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Bad Greek girls making history: Theophano Skleraina

From the annals of bad Greek girls making history: Theophano

Θεοφανώ Σκλήραινα, Theophano Skleraina 955 – June 15, 991 was the niece of the Byzantine Emperor John I Tzimiskes, she was of #Greek and #Armenian descent. By her marriage with Holy Roman Emperor Otto II, she was #Empress consort of the Holy Roman Empire and held regency as Empress dowager upon her husband’s death in 983. Her name is derived from #Medieval Greek Theophaneia (Θεοφάνεια), “appearance of God” (Theophany). She became the mother of Otto III the so-called and “Wonder of the World.” 

The statue of Theophano Skleraina outside of the Cathedral in Cologne where she is buried

The statue of Theophano Skleraina outside of the Cathedral in Cologne where she is buried

Back in the day when relations between the East Byzantine Empire and the Western side of the Holy Roman Empire were still workable, Otto 1 had asked Byzantine princess to marry his son, Otto II , so as to seal a treaty between them. The Byzantine Emperor John I Tzimiskes sent his niece Theophano, which arrived in grand style in 972, with escort and bearing great treasure as a gift.

According to historian Thietmar, Otto 1. I did not like that Theophano was not his daughter, but the niece of the emperor.  But the good emperor pointed to the fine print in the marriage contract–he would supply a neptis (ie niece or granddaughter) of Emperor John Tsimiski, not a daughter.

Historians give Theophanu a bad rap because she introduced luxury and decadence into the stiff, conservative German court.  But that’s entirely a question of perspective.  She Greekified the court is what she did, sparking some life into it.  Rumor has it she bathed every day with costly perfumes. She wore elaborate gowns fitting her majesty.  In other words, she spiced things up. OPA!   

An example of the decadence and gossip the bad girl got in her lifetime.  This is the covering to one of the nails used during Christ's Crucifixion.  Byzantine style was renowned for luxurious overembellishment

An example of the decadence and gossip the bad girl got in her lifetime. This is the covering to one of the nails used during Christ’s Crucifixion. Byzantine style was renowned for luxurious over-embellishment. This object was numbered among her extensive jewelry collection. 


The #Benedictine chronicler Alpert of Metz describes Theophanu as being an unpleasant and talkative woman. Theophano was also criticized for her decadence, which manifested in her bathing once a day and introducing luxurious garments and jewelry into #Germany. She is credited with introducing the #fork and #spoon to #Western #Europe – chronographers mention the astonishment she caused when she “used a golden double prong to bring food to her mouth” instead of using her hands as was the norm.” Oh my! What a sin! Using a utensil, a sign of civilization, instead of your grubby fingers caked with dirt.    

The sarcophagus of Theophanu in Cologne Cathedral; born in Constantinopole she married Otto 11 and became Holy Empress of Roman Empire

The sarcophagus of Theophanu in Cologne Cathedral; born in Constantinopole she married Otto 11 and became Holy Empress of Roman Empire

Theophano is also credited with introducing a fine vine from the Eastern Byzantine empire to Germany.  In fact, the breed of grape she planted on the banks of the Rhine remains to this day the basis for the entire wine culture of that region.

Even while getting slammed for being a busybody and wanton, she managed to teach those higfallutin Germans how to eat, how to dress, and how to drink wine.  In short, she taught them how to be Greek for a while.

She also got into trouble for getting passionately embroiled in a love affair with a monk of all people.  The theologian Peter Damian asserts that Theophanu had a love affair with John Philagathos, a Greek monk who briefly reigned as #Antipope John XVI.

She was eventually pronounced a saint by the Orthodox Church.

Theophano

She definitely gave the court something to talk about.  Bad Greek girl you. So bad you’re good.

–Thanks for our Hellenic historian @hellenes.history for the input