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Theodora of Khazaria was the second Empress consort of Justinian II of the Byzantine Empire.


She was a sister of Busir, Khagan of Khazars. Their relation to other Khazar rulers such as Bihar, father of Tzitzak, is unknown.


Justinian II had first succeeded to the throne in 685. In 695, Justinian was deposed by a coup d'├ętat under strategos Leontios. Justinian's nose and tongue were slit and he was exiled to Cherson in the Crimeamarker.

Justinian stayed in Cherson for about seven years with no apparent incident. However rumors that the deposed Emperor was plotting his restoration came to the attention of the city authorities c. 702. They decided to arrest him and sent him to Constantinoplemarker. Surrendering his fate to Tiberios III. Justinian instead escaped Cherson and sought refuge in the court of Busir.

Busir welcomed the exile and formed a familial relation to Justinian by marrying him to his sister in 703. Her original name is not known. Theodora was her baptismal name and marks her conversion to Chalcedonian Christianity. The name was probably chosen to evoke memories of Theodora, wife of Justinian I. Busir provided the couple with funds and a house in Phanagoriamarker.

Tiberios eventually took notice of the new marrital alliance and bribed Busir in exchange for the head of Justinian. According to the chronicle of Theophanes the Confessor, c. 704 Busir dispatched two agents to perform the assassination of his brother-in-law, Balgitzin and Papatzys. Theodora was aware of their mission and warned her husband in advance. Justinian proceeded to strangle both men and sailed in a fishing boat back to Cherson.

Theodora was left behind in the custody of her brother. Their only known son Tiberios is considered to have been born at some point during the separation of his parents. Indicating Theodora was pregnant prior to the escape of her husband.


In 705, Justinian formed a new alliance with Tervel of Bulgaria. With an army of 15,000 horsemen provided by Tervel, Justinian suddenly advanced on Constantinople and managed to gain entrance into the city. Deposing Tiberios III and succeeding him in the process. Theodora was the new Empress consort but was still in the custody of her brother.

According to the chronicle of Theophanes and the Chronographikon syntomon of Ecumenical Patriarch Nikephoros I of Constantinople, Justinian was planning to reclaim his wife by force. In 705/706, a fleet of the Byzantine navy was sent to the Sea of Azovmarker with the mission to escort Theodora back to her husband. However they encountered a storm and sunk before reaching their destination.

Busir corresponded with his brother-in-law and informed him that war was unnecessary. He was free to reclaim Theodora as soon as he sent emissaries to escort her. According to Theophanes, Busir also informed Justinian of the existence of his son, Tiberios. Theophylaktos, a cubicularius, was sent to retrieve Theodora and her son. Theodora arrived to Constantinople with no further incident and was crowned Augusta. Tiberios was crowned co-emperor to secure his succession rights.


During his second reign, Justinian would prove to be merciless in his pursuit of vengeance against supporters of Leontios and Tiberios III. The growing discontent over his harsh rule would lead to further conflict for the throne. In 711, a new revolt started in Cherson under exiled general Bardanes, renamed Philippikos, and Busir lend his support to the rebels.

Justinian was absent in Armenia when the revolt started and was unable to return to Constantinople in time to defend it.He was arrested and executed outside the city in December 711, his head being sent to Bardanes as a trophy. On hearing the news of his death Anastasia, Justinian's mother, took his six-year-old son and co-emperor, Tiberios, to sanctuary at St. Mary's Churchmarker in Blachernaemarker, but was pursued by Philippikos' henchmen, who dragged the child from the altar and, once outside the church, murdered him, thus eradicating the line of Heraclius.

Whether Theodora was still alive during the events remains unclear. Theophanes and Nikephoros make no mention of her when recounting the deposition. Joannes Zonaras presumed her to be already deceased. Zonaras was writing four centuries after the events and the factual accuracy of his statement is debatable. Unlike other Empresses, there is no tomb mentioned for her and the year and manner of her death remains unknown.


Theodora and Justinian II had only one known child:

  • Tiberios (c. 705 -711, co-emperor from 706 to 711). Executed by orders of Philippikos.


  1. Lynda Garland "Theodora, Second Wife of Justinian II"
  2. Kevin Alan Brook,. The Jews of Khazaria. 2nd ed. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, 2006.
  3. Lynda Garland "Theodora, Second Wife of Justinian II"
  4. Lynda Garland "Theodora, Second Wife of Justinian II"

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