Women of power

Mosaics can teach us a lot about history.


Helena, or Saint Helena (Latin: Flavia Iulia Helena Augusta; c. 250 – c. 330), was an Empress of the Roman Empire, and mother of Emperor Constantine the Great. Born the lowest of commoners, possibly in Drepana, Bithynia in Asia Minor, she became the consort of the future Roman Emperor Constantius Chlorus (reigned 293–306) and the mother of the future Emperor Constantine the Great who reigned 31 years from 306 to 337.

Women of Power : Empress Helena

This gorgeous portrait of Helena decorates the Cathedral of Aleksander Nevski in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Helena ranks as an important figure in the history of Christianity and of the world due to her influence on her son Constantine who converted to Christianity in 312 after miraculously winning the battle of the Milvian bridge. In her final years, she made a religious tour of Syria Palaestina and Jerusalem, during which she allegedly discovered the True Cross. The Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church, and the Anglican Communion revere her as a saint.


Theodora (c. 500 – 28 June 548) was empress of the Eastern Roman Empire by marriage to Emperor Justinian I who reigned from 527 to 565. Like Helena, Theodora came from a humble background. Described by Procopius of Cesarea  as an actress and prostitute while still young, leading an unconventional life that included giving birth to at least one child out of wedlock, her marriage to Justinian made of her the most powerful woman in Byzantine history.

Women of power - Empress Theodora

The best-known representation of Theodora is this mosaic portrait in the Basilic of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy.

Theodora’s intelligence and political acumen made her Justinian’s most trusted adviser and enabled her to use the power and influence of her office to promote religious and social policies she favoured. She is remembered as one of the first rulers to recognize the rights of women, passing strict laws to prohibit the traffic of young girls and altering divorce laws to give greater benefits to women.

She is a saint of the Eastern Orthodox Church.


women of power : empresses Helena and Theodora

Helena on the left and Theodora on the right, Helena died in 330 AD, 170 years before Theodora was born. 13 centuries separate the two portraits ! Both women raised from very humble origins to become Roman Empresses of great power and influence.

Was social mobility greater 1700 years ago ? Actresses, models or singers still marry modern statesmen. What is their influence on our world ?

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