Theodora Palaiologina

1. Biography

Theodora Palaiologina was the daughter of Eudokia Angelina and John Doukas, son of the sebastokrator Isaac Doukas (who was brother of John III Doukas Vatatzes, the empreror of the byzantine empire of Nicaea (1222-1254)). Theodora is thought to have been born in c. 1240.1 As her father died early, Theodora was an only child. In 1253/4 the Emperor John III Doukas Vatatzes, brother of her grandfather from her father’s side, “who loved her as his own daughter”,2 married her with the then thirty-year old Michael Palaiologos, already a prominent general, the later emperor Michael VIII (Nicaea/Constantinople 1258-1261/1261-1282). From this marriage to Michael Theodora had seven children: Manuel (died at an early age), Andronikos, the later Andronikos II (1282-1328), Constantine, Theodore, Eirene, Anna and Eudokia.

2. Empress

In the year 1258, soon after the death of Theodore II Laskaris (1254-1258), Michael Palaiologos came to power in the Empire of Nicaea, at start as a de facto, soon becoming a de iure ruler. After January 1, 12593 Michael and Theodora were crowned in Nicaea. In August of 1261 the couple entered the recently recaptured Constantinople, where Michael was crowned anew in the Hagia Sophia, possibly early in the fall of the same year, perhaps together with Theodora.4 During that same fall Constantine was born, receiving the sobriquet Porphyrogenitos (i.e. the Purple-born). During the same year the marriage of the imperial couple entered a crisis over the emperor's affair to Anna-Constantia Hohenstaufen. Michael VIII was contemplating divorcing Theodora and marrying Anna Hohenstaufen, on the pretence of political necessity, but the patriarch Arsenios Autoreianos (1254-1259, 1261-1265) threatened him with excommunication in case he went on with his plans, thus Michael was forced to retreat.

We have some evidence that indicate Theodora was political active during Michael’s reign (1259-1282); these pertain to certain events. We know she took an active part in the effort to arrange the marriage of her daughter Anna to Milutin,5 the son of the Serbian king Stefan Uroš I/Simon (1243-1276/1280). In 1279 Michael VIII asked Theodora’s advice on the marriage of their daughter Eirene to the Bulgarian tsar John III Asen (1279-1280). Pachymeres also reports certain occasions in which the empress interceded on behalf of persons who had invited the emperor’s disfavour, managing to alleviate their punishment (e.g. the cases of Kaloeidas, Michael Strategopoulos).6

3. Devotion and care for the monasteries

According to George Akropolites, Eudokia Angelina, Theodora’s mother, had inspired in her a deep devoutness.7 As an empress, Theodora remained true to the ideals of her youth. She expressed her devotion through her constant care and large donations to monasteries, especially to the monastery of Panagia Lembiotissa close to Smyrna, and to the monastery of St John the Theologian on the isle of Patmos. Today, apart from some testimonies on her now lost orismoi, some original documents of hers have been also preserved.8 We can gather that she took decisions in her own right and issued formal orismoi which she implemented through her personal employees, sometimes acting completely independently from her emperor-husband. In her field of activity she was energetic and dynamic. The documents issued in her name are public legal documents, enjoying validity on a par with those issued by co-emperors.9 There is also the impression that during Michael VIII’s rule the entire island of Kos, or at least a large part of it, belonged exclusively to Empress Theodora.10

With the respect to Michael’s pro-union policy, there is indirect evidence that Theodora, as a loyal spouse, supported her husband’s choices, although in fact she was sympathetic to the cause of the anti-unionists.11 Her Orthodox beliefs were expressed more openly after Michael’s death.

4. Widowhood

Following Michael VIII’s death (in December 1282), his son and heir Andronikos II, dramatically reversed his father religious policy and repudiated the Union of the Churches. This fact posed a dilemma for Theodora, for she was torn between the memory of the husband and her desire to fall in line with her son’s stance, which she considered proper. Theodora finally renounced the Union officially in the Council of 1283 at Vlachernai with the issue of a chrysobull.12 In return, the clergy started commemorating again her name in the liturgies. This act of hers invited the admiration of later anti-unionist writers; John Eugenikos went as far as calling her a ‘saint’ and believed that it was she who influenced Andronikos II into reversing his father’s policy.13 It appears, however, that Theodora generally agreed with her son’s political choices, although there are cases where her overtures to her son proved fruitless, as in the case of the Porphyrogenitos Constantine Palaiologos, of whom Andronikos was wary and thus kept him into a confinement of sorts.

Her initiatives and the care she exhibited for the renovation and restoration of monasteries and other establishments of the capital did not diminish during her widowhood. We should note that during this period we have the restoration of the Monastery of Livos (i.e. Lips monastery founded in the 10th century - modern Fenari Isa Camii) and the foundation of a nunnery dedicated to the Virgin Mary. She also composed a new typikon, while she added to the monastery complex another church, dedicated to St John the Baptist, as well as a small hospital. Theodora destined the monastery as a resting place for her and the Palaiologoi family in general. Apart from this, Theodora contributed to the restoration of the monastery of Ss Cosmas and Damian, as well as of the church of the Panagia at Mikra Romaiou.

Theodora Palaiologina fell ill in 1303 and died on February 25 of that same year.14 Before her death she became a nun, taking on the name Eugenia.15 Andronikos II Palaiologos (1282-1328) organized a grand funeral for her in the new church of St John the Baptist. Theodora’s monody was composed by Theodore Metochites.16

1. In Prosopographisches Lexikon der Palaiologenzeit, IX (Wien 1989), no. 21380, p. 71, there is no mention of her date of birth. Talbot, A.M. “Empress Theodora Palaiologina, Wife of Michael VIII”, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 46 (1992) [=Homo Byzantinus: Papers in Honor of Alexander Kazhdan], p. 295, gives an approximative date of c.1240, which is more or less accepted.

2. Grégoire, Η., “Imperatoris Michaelis Palaeologi de Vita sua”, Byzantion 29-30 (1959-1960), p. 451.

3. Wirth, P., “Die Begrundung der Kaisermacht Michaels VIII. Palaiologos”, Jahrbuch der osterreichischen Byzantinistik 10 (1961), pp. 87-89, 91.

4. Geanakoplos, D.J., Emperor Michael Palaeologus and the West, 1258-1282: A Study in Byzantine-Latin Relations (Cambridge, Mass., 1959; repr. Hamden 1973), p. 121.

5. Γεωργίου Παχυμέρη, Συγγραφικαί ιστορίαι, ed. Failler, Α., Georges Pachymérès rélations historiques II (Paris 1984), p. 453. Cf. Failler, Α., “Le projet de manage d'Anna Palailogina avec Milutin de Serbie”, Rivista di Studi Bizantini e Slavi 1. (=Miscellanea Agostino Pertusi 1 Bologna 1981), pp. 239-249, and Maksimović, Lj., Vizantijski izvori za istoriju naroda Jugoslavije, VI ( Beograd 1986), pp. 22-30.

6. See Γεωργίου Παχυμέρη, Συγγραφικαί ιστορίαι, ed. Failler, Α., Georges Pachymérès rélations historiques, II (Paris 1984), p. 621 on Kaloeidas and p. 617 on Michael Strategopoulos.

7. Γεωργίου του Ακροπολίτου του μεγάλου λογοθέτου χρονική συγγραφή, A. Heisenberg, Georgii Acropolitae Opera I (Lipsiae 1903, ) p. 101.

8. The archives of the monastery of Patmos contain documents signed by Empress Theodora dating to between 1259 and 1269; these pertain to the concession of the monastery of Christ on Cos to the monastery of Patmos as a metochi (dependency); see Βρανούση, Ε., Βυζαντινά Έγγραφα της Μονής Πάτμου Α  Αυτοκρατορικά (Αθήνα 1980), documents nos. 31, 36.

9. All these documents were the subject of a separate study; see Barisio, F., “Povelje vizantijskih carica”, Zbornik radova Vizantoloskog instituta 13 (1971), pp. 146-158.

10. Μ. Νυσταζοπούλου-Πελεκίδου (ed.) Βυζαντινά Έγγραφα της Μονής Πάτμου Β': Δημοσίων λειτουργών (Αθήνα 1980), document no. 70, note 1.

11. Talbot, Α-.Μ., “Empress Theodora Palaiologina, Wife of Michael Vni”, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 46 (1992) [=Homo Byzantinus: Papers in Honor of Alexander Kazhdan], p. 297.

12. Petrides, S., “Chrysobulle de l’ imperatrice Theodora (1283)”, Échos d'Orient 14 (1911), p. 26.

13. Λάμπρος, Σπ., Παλαιολόγεια και Πελοποννησιακά Α' (Αθήνα 1912), p. 130.

14. Some of the issues pertaining to the dating have been solved by Α. Failler, “Chronologie et composition dans l' Histoire de Georges Pachymérès”, Revue des Études Byzantines 48 (1990), p. 51, note 177.

15. Gouillard, J., "Le Synodicon de l'orthodoxie", Travaux et Mémoires 2 (1967), p. 101, 864.

16. As far as we know, this monody has not been published and is kept in Wien (gr. 95, fols. 179r-189r).