The Empress Sophia: Authority and Image in an Era of Conflict

  • Anne McClanan
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Scholarship has largely bypassed the Empress Sophia, the wife of Justinian’s successor, the Emperor Justin II. Although the most basic communication of the imperial house—the crudely struck bronze coins that circulated throughout the Empire—presented her with unprecedented force and distinction, these modest units lack the glamour of the lavish mosaics in the Church of San Vitale. Likewise the reign of Justin II and Sophia did not have the mixed blessing of a historian of genius such as Prokopios; their era was instead chronicled by an array of uninspiring courtiers such as Corippus. A far-flung assembly of other authors, such as John of Ephesus in the eastern end of the empire and Gregory of Tours remote in the west, contribute as well to our conception of the period. These writers mete out the basic outline of this reign, but our understanding lacks the vividness and depth of our sense of the Justinianic era. Averil Cameron, in pendant articles appearing in the journal Byzantion, produced the main overview, and Lynda Garland offers some coverage of the Empress Sophia, who has otherwise been neglected in scholarship to a surprising extent given her preeminence in the sixth century.1


Imperial Image Sixth Century Imperial Couple Imperial Ivory Imperial House 
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© Anne McClanan 2002

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