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Title: Constantine VI (780-797 A.D.) and Irene (797-802 A.D.)
Contributor(s): Garland, Lynda (author)
Publication Date: 2002
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Abstract: Irene was born in Athens, presumably between 750 and 755 (the actual date is unknown, but she can hardly have been older than her husband, Leo IV, who was born in January 750) In 769 the iconoclast emperor Constantine V Copronymus (the 'dung-named') wanted a bride for his eldest son and heir Leo IV. Historians offer no explanation of why Irene was chosen, though it has been suggested that she may have been the first instance of an imperial bride chosen through a beauty contest or 'bride-show', a curious Byzantine custom enacted some five times between the late eighth and early tenth century to select a bride for the heir to the throne and by means of which Irene's own son Constantine was to 'choose' his first wife. There is, however, no evidence, that Irene herself took part in such a ceremony.The Sarantapechos family to which Irene belonged was from central Greece and must have been relatively prominent. While Irene was an orphan, her uncle Constantine Sarantapechos was a patrician and possibly strategos (commander of the theme) of the Helladics; his son and her nephew Theophylact, a spatharius -- presumably appointed by Irene herself -- is mentioned in connection with the suppression of a revolt centering around Constantine V's sons in 799. Other family members too were to achieve rank and status through her agency: a cousin later married the Bulgar khan Telerik and another relative married the future emperor Stauracius. Other than this we have no evidence of powerful connections for her, and the devotion to icons, which Irene displayed once empress, makes her an apparently unlikely choice by Constantine V unless we postulate that, for political reasons, an alliance with her family and their connections in Greece was of especial importance to Constantine at this time. It is, of course, possible that her sympathies with regard to icons were not known at the time of her marriage, or it may be that tacit iconophile (pro-icon) sympathies were expected of imperial women: at the end of his reign, at least, Constantine V tacitly tolerated monastic benefactions among his own family -- according to the Synaxarion notice for St Anthusa of Mantineon his third wife Eudocia made generous donations to Anthusa's monastery, where she went during a difficult pregnancy. Theophanes tells us that Constantine's first wife, Irene, was also known for her piety (ie, her iconophilism), and Constantine's daughter Anthusa (named for the saint) was also an iconophile and became a nun. Irene's iconophile beliefs may therefore not have been seen as a barrier to her promotion to the position of empress, although it is possible that she may have had to swear an oath to support iconoclasm publicy as imperial policy.
Publication Type: Entry In Reference Work
Source of Publication: DIR: De Imperatoribus Romanis ("On The Rulers of Rome") - An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Rulers and their Families
Publisher: Academic Computer Services of Salve Regina University
Field of Research (FOR): 210306 Classical Greek and Roman History
HERDC Category Description: C1 Refereed Article in a Scholarly Journal
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