ILLUSTRATIONS: The Sleepless Emperor and his Scandalous Consort.

Both Justin, Justinian's uncle and predecessor, and Justinian himself came from relatively humble backgrounds, and fit badly into the Greek aristocracy of the capital city. That upper class gleefully seized on stories that underlined this. They remembered that Justin's empress Euphemia was the slave concubine Lupicinia before Justin bought and married her, and that Justinian's wife Theodora was a showgirl and prostitute before the rising young man fell in love with her. The rise of such people to ultimate power reflects the unruly dynamism of eastern society. Justinian never doubted his own legitimacy, and found artists capable of presenting him and Theodora as truly imperial figures and representatives of divine power. These mosaics, preserved in Ravenna (where they were created after the reconquest of Italy) , testify to the power of ritual and regalia to transform ordinary human beings.

The emperor Justinian and his attendants.

Theodora and her attendants.

Detail of Theodora.

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