Post-classical history

Women in Purple: Rulers of Medieval Byzantium

Women in Purple: Rulers of Medieval Byzantium

In the eighth and ninth centuries, three Byzantine empresses-Irene, Euphrosyne, and Theodora-changed history. Their combined efforts restored the veneration of icons, saving Byzantium from a purely symbolic and decorative art and ensuring its influence for centuries to come.

In this exhilarating and highly entertaining account, one of the foremost historians of the medieval period tells the story of how these fascinating women exercised imperial sovereignty with consummate skill and sometimes ruthless tactics. Though they gained access to the all-pervasive authority of the Byzantine ruling dynasty through marriage, all three continued to wear the imperial purple and wield tremendous power as widows. From Constantinople, their own Queen City, the empresses undermined competitors and governed like men. They conducted diplomacy across the known world, negotiating with the likes of Charlemagne, Roman popes, and the great Arab caliph Harun al Rashid.

Vehemently rejecting the ban on holy images instituted by their male relatives, Irene and Theodora used craft and power to reverse the official iconoclasm and restore icons to their place of adoration in the Eastern Church. In so doing, they profoundly altered the course of history. The art-and not only the art-of Byzantium, of Islam, and of the West would have been very different without them.

As Judith Herrin traces the surviving evidence, she evokes the complex and deeply religious world of Constantinople in the aftermath of Arab conquest. She brings to life its monuments and palaces, its court ceremonies and rituals, the role of eunuchs (the "third sex"), bride shows, and the influence of warring monks and patriarchs. Based on new research and written for a general audience, Women in Purple reshapes our understanding of an empire that lasted a thousand years and splashes fresh light on the relationship of women to power.

Introduction: A Different History of Byzantium

I - Foundations of Byzantium

Chapter 1. The City of Constantine

Chapter 2. Constantinople, the Largest City in Christendom

Chapter 3. The East Roman Empire

Chapter 4. Greek Orthodoxy

Chapter 5. The Church of Hagia Sophia

Chapter 6. The Ravenna Mosaics

Chapter 7. Roman Law

II - The Transition from Ancient to Medieval

Chapter 8. The Bulwark Against Islam

Chapter 9. Icons, a New Christian Art Form

Chapter 10. Iconoclasm and Icon Veneration

Chapter 11. A Literate and Articulate Society

Chapter 12. Saints Cyril and Methodios, ‘Apostles to the Slavs’

III - Byzantium Becomes a Medieval State

Chapter 13. Greek Fire

Chapter 14. The Byzantine Economy

Chapter 15. Eunuchs

Chapter 16. The Imperial Court

Chapter 17. Imperial Children, ‘Born in the Purple’

Chapter 18. Mount Athos

Chapter 19. Venice and the Fork

Chapter 20. Basil II, ‘The Bulgar-Slayer’

Chapter 21. Eleventh-Century Crisis

Chapter 22. Anna Komnene

Chapter 23. A Cosmopolitan Society

IV - Varieties of Byzantium

Chapter 24. The Fulcrum of the Crusades

Chapter 25. The Towers of Trebizond, Arta, Nicaea and Thessalonike

Chapter 26. Rebels and Patrons

Chapter 27. ‘Better the Turkish Turban than the Papal Tiara’

Chapter 28. The Siege of 1453

Conclusion: The Greatness and Legacy of Byzantium

Further Reading

List of Emperors Named in the Text