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date: 07 December 2019


  • L. James


(b Athens, c. 752; reg 797–802; d Lesbos, 803). Byzantine empress and patron. On the death of her husband, Emperor Leo IV (reg 775–80), she acted as regent for their son Constantine VI (reg 780–97). In 796 she had him blinded and took sole power as the first woman in recorded European history to be acknowledged as a sovereign monarch. Her proposed marriage with Charlemagne would have united the two empires. She was responsible for the restoration of images in Orthodox worship after their destruction and removal during the first wave of iconoclasm (726–87; see Christianity §III 2., (i)). On her own initiative and against the hostility of the iconoclast church and imperial administration, in 787 she convened the Seventh Ecumenical Council at Nicaea (now Iznik), which suppressed iconoclasm, although it was to break out again in 814.

Despite Eirene’s patronage of monasteries and churches, there seems to have been little artistic activity during her reign. She was, however, probably responsible for reinstating the image of Christ above the Chalke Gate of the Great Palace at Constantinople (...

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