The daughter of an influential Greek family who was chosen as a bride for Leo IV, Irene later ruled as regent for their nine-year-old son Constantine VI, calling the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 that bought an end to the first iconoclast period.
In 797, as factions attempted to proclaim Constantine as sole ruler, Irene arranged to have her son’s eyes gouged out, maiming him so severely that he died a few days later. She was sole ruler until 802 when, supplanted on the throne by her minister of finance Nikephoros I, she was exiled to the island of Lesbos and forced to support herself in her final year by spinning wool.
In her coinage Irene proclaimed herself empress in the most public way possible: holding a globus cruciger and a cruciform sceptre and wearing a crown and the loros of the imperial family.
This ‘extremely fine’ example sold for £3200 at TimeLine Auctions (20% buyer’s premium) on May 9.