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Theodora Raoulaina

Author(s) : Katsiampoura Yanna (8/1/2002)
Translation : Koutras Nikolaos

For citation: Katsiampoura Yanna, "Theodora Raoulaina",
Encyclopaedia of the Hellenic World, Asia Minor
URL: <http://www.ehw.gr/l.aspx?id=8479>

Θεοδώρα Ραούλαινα (5/22/2008 v.1) Theodora Raoulaina (5/22/2008 v.1) 

1. Biography

Theodora was born in around 1240 in the Empire of Nicaea. She was the daughter of the megas domestikos John Kantakouzenos and Eirene Palaiologina, sister of the later Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos. She had three sisters, Anna, Maria and Eugenia. Her family belonged to the circle of the imperial court. Theodora would have received schooling at home, like all the aristocratic women of her time, probably by a private tutor.1

In 1256, following the recommendation of the Emperor Theodore II Laskaris, Theodora was married to the megas domestikos, megas stratopedarches and protovestiarios, Georgios Mouzalon; he originated from a rising family.2 Mouzalon, acting as a representative of the young king John IV Laskaris, was murdered in 1258 at the Sosandra monastery by foreign mercenaries hired by Michael Palaiologos.3 Following Mouzalon’s murder, Theodora was married to John Raoul Komnenos Doukas Aggelos Petralifas, member of a noble family, protovestiarios of Michael VIII Palaiologos. From that point on Theodora is called Kantakouzene Palaiologina Raoulaina and she receives the title of protovestiarissa (female for her husband's title). Exhibiting the vanity that often characterizes members of the Byzantine nobility, she calls herself “Theodora, niece of the Roman Emperor, Theodora of the Kantakouzenos, Angelos, Doukas, Komnenos, Palaiologos family, and spouse of John Raoul Doukas Komnenos, the protovestiarios”. From this marriage she had two daughters, Eirene Raoulaina, the later wife of Konstantinos Palaiologos Porphyrogennitos, and Anna.4 Theodora was widowed for the second time sometime before 1274, when her second husband, John Raoul, passed away. She died in 1300 at Constantinople, in the monastery of St Andrew.

2. Religious and political activity

Already before the death of her second husband, Theodora apparently had forged ties with prominent figures of Constantinople’s intellectual and political milieu, as indicated by the consolation letter addressed to her by Manuel Holobolos, an official (rhetor) in the Patriarchate.5 After her husband’s death, following the example of her mother who was already a nun under the name Eulogia, she too became a nun and her public presence grew more intense.

Theodora vehemently opposed Michael VIII Palaiologos’ policy, who sought to bring about the Union of the Western and Eastern Churches. After the Second Council in Lyons (1274), together with her mother, who was also strongly opposed to the union, they turned against the emperor seeking to obstruct the implementation of his policy.6 Manuel and Isaac Raoul, brothers of her late husband John, also figure prominently in this attempt. Because of their stance, Theodora and her mother were exiled to the fortress of St George, on the coasts of the Pontic Sea.

After Michael’s death (1282), his heir Andronikos II follows a completely different ecclesiastical policy, so Theodora and her mother return to Constantinople. Although she is said to have been a follower of the former patriarch Arsenios Autoreianos, her stance during the feud of the arseniatai was moderate and does not indicate any close ties to the arseniatai movement. Once again together with her mother, she participated in the Council of Adramyttion (1284), in an abortive attempt to alleviate the disputes. In the meantime she had forged close ties with the new patriarch Georgios Kyprios (Patriarch Gregorios, 1283-1289), and she is considered his spiritual child.

In around 1284, Theodora renovated the monastery of St Andrew in Krisei7 and turned it into a nunnery, where she spent the remainder of her life. At this monastery, in a chapel she founded for this purpose, she relocated the remains of Arsenios Autoreianos from Hagia Sophia, after obtaining the permission of Andronikos II. It was to this monastery (monydrion of Aristenon) to which Georgios Kyprios sought refuge after his resignation from the patriarchal throne (1289).

The last public action of Theodora Raoulaina is recorded in 1295 when, together with the brother of her former husband Isaac Raoul, they were sent by Andronikos II to negotiate with Alexios Philanthropenos, who had rebelled in Asia Minor, following his victorious campaigns against the Ottoman Turks. Unfortunately her mediation failed, and Philanthropenos, after the quenching of his rebellion, was blinded.

3. Intellectual activity

Theodora was a cultured woman of exceptional erudition, and this fact made her stand out among the other women of her time. Her learning and her interests were not restricted to a single field, but included the topics of liberal and religious education: she became a prominent copyist; she maintained a significant library; she was close to the most important figures of the letters and composed original works as well.

Theodora’s original work was the Vita of the brothers Theophanes and Theodore the «Graptoi»,8 confessors of the Church, who participated in the Iconoclasm dispute on the side of the iconophiles and were punished by Emperor Theophilos. Theodora probably studied their story either because of her synonymity to Empress Theodora, who annulled her husband’s iconoclastic policies, or because she had identified the Graptoi with her husband’s brothers Manuel and Isaac Raoul, who were persecuted for religious reasons (because they opposed the Union of the Churches).

This Vita betokens the author’s erudition and her intimate knowledge of Classical literature. The text contains allusions to Homer, Hesiod, Aeschylus and Euripides, Herodotus, Plato and Dionysius of Halicarnassus. She also often quotes passages from the Holy Scriptures, especially from the works of the prophets of the Old Testament, but she does not make any references to the Church fathers. She is also fond of using proverbs.

Her work as a copyist is also worthwhile. Several manuscripts are connected with her. One of this, in her own hand, contains the Orations of Aelius Aristides;9 nowadays this is kept in the Vatican Library (Cod. Vat. gr. 1899).10 A second manuscript attributed to her is a copy of Simplicius commentary on Aristotle’s Physics.11

Theodora possessed a large personal library, which she took with her in the monastery of St Andrew, where she enriched it further. Among other works, it contained a volume with Thucydides’ works,12 as well as a 12th-c. manuscript containing the four Gospels commented upon by Theophylaktos of Ochrid;13 this she donated to the monastery of Great Lavra on Mt Athos in 1300.14 She is also said to have been the sponsor of a book-copying atelier; 15 codices produced in it were found in her possession. This atelier was known as ‘Palaiologina’s atelier’.15

Theodora was recognized as a compeer in a circle which included the most radiant figures of the letters of her time, persons which she conversed and corresponded with. Her letters have not survived, although Maximos Planoudes speaks with admiration of her epistolary style. Planoudes, one of the scholars close to her, dedicated three letters to her, where she is described as “Theodora, most wise among women”.16 A letter of Planudes addressed to Theodora survives; its subject is the copy of a text on harmonics. Georgios Kyprios addressed several letters to her, while he also played a formative role in the development of her intellectual outlook. Kyprios was considered her spiritual father, and possibly through his help she became well-versed in Classical literature and widened her own intellectual interests. This is the answer to the question how could a woman with no higher education stand her own in a circle of intellectuals and, furthermore, produce original intellectual work. Two of the letters addressed to her by Nikephoros Choumnos also survive: he calls her “wise”.17 Finally, Gregoras describes her as a woman extremely devoted to education.18

1. There is no information on her tutor. This conclusion results from her later presence in the field of the letters.

2. This marriage is indicative of Theodore’s policy of placing in key positions, through marriages, members of the lesser nobility. See Failler, A. (ed.), Georges Pachymeres Relations historiques 1, CFHB 24/1-2 (Paris 1984),  p.  41.

3. According to Pachymeres’ account, Theodora was the only woman who did not panic and opposed the mercenaries, causing the wrath of her uncle Michael. See Failler, A. (ed.), Georges Pachymeres Relations historiques 1, CFHB 24/1-2 (Paris 1984), pp. 63-89.

4. Papadopoulos believes that Theodora had a son from her first marriage with Georgios Mouzalon, that is Theodore Mouzalon, grand logothetes of Andronikos II. See Papadopulos, A.Th., Versuch einer Genealogie der Palaiologen 1259-1453 (Munich 1938), p. 20.

5. See “Ἐπιστολή τοῦ σοφωτάτου ῥήτορος παραμυθητικὴ πρὸς τὴν πανευγενεστάτην κυρὰν Θεοδώραν Παλαιολογίναν τὴν Ραούλαιναν, ὅτε τὸν θάνατον ὑπεδέξατο ὁ εὐγενέστατος αὐτῆς ἀνήρ, ὁ πρωτοβεστιάριος”, in Παπαδόπουλος-Κεραμεύς, Α., Ιεροσολυμιτική Βιβλιοθήκη Ι, (St. Petersburg 1891-1899), p.  345.

6. On Theodora’s stance and the troubles it caused for Michael VIII Palaiologos with respect to the union of the Churches, see Loenertz, R.-J., "Memoire d'Ogier, protonotaire, pour Marco et Marchetto nonces de Michel VIII Paleologue aupres du Pape Nicholas III. 1278 printemps-été", Orientalia Christiana Periodica 31 (1965), pp. 374-408. Also, Nicol, D.M., "The Greeks and the union of the Churches: The report of Ogerius, protonotarius of Michael VIII Paleologos", in Nicol, D.M., Collected Studies I: Byzantium: its ecclesiastical history and relations with the western world (London 1972).

7. The monastery was dilapidated; it was dedicated to St Andrew of Crete, in the area of Constantinople called Krise. See Janin, R., La geographie ecclesiastique de I'empire byzantin 21 ( Paris 1969), pp. 28, 31.

8. See Papadopoulos-Kerameus, A. (ed.), Vita Ss Theophanis et Theodori, in Ανάλεκτα Ιεροσολυμιτικής Σταχνολογίας 4 (Jerusalem 1897), pp. 185-223, and 5 (Jerusalem 1898), pp. 397-399 [= Halkin, F., Bibliotheca Hagiographica Graeca 3, no. 1793).

9. Aelius Aristides (117 or 129 AD to 189) was an orator of the Second Sophistic. In the debate on the relative value of Philosophy vis-à-vis Rhetoric he sided against Plato, arguing for the primacy of Rhetoric. This position perhaps made him popular in Byzantium, where his works were copied and commented upon. He was widely used by the scholars of the Late Byzantine period, among others by Maximos Planudes, Thomas Magistors and Chortasmenos.

10. This manuscript contains the following versified inscription: “και την Αριστείδου δε τήνδε την βίβλον/ γραφείσαν ίσθι παρά της Θεοδώρας/ καλώς εις άκρον γνησίως εσκεμμένην/ Ρώμης νέας άνακτο(ς) αδελφής τέκος/ Καντακουζηνής εξ ανάκτων Αγγέλων/ Δουκών φυείσης Παλαιολόγων φύτλης/ Ραούλ δάμαρτος Δούκα χαριτωνύμου/ Κομνηνοφυούς πρωτοβεστιαρίου”. See Turyn, Α., Codices Graeci Vaticani saeculis XIII et XIV scripti annorumque notis instructi (Vatican City 1964), pp. 63-65; Λάμπρος, Σπ., «Σύμμικτα», Νέος Ελληνομνήμων 10 (1913), pp. 347-8; Λάμπρος, Σπ., «Επιγράμματα Μαξίμου Πλανούδη», Νέος Ελληνομνήμων 13 (1916), pp. 414-21.

11. Today this codex is kept in the Historical Museum of Moschow. For further reading see Fonkic, B.L., "Zametki o greceskich rukopisjach Sovietskich chranilisc", Vizantijskij Vremennik 36 (1974), p. 134.

12. Today this codex is kept in Munich (Monac. gr. 430).

13. The scholar-archbishop of Bulgaria in the late 11th century.

14. Today this codex is kept in Paris (Coislin. gr. 128).

15. This group contains seven Gospels, three Breviaries, three Psalters, a New Testament and a copy of the Acts of the Apostles. See Buchthal, Η. - Belting, Η., Patronage in Thirteenth-Century Constantinople: An Atelier of Late Byzantine Book Illumination and Calligraphy (Washington D.C. 1978),  pp.  100-121.

16. Λάμπρος, Σπ., «Επιγράμματα Μαξίμου Πλανούδη», Νέος Ελληνομνήμων 13 (1916), pp. 414-421.

17. Boissonade, F., Anecdota nova (1844), repr. Hildesheim 1962, pp. 91-92.

18. Schopen, L. (ed.), Nicephori Gregorae Byzantina Historia 1, CSHB (Bonn 1829), p. 178.


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