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Empress Irene of Athens was the first female ruler of the Byzantine Empire. Irene decided that she’d had enough of Constantine’s disloyalty and the ordered her men to gouge out his eyes. Irene sent a summons for the Sicilian governor Elpidios, but his loyal citizens stood by his side and refused to give him up. Empress Irene set out to solve the issue of iconoclasm which was established in the empire. While she definitely came from an honorable family, many other hopefuls were better suited to the title. As you can imagine, his people were none too pleased. She even had a town named after her: Irenoupolis. She was very, very intelligent. Now this is a bit of a stretch, but while listening to the "History of Byzantium Podcast" recently they mentioned that Empress Irene, and Charles the Great, were at odds imperially. Tzitzak (Turkish: Çiçek ; died c. 750), baptised Irene (Greek: Ειρήνη ), was a Khazar princess, the daughter of khagan Bihar, who became empress by marriage to … No clan is left untouched, and even families that seem happy and normal on…. Oh, and there was also the issue of Irene, y’know, forcing him to dump his girlfriend Rotrude. The only original source that deals at all fully with the reign of the empress Irene is the chronicle of Theophanes. Anthousa was having none of it however and politely refused to rule alongside her sister-in-law. No matter her motivation, man oh man, this was a bad idea. She was just filling in until her son was old enough. Irene probably didn’t think her mama’s boy son would ever completely reject one of her orders. Irene chose Tarasios as the new patriarch and he called for a council to support “Bring Back Icons, We Love Icons, Woo Woo!” Delegates from Rome were supposed to attend, only for the council to be disrupted by furious icon-smashing soldiers. Purely by accident, Irene happened to discover her son’s plan. Spoiler alert: It didn’t. However, like always, their plans failed—and Constantine made them regret it. Not everything was hunky dory during Irene’s co-reign. Britannica Explores. Sorry, your blog cannot share posts by email. In 792, however, Constanfine VI pardoned Irene and allowed her to return as empress. There are many theories about just how and why Emperor Leo passed. Nuh uh, she had yet another plan up her sleeve. Constantine decided he’d had enough when mommy dearest declared that her name should precede the Emperor’s name in official documents. Irene had Constantine confined to the palace until he swore an “oath of fidelity to her.” If you think that strong-arming your Emperor-son into an unconvincing pledge of loyalty sounds like a recipe for disaster, you’re not wrong! This time, they tried to take over Irene’s power but of course Irene discovered their plot and thwarted their plans. Once Leo was out of the picture, his nine-year-old son inherited the title. Remember how Constantine forced the wife of his mom’s choosing into a nunnery? Leo’s half brothers were nothing if not persistent. After this kerfuffle, Leo refused to sleep with his wife. She was the daughter of the Emperor Laszlo of Hungary. With them gone, Irene replaced them with a force that was more sympathetic to her cause and called another meeting with the Papal delegates. The ecstatic new parents named their boy Constantine VI after his grandfather. She waited until she was sure that public opinion was completely against her son, and then she took her revenge. Apparently, Leo discovered some sacred images beneath Irene’s pillow. The public didn’t love this outcome but they were even more upset when they discovered why Constantine had lost interest in his wife. Our credibility is the turbo-charged engine of our success. He passed when the child was just four and with his demise, his son Leo officially became the Emperor. A gold coin depicting Byzantine empress Irene (r. 797-802 CE). But even if her extended family didn’t shower Irene with love, their general fanciness did help her out. Well, they resurfaced after his passing and decided to get the gang back together for one more shot at the throne. Especially unusual is that, while Constantine V was a militant iconoclast who was known for persecuting venerators of icons, Irene herself displayed iconophile predilections. Tell a friend. Even after Irene put Nikephoros in his place, he colluded with the Sicilian governor to overthrow Irene and replace her as her son’s regent. This basically meant that Irene was the de facto ruler of the entire Byzantine Empire. Still mad about those “Irene maybe poisoned Leo” rumors, are we? This individual is sometimes confused with Byzantine Empress Irene, who was her daughter-in-law.. Tzitzak (Greek: Τζιτζάκ) (died c. 750), baptised Irene (Greek: Ειρήνη), was a Khazar princess, the daughter of khagan Bihar, who became empress by marriage to … Irene’s men captured him and returned him to his furious mother. Well, one of the reasons he never loved Maria was because he loved someone else: His mom’s lady-in-waiting. But the happy days didn’t last very long. The simplest blamed his demise on poor health and stress (hey, being Emperor isn’t easy). Hmm… interesting. To keep the people on her side, she waived taxes and lowered duties. He was content to let her continue to reign. She stepped aside gracefully, hoping she wouldn’t have to face any physical punishment or humiliation. Which feature marks St. Mark's as a Byzantine building: dome on a centralized building 6. Irene came up with the genius idea to send half of army to Asia to defend the empire against the Arabs. Technically, Irene wasn’t the emperor. She was 17, when her father died and siblings were estranged by circumstances. Heck, she even asked her son’s bride-to-be to learn Greek and Roman customs. She had to deal with a conflict with the Franks, who seized some important land away from her. Unfortunately for Irene, her method to retain rule didn’t work too well because the army liked Constantine way more than Irene. Devoted to the Orthodox Church, she bent most of her efforts to suppressing iconoclasm . He started cracking down on anyone suspected of icon-worship and brought back his dad’s practice of persecuting and torturing them. Her name was Theodote, and she was Constantine’s mistress before he threw caution to the winds and decided to marry her. Not only did Irene end her son’s engagement to the girl he loved, she also decided to choose the next girl he would marry! These dudes just don’t give up—even when they should really just stay home and treasure the organs they have left. She came up with the brilliant idea to have him and his other brothers all ordained as priests, since a member of the clergy wasn’t allowed to rule. © Copyright 2021 by Factinate.com. We’re always looking for your input! Empress Irene was the wife of Leo IV and, on her husband's death, she reigned as regent for her son Constantine VI from 780 to 790 CE. Irene was born in Athens, sometime between 750-755. Irene Constantina Flavia was born to Emperor Constantine XI as his youngest child in 1575. Empress Irene was born between 750 and 755 into a noble family of Athens. The best revenge might be living well, but that doesn't mean we can always turn the other cheek. Brace yourself: We’re unveiling the story of Irene’s spectacular rise to power and her chilling fall from grace. The virtuous Empress Irene spent generously on charities. Tragically for Constantine, he wasn’t really the most confidence-inducing emperor of all time. Since Irene didn’t have any siblings, she must have had quite a lonely childhood being shuttled from one house to another. Wait and watch. Despite this frightening setback, our gal Irene was undeterred. The answer is more scandalous than you might think. He became more accepting about his wife’s reverence for icons, even though his family had a long history of banning that kind of thing. She did this by offering his sister Anthousa to become co-regent with her. Some historians think that Irene ended things because she was a classic overbearing mom who didn’t want to share Constantine with anyone else. It is believed that she was born of a Greek noble family. Tragic Facts About Queen Victoria, The Widow Of Windsor, These People Got Revenge In The Most Ingenious Ways, Absolute Legends: The Wildest Pranks Ever Pulled, Grandiose Facts About Marie Antoinette, The Doomed Queen, Overheard Once, Forgotten Never: These Hurtful Comments Are Completely Brutal, Stay Out Of The Woods: Campers And Hikers Share Their Creepiest Experiences, These Jerks Had No Idea Who They Were Messing With. Irene, (born c. 752, Athens—died Aug. 9, 803, Lesbos), Byzantine ruler and saint of the Greek Orthodox Church who was instrumental in restoring the use of icons in the Eastern Roman Empire. Leo IV got his wife a unique push present: Religious tolerance! Their leader invaded Anatolia on Elpidios’s behest. Ironically, she chose her through a bride show (the same unromantic chattel-y way that Irene herself was allegedly chosen for Leo IV). I got a book on the 1918 pandemic in the mail recently. After the death of her husband Theophilus, the empress Theodora ruled the Byzantine Empire as regent for her young son Michael. Irene īrē´nē , c.750–803, Byzantine empress (797–802). One of Irene’s dearest ambitions was to end the practice of “icon-smashing” and bring back the reverence she felt that religious symbols and images deserved. Please submit feedback to contribute@factinate.com. Best wishes, Pete. The clergy and nobles attending the ceremony proclaimed Charlemagne as “Emperor of the Roman Empire.” In support of Charlemagne’s coronation, some argued that the imperial position was actually vacant, deeming a wom… But as we’ll see, even this wouldn’t deter them forever. She was sure they’d win, but she was so, so wrong. Her family background is not known. Well, up until now. Irene may have imagined that she could keep Constantine in her shadow forever and continue to reign in his place. Want to tell us to write facts on a topic? But wow, was he wrong! Called “Irene of Athens” in honor of her birthplace, Irene is mainly remembered for two dramatic events. Irene had to think a way of bringing him to heel, fast. Trust me, things will get worse later. Side note: Apparently the ancient world had like five names total. In a humiliating concession, Irene was forced to pay an annual tribute of 70-90k dinars to the Abbasids to get them to agree to a three-year truce. You see, Irene had good reason to be insecure about her future. He was lying. I think it’s safe to say that Irene was a woman you wouldn’t wanna cross. This fact, combined with the limited information available about her family, has led some scholars to speculate that Irene may have been sel… No matter what you believe, we can all agree on one thing: Leo’s discovery had huge consequences for both Irene and the country at large. ), Leo appointed iconophile monks to high positions in his court. She also gave them silk garments and provided them with a safe passage to vacate the territory. She was an orphan, and there is some mystery around why she was chosen from obscurity to be the bride of Leo IV, heir to Constantinople. After all, Irene was smart—and trying to hide things from your husband by putting them in the bed you share is a really dumb idea. It might have been a wise move as well, as it would have united the Eastern and Western parts of the Byzantine Empire. Theodora moved to higher studies, Justin was enthroned and puppeted by Maximian Prothoperos and Irene also studied, but she was still on gymnasium. Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. His own half-brothers challenged his reign, forcing Irene and Leo to fight fire with fire. Pope Leo III therefore crowned Charlemagne as the true Roman emperor. He told Irene he’d let her live in her palace if she disclosed the location of the imperial treasure. But this wasn’t going to be a quick fix, so Irene started drawing up a clever plan. Still wanting complete rule, Irene plotted against her son over the next few years. Yeah…I can’t really fault Irene for not wanting a repeat of that. Occupation: empress consort, regent and co-ruler with her son, ruler in her own right Dates: lived about 752 – August 9, 803, ruled as co-regent 780 – 797, ruled in her own right 797 – October 31, 802 Also known as Empress Irene, Eirene (Greek) Irene’s distinguished relatives put her in the running to marry the Emperor’s son. No one knows exactly how the Roman Emperor, Constantine V, came to choose Irene as the bride of his son Leo IV. Back again? Change ), You are commenting using your Facebook account. Maybe Irene felt that choosing Constantine’s bride would help her keep control over the throne and the Empire? Mother and son were already clashing on certain ideas (Irene loved icons; Constantine hated them). ( Log Out /  With Horrible Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies? Apparently jealous that his wife had eyes for another (even if said other was a long-dead saint), Leo became furious. The portrait of Empress Irene, wife of Alexius I Commenus, was added to which of the following: Pala d'Oro 4. Thanks for your time! Since Irene didn’t have any siblings, she must have had quite a lonely childhood being shuttled from one house to another. She was the empress of the Byzantines ………, Known for: sole Byzantine emperor, 797 – 802; her rule gave the Pope the excuse to recognize Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor; convened the 7th Ecumenical Council (2nd Council of Nicaea), restoring icon veneration in the Byzantine Empire, Occupation: empress consort, regent and co-ruler with her son, ruler in her own rightDates: lived about 752 – August 9, 803, ruled as co-regent 780 – 797, ruled in her own right 797 – October 31, 802Also known as Empress Irene, Eirene (Greek), https://www.thoughtco.com/irene-of-athens-p2-3529666. The couple did have two daughters, but the young emperor clearly didn’t consider them a reason to try and get along with his wife. Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history. She retaliated by seizing his family, whom he had left in Constantinople. Guess who’s back? The blindness and humiliation affected him so badly that he perished soon after the incident. Are you even an emperor if you don’t have power-hungry relatives trying to kick you off the throne? Irene’s army was no match for the Abbasids and after some days of fighting, her men had to surrender. Irene made an ambitious match for her son with Charlemagne’s daughter, Rotrude. And her revenge didn’t stop there. When we do, we depend on our loyal, helpful readers to point out how we can do better. After her death, she became a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church.. They invaded the event and terrified the delegates into fleeing. Irene was brought to Constantinople by Emperor Constantine V on 1 November 768 and was married to his son Leo IVon 17 December. Saint Irene was the daughter of a wealthy family from Cappadocia and was born in the ninth century. He was so disappointed in her lack of regard for his policies and beliefs that the relationship became extremely strained from that point onwards. Prior to becoming empress regnant, Irene was empress consort from 775 to 780, and empress dowager and regent from 780 to 797. Since this change in circumstances meant that Irene levelled up to become Leo’s Empress Consort, one can imagine she wasn’t too heartbroken about her father-in-law’s passing. Of course, that plan went south. While sheltering in place….why not learn something? But then she experienced great tribulations. Irene knew that Constantine’s popularity was at an all-time low and that the people were already angry with him for divorcing his wife and marrying a maid. Change ), You are commenting using your Twitter account. Nikephoros was a nasty piece of work. Irene did seem to have it all. Irene of Athens or Irene Sarantapechaina (Εἰρήνη Σαρανταπήχαινα) was Empress consort by marriage to Leo IV from 775 to 780, regent during the minority of her son Constantine VI from 780 until 790, and finally ruling Byzantine Empire from 797 to 802.Irene was born between 750 and 755 in Athens. Mosaic of Empress Irene, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul. Irene and her supporters were arrested and banished from the palace. They stood by him and proclaimed him to be the sole ruler of the empire, leaving Irene with no choice but to step down. He blinded one of his uncles, Nikephoros, and slit the tongues of the others. From the get go, Irene and Leo weren’t exactly a match made in heaven. Thanks for keeping the history going, chuq. Here’s the deal: Irene was still holding onto power at this point. Before that, Irene was empress consort from 775 to 780, and empress dowager and regent from 780 to 797. Over the years, it would lead to enormous feuds, as we shall soon see…. Irene’s devastating treatment of her own son didn’t go unnoticed by the universe. Leo believed firmly in iconoclasm (the destruction of icons) maintained a tolerance for those who were Iconodules (venerated icons). In practice, however, it was a complete disaster. However, the matchmaking didn’t lead to an actual wedding. When Irene found out they were plotting to get rid of her, she had their army caught, persecuted, and banished. Empress Irene was the wife of Leo IV and, on her husband’s death, she reigned as regent for her son Constantine VI from 780 to 790 CE. one child: Constantine VI (January 14, 771 – about 797 or before 805), emperor 780 – 797. Why did Leo suddenly start singing a different tune, you ask? Post was not sent - check your email addresses! She restored monasteries and put an end to iconoclasm which made her a beloved of monks and orthodox believers. Let’s just…, Wikimedia Commons, Thammarith Likittheerameth, The Truth Always Comes Out: Dark Family Secrets Exposed, Entrancing Facts About Madame de Pompadour, France's Most Powerful Mistress, Tragic Facts About Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s First Wife, 101 Charming Facts About Hollywood Leading Men, Timeless Facts About Little Women, The Beloved Classic, Bloody Facts About The Hundred Years' War. My mom never told me how her best friend died. Please let us know if a fact we’ve published is inaccurate (or even if you just suspect it’s inaccurate) by reaching out to us at contribute@factinate.com. Irene, on the other hand, didn’t throw any tantrums when she found out about Constantine and Theodote. Sheesh, I’ll do anything to procrastinate on most housework this weekend. Spoiler: Irene’s love life would get even weirder as the years went on. Thread starter EnglishCanuck; Start date Nov 29, 2016; Nov 29, 2016 #1 EnglishCanuck. Husbands hiding things from wives, mothers from children, and generation from generation. It resulted in a solar eclipse, which went on for a whopping seventeen days. Irene’s unprecedented position as an empress ruling in her own right was emphasized by the coincidental rise of the Carolingian Empire in western Europe, which rivaled Irene’s Byzantium in size and power. But, as they say in old school horror movies, the biggest threat was coming from inside Irene’s house. Her son meanwhile was more of a token figurehead. Change ). Everyone knew that she called the shots. Her husband died in an expedition to Syria in 1143 AD. Though this Nikephorus shared his name, this one actually succeeded. Despite this, Irene enjoyed her time near the throne. ( Log Out /  Once he got the information, he broke his word and exiled Irene to Lesbos. An uneasy truce was struck between mother and son, according to which Irene could retain her title of “co-ruler,” but gave her little more authority than that of a figurehead. In 797 Irene had … It’s simple: She was hot. Irene had a strong influence on her man, but she couldn’t get too comfortable: It didn’t last. Thanks for your help! Irene began to realize that he might not be content playing second fiddle for too much longer. And yet, he got pretty darn close. Beauty, brains, and an iron will: Irene of Athens used all of these to stay in power in the cut-throat world of the Byzantine Empire. Buckle up, y’all. To get out of an uncomfortable situation, she poisoned her husband. Part of the Isaurian (Syrian) dynasty ruling the Eastern Roman Empire. Madame de Pompadour didn't just share King Louis XV's bed, she also shared his power. As though that wasn’t bad enough, the army didn’t accept Irene as their leader. So Irene simply sat by and bided her time. Irene was born in Athens, sometime between 750-755. Empress Irene was the wife of Leo IV and, on her husband's death, she reigned as regent for her son Constantine VI from 780 to 790 CE. The ones who tried to overthrow him? Some historians believe that Leo selected Irene at a dicey event called a “bride show.” This was an unholy hybrid of a fashion show and an auction, with the grand prize being marriage with the Emperor’s son. Even though it sounds like small change to us, this disagreement was a major problem. All Rights Reserved. And sadly, there was yet another bend in the road for Irene. I can assure you that it was not pretty. She gave birth to a son, Constantine, on January 14, 771. During her lacklustre reign, Irene ruthlessly schemed and plotted to keep the throne she would lose and regain three times, but she is chiefly remembered for … The most scandalous theory is that Irene saw the tide was turning against her. She spent the rest of her days spinning wool to support herself and breathed her last in 803, less than a year after Nikephoros’s coup. He discovered that Irene was a closet Iconodule. Intriguing Facts About Poppaea Sabina, Rome’s Wily Empress, Eleanor Of Aquitaine Was England’s Fiercest Queen—Until Her Brutal End. Irene of Athens or Irene the Athenian (Greek: Εἰρήνη ἡ Ἀθηναία; c. 752 – 9 August 803 AD) is the commonly known name of Irene Sarantapechaina (Greek: Εἰρήνη Σαρανταπήχαινα), Byzantine empress regnant from 797 to 802. On paper, the plan made perfect sense. Learn how your comment data is processed. When Constantine realized that his mother was about to lash out, he fled the palace, only to realize that he couldn’t go far. He still had a bone to pick with Irene, so he defected to the Abbasid Caliphate, the ruling authority in Africa and  Asia. Catherine of Aragon was King Henry VIII’s first wife and longest-lasting Queen of England. Our editors are instructed to fact check thoroughly, including finding at least three references for each fact. But Irene’s beauty was simply not enough to make for an agreeable marriage. Remember Leo’s half brothers? Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery. VI from the palace. Just like last time, Irene discovered his plot and surprise, surprise, was none too pleased! Irene struck back, vehemently denying that she had put them there. (Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome) Agia Theodora (February 11) helped to defeat the iconoclast heresy and to restore the holy icons. Irene’s incredible beauty caught Leo’s eye—but at the same time, her good looks had a dark side too. Were all Irene’s outlandish gestures a way to scare off her enemies and hold onto power? 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