Irene, Byzantine Empress 797-802
S.1601, Perfect Mint State
Mint of Syracuse. Bust of Irene facing, wearing crown and chlamys, and holding akakia in left hand. Rev. Bust of Irene facing wearing crown and loros and holding cross potent.
Irene of Athens, also known as Irene Sarantapechaina, was Byzantine empress consort, by marriage to Leo IV (son of emperor Constantine V) from 775 to 780, Byzantine regent during the minority of her son Constantine VI from 780 until 790, and finally empress of Byzantium (Eastern Roman Empire) from 797 to 802. Her navy defeated a rebellion by Sicilians, but her enemies fled to Africa and formed an alliance with the Abbasid Caliphate which eventually led to a period of Arab dominance in Sicily. Perhaps to further defy her Muslim enemies abroad, she restored the practice of venerating icons of Christ. After Charlemagne gained control of Lombardy and was crowned emperor by Pope Leo III at the end of the year 800, Irene attempted to align herself with him via marriage, but the emperor had no interest in the Eastern Roman Empire. In 1802, Irene’s own patricians conspired against her and she was exiled to Lesbos, where she died in 804.