Empress of the Romans
|Byzantine co-empress |
|Reign||842 – c. 856|
(now Istanbul, Turkey)
|Died||c. 870 (aged c. 39)|
Thekla (Greek: Θέκλα; c. 831 – c. 870), latinized as Thecla, was a princess of the Amorian dynasty of the Byzantine Empire. The daughter and eldest child of Byzantine emperor Theophilos and empress Theodora, she was proclaimed Augusta in the late 830s. After Theophilos's death in 842 and her mother becoming regent for Thekla's younger brother Michael III, Thekla was associated with the regime as co-empress.
Thekla was deposed by Michael III either alongside her mother in 856 or some time before and consigned to convent in Gastria. Some time later, she allegedly returned to imperial affairs and became the mistress of Michael III's friend and co-emperor Basil I. After Basil murdered Michael and took power as the only emperor for himself, Thekla was neglected as his mistress and she instead took another lover, John Neatokometes. Once Basil found out about the affair, Thekla fell out of favor, being beaten and having her property confiscated. She died shortly thereafter.
Thekla was born c. 831 as the eldest child of Byzantine emperor Theophilos and empress Theodora. She was named after Theophilos's mother, Thekla. Thekla had six younger siblings; the four sisters Anna, Anastasia, Pulcheria and Maria and the two brothers Constantine and Michael. Constantine, who shortly after birth had been proclaimed co-emperor by their father, drowned in a palace cistern at the age of two. Theophilos took great pride in his daughters. In the 830s, the eldest sisters Thekla, Anna and Anastasia were all proclaimed Augustae, an event commemorated through the issue of an unusual set of coins that depicted Theophilos, Theodora and Thekla on one side and Anna and Anastasia on the other. Although Theophilos was a staunch iconoclast, and thus opposed the veneration of icons, Thekla was taught to venerate them in secret by her mother and Theophilos's step-mother Euphrosyne. Shortly before his death, Theophilos worked to betrothe Thekla to Louis II, the heir to the Carolingian Empire, arranged to unite the two empires against the threat faced by continued Arab invasions. Such a match would also have been advantageous for Louis II's father Lothair I, who was engaged in civil war against his brothers. Because of Lothair's defeat at the Battle of Fontenoy in 841 and Theophilos's death in 842, the marriage never happened.
After Theophilos's death on 20 January 842, empress Theodora became regent for Thekla's young brother Michael III. In practical terms, Theodora ruled in her own right and she is often recognized as an empress regnant by modern scholars. Coins issued in the first year of Theodora's reign depict Theodora alone on the obverse and Michael III together with Thekla on the reverse. The only one of the three given a title is Theodora (as Theodora despoina). Given that Thekla is not only depicted on the coins at all, but also as larger than Michael, they indicate her association with imperial power as co-empress. An imperial seal, also from Theodora's early reign, titles not only Michael but also Theodora and Thekla as "Emperors of the Romans". This may suggest that Theodora viewed her daughter, just as she did her son, as a potential future heir.
On 15 March 856, Theodora's reign officially came to an end with Michael III being proclaimed sole emperor. In 857 or 858 Theodora was expelled from the imperial palace and confined to a convent in Gastria. Thekla and the other sisters were either expelled and placed in the same convent at the same time, or had already been there for some time. Theodora may have been released from the convent around 863. According to the tradition of Symeon Logothete, Thekla was also released and used by Michael III to attempt to make political arrangements. He states that in around 865, Michael had married his long-time lover Eudokia Ingerina to his friend and co-emperor Basil I, in order to mask their continued relationship. Some believe Michael did so after impregnating Eudokia, to ensure that the child would be born legitimate. However, Symeon's neutrality is disputed, and other contemporary sources do not speak of this conspiracy, leading several prominent Byzantists, such as Ostrogorsky and Adontz to dismiss this narrative.
According to Symeon, Michael also offered Thekla to Basil as a mistress, perhaps to keep his attention away from Eudokia, a plan which Thekla had allegedly consented to. Thus Thekla, according to Symeon's narrative, in early 866 and aged about 35, became Basil's mistress. Perhaps she resented having been unmarried for so long, perhaps Basil's imposing physical stature was impressive, or perhaps she became his mistress for political gain. Symeon further writes that after Basil murdered Michael III and seized power for himself, Thekla became neglected and took another lover, John Neatokometes. When Basil found out about the affair, he had John beaten and consigned to a monastery. Thekla was then also beaten and her considerable riches were confiscated. According to Symeon, she died bedridden soon thereafter, c. 870.