The Contest

Tiberius II seeks a wife.

The story tells us that Tiberius II, Emperor of Byzantium from 578 to 582, was happily married with the widow Ino when he assumed the imperial throne. In order to save his marriage he had to fend off the machinations of the jealous Empress Sofia, wife of the deceased Emperor Justin II.

Based on history a legend nevertheless was born according to which Tiberius had not married at the time of his ascent to the throne with the rank of Caesar (in 573) and the Empress Sofia, to deflect suspicion about  an illicit relationship between her and Tiberius II, she organised a beauty competition to find a bride for the Emperor,  her lover…


In Byzantium  beauty competitions had been devised  in order to chose the future Empress. Certainly these symbolised the self-representation of power with a strong idealogical content of propaganda. The beauty contest was also a metaphor for the social mobility [ like the case of Theodora , wife of Justinian, that from being a ballerina ( perhaps, prostitute?...) became Empress]. In the telling or these stories full of romance there is a small detail that deserves not to be missed: not only the height but also the length of the feet were measured.... it was ardious to select the future wife of the Emperor because it was based on precise requirements ;in short the 90/60/90 of the time... The series of “ beauty contests” in order to chose a sovereign was a practise in use for centuries that allowed many beautiful poor girls to hope for a fabulous social promotion.


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