Theodora (c.497-548) was born in Constantinople – modern day Istanbul. In her remarkable life she became probably the most powerful woman in Byzantine history. Little is known about her early years, and it is hard to sort fact from fiction in such a colourful story.
The daughter of a bear keeper at Constantinople’s hippodrome, Theodora was put to work there herself at an early age as an actress, dancer, mime artist and comedian. Performing for hundreds of spectators, by the age of 15 she was a successful performer. She was also (as most actresses of the time were) prostituted, and gave birth to her first child aged just 14.
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