Cosmopolitan Women In The Middle Ages

1064 Words 5 Pages
The life of cosmopolitan women in late-antiquity has remained something of an enigma to scholars. Perceptions of general decadence and moral impoverishment date back to the early research of historians like Edward Gibbon, who argued that a loss of virtue-ethics plagued the secular government. Authors of the 5th and 6th centuries, like Procopius and St. Augustine, offer little to undermine that notion. One would be quick to assume that the general decline in quality of life in the late Eastern-Roman world would have a detrimental effect on the rights of women. However, contemporary research indicates that the opposite was true. Women in Constantinople during late-antiquity managed to not only retain the social gains made by the rise of Christianity, …show more content…
His preoccupation with the lives of certain women implies a series of political gains antithetical to traditional practice, at least in the secular orders. Further civil shifts in the ‘Corpus Juris Civilis’, Justinian I’s reform of the Roman legal code, are telling. Greater legal privileges are granted to women throughout the Eastern Roman Empire, including protections against rape. Developments in the ecclesiastic orders imply a positive shift for women. Female deacons were a noted contingent of Constantinople’s flagship basilica, the Hagia Sophia -- accounting for at least a third of the staff. Across the empire women possessed sweeping authority over church conduct, often managing or co-managing important Catholic monasteries and churches. This power was far from absolute -- or even at parity -- with the male patriarchy, but it was a historical apogee for equitability within the Roman …show more content…
It is likely Antonina carried out at least one extramarital affair and unjustly tortured several family members (in collusion with Theodora no less). However, a holistic approach to her life quickly reveals additional sources of discomfort for the Roman historian. Antonina accompanied Belisarius on campaign throughout the Middle-East, North Africa, and Italy. She coordinated logistics, raised levies and acted as agent de jure for Theodora (and given Justinian’s discomfort of Belisarius’ military acumen and popularity, likely acted as the Imperial agent on campaign). None of this appeals to Procopius, who also served with Belisarius. He goes as far as to claim that Antonina’s powers of persuasion were the by-product of sorcery. Procopius’ portrayal of Theodora is even less generous. The Empress of ‘The Secret History’ is viewed as an enemy of traditional values. All of the legal, social, political, and architectural achievements attributed to her are ignored. The sole accomplishment for which she is given credit, her appeal to Justinian to suppress the Nika Revolt, is written in Greek to structurally resemble the appeals of Clytemnestra in the Oresteia; a nasty allusion if there ever was

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