It is true that the Byzantine era was characterized by today’s stereotypical understanding of women’s depressed position in ancient societies at least among the lower classes. The church played a powerful role in subjugating women, often introducing legal stipulations which limited the actions of women as a means of preventing defilement and impurity, but couldn’t refuse the generosity and donations of the wealthy (Viscuso, 2005: 317). Thus, women belonging to the aristocracy did not necessarily fall under this distinction or suffer this fate. According to Grubbs, “The law determined, according to status, the sexual relationships and roles open to a woman, and the amount of protection from violence or exploitation she could expect” (2001: 221). Through marriage, aristocratic women were able to gain status by acquiring a legal share in the power wielded by their husbands. In some cases, these women were even able to wield power directly having been given her husband’s authority. By using marriage as a tool and with the protection of the law as it applied to women of a particular social status, women of this period were able to siphon off a large amount of the power normally enjoyed by men. Evidence can also be found by tracing the patronage of various pieces of religious artwork and in the artwork of the state. The Virgin Mary is, of course, one of the major symbols of the Christian faith, but there is an underlying message behind her figure that has often spoken to women and provided them with an example.
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