Theodora of the Khazars (fl. 700s)

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Theodora of the Khazars (fl. 700s)

Byzantine empress. Name variations: Theodoar. Flourished in the 700s; sister of the khagan of the Khazars; second wife of Justinian II Rhinotmetos, Byzantine emperor (r. 685–695 and 705–711).

When Theodora of the Khazars became a Byzantine empress around 705 as the wife of Justinian II, she was Byzantium's first empress who hailed from a barbarian tribe outside the frontiers of the empire. Her husband Justinian twice ruled Byzantium, the first time without her. After coming to the throne at 16, he fell from power in a sudden coup d'etat, and Leontios became his successor. "Since no man with a serious physical defect was eligible to reign," notes Byzantine Portraits, Leontios had Justinian's nose cut off (a penalty known as rhinokopia). Banished to Cherson on the Black Sea, Justinian made his way to the barbarian tribe called the Khazars. He was well-received by the tribe's khagan, who provided his own sister to Justinian as a wife. She received the name Theodora from her new husband, "in memory of the first Justinian's empress" (Theodora , c. 500–548).

Although the khagan pledged to help Justinian take back the empire, the promise of a reward for the ex-emperor led to the khagan's plans to betray him. It was Theodora of the Khazars who, upon hearing of the plan, warned Justinian, and her husband escaped the area. With aid from allies, in 705 Justinian marched on Constantinople, and Tiberius Apsimar, the reigning emperor, fled. Despite his disfigurement, Justinian resumed the throne, and it is said that a nose made of pure gold was worn by him to disguise the absence of his own. Theodora of the Khazars joined him in Byzantium as empress, for the two shared a deep devotion.


Head, Constance. Imperial Byzantine Portraits. New Rochelle, NY: Caratzas Brothers, 1982.

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