Bookmark and Share

Open the online Arabic language course

Byzantine Empire /

(752-803) Byzantine empress 797-802. Her title was, however, not empress but emperor.
Irene was central in reestablishing icon veneration. She restored the use of icons and she aided monasteries. Parallel, she sought a closer relationship with the European powers and the Pope in Rome.
She is a saint in the Greek Orthodox Church, remembered for restoring icon worship, and forgiven for her brutality against her son, Constantine 6.

Around 752: Born in Athens, soon she became an orphan.
769: Being of exceptional beauty, Irene marries Leo 4, heir to the Byzantine throne, and emperor 6 years later.
770: Gives birth to Constantine, later emperor.
780 September 8: Leo 4 dies, and Constantine becomes new emperor, with his mother as regent.
781: Irene defeats a conspiracy of transferring power from her son to Nicephorus, Leo's half-brother. She successfully defeats the rebellion.
782: Wins important territories in Macedonia and Greece.
— Is defeated by the Abbasid caliph, al-Mahdi, in the Levant.
784: Appoints Tarasios Patriarch of Constantinople, him being a defender of icon worshipping.
786: Summons a council in Constantinople, which is interfered by a riot.
787: Summons the Second Council of Nicaea, in which the veneration of icons is reestablished.
788: Irene breaks off Constantine's engagement to Rotrude, daughter of the Frankish king.
— War with the Franks, in which the Byzantine Empire enlarges its borders, including Istria and Benevento to its territory.
790: Unrest between the parties of Irene and Constantine, leads to a rebellion among the Armenians, and the army proclaims Constantine sole ruler. Irene is arrested.
792 January: Constantine pardons his mother, making her co-ruler.
797 August 15: Irene pulls her alliances among bishops and notables, to take control of her son. She has him blinded and deposed, then installs herself as sole ruler of the empire. But, contrary to her ambitions, she is not recognized by the Roman pope.
798: Defeated by the Abbasid caliph, Harun ar-Rashid.
— Begins talks for closer cooperation with the Western emperor, Charlemagne
800: Charlemagne is crowned as new Roman emperor (which meant also Byzantine emperor) by the Roman pope; this had no immediate practical purpose, but reduced the legitimacy of Irene's reign. However, it caused a new rift between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church.
802: Irene plans to marry Charlemagne, which causes public rage.
— A revolt has her deposed as empress, and Nicephorus 1, the Minister of Finance, is made emperor in her place. She is exiled to the island of Lesbos.
803 August 9: Dies at Lesbos.

By Tore Kjeilen