IRENE: Byzantine empress; b. at Athens 752; d. in Lesbos Aug. 9, 803. In 769 she married Leo, afterward Leo IV., and, upon his death in 780, she became regent during the minority of Constantine VI. The first years of her regency were marked by disastrous wars against the Arabians, to whom she was forced to pay annual tribute. In the iconoclastic controversies of the time (see IMAGES AND IMAGE--WORSHIP, II.) she had secretly been favorable to images even during Leo’s lifetime, and after his death she set herself to reverse the iconoclastic legislation of Constantine V. Accordingly, having gained control of the Eastern Church by judicious appointments to bishoprics, she called the seventh ecumenical council to meet at Constantinople in 786. Owing to the iconoclastic zeal of the soldiers here the council was transferred to Nicæa in 787, and image-worship was then reestablished without opposition (see NICÆA, COUNCILS OF). In 790 the government was wrested from Irene by her son, Constantine VI., but by 792 she was again in power, ruling conjointly with Constantine. After five years of secret warfare between mother and son, Irene finally gained the upper hand and had Constantine blinded and thrown into a dungeon in 797. Her own extravagant reign came to an end in 802, when she was overthrown by Nicephorus and banished to the Isle of Lesbos. Here she earned a meager living by spinning. At the time of her fall she was negotiating a marriage with Charlemagne, with a view to uniting the Eastern with the Western Empire. Her services in the interest of image-worship won her the position of a saint in the Greek Church. Her day is Aug. 15.