The emperor Justinian (who never visited Ravenna and ruled instead from Constantinople) completed this octagonal church—richly ornamented with intensely green, blue, and gold mosaics—in 540 as a symbol of his power. Endowed with a halo to indicate his role as head of church and state, Justinian stands next to a clean-shaven Christ, perched atop the world, flanked by saints and angels. Looking on are Justinian’s two most important adjuncts, his empress, Theodora, and a bald Maximian, bishop of Ravenna. Theodora’s presence suggests her immense power and rapacious rise to power. Born into the circus, she became known for her beauty and was a famous actress and courtesan when she caught Justinian’s eye. She became such a force in running the empire that in 532, not long before the completion of the church, she ordered that 30,000 insurgents be gathered up, brought to the Hippodrome in Constantinople, and slaughtered.
- Frommer's Staff