|one of these could be yours!|
Today we have author-friend Stephanie Thornton to talk a little bit about the state of religion in the Byzantine Empire. Her debut, THE SECRET HISTORY: A Novel of Empress Theodora, is available now, and let me tell you -- Stephanie's talent for completely capturing the atmosphere and culture of times gone by makes for a stunning reading experience.
Read her post and leave a comment below before 11pm Eastern on July 22nd to enter to win a copy of Stephanie's book AND a Byzantine Coin! I'll draw a name, and post it here on Tuesday the 23rd, so be sure to check back!
One of the strangest things to wrap my mind around when I started writing The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora, was the strange state of religion during Theodora’s time. I say strange because one would think that 6th century Constantinople was very Christian—after all, Constantine the Great had adopted the Christian cross as his standard and won the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312 CE—but although the Roman empire was decidedly Christian, pagan influences in art and culture still abounded.
One of my favorite examples of this comes from the mosaics of the ancient church in Qsar-Libya. The city was built by Justinian for Theodora, but some of the church’s mosaics are decidedly pagan, including a satyr and one of Bacchus indulging in his favorite pastime: drinking wine.
I also encountered the pagan art influences firsthand when I went to the mosaic museum in Constantinople and had a chance to see the mosaics Theodora would actually have walked on. (Which was amazing, by the way). Alongside violent hunting scenes were Bellerophon fighting the Chimera, griffins, and Dionysus riding on Pan’s shoulders. Justinian and Theodora might have seen these on their way to the grand Hagia Sophia church to worship, and of course, they wouldn’t have batted an eye.
All that to say, pagans were looked down upon and even persecuted in the Eastern Roman (or as we call it today, Byzantine) empire. Theodora’s arch-nemesis, John the Cappadocian, was often slandered as a pagan, and Procopius, the eminent historian during Theodora’s reign, claimed that her best friend Antonina came from a family who consorted with sorcerers (which I was able to have some fun with). Essentially, the world Theodora lived in was still in flux religiously, which made it all the more interesting to study!
More About Stephanie
Stephanie Thornton is a writer and history teacher who has been obsessed with infamous women from ancient history since she was twelve. She lives with her husband and daughter in Alaska, where she is at work on her next novel.
Always an interesting thing to look at since history teaches Rome just shifted to Christianity overnight because an Emperor changed religions on his deathbed just because Christianity might be right.ReplyDelete
I think I was taught that that it changed overnight because an emperor painted crosses on his shields but, yeah, both total oversimplifications of a complex issue.Delete
Very interesting! I focus on Celtic history more, but the same thing can be said there. Christianity took on many forms and adopted many different aspects of pagan religions. =)ReplyDelete
It's funny how fringe elements of the Church are now going "YOGA IS EVIL YOU PEOPLE USING IT ARE COURTING WITH THE DEVIL AND PAGANS AND STOP THAT AT ONCE!" after the church has stolen so much already that really one more form of meditation/prayer/exercise is a drop in the bucket.Delete
How interesting! The state of flux between religions at the time sounds like a really interesting area to study and a great setting to be able to write in.ReplyDelete
Agreed! And I think Stephanie illustrates this really well with one of her secondary characters -- I will not say which!Delete
Cool! Byzantine regions are an area I don't know a lot about, but I'm slowly working to level up.ReplyDelete
Nergh. Which is cooler? Awesome book? Or Awesome ancient coin?
I am totally with you on not being sure which would be awesomer to win! 150% THERE.Delete
Oooh, I want to win her book and the ancient coin! Thanks for the giveaway!ReplyDelete
I'm guessing this might be a US only giveaway, but still, I had to have a go!ReplyDelete
I've always been fascinated by the Roman Empresses. So many of them seem to have been incredibly clever, powerful, amazing women. Even the ones you don't hear about often usually have a good story or three behind them.
Theodora isn't one I've really looked into before, but I'll definitely have to give her a look!
Gah. I do not know for sure and did not think of that. Let me get a ruling from Stephanie! But yes! Totally agreed about the Roman Empresses!Delete
I heard back from Stephanie -- she isn't sure customs will let the coin through, so if an international person wins, they will be winning the BOOK only.Delete
Thanks so much for having me on your blog today, Amalia!ReplyDelete
I love all the comments regarding the mixing of ancient religions. It's totally weird to think of them all layered on top of each other, although that really was the case sometimes. While researching my book on Genghis Khan's women I recently learned that a couple of his daughter-in-laws were Nestorian Christians, while those he conquered were shamanistic, Christian, Muslim, and Buddhists. Go figure!
This topic ALSO sounds interesting!Delete
Clearly, I should further pursue your work.
Happy to have you, always, Stephanie! I can't wait for the Genghis Khan book!!Delete
As a long-time fan of Theodora, I am thrilled that Stephanie wrote this book!ReplyDelete
I went to the church of S. Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, a few years ago, and I have a huge photo of the Theodora mosaic from there (and the Justinian one, too
I've got a whole bookshelf of books on Byzantium, and this is going to make me re-read them.
And don't even get me started on Genghis Khan. OK, I'm started, so here goes. A few years ago I went to a Genghis Khan exhibit at the Royal British Columbia museum. I saw his death mask, I think. I bought a small replica of something like that, anyway.
ANYWAY. At that exhibit there was a contest to win a REAL YURT. I was strangely devastated when I didn't win it.
I hope I am not, again, strangely devastated by the result of this Theordora contest. *glinty eye*
Genghis Khan's death mask?! I am SO jealous! And I have a friend trying to persuade me to move into a yurt. I have a feeling it would be a little chilly in the winter though.ReplyDelete
Also, I love S. Vitale. I got my husband totally lost driving in Ravenna while we tried to find it, but it was totally worth it. And I just found out I missed a portrait of Theodora in Rome--it's been painted over to depict the Virgin Mary, which I think Theodora would have found humorous. I'll just have to go back to Rome to see it!