● Born in 752 in Athens, Greece
● Died on August 9, 803 on Lesbos, Greece
Irene, a powerful woman of the Byzantine Empire, was the Empress between 797 and 802. Her
journey to the throne began in 769 when she married Leo, the firstborn son of the reigning
emperor. Leo ascended to the throne as Leo IV in 775, and a year later, Irene gave birth to their
son, the future emperor Constantine VI.
After Leo’s untimely death in 780, the young Constantine became the emperor, with Irene as his
regent. However, her reign was not without challenges. Irene had to assert her authority against
usurpers like Nikephoros in 780 and Elpidios from 781-782. Despite the initial hurdles, her
tenacity and political acumen allowed her to maintain her position as the regent and secure a
During her reign, Irene found herself at the center of a religious controversy that enveloped the
Byzantine Empire in the 8th and 9th centuries: Iconoclasm or the destruction of religious icons.
Irene was a staunch supporter of the party of iconodules, who believed that icons should be
venerated and celebrated, but not worshipped. In 787, she convened the Second Council of
Nicaea, which strengthened the position of the iconodules and helped shape religious and
cultural practices in the Byzantine Empire for centuries.
Irene’s reign was a period of significant growth and socio-political change. Her guidance and
leadership left an indelible mark on the Byzantine Empire, and her legacy continues to inspire
women in positions of power and leadership today.