Byzantine Empress regnant Irene of Athens

Illustration by Hubert Goltzius from his work Vivae Omnium Fere Imperatorum Imagines, Antwerp 1557 of a Chiaroscuro medallion portrait woodcut of Irene of Athens (Hirena 797-802). Before becoming the first empress regnant of Byzantium, she had ruled from 780 as regent for her son Constantine VI. In 797 Constantine was blinded by her supporters and died soon after. The Pope saw an empress regnant as an impossibility and hence the throne as vacant, and it is thought that this is why he crowned Charlemagne Roman Emperor in 800. — Image by © Michael Nicholson/Corbis

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