Theodora and Bardas - Byzantine Rulers
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Theodora and Bardas

gold coin with woman on it
Theodora

With Theophilus dead, in 842 AD the Empire again had a woman in charge. The Empress Theodora became regent for her two-year-old son, Michael. She was an iconodule, and allowed artists to make icons again. But she was smarter than Irene, and went slowly and carefully, and there were no riots. Theodora ruled peacefully for fourteen years.

Viking Ship

But when Michael was sixteen, in 856, Theodora's brother Bardas led a coup (pronounced COO) against her, and placed Theodora's son Michael III - Bardas' nephew - on the throne. Bardas told Michael what to do, and won several battles against the Abbasid Caliphs. In 860, a new and unexpected enemy appeared just outside Constantinople: two hundred Russian ships, probably sailed by Vikings emigrating from Scandinavia. The Russians and Vikings couldn't get past the walls of Constantinople, and sailed back north after burning and pillaging everything outside the walls (including a lot of monasteries). But this was only the beginning of battles with Russia, and only the beginning of Viking raids on West Asia.

In 866, this dynasty came to a sudden end, when Basil, a friend of Michael's, only recently promoted from being an illiterate peasant soldier who was good with horses, first killed Bardas, and then a few months later, in 867, also killed Michael. So Basil became the next emperor.

Learn by doing: visit a Russian orthodox church
More about Basil

Bibliography and further reading about Byzantine history:

Basil
Russia
Abbasids
Poland
Venice
Lombards
Medieval Europe
Central Asia
Islamic Empire
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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