Justinian & Theodora of Byzantium Lesson Plan

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

Educate your students about Justinian and Theodora with this lesson plan. They will study a text lesson, take a related quiz to follow-up, and participate in three fun activities to solidify their comprehension.

Learning Objectives

After studying this lesson, your students will be able to:

  • Describe the early lives of Justinian and Theodora
  • Name some of their greatest accomplishments
  • Recount how they worked together and were perceived by their citizens


1-1.5 Hours


Key Vocabulary

  • Byzantine empire
  • Constantinople
  • Eastern Orthodox
  • Roman empire
  • San Vitale
  • Social classes

Curriculum Standards


Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.


Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.


  • Inform your students they are going to study Justinian and Theodora.
  • Display images of the couple.
  • Ask your students if anyone is familiar with their story.
  • Hand out copies of the text lesson Justinian & Theodora: Marriage, Facts & Mosaics, one copy per student.
  • Read the introduction and the first section 'Byzantium's Power Couple.'
    • What was the Byzantine empire?
    • Out of which city was it based?
    • In what century did the couple rule?
  • Now read the section 'Justinian.'
    • When was he born? Where?
    • Was his family wealthy?
    • What did his Uncle Justin do?
    • What happened when his uncle died?
  • Next read the section 'Theodora.'
    • When was she born? Where?
    • What was her father's profession?
    • What were her two professions?
    • How did she change her life after moving to Egypt?
    • Where did she move to next?
    • What was her profession when Justinian spotted her?
    • Why couldn't they marry at first?
    • What year did they wed?
  • Next read the section 'Emperor and Empress.'
    • What did the aristocracy think of Theodora initially? Why?
    • How did she eventually gain their respect?
    • What happened in the year 532?
    • What did they do to the stagnating empire of Rome?
    • On what social issues did Theodora focus?
    • Who died first?
  • Next read the section 'The Mosaic of San Vitale.'
    • The church known as San Vitale is located in which city?
    • What is the art style represented in the church?
    • How are Justinian and Theodora represented?
    • Are they seen as equals by the people?
  • Lastly, read the section 'Lesson Summary.'
  • Review the entire text lesson.
  • Answer any further questions your students may pose.
  • Have them take the lesson quiz to demonstrate their grasp of the text lesson.

Activity One

  • Inform your students they will be having a debate.
  • Divide your students up into two large groups.
    • Both Justinian and Theodora came from incredibly humble beginnings to rise to power.
      • You are going to debate as to who had to overcome the biggest odds to change their lives.
      • You are also going to debate what was the greatest accomplishment of each.
    • Group One, you will be Team Theodora.
    • Group Two, you will be Team Justinian.
  • Allow each group a 10 or so minutes to do some research on their person on the Internet and to look over the lesson again.
  • Now allow them to raise their hands and have each group take turns justifying their positions and defending their candidate.

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