Theodora of Rome (c. 875–c. 925)

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Theodora of Rome (c. 875–c. 925)

Roman woman who was influential in Italy and in Papal affairs. Name variations: Theodora the Elder; Theodora I the Elder of Rome; Theodora III; Theodora Crescentii; Theodora Crescentii the Elder; Theodora the Senatrix. Probably born in or near Rome around 875; died probably in or near Rome around 925; married Theophylactus from Tusculum (died c. 925), also known as Theophylact Crescentii and Theophylacte, governor of the Roman senate; children: Marozia Crescentii (885–938); Theodora the Younger (c. 900–950).

Theodora of Rome, probably born in or near Rome around 875, was the wife and political ally of Theophylacte from Tusculum, one of the most prominent Roman officials of his generation. Theophylacte held a number of important civic posts during his career, among them the offices of consul and vestararius. Theodora shared the public spotlight with her husband as is proven by contemporary documents in which she is noted as a vestaratrix. It is likely that she was of noble birth.

In the early 10th century, Rome was ruled by popes. Although these maintained that all Christians were subject to their political as well as religious authority (in fact, they claimed to be caesar-popes), in reality this was far from the truth. Other contemporary authorities, both ecclesiastical and laic, frequently overshadowed papal supremacy in the religious field as well as the secular. At the time, any pope's authority was a function of the relative strength of the Papal States in central Italy, the relative strength of his standing within those states, and what little moral authority he could muster abroad. Italy itself was politically divided and the papacy's interests were ever challenged by regional rivalries, German monarchs, Byzantine emperors, and Islamic incursions. It was a time when popes were very secular princes of a very besieged realm at least as much as they were religious authorities, but then again, it was an age when secular and religious power went hand in hand. Roman politics were intense, in part because (at least in theory) the papacy did not constitute a hereditary dynasty: for Rome's aristocrats the politics of the papal curia and succession were of critical interest, for it meant everything that a pope and his primary officials were either friends or (preferably) family.

Theophylacte and Theodora were close political allies of Pope Sergius III (r. 904–911). In 897, amid the extreme partisanship which followed the pontificate of Formosus (r. 891–896), Sergius made a play for the papal throne. Pope Formosus had generated much controversy by his vitriolic attitude toward the Eastern Church and the doctrines of Photius, the patriarch of Constantinople, over the objections of the strong factions which did not relish a break with Byzantium. Sergius did not, however, obtain his ambition until 904 (after which he secured his power by murdering the former pope Leo V [r. 903] and the anti-pope Christopher in prison). Sergius attempted to restore relations with the east, but his reversal of Formosus' policies and his support for the fourth marriage of the Byzantine emperor Leo VI weakened the papacy's influence in the east, while also antagonizing rivalries in Rome. Chief among Sergius' political allies in his struggles against Formosus and during his pontificate were Theophylacte and Theodora, but the pope's relationship with their family was probably not entirely political. At least, later reports allege that Marozia Crescentii , the daughter of Theodora and her husband, was Sergius' mistress and that her son (Theodora's grandson, who later became Pope John XI [r. 931–935]) was fathered by the pontiff. In addition to this grandson, Theodora is known to have had two others by her daughter Theodora the Younger : Pope John XIII and the noble Crescentius (See Theodora the Younger). Sergius rewarded the services of Theophylacte and his family by establishing Theophylacte as the first count of Tusculum, a sensitive march territory to the north of Rome. After the death of Sergius, Theophylacte and Theodora were instrumental in elevating John X (r. 914–928) to the papacy. One tradition has it that John's accession was fostered primarily because of a sexual liaison he maintained with Theodora, but this is unlikely. Whatever the truth about his accession, John X was eventually deposed, having aroused the hostility of Theodora's daughter Marozia.

As noted, Theodora maintained a prominent public status at the side of her husband. In fact, hers may have been the dominant personality in their marriage, for contemporary and posthumous accounts mention her more frequently than her husband, and more than one reference to the "monarchy of Theodora" is known. As such, her character was either vilified or extolled, depending upon the politics of several historical commentators. Even her supporters, however, admit that Theodora was excessively ambitious and perhaps a bit too avaricious for beatification.

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Theodora of Rome (c. 875–c. 925)

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