|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.