the political role of empresses. By using gender as an analytical tool this thesis explores the dynamic nature of the relationship between empress and emperor, and assists in the diachronic analysis of the various ways in which imperial power was articulated in literary and visual representations.
The empress’ position changed dramatically from the first days of imperial Rome in the first century BC, until the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 AD. In the field of Byzantine history, the active participation of the empress in the governance of the empire has been quieted as all focus has been on the role of the emperor. This is despite compelling evidence in Roman, and early Byzantine and later literary and visual representations of the imperial feminine and masculine that suggest our understanding of the relationship between the empress and the emperor must be revised.