Empress Theodora and the Medieval Origins of Women’s Rights

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There are many currents that flow into the story of women’s rights. Many cultures from early Judaism to Ancient Greece are recognized for their egalitarian traditions, and we have countless examples of great women in power—from Pharaoh Hatsheput to Queen Victoria to Eleanor Roosevelt.

But one woman—Empress Theodora— achieved such a decisive victory for women in her time that her relative obscurity is astounding.  

More than fifteen hundred years ago, Empress Theodora helped influence sweeping legal reforms known as the Corpus Juris Civilis—which included a wave of specific rights for women. Historians credit this body of Roman law as providing some foundational groundwork to the Western legal tradition.

Therefore, Empress Theodora made direct contributions to a legal code that influenced the American Constitution, English common law and even modern…

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