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Constantine VI (780-797 A.D.) and Irene (797-802 A.D.)

Lynda Garland
University of New England, New South Wales

Irene was born in Athens, presumably between 750 and 755 (the actual date is unknown, but she can hardly have been older than her husband, Leo IV, who was born in January 750)[[1]]  In 769 the iconoclast emperor Constantine V Copronymus (the 'dung-named') wanted a bride for his eldest son and heir Leo IV. Historians offer no explanation of why Irene was chosen, though it has been suggested that she may have been the first instance of an imperial bride chosen through a beauty contest or 'bride-show', a curious Byzantine custom enacted some five times between the late eighth and early tenth century to select a bride for the heir to the throne and by means of which Irene's own son Constantine was to 'choose' his first wife. There is, however, no evidence, that Irene herself took part in such a ceremony.[[2]]

The Sarantapechos family to which Irene belonged was from central Greece and must have been relatively prominent. While Irene was an orphan, her uncle Constantine Sarantapechos was a patrician and possibly strategos (commander of the theme) of the Helladics; his son and her nephew Theophylact, a spatharius -- presumably appointed by Irene herself -- is mentioned in connection with the suppression of a revolt centering around Constantine V's sons in 799. Other family members too were to achieve rank and status through her agency: a cousin later married the Bulgar khan Telerik and another relative married the future emperor Stauracius.[[3]]Other than this we have no evidence of powerful connections for her, and the devotion to icons, which Irene displayed once empress, makes her an apparently unlikely choice by Constantine V unless we postulate that, for political reasons, an alliance with her family and their connections in Greece was of especial importance to Constantine at this time. It is, of course, possible that her sympathies with regard to icons were not known at the time of her marriage, or it may be that tacit iconophile (pro-icon) sympathies were expected of imperial women: at the end of his reign, at least, Constantine V tacitly tolerated monastic benefactions among his own family -- according to the Synaxarion notice for St Anthusa of Mantineon his third wife Eudocia made generous donations to Anthusa's monastery, where she went during a difficult pregnancy. Theophanes tells us that Constantine's first wife, Irene, was also known for her piety (ie, her iconophilism), and Constantine's daughter Anthusa (named for the saint) was also an iconophile and became a nun.[[4]] Irene's iconophile beliefs may therefore not have been seen as a barrier to her promotion to the position of empress, although it is possible that she may have had to swear an oath to support iconoclasm publicy as imperial policy.[[5]]

                                                                                                                     Marriage and Widowhood

After Irene's arrival in Constantinople on 1 November 769 she was betrothed to Leo in one of the palace chapels, that of Our Lady of the Pharos, on 3 November. Her coronation took place on 17 December, following which she was married to Leo in the chapel of St Stephen in the Daphne palace adjoining the Great Palace.  Their only child, Constantine, named for his grandfather Constantine V, was born on 14 January 771 and four years later, on the death of his father in August 775, Leo was to succeed to the throne at the age of twenty-five years.[[6]]   While Leo, though an iconoclast, originally pursued a policy of moderation towards iconophiles, his policies became much harsher in August 780, shortly before his death, when a number of courtiers were punished for icon-veneration: the most prominent among them, Theophanes the cubicularius and parakoimomenos, died as a result.[[7]] This change of stance may have been a reaction to Irene's involvement, for, according to Cedrenus, Leo had found two icons in her possession, supplied by some of the leading eunuchs of the court, though the anecdote might later have been fabricated by her supporters to prove her devotion to icon-veneration even in unpropitious circumstances.[[8]] Certainly it would be unwise to accept uncritically the suggestion that Irene may have hastened Leo's death as a result of this marital disharmony.[[9]]

Whatever the relationship between the imperial couple, when Leo died on 8 September 780 Irene became regent for their ten-year old son Constantine -- Irene's proposal that Anthusa, her sister-in-law, should join her in the regency should be treated with caution, and in any case did not eventuate as Anthusa preferred to remain in the palace dedicating herself to good works.[[10]]   It is hard to deny that Irene immediately took the opportunity to signal a change of direction in policy: a rumour became current in Constantinople that Leo's fever had been caused by his appropriation of the jewelled crown dedicated in St Sophia by either Heraclius or Maurice, which he had insisted on wearing. Irene's ostentatious return of the crown -- further decorated with pearls --in full imperial procession on Christmas Day 780 could only have focused public attention on this allegation against her deceased husband.[[11]]   Six weeks after the young Constantine's accession, his uncle the Caesar Nicephorus became the focus for revolt, when a conspiracy of powerful figures, including an ex-general of the Armeniac theme, a captain of the imperial guard, and a top-ranking political adviser, rose up against the government. These were arrested and scourged, tonsured (ie, forcibly made monks) and banished and their positions taken by loyal supporters of Irene. Nicephorus and his four brothers were ordained as priests, a status which disqualified them from ruling and which was emphasised when they were made to administer communion on Christmas Day in St Sophia, the occasion on which Irene 'returned' the votive crown.[[12]]

The Regency

From the outset Irene appears to have had political ambitions and was certainly concerned to emphasise her status as regent, and more than regent. On her first coins she not Constantine VI holds the orb, and she is referred to as Constantine's co-ruler, while Constantine's name is placed on the reverse, the less important side of the coin.[[13]]   Her selection in 781 of a bride for her son was also significant -- Rotrud (called in Greek Erythro) a daughter of Charlemagne.([14]]  Rotrud's suitability for the position was ensured by the dispatch of a eunuch Elissaios to teach her 'Greek letters and language and educate her in the customs of the Roman empire'.[[15]]   That Irene's position was not entirely secure is shown by another plot early in 781, when Elpidius, strategos of Sicily, joined the Caesars' faction: when the Sicilians would not return him to Constantinople, Irene had his wife and sons scourged, tonsured and imprisoned.[[16]]   A fleet under the patrician Theodore succeeded in defeating the Sicilians and Elpidius fled to Africa where he defected to the Arabs.[[17]]   Perhaps as a result of this defection, in 781 Irene appointed one of her eunuchs, the sakellarius John, to exercise supervision over all the Asiatic themata (the post of sakellarius, a high-ranking official, may have included fiscal responsibilities at this point). Another eunuch, Stauracius, was made logothete of the dromos, the most important ministerial position. It was customary for empresses to rely on eunuch ministers, but Irene's dependence on eunuchs in all aspects of government demonstrates her distrust of aristocrats in positions of eminence (perhaps because of their iconoclast tendencies), while the mingled incompetence and veniality of her appointees highlight her own inability to select competent and trustworthy staff: Stauracius in particular was to prove a bane to the empire.

A success was gained for the new administration when Michael Lachanodrakon (Constantine V's general) foiled an Arab attack on the eastern frontiers, but unfortunately this was neutralised when the strategos of the Bucellarii, Tatzates, defected to the Arabs out of dislike of Stauracius who had already by this point achieved a stranglehold on governmental decisions.[[18]] This defection aborted a plan to encircle the caliph's son Harun al-Rashid and a huge Arab army. Stauracius was sent to negotiate with the Arabs when Harun asked for peace negotiations. Due to their failure to take adequate precautions, the negotiators were seized, the Bucellarion troops joined Tatzates in defecting, and Irene had to agree to pay a huge annual tribute of 70 or 90,000 dinars to the Arabs for a three year truce, give them 10,000 silk garments and provide them with guides, provisions and access to markets during their withdrawal.[[19]] While Tatzates may well have been hostile to Stauracius, he could also have felt threatened by Irene's policy of removing Constantine V's generals from their commands.[[20]]  Despite Stauracius' previous lack of success, he was also sent against the Slavs in northern Greece in the next year. On this occasion he recovered his reputation as a military leader, making the Slavs of northern Greece pay tribute to the empire, and bringing back booty and captives: this was officially recognised when he celebrated a triumph during the hippodrome games in January 784. As part of a policy of resettling Slav-held territory, in May Irene and Constantine visited Thrace, Beroia (Stara Zagora) was rebuilt and renamed Irenopolis ('city of Irene' or 'city of peace'), and a new theme, called 'Macedonia', formed.[[21]]

Irene and the Icons

The direction of Irene's religious policy was becoming apparent by mid-781. We are told by Theophanes: 'From that time on the pious began to speak freely. God's word spread about, those who sought salvation were able to renounce the world without hindrance, God's praises rose up to heaven, the monasteries recovered, and all good things were manifested.'   To what exent the issue of icon-veneration was a gendered one is unclear. Certainly, in both 787 and 843 icon-veneration was restored as orthodox practice by an empress ruling as regent for an under-age son: both empresses, Irene and Theodora, were later canonised. Perhaps, therefore, Irene's restoration of icons in 787 should be seen in the context of women's spirituality in general, in that icon-worship was particularly a feature of women's religious practices in Byzantium. Indeed, women and monastics were traditionally the most enthusiastic venerators of both saints' relics and of icons. They also proved loyal to their beliefs: monks, and nuns, provided nearly all the victims of iconoclast 'persecution'.[[22]]  Irene actively encouraged a revival in monasticism and, in a move to bolster the support for icon-veneration, her regime masterminded the supposed discovery of a coffin by the Long Walls of Thrace, on which was engraved 'Christ will be born of the Virgin Mary and I believe in Him. O sun, you will see me again in the reign of Constantine and Irene.'[[23]]  This attempt at propaganda for the regime's new religious policies was followed up at the resignation of the current patriarch. When the much-respected Patriarch Paul fell ill in 784 and retired to a monastery, he was supposed to have advised the summoning of an ecumenical council to terminate iconoclasm: the official version of his retirement describes him as repenting of his service under an iconoclast emperor.[[24]] Irene thereupon took the opportunity to appoint a patriarch sympathetic to her views and whom she could manipulate -- her choice, Tarasius, was not a cleric but a layman and high-flying public servant prior to his appointment by Irene. Moreover his pro-monastic views had been demonstrated by his having already founded a private monastery on his own estate at Stenon outside Constantinople.[[25]]

The Restoration of  Icon-Veneration

Irene seems to have had a distinct preference for public displays of governmental policy on Christmas Day, and Tarasius -- after rapid promotion through the church hierarchy -- became patriarch on 25 December 784 after the see had been vacant for some three months. His selection had been confirmed by a meeting of senators, clergy and citizens in the Magnaura palace, though there seems to have been some dissent on the subject of a council. One of Tarasius' first diplomatic acts was to write in August 785 an anti-iconoclast profession of faith to Pope Hadrian. At the same time Irene asked the Pope to dispatch emissaries for an ecumenical council, while Tarasius contacted the patriarchates of Alexandria and Antioch. Hadrian objected to a layman being elected to the patriarchate, but his sympathies were solidly iconophile and he sent representatives to the scheduled council, which met in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople on 1 August 786, with Irene and Constantine watching from the gallery. Irene had, up to now, moved fairly slowly: even so the venue and participants (many of the bishops having been appointees of her father-in-law and husband) were not favourable to her plans. The iconoclast bishops conspired to undermine the council and at their officers' instigation the tagmata (army units stationed in the city who were loyal to Constantine V's memory.[[26]]) broke up proceedings, threatening to kill some of the delegates. The council was dissolved.[[27]]  Irene's response was, with Stauracius' assistance, to remove iconoclast troops from the city. The rebellious troops were dispatched to Malagina on the pretext of an expedition against the Arabs and then posted to the provinces. They were replaced by regiments from Thrace and Bithynia, a high proportion of whom would have been Slavs without strong iconoclast views. It may also have been at this time that she created the personal guard called the Vigla or 'Watch' whose primary role was to protect the palace.[[28]]

Capable of learning from her mistakes, Irene was careful to summon her next council away from Constantinople. In May 787 an ecumenical council was summoned to meet at Nicaea (significant because Constantine the Great's council met there in 325) away from the possibility of popular riots or army involvement.[[29]] 365 bishops assembled at Nicaea in September to reject iconoclasm and anathematise the three iconoclast patriarchs and their supporters. While iconoclasm was declared a heresy, Tarasius, presumably following Irene's lead, allowed repentant iconoclasts to participate, and the council's unanimous decision was presented to Irene and Constantine at a final session of the council at which Irene presided, held in the Magnaura Palace in Constantinople on 23 October. Irene signed the document before Constantine, contrary to her usual practice, and was acclaimed with Constantine as the 'New Constantine' and the 'New Helena'.[[30]]The definition (horos) of the council justified the veneration of icons in the following terms:

'We define with all accuracy and care that the venerable and holy icons be set up like the form of the venerable and life-giving Cross, inasmuch as matter consisting of colours and pebbles and other matter is appropriate in the holy church of God..., as well as the image of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, of our undefiled Lady the Holy Mother of God, of the angels worthy of honour, and of all the holy and pious men. For the more frequently they are seen by means of pictorial representation the more those who behold them are aroused to remember and desire the prototypes and to give them greeting and worship of honour -- but not the true worship of our faith which befits only the divine nature -- but to offer them both incense and candles, in the same way as to the form of the venerable and life-giving Cross and to the holy gospel books and to the other sacred objects, as was the custom even of the Ancients.[[31]]

Iconoclasts were not necessarily instantly converted to icon-veneration, and Irene seems to have moved slowly in deference to their sensibilities. While she replaced the Christ icon on the Chalke Gate of the imperial palace, the removal of which had signalled the beginning of iconoclasm in 726, according to the Scriptor Incertus the restored icon had an inscription placed over its head which read, '[The image] which Leo the emperor had formerly cast down, Irene has re-erected here',[[32]] and the lack of a reference to Constantine VI makes it certain that the restoration of the image was not made until after 797. It was however natural that as empress she would commission iconographic art and she also acted as a monastic patron: under her rule there is evidence of the return of monastic investment of money in art. A number of churches can be attributed to her reign, such as St Sophia at Thessalonica and Bizye in Thrace, and several monastery churches in Bithynia: St Sophia in Thessalonica can be dated by the monograms of Constantine and Irene.[[33]]  The Patria tells us that she was said, with Constantine VI, to have built a church to St Anastasius, as well as restoring the church of the Theotokos at Pege; she also established a small monastery of St Euphrosyne known as 'ta Libadia', and built churches to St Luke and St Eustathius.[[34]] As part of this artistic revival a number of major works were also undertaken, such as statues of Constantine VI and Irene themselves:[[35]] Constantine erected a bronze statue of his mother in the hippodrome,[[36]] and their mosaic portraits were dedicated at Pege. Irene was also an active philanthropist: she established several homes for the aged, hospices for the poor, xenodocheia (hostels for travellers), and a cemetery for the poor.[[37]]

Irene's political ambitions

It was customary for orphaned emperors to take up the reigns of power at the age of sixteen. With orthodoxy now restored, Irene showed no signs of resigning power, even though Constantine was of age, and indeed theHistoria Syntomos, attributed to Michael Psellus, speaks of their joint reign like a battleground: 'they went for each other, hit and hit back in turn, and now Irene exercised absolute power, now Constantine took possession of the palace alone, again the mother, again the son, until their conflict resulted in a disaster for both.'[[38]]  In 788 she broke off the projected marriage alliance with Charlemagne's daughter (a decision which reportedly distressed Constantine) and selected another bride for him by means of a bride-show. This is the first recorded case of a bride-show (the next being in AD 807/8, when Irene's relative Theophano was married to Stauracius, son of Nicephorus I), and Irene, who presumably instituted the custom, may well have used it as propaganda for her regime, implying that Byzantine emperors had no need of foreign alliances.[[39]] Irene dispatched a panel of judges, equipped with a set of ideal standards, to travel through the empire selecting candidates: the girls' height, the size of their feet and probably their waists were measured by the commissioners. The winning candidate was Maria of Amnia, whom the protospatharius Theophanes had escorted from Paphlagonia.[[40]] The girls selected were naturally from suitable iconophile families, and Irene of course ensured that Constantine was not allowed freedom of choice even among these carefully picked possibilities. The 'winner', Maria, was the granddaughter of Philaretus, a magnate from the Armeniac theme and later a saint, who had impoverished himself and owed his position to Irene. The Life of Irene makes it clear that it was Irene herself who picked the bride, while the Life of St Philaretus speaks of the thirteen girls as being presented not just to the emperor but to Irene, Constantine and Stauracius. The happy couple were married in November.[[41]]

Following the breaking-off of the alliance with Charlemagne, the Byzantine forces under the command of the palace eunuch John, now the military logothete, were defeated in Italy. Irene had also suffered setbacks at the hands of the Arabs and Bulgars.[[42]] A military leader for the empire was clearly necessary, and relationships between Constantine and Irene began to deteriorate:   The Devil, grudging the emperors' piety, inspired certain evil men to set the mother against her son and the son against his mother. They persuaded her that they had been informed through prophecies to the effect that: "It is ordained by God that your son should not obtain the Empire, for it is yours, given to you by God." Deceived, like the woman she was, and being also ambitious, she was satisfied that things were indeed so, and did not perceive that those men had offered the above pretext because they wanted to administer the affairs of State.[[43]]  Irene's eunuch advisers and ministers, notably the all-powerful Stauracius, were obviously against Constantine's assumption of power in his own right and supportive of Irene's regime in which power was wielded by themselves. Constantine therefore conspired with the men of his entourage ('who were few') to arrest Stauracius and banish him to Sicily. Constantine's plan was that he should take over Stauracius' responsibilities and rule in conjunction with his mother - he was after all legally of age to rule -- but his plans were thwarted by an earthquake which resulted in the court moving to the palace at St Mamas for safety. Stauracius was thus given the time to counter the plot and incite Irene against Constantine. The empress had her son's men, including his tutor, arrested, flogged, tonsured, and exiled and any other supporters were severely dealt with. Irene gave Constantine a piece of her mind and he was imprisoned for several days.

In an attempt to neutralise Constantine's power-base, the army was now asked to swear that as long as Irene was alive they would not accept Constantine as ruler and that they would place her name before Constantine's in the acclamations. No one dared object, though the army must have wished to see a descendant of Constantine V on the throne and in charge of the army, which was hardly distinguishing itself under its present commanders[[44]]. In fact, in September 790, the theme of the Armeniacs refused to swear the oath and insisted on keeping Constantine's name before that of Irene. When Alexius Mousele (or Mousoulem), commander of the Watch, was sent to deal with them, they imprisoned their general, appointed Mousele their commander, and acclaimed Constantine as sole emperor. The men of the other themes followed their example by imprisoning their strategoi, Irene's appointees, and acclaiming Constantine. In October 790 all these mutinous regiments, more than half of the entire army, assembled at Atroa in Bithynia and demanded that Constantine, who was now nineteen, be sent to them. Irene was afraid of the army and let him go. The troops thereupon confirmed Constantine as emperor.[[45]]   Constantine took action on two counts: he had his tutor recalled and sent him, with the iconoclast general Michael Lachanodrakon,[[46]] to ensure that the Armeniacs -- his hard-core supporters -- took an oath that they would not accept Irene as emperor. He also confirmed Mousele as their strategos. On the home front, when he returned to Constantine in December 790, he had Stauracius flogged, tonsured and exiled to the theme of the Armeniacs; the eunuch Aetius the protospatharius, another close confidant of Irene's, and all her other eunuchs were also exiled. Irene herself was confined in her palace of Eleutherios, which she had built overlooking the harbour of Eleutherios and where she had secreted a large sum of money. However, she was not deposed and her name and portrait continued to appear on coins. Constantine's name, however, now appeared on the obverse not the reverse.[[47]]

On 15 January 792, for reasons which must remain unclear but following entreaties both from Irene and many others in authority (presumably her supporters), Constantine recalled his mother as his co-ruler and restored her title of empress. For the next five years Irene appears on the obverse of the gold coinage with the title 'Irene Augusta (Empress)', and Constantine is shown on the reverse with the title of basileus (emperor), but as a beardless youth. Stauracius was recalled from exile and Mousele replaced as strategos of the Armeniacs. The only objection seems to have arisen from the theme of the Armeniacs who refused to acclaim Irene (quite understandably) and rebelled, demanding Mousele, their ex-commander, back. Though Alexius Mousele was currently in Constantinople under a guarantee of safety, this demand, plus the rumour that he would be made emperor, caused Constantine to have him flogged, tonsured and confined in the praetorium.[[48]] Constantine failed to achieve any notable military successes and suffered a severe defeat against the Bulgars at Markellai in July 792. This caused concern to the army and the tagmata in Constantinople decided to bring Constantine's uncle, the Caesar Nicephorus, out of retirement and make him emperor. Constantine's response to this threat -- perhaps on his mother's advice -- showed his perception of his own vulnerability. Nicephorus was blinded and his four brothers (the sons of Constantine V) had their tongues cut out. To ensure his own safety Constantine also had Alexius Mousele blinded, on the warning of his mother and Stauracius that otherwise Mousele would replace him as emperor.[[49]] While the threat may have been a real one, Irene clearly had a score to settle with Mousele over his support of Constantine in 790 and here appears to have been manipulating her rather malleable son into demonstrating his weakness and alienating the army, and particularly the theme of the Armeniacs, by this injustice to his erstwhile supporter.

Her advice resulted in a full-scale revolt. Naturally, the Armeniacs were hardly pleased with the turn of events and imprisoned Theodore Kamoulianos, who was sent to them as their new strategos. An expedition made against them in November 792 was defeated and both of Constantine's commanders blinded. Their revolt was finally quelled in May 793 by Constantine at the head of all the other themata. Their leaders were put to death, the rest subjected to fines and confiscations, and a thousand men brought into the city in chains with their faces tattooed with the words 'Armeniac plotter', and then banished to Sicily and other islands.[[50]] Constantine had been made to appear disloyal and unjust. Furthermore, having alienated his own power-base he was forced to rely more on his mother and her 'faction'.

The 'adulterous' emperor

Constantine disliked his wife, Maria, perhaps because she had been his mother's choice and Theophanes considers the deterioration in their relationship Irene's doing: 'the emperor, who had conceived an aversion towards his wife Maria through the machinations of his mother (for she was yearning for power and wanted him to be universally condemned), forced her to become a nun and, after obtaining her consent, had her tonsured in January of the third indication [795].'[[51]] Constantine had taken as his mistress Theodote a cubicularia, or lady-in-waiting, of his mother's and hence needed to divorce Maria to remarry. Constantine may also have been motivated by hopes of the arrival of a legitimate son and heir. Maria seems to have gone willingly to her convent on the island of Principo, and their two little daughters (of whom one, Euphrosyne, was later to be the wife of Michael II the Amorian) went with her. Irene must have been aware of the liaison and perhaps encouraged it. Certainly she made no objection to the empress's becoming a nun in a convent she had herself founded. In August Constantine crowned Theodote as Augusta (a title Maria had not been granted) and married her in September at the palace of St Mamas with the wedding festivities lasting forty days.[[52]]

As Irene had cleverly foreseen the church strongly disapproved of this remarriage, the legality of which was hotly debated. Doubtless on Irene's orders Tarasius had not prevented the divorce and marriage. He would not perform the ceremony himself but on the principle of 'economy' (oikonomia) had compromised by allowing his catechist to tonsure the empress Maria as a nun and Joseph, abbot of the Cathara monastery, to perform the marriage. Platon, abbot of the monastery of Saccoudion and uncle of both Theodore the Studite and Theodote led the monastic opposition against this 'adulterous' liaison (the issue is often called the 'Moechian', or 'adulterous', controversy).[[53]]   The rift within the imperial family was clearly demonstrated by the fact that Irene was openly on the side of the monastic establishment, against her son and the patriarch, 'because they opposed him [Constantine] and put him to shame'.[[54]]

In an attempt to conciliate the monastic establishment and regain popularity generally Constantine, with Irene and Tarasius, held in July of 796 a celebration to mark the return to the capital of the relics of the fourth-century saint Euphemia, believed to have been thrown into the sea by Constantine V, but which had been miraculously recovered by a passing ship and taken to Lemnos; these were now restored to the capital. Constantine's two young daughters Irene and Euphrosyne distributed parts of the saint's body to notables at the ceremony.[[55][ Tactfully no one seems to have commented on the discrepancy between the original undecayed body of the saint and the dry bones now on display. Euphemia's church, or martyrion, was also restored from its state as a supposed 'arms-store and dung-heap' and reconsecrated.[[56]] The episode had the further merit from the point of view of Irene's iconophile regime of high-lighting Constantine V's supposed antipathy towards holy relics.[[57]] But despite this display of piety the monastic establishment was not won over and Constantine early in 797 was driven to have Platon imprisoned, and the other monks flogged and exiled to Thessalonica.[[58]] Irene had won that round and Constantine had further compromised his reputation as ruler by his harshness.

                                                        Death of an only son

While the court was enjoying a stay at the hot springs at Prousa (Brusa) in October 796, the news arrived that Theodote had given birth to a son, presumably prematurely (the baby, called Leo, died in the following May) and Leo rushed to his wife's side. This gave Irene -- doubtless concerned for her own position at the birth of Constantine's son and heir -- the opportunity to plot against him in his absence: 'his mother addressed the commanders of the tagmata and beguiled them by means of gifts and promises with a view to deposing her son and becoming sole ruler herself; some of them she coaxed personally, others through the men of her household, and she drew everyone to her side and was waiting to find the proper moment.'[[59]]  Irene may have used the questionable legitimacy of her grandson to raise concerns about the succession. But Constantine does not seem to have perceived any danger in his position though it was already being seriously undermined. When he led a campaign against the Arabs in March 797, he was accompanied by Stauracius and other friends of his mother. These, afraid of the psychological value of a victory to Constantine at this juncture, bribed scouts to report that the Arabs had retreated, and to his chagrin the emperor returned empty-handed.

Irene's moves now became more direct. Following the death of his son Leo on 1 May, Constantine crossed home to St Mamas after a racing contest: his mother's supporters followed him 'so as to catch him', presumably planning his arrest. Learning of this Constantine decided to take refuge in the theme of the Anatolics, accompanied, 'without his knowledge, by his mother's friends': this speaks of treachery once again from within the emperor's own retinue. Theodote also fled the city. Irene assembled the officers loyal to her in her palace of Eleutherios and then entered the imperial palace, a declaration that she was assuming full imperial power. The news that an army was gathering around Constantine almost caused her to send a delegation of bishops requesting a promise of safety. Instead, however, she wrote to her adherents in the emperor's retinue threatening to tell Constantine of their designs against him unless he were handed over to her. As a result they seized him, put him on board the imperial galley and bringing him to the city where he was confined in the Porphyra, the purple palace where he was born. This took place on 15 -- or more probably 19 -- August 797. Constantine was now aged 26 years. He was there blinded 'in a cruel and grievous manner with a view to making him die at the behest of his mother and her advisers'.[[60]]

Irene was fully accountable, having manipulated events to this conclusion. She was clearly aware of the decision to blind the emperor and indeed appears to have made it herself. Whatever the degree of Constantine's unpopularity, the deed was generally abhorred: Theophanes tells us that the sun was darkened for seventeen days and 'everyone acknowledged' that this was because the emperor had been blinded. Whether Constantine actually died from this treatment is a matter that has been much debated, and if he did it was certainly hushed up. In fact, it appears that he died in exile on the island of Principo and was buried in Irene's monastery of St Euphrosyne in Constantinople alongside his first wife.[[61]] Irene was now in total control.

Irene 'Basileus'

Irene's constitutional position was now an anomalous one. Nevertheless there was now a serious shortage of rival candidates for the throne, despite the fact that there were four sons of Constantine V still unblinded (though lacking tongues and in holy orders). Nor does her imperial status seem to have caused her any embarrassment: in fact she struck gold coins with her portrait on both sides to emphasise that she was sole ruler and in at least one of her Novels used the title emperor ('Irene the pious emperor'), not empress,[[62]] though she used the feminine title basilissa or augusta on her coins, as well as on her seals. She thus became the first Byzantine empress to mint coins as sole ruler. She was clearly not averse to displaying her imperial status to her subjects: on the gold coins of her sole reign she is depicted in a robe embroidered like the consular dress of the emperors, holding a cruciform sceptre and globus cruciger.[[63]] The fact that the eastern throne was now held solely by Irene may have encouraged Charlemagne to assume the title of 'emperor of the Romans': he was crowned by Pope Leo on 25 December 800, the pope arguing that the imperial throne was technically vacant as it was occupied by a woman.[[64]]

Within Constantinople too there were clearly concerns about Irene's fitness to rule. The brothers of Constantine V were again the centre of a plot in October 797 when they were persuaded to take refuge in St Sophia, the idea being that one of them would be chosen as emperor by the populace. No popular uprising took place and Irene's eunuch Aetius inveigled them from the church and banished them to Athens. A further plot in March 799 to make one of them emperor resulting in the four as yet unblinded all losing their eyes. This plot was prompted by the 'Helladics', and Irene's uncle Constantine Sarantapechos -- possibly strategos of the theme of Hellas (Greece) -- may have informed her of the plot.[[65]] Obviously the themes, even Irene's own homeland, had reservations about her regime. Certainly, from the time when Irene assumed sole power military activity was kept to a minimum and Byzantium acknowledged the dominance of the Arab leader Harun al-Rashid on the eastern frontier: in 798 the Arabs even advanced as far as Malagina and succeeded in capturing the herd of imperial war horses. This humiliating episode was followed by other raiding parties, including an expedition in 798/9 which inflicted a severe defeat on the soldiers of the Opsikion theme and captured their camp equipment. Harun then consented to a four-year truce for which Irene had to pay an annual tribute.[[66]]

Irene's financial policies during this period might be seen to have been an attempt to buy her popularity. On 1 April 799, Easter Monday, she processed from the Church of the Holy Apostles in her chariot drawn by four white horses led by patricians, scattering gold coins to the people in an attempt to perhaps maintain public support.[[67]] She could also be blamed for being somewhat profligate with the empire's monetary reserves: in 801 Irene remitted civic taxes for the capital and cancelled the customs dues, commercia, of Abydos and Hieron, which controlled traffic reaching Constantinople by sea.[[68]] These measures, and 'many other liberalities' have generally been assumed to have been made, like her donation of gold coins in 799, for the sake of maintaining popularity,[[69]] though there is also evidence that she was also concerned with philanthropic measures. Theodore the Studite in a fulsome letter addressed to Irene refers to her abolition of payments demanded, it appears, from soldiers' widows in lieu of their deceased husbands' military service. She also seems to have exempted philanthropic institutions, the orphanage, hostels, homes for the aged, churches and imperial monasteries from the hearth taxes (kapnika); these were restored by her successor Nicephorus.[[70]] At the same time, however, she was also thought to have concealed large amounts of money in her private palace, presumably as a nest egg in case of emergencies.[[71]]

It was obviously in Irene's interest to justify her blinding of Constantine and take-over of power. One of Irene's first actions was to release Platon and Theodore and she was to establish them as abbots of the monastery of Studius in Constantinople.[[72]]   Tarasius must also have been acting on instructions when he only now defrocked Joseph of Cathara who had performed the 'adulterous' marriage of Constantine and Theodote. Both actions explicitly condemned Constantine VI's remarriage and persecution of his monastic opponents. It was also at this period that she replaced the Christ icon on the Chalke Gate of the imperial palace.  However, Constantine's death had changed the dynamics of power at court and from as early as 797/8 Irene was to have problems controlling her two powerful eunuchs Stauracius and Aetius, both of whom were aiming at securing the empire for their relatives after Irene's death. This rivalry intensified when Irene fell critically ill in May 799. Aetius, who had won the support of Nicetas Triphyllius, domestic of the Scholae (one of the regiments of the imperial guard), informed the empress that Stauracius was aiming for the position of emperor. Irene held a state council at the palace of Hiereia, at which Stauracius apologised for his conduct and -- surprisingly -- retained his position. In February 800, as part of his revenge against Aetius and Nicetas, he prepared the way for a rebellion by bribing the imperial guard and their officers with money and gifts. Although no eunuch had ever been emperor, he seems to have cherished imperial ambitions in his own right, perhaps because of the degree of power he had been allowed to wield under Irene. Aware of the situation -- presumably warned by Aetius -- Irene called another state council in the Great Palace and forbade any contact with Stauracius. Aetius as a reward for his services was made strategos of the Anatolics. The situation might have deteriorated still further, but Stauracius fell fatally ill, coughing blood. He had been persuaded by doctors, monks and magicians that he would live to be emperor, and on those grounds started a revolt against Aetius among Aetius's troops in Cappadocia. However, Stauracius died in June and did not live to hear how it fared, though the rebels were arrested and exiled.[[73]] Government was obviously breaking down: not only the army but also the administration must have been disturbed at a state of affairs where the empress's eunuchs were openly squabbling over the throne and being rewarded for informing on the other by the leadership of themes.

The end of the regime

It was in this climate that Charlemagne was crowned emperor in December, which must seriously have damaged Irene's prestige on the international scene. According to Theophanes, Charlemagne followed this up by considering first a naval expedition against Byzantine Sicily and then marriage to Irene. Aetius was now essentially in charge of the government and army and in 801/2 he tried to make his brother Leo emperor: he appointed him strategos of Thrace and Macedonia, while he himself controlled the Asiatic themes (the Anatolic and Opsikion). These four themes were strategically close to Constantinople and possessed a third or more of the empire's troops. Aetius himself had led his themes and won a victory over the Arabs in 800, though he was defeated in the next year.[[74]]  Aetius's conduct became more and more autocratic: 'being filled with pride, he humiliated dignitaries in positions of authority and took no account of them'. One of these officials was clearly Nicephorus, Irene's finance minister (logothete of the genikon or treasury). The disgruntled courtiers decided to revolt, and their plans were confirmed by the arrival of the ambassadors from Charlemagne and Pope Leo, asking Irene to marry Charlemagne and unite the two halves of the empire, especially as Irene appears to have been happy to consent. However, Aetius 'who ruled by her side and was usurping power on behalf of his brother' prevented her from making a firm commitment to the alliance. While the ambassadors from Charlemagne were still in the city (and presumably the timing was deliberately chosen), at dawn on 31 October 802 Nicephorus assumed power. He was backed by a number of high-ranking conspirators, including Nicetas Triphyllius the domestic of the Scholae, the quaestor, and a relative of Irene's, Leo Sarantapechys. The conspirators tricked the guards at the Chalke gate of the Great Palace into believing that Aetius was forcing the empress to proclaim his brother Leo as emperor and that she had therefore sent for Nicephorus to proclaim him emperor instead to forestall Aetius's plan; the guards themselves willingly joined in the ceremony. The palace of Eleutherios, where Irene was living, was surrounded and at day-break she was confined in the Great Palace. Nicephorus was then crowned in St Sophia by Patriarch Tarasius.

Theophanes's account makes it clear that Irene's deposition was supported by a number of her own supporters:  "Men who lived a pious and reasonable life wondered at God's judgement, namely how He had permitted a woman who had suffered like a martyr on behalf of the true faith to be ousted by a swineherd and that her closest friends should have joined him out of cupidity, I mean Leo of Sinope (who was patrician and sakellarios), and the accursed Triphyllioi, and the above-mentioned patricians who had been enriched by her many liberalities, who had often dined at her table, and had assured her through flattery and under terrible oaths that they considered her goodwill more essential than anything else in the world"'[[75]]

The rebellion seems to have been sparked off by fears that the greatly disliked eunuch Aetius would move to put his brother on the throne before Irene could accept the Franks' marriage proposal. On the following day she was visited by Nicephorus who urged her not to conceal any of the imperial treasures: there must have been rumours that Irene had concealed a fortune in her palace. She was to be allowed to keep her palace of Eleutherios as long as she did not hide any of the imperial treasures, and she swore to that effect on a fragment of the True Cross 'down to the last penny'.[[76]] However he exiled her to the convent on the island of Principo which she had herself built, and later in November she was removed to Lesbos and severely guarded; it is possible that in the interim she had been involved in a plot to regain power.[[77]] A rebellion against Nicephorus in July 802, in which Bardanes Tourkos, strategos of the Anatolics, was proclaimed emperor by his men, may have been in support of Irene, though Theophanes does not say so;[[78]] Bardanes as domestic of the Scholae had been one of Irene's main supporters in bringing her to power and had been one of the four patricians who led her horses in her triumphal procession in 799. The revolt was not popular and Bardanes withdrew to a monastery.

Nevertheless, Irene and her relations retained some prestige. Nicephorus' decision to marry his son and heir Stauracius to Irene's niece Theophano (even though 'she was betrothed to another man and had slept with him many times')[[79]] was doubtless to strengthen the dynastic claims of Nicephorus's own family.  Irene died on 9 August 803, after which her body was transferred to her monastery at Principo.[[80]] Despite her actions as empress, she was canonised for her part in restoring icon-veneration and her saint's life endows her with all appropriate -- and inappropriate -- piety and virtues.

An assessment of Constantine VI and Irene's take-over

The most indefensible action of Irene's reign was of course the deposition and blinding of her son, the rightful emperor. Constantine has enjoyed a reputation as an ineffectual ruler, dominated by his mother, whose campaigns against Bulgarians and Arabs were only productive of embarrassment to Byzantium and its army. Nevertheless, he was not without ambitions of his own, and views of his incapacity may well have been manufactured by his mother's supporters. Nor is it clear that she disposed of him because he was developing iconoclast tendencies: he signed the acts of the council of Nicaea in 787 and joined in the celebrations surrounding the restoration of the relics of St Euphemia in 796.  He had been crowned co-emperor by his father Leo in 776, and that he clearly desired to oust his mother and rule in his own right is demonstrated by his attempt to supplant Irene in February 790 (Theophanes AM 6282) and his successful deposition of her in December 790 (Theophanes AM 6283), when he was 19 years of age. Significantly, his removal of Irene from power was followed almost immediately in April 791 by an expedition against the Bulgarians under their leader Kardamos, whom he met not far from Adrianople. The expedition was neither a success nor a failure: both sides withdrew following a small engagement, though Theophanes speaks of the Romans losing their courage and returning 'ingloriously'. Similarly, in September Constantine led a force out of Amorium against the Arabs at Tarsus, but retreated in the October before arriving at his destination (AM 6283, 6284). These episodes might reflect his inexperience, or the lack of the preparedness of the army, rather than any indecisiveness on his part.
In July he made a further expedition against the Bulgarians, in the process reinforcing the fortress of Marcellae. Kardamos came to meet him and 'persuaded by false prophets that the victory would be his, the emperor joined battle without plan or order and was severely beaten'. In this engagement, not only did Constantine lose a large part of his army, but the iconoclast general Michael Lachandrakon, the former strategoi Nicetas and Theognostus, and a number of other notables (including the 'false prophet' Pancratius who had prophesied his victory) fell in battle. The Bulgarians captured the whole baggage train, including the emperor's tent. This was Constantine's most ignominious failure, partly, as it seems, due to faulty advisers, and it was this defeat which inspired the tagmata to settle on the Caesar Nicephorus as a substitute emperor: Constantine had him blinded and his other uncles had their tongues cut out. The ex-strategos of the Armeniacs, Alexius Mousele, was also blinded at this point. Theophanes  (AM 6284) is critical of this 'unjust deed' and relates these punishments to Constantine's own blinding five years later on a Saturday in August, suggesting that these punishments were excessive and unmerited.

Despite these initial failures, it should be added that Constantine's campaigns against the Armeniac rebels were concluded satisfactorily: after his generals Constantine Artaser the protospatharius and Chrysocheres strategos of the Bucellarii were captured in 792, Constantine led an expedition at the head of all the other themata, and, with the aid of the treachery of the Armenians serving with them, defeated the rebels on 26 May 793, putting their leaders to death. With regard to his judgement as a commander, however, it should be noted that his failure to reward the Armenians for their treachery led to their surrendering the fort of Kamachon to the Arabs shortly afterwards in a fit of resentment. In addition, the fact that he had the faces of the 1,000 rebels, who were led into Constantinople in chains, tattooed in ink with the words 'Armenian plotter' before dispersing them to Sicily and other island destinations implies a certain degree of overkill in his reaction to their defection (AM 6285). This tendency to overreact is perhaps paralleled by his harsh treatment of Theodore the Studite and the other Studite monks following their opposition to his divorce and remarriage, while the Life of Tarasius (of course, a partial source) speaks of Constantine's cruelty towards Tarasius' supporters and 'persecution' of the patriarch for failing to agree to his marriage to Theodote.[[81]

Constantine made a further expedition against the Arabs in April 795, and in May engaged and defeated an Arab raiding party (Theophanes AM 6287). Such minor successes were followed up in 796, in the May of which Constantinople was devastated by an earthquake. Kardamos of Bulgaria took advantage of this to demand tribute, threatening to appear at the Golden Gate and devastate Thrace. Constantine's attitude to this blackmail was reassuringly resolute, if somewhat immature:   The emperor sent him some horse excrement wrapped in a kerchief and said, 'such tribute as befits you I have sent you. You are an old man and I do not want you to take the trouble of coming all the way here. Instead, I will go to Marcellae, and do you come out. Then let God decide.'

Constantine did indeed call Kardamos' bluff by advancing to the region of Adrianople, where he defied the Bulgarians for seventeen days. Kardamos did not dare to give battle and withdrew (Theophanes AM 6288). In the same year, the Arabs advanced as far as Amorium, but withdrew without any gains, except a few captives from the region. The fact that Constantine was both enthusiastic about his campaigning and achieving some successes is shown by Irene and Stauracius' evident unwillingness to allow him to gain a major victory, for, when he led 20,000 men against the Arabs in March 797, the campaign was aborted by misinformation:
'The supporters of Stauracius, being aware of the ardour of the army and of the emperor, were afraid lest he prove victorious in war and they fail in their plot against him. So they bribed the scouts and caused them to lie that the Saracens had departed. The emperor, for his part, was much saddened and returned to the City empty-handed.' (Theophanes AM 6289).   When he fled his mother's plot in July, Irene's supporters feared that army support for Constantine would render their plans fruitless, and indeed Theophanes reports that the army was collecting around the emperor. This almost caused Irene to capitulate, though in the event she preferred to blackmail her supporters into dealing terminally with the emperor (Theophanes AM 6289).

That Constantine's following was substantial is implied, after his deposition, by the attempt of 'trouble-makers'  in October 797 to have one of his sons proclaimed emperor. A great crowd collected in St Sophia in their support, but Aetius was able to extract the boys and banish them to Athens (Theophanes AM 6290). A further plot in support of their rights by the Helladics took place in March 798, perhaps with the approval of Irene's own uncle Constantine Sarantapechos; Irene however sent her nephew Theophylact to stamp out the rebellion, and the boys, and perhaps Constantine, were blinded (Theophanes AM 6291). Constantine appears to have lacked diplomatic finesse and judgement, but since he was only 26 years of age at the time of his death, and clearly not without support from within the army, it is probably unwise to label him too categorically as an ineffectual commander, nor one who needed to be removed for the good of the state.

After he was blinded by his mother's supporters on Saturday 16 April 797, at the age of 26, he was exiled to Principo and died before 806. He was buried in Constantinople in Irene's monastery of St Euphrosyne, where his first wife Maria and his daughters Irene and Euphrosyne, who was to marry Michael II, were later buried: Maria may have retired to this monastery after their divorce. It is possible that he was still alive in 802, as it is recorded that shortly after his accession the new emperor Nicephorus befriended Constantine in an attempt to discover the whereabouts of a treasure hidden in the palace (Cedrenus 2.31; Leo Gramm. 202). This would imply that Constantine had been brought or allowed back to Constantinople under the new regime (after all the new heir to the throne Stauracius was later to marry Theophano, Constantine's cousin), and the Continuator of George Monachus (809) narrates that Constantine lived in a mansion known as ta Isidorou, which was later turned into a convent by his widow. The fact that he was given an imperial funeral, though not in the Chuch of the Holy Apostles, implies that Constantine's status had been at least partially rehabilitated by his mother's imperial successor and this may well have been an implicit condemnation of Irene's deposition of her son, the rightful emperor.[[82]]


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[[1]]The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, ed. A.P. Kazhdan et al, vol. 2 (Oxford University Press, 1991) 1008 s.v. Irene suggests that she was born c. 752.

[[2]]P. Speck, (1978) Kaiser Konsantin VI(Munich: Fink, 1978), 1.203-8 and L. Rydén, 'The Bride-shows at the Byzantine Court -- History or Fiction?' Eranos 83 (1985), 175-91, argue, unnecessarily, against the historicity of bride-shows. See esp. H. Hunger, 'Die Schönheitskonkurrenz in "Belthandros und Chrysantza" und die Brautschau am byzantinischen Kaiserhof', Byzantion 35 (1965), 150-8; W.T. Treadgold, 'The Bride-Shows of the Byzantine Emperors', Byzantion 49 (1979), 395-413; P. Schreiner, 'Das Herrscherbild in der byzantinischen Literatur des 9. bis 11. Jahrhunderts', Saeculum 35 (1984), 132-51; L.M. Hans, 'Der Kaiser als Märchenprinz. Brautschau und Heiratspolitik in Konstantinopel 395-882', Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik, 38 (1988), 33-52.

[[3]]Theophanes AM 6290, 6295, 6269, 6300 [AD 798/9, 802/3, 776/7, 807/8]; R.-J. Lilie, Byzanz unter Eirene und Konstantin VI. (780-802) (mit einem Kapitel über Leon IV. (775-780) von Ilse Rochow) (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 1996), 36-41; J. Herrin, 'Theophano: Considerations on the Education of a Byzantine Princess', in The Empress Theophano. Byzantium and the West at the Turn of the First Millennium, ed. A. Davids (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 66 sees Irene as specifically chosen because of her family's importance.

[[4]]Theophanes AM 6224 [AD 731/2]; Synaxarium ecclesiae Constantinopolitanae (= Syn. CP) 848-52 (BHG, Auct. 2029h); C. Mango, 'St. Anthusa of Mantineon and the Family of Constantine V', Analecta Bollandiana, 100 (1982), 409; R. Morris, Monks and Laymen in Byzantium 843-1118 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 13.

[[5]]Cedrenus 2.19-20; trans. C. Mango & R. Scott, The Chronicle of Theophanes Confessor (Oxford: Clarendon Press,1997), 626 n. 9.

[[6]]Theophanes AM 6261, 6262 [AD 768/9, 769/70]; Nicephorus 88; Leo Grammaticus 188, 190; Constantine Porphyrogennetos, de ceremoniis, 1.41.

[[7]]Theophanes AM 6268, 6272 [AD 775/6, 779/80]; Leo Gramm. 190-1; for Constantine V's persecution, see P.J. Alexander, 'Religious Persecution and Resistance in the Byzantine Empire of the Eighth and Ninth Centuries: Methods and Justifications', Speculum, 52 (1977), 238-64; S. Gero, Byzantine Iconoclasm during the Reign of Constantine V, with Particular Attention to the Oriental Sources (Louvain, 1977).

[[8]]Cedrenus 2.19-20. The chronicle of Symeon the Logothete tells us that Irene was persuaded to worship icons by Theophanes and three cubicularii and that Leo from now on had nothing to do with her: Leo Gramm. 192.

[[9]] W.T. Treadgold, The Byzantine Revival 780-842 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1988), 6 suggests that Leo may not have died a natural death and that Irene and her supporters 'probably connived at her husband's murder': Treadgold accepts Cedrenus's version of events.

[[10]]Mango (1982) 401-9; Syn. CP 613-14; U.V. Bosch, 'Anthusa, ein Beitrag zum Kaisertum der Eirene', Polychordia. Festschrift Franz Dölger, Byzantinische Forschungen, 1 (1966), 24-9. Anthousa was born in 756-7 and died in 808 or 809 (Mango 408).

[[11]]Theophanes AM 6273 [AD 781/1]; Leo Gramm. 193.

[[12]]Theophanes AM 6273 [AD 780/1]; Leo Gramm. 192-3. The other brothers were the Caesar Christopher and the nobilissimi Nicetas, Anthimus and Eudocimus: all five were the sons of Constantine V's third wife Eudocia.

[[13]]P. Grierson, Catalogue of the Byzantine Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection and in the Whittemore Collection, 3.1: 337-8; P. Grierson, Byzantine Coins (London,1982), 158; Treadgold (1988) 60.

[[14]]Pippin III, Charlemagne's father, had betrothed his daughter Gisela to Leo IV but the marriage of course did not take place: M. McCormick, 'Byzantium and the West, 700-900', in The New Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 2: c. 700-c. 900, ed. R. McKitterick (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 365; J. Herrin, The Formation of Christendom (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), 381.

[[15]]Theophanes AM 6274 [AD 781/2]. See Herrin (1987) 412-13; P. Grierson, 'The Carolingian Empire in the Eyes of Byzantium', Settimane di studio del Centro italiano di studi sull'alto medievo, 27 (1981), 902-5.

[[16]]Theophanes AM 6273 [AD 780/1].

[[17]]Theophanes AM 6274 [AD 781/2].

[[18]]Theophanes AM 6274 [AD 781/2].

[[10]]J. Arvites, 'The Defense of Byzantine Anatolia during the Reign of Irene (780-802), in Armies and Frontiers in Roman and Byzantine Anatolia, ed. S. Mitchell (Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, 1983), 225; Theophanes AM 6274 [AD 781/2]; the tribute may have been 70,000 or 90,000 dinars per year for three years: see Tabari, tr. Williams 2.100; Treadgold (1988) 69.

[[20]]Arvites (1983) 225; L.A. Tritle, 'Tatzates' Flight and the Byzantine-Arab Peace Treaty of 782', Byzantion, 47 (1977), 279-300.

[[21]]Theophanes AM 6275 [AD 782/3]; Leo Gramm. 194; Treadgold (1988) 73: the Asiatic themata were operating there in 786 (Theophanes AM 6279 [AD 786/7]); Lilie (1996) 169-79.

[[22]]A.P. Kazhdan, & A.-M. Talbot, 'Women and Iconoclasm', Byzantinische Zeitschrift, 84/85 (1991/92), 391-408; Judith Herrin, 'Women and the Faith in Icons in Early Christianity', in Culture, Ideology and Politics: Essays for Eric Hobsbawn, ed. R. Samuel & G. Stedman Jones (London, 1983), 56-83; Peter Hatlie, 'Women of Discipline during the Second Iconoclast Age', Byzantinische Zeitschrift, 89 (1996), 37-44; Alexander (1977).

[[23]]Theophanes AM 6273 [AD 780/1]; tr. Mango & Scott (1997) 627; C. Mango, 'A Forged Inscription of the Year 781', Zbornik Radova Vizantinoloshkog Instituta, 8/1 (1963), 201-7.

[[24]]Theophanes AM 6276 [AD 783/4]; Leo Gramm. 194-5.

[[25]]Theophanes AM 6276, 6277 [AD 783/4, 784/5]; cf. AM 6272; J.P. Thomas, Private Religious Foundations in the Byzantine Empire (Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1987), 124; cf. G. Every, The Byzantine Patriarchate 451-1204, second edition (London, 1965), 95. Tarasius had been a secretis, or imperial secretary: Leo Gramm. 195 calls him a secretis (a high-ranking imperial secretary); the Life of Irene (V. Irenes) 12 and the Life of Tarasius (V. Taras.) 397, 398 call him protoasecretis (head of the college of asecretis).

[[26]]For the Byzantine army and iconoclasm, see W.E. Kaegi, 'The Byzantine Armies and Iconoclasm', Byzantinoslavica, 27 (1966), esp. 53-61, who argues that not all Byzantine troops in Asia were iconoclast and notes that Constantine V had consciously indoctrinated the tagmata with his iconoclastic beliefs: Theophanes AM 6259 [AD 766/7].

[[27]]Theophanes AM 6277, 6278 [AD 784/5, 785/6]; G.D. Mansi, Sacrorum conciliorum nova et amplissima collectio, Florence, 1759-98, repr. Paris, vol. 12.990-1, 999-1002; V. Taras. 404; P.J. Alexander, The Patriarch Nicephorus of Constantinople. Ecclesiasical Policy and Image in the Byzantine Empire (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1958), 18-19.

[[28]]Theophanes AM 6283 [AD 790/1]; Arvites (1983) 227; J.F. Haldon, Aspects of Byzantine Military Administration: the Elite Corps, the Opsikion, and the Imperial Tagmata from the Sixth to the Ninth Century (Birmingham: University of Birmingham 1975), 206-11; idem, Byzantine Praetorians. An Administrative, Institutional and Social Survey of the Opsikion and Tagmata, c. 580-900 (Bonn 1984), 236-45.

[29]]Theophanes AM 6279 [AD 786/7].

[[30]]Theophanes AM 6280 [AD 787/8]; G. Dumeige, Nicée II, Historie des conciles oecuméniques 4 (Paris: de l'Orante, 1978), 101-42; Herrin (1987) 417-24. J. Darrouzès, 'Listes épiscopales du Concile de Nicée (787)', Revue des Etudes Byzantines 33 (1975), 5-76 lists the bishops who attended.

[[31]]Mansi 13.377DE (trans. Alexander (1958) 21).

[[32]]C. Mango, The Brazen House. A Study of the Vestibule of the Imperial Palace of Constantinople (Copenhagen: Munksgaard,1959), 121. Mango notes its brevity and the fact that it was not a confession of faith like the epigram of Theodora.

[[33]]Herrin (1987) 429.

[[34]] Patria Constantinopouleos, 3.20, 77, 85, 154 (Preger 219, 243, 246, 265).

[[35]]R. Cormack, 'The Arts During the Age of Iconoclasm', in Iconoclasm, ed. A. Bryer & J. Herrin (Birmingham: University of Birmingham, 1977), 38, 40.

[[36]]Patria 3.202 (Preger 278).

[[37]]Patria 3.85 (Preger 246); D.J. Constantelos, Byzantine Philanthropy and Social Welfare, second edition (New Rochelle: Caratzas, 1991), 100, citing V. S Niketae Confessoris AASS April 1, App. 24.30. For Irene's public bakeries, installed in a disused ancient hippodrome near the Amastrianon (Patria 3.85, 173; Preger 246, 269), see Herrin (1987) 449; C.L. Striker, 'The Coliseo de Spiriti in Constantinople', in Studien zur Spätantiken und Byzantinischen Kunst, ed. O. Feld and U. Peschlow, vol. 1 (Bonn: Habelt, 1986), 7-11.

[[38]]Psellus, Historia Syntomos, 80-2.

[[39]]Theophanes AM 6300 [AD 807/8]. Charlemagne, too, appears to have been reluctant to part with his daughter.

[[40]]Theophanes AM 6281 [AD 788/9]; Leo Gramm. 193; Treadgold (1979) 395-413, (1988) 89-90, 92; M. McCormick, 'Byzantium and the West, 700-900', in The New Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 2: c. 700-c. 900, ed. R. McKitterick (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 366-7.

[[41]]Life of Philaretus (V. Philareti) 135-43; V. Irenes 16. The lauraton has generally been taken to mean an ideal portrait against which the candidates were compared: A. Kazhdan & L.F. Sherry, 'The Tale of a Happy Fool: the Vita of St. Philaretos the Merciful (BHG 1511z--1512b)', Byzantion 66 (1996), 353 n. 7 suggest instead that it measured the girls' waists.

[[42]]Theophanes AM 6281 [AD 788]; McCormick (1995) 367.

[[43]]heophanes AM 6282 [AD 789/90]; cf. V. Irenes 16.

[[44]]Theophanes AM 6259, 6282 [AD 766/7, 789/90].

[[45]]Theophanes AM 6283 [AD 790/1]; Leo Gramm. 196-7; Kaegi (1966) 63-5.

[[46]]See Theophanes AM 6258 [AD 765/6]: strategos of the Thrakesians; AM 6262 [AD 769/70]: he took part in the persecution of iconophiles, forcing monks and nuns to marry; AM 6263 [AD 770/71]: he sold off monasteries and their possessions, burnt books, and killed and tortured monks.

[[47]]Grierson, Catalogue of the Byzantine Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, 3.1, 336-8.

[[48]]Theophanes AM 6284 [AD 791/2]; Leo Gramm. 197, however, is relatively positive about Constantine's military achievements. Grierson, Catalogue of the Byzantine Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, 3.2, 338-9: Irene's name is in the dative, as the object of an acclamation.

[[49]]Theophanes AM 6284 [AD 791/2].

[[50]]Theophanes AM 6285 [AD 792/3].

[[51]]Theophanes AM 6287 [AD 794/5] (tr. Mango & Scott (1997) 645); Leo Gramm. 198-9; V. Taras. 408-12.

[[52]]Theophanes AM 6288 [AD 795/6]. Maria was one of Theodore the Studite's correspondents: Theodore the Studite, Letters, 227, 309, 514.

[[53]]Theodore the Studite, Eulogy of Platon 832B-3A; Letters, 1-3; Theophanes AM 6288. Theodore's letters frequently refer to Constantine as a 'second Herod': Letters, 22, 28, 31, 443; Lilie (1996) 71-8.

[[54]]Theophanes AM 6288 [AD 795/6].

[[55]]Theophanes AM 6258 [AD 765/6]; 'L'histoires des reliques d'Euphémie par Constantin de Tios' (BHG3 621) in F. Halkin (ed.) Euphémie de Chalcédoine: Légendes byzantines (Brussels: Société des Bollandistes, 1965), 99-104 (Constantine of Tios accuses Leo III not Constantine), reviewed by C. Mango, Journal of Theological Studies, 17 (1966), 485-8; cf. E.S. Kountoura-Galake, 'Saint Euphemia (in Greek)', Symmeikta 7 (1987) 59-75.

[[56]]Theophanes AM 6258 [AD 765/6]; Halkin (1965) 97-8 (Constantine of Tios); the Patria 3.9 (Preger 217) dates the rebuilding to her sole rule.

[[57]]J. Wortley, 'Iconoclasm and Leipsanoclasm: Leo III, Constantine V and the Relics', Byzantinische Forschungen, 8 (1982), 253-79, esp. 270-9, who considers the story of the desecration of St Euphemia's by Constantine V 'pious fiction' (277): anathema 15 of the iconoclast Council of 754 cursed anyone who 'does not confess that all the saints... are honourable in his sight in soul and body, and if he does not entreat their prayers....' (Mansi 13.348DE), a vindication of relics, as well as of the practice of intercession.

[[58]]Theodore the Studite, Eulogy of Platon 832B-3A; Theophanes AM 6288.

[[59]]Theophanes AM 6289 [AD 796/7].

[[60]]Theophanes AM 6289 [AD 796/7] (Mango & Scott (1997) 649); Leo Gramm. 199-200. Theophanes says that August 15 was a Saturday: it was in fact a Tuesday; cf. Grierson (1962) 54-5. If Constantine died on a Saturday it must have been August 19.

[[61]]See E.W. Brooks, 'On the Date of the Death of Constantine the Son of Irene', Byzantinische Zeitschrift 9 (1900), 654-7. He seems to have died shortly afterwards: Genesius 25, but cf. Cedrenus 2.31. For his tomb, see Grierson (1962), 54-5. Theodote went to a monastery, where she bore a posthumous son: Ps-Symeon, Chronographia, in Theophanes Continuatus, ed. I. Bekker (Bonn: CSHB, 1838), 809; Theodore the Studite, Letter, 31.

[[62]]Grierson, Catalogue of the Byzantine Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, 3.1, 347-51; J. & P. Zepos (eds), Ius graecoromanum (Athens, 1931, repr. Aalen, 1962), 1.45-50; F. Dölger, Regesten der Kaiserkunden des oströmischen Reiches, 358, 359. For her seals, see G. Zacos & A. Veglery, Byzantine Lead Seals (Basel: J.J. Augustin, 1972) 1.1, nos. 40-1.

[[63]]Grierson, Catalogue of the Byzantine Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection, 3.1, 347-8; Grierson (1982) 158.

[[64]]Theophanes AM 6289; Herrin (1987) 454-7, 464. Cf. T.S. Brown, 'Byzantine Italy, c. 680-c. 876', in The New Cambridge Medieval History, vol. 2: c. 700-c. 900, ed. R. McKitterick (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 331: 'one possible motive for Charles may have been to win support in the 'Roman areas' of Italy such as the Exarchate and Rome by exploiting vestigial nostalgia for the Roman imperial title.'

[[65]]Theophanes AM 6290, 6291 [AD 797/8, 798/9].

[[66]]Theophanes AM 6291 [AD 798/9]; Tabari, trans. Williams 2.222; Arvites (1983) 230.

[[67]]Theophanes AM 6290, 6291 [AD 797/8, 798/9].

[[68]]Theophanes AM 6293 [AD 800/01]. Cf. Theodore the Studite, Letter, 7; N. Oikonomides, 'Le kommerkion d'Abydos, Thessalonique et le commerce bulgare au IXe siècle', Hommes et richesses dans l'Empire byzantin, vol. 2: VIIIe-XVe siècle, ed. V. Kravari, J. Lefort & C. Morrisson (Paris: Lethielleux, 1991), 242. Treadgold (1988) 118 states that this would have reduced prices by at least a tenth.

[[69]]Anastos (1966) 89.

[[70]]Theodore the Studite, Letter, 7.31-2; Theophanes AM 6302 [AD 809/10]; Thomas (1987) 128; Treadgold (1988) 151; J.F. Haldon 'Military Service, Military Lands, and the Status of Soldiers: Current Problems and Interpretations', Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 47 (1993), 23-4, 37.

[[71]]Theophanes AM 6294 (AD 801/2).

[[72]]Theophanes AM 6298 [AD 805/6]; Theodore the Studite, Eulogy of Platon 833AD.

[[73]]Theophanes AM 6291, 6292 [AD 798/9, 799/800]; Leo Gramm. 200.

[[74]]Theophanes AM 6293 [AD 800/01], cf. AM 6289; Arvites (1983) 230; Treadgold (1988) 119.

[[75]]Theophanes AM 6294, 6295 [AD 801/2, 802/3] (tr. Mango & Scott (1997) 655); cf. George Monachus Continuatus, Vitae recentiorum imperatorum, in Theophanes Continuatus, ed. I. Bekker (Bonn: CSHB, 1838), 771-2.

[[76]]Theophanes AM 6294 (AD 801/2).

[[77]]Michael the Syrian 12.4 (Chabot 3.12-13) mentions an assassination attempt against Nicephorus..

[[78]]The Synodicon Vetus, ed. & tr. J. Duffy & J. Parker (Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1979), 153; cf. Genesius 6-8.

[[79]]Theophanes AM 6300 [AD 807/8].

[[80]]Theophanes AM 6295 [AD 802/3]; Constantine Porphyrogennetos, de ceremoniis, 645.16 mentions her tomb in the list of imperial tombs in the Holy Apostles, where her corpse was later transferred; Grierson (1962) 55.

[[81]] Theodore in his correspondence frequently identifies Constantine with Herod Antipas (Letters 22, pp. 58-9.46-60, 28, 77-8.65-80, 443, 624.21-32), and insists that Constantine's son was begotten in adultery and should be left without any inheritance as ‘unlawful’ and illegal’ (Letter 31, p. 26.57); Life of Tarasius, 47, ed. Efthymiadis, pp. 192–3.

[[82]]E.W. Brooks, 'On the Date of the Death of Constantine the Son of Irene', Byzantinische Zeitschrift 9 (1900), 654-7; Grierson (1962) 54-5.

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