6.22.2008

Powerful Women: Irene, Emperor of the Roman empire
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In the U.S., we hear of Betsy Ross mending the stars and stripes, Molly Pitcher helping the wounded in the Revolution; Clara Barton helping the Civil War wounded, then founding the American Red Cross. Legions of women represented by Rosie the Riveter built planes, tanks, ships, and airplanes in World War II. Women serve in the Congress and Senate, but so far a woman has not been president, and it will be at least another 4 years until a woman is potentially elected.

Back in 797, Irene became Emperor of the Roman Empire. Not "empress" like Victoria, but "emperor" using the masculine form of the word in Greek, basileus. The pope in Rome, and the most powerful king in Western Europe, Charlemagne or Carolus Magnus, then established the Holy Roman empire when Charlemagne was crowned on Christmas Day in the year 800, reviving the tradition of having a Roman emperor based in Europe that had ended in 476 A.D. In the interim, the kings and chieftains of Europe had always valued the legal writ that enabled them to claim that they were representatives of the emperor in far-off Constantinople, ruling in his absence, sometimes receiving presents of gold and sending off their youths to serve in the imperial guard, though any practical suzerainty was a fiction in this, the era of Beowulf.

Irene proved to be a talented politician and negotiator, almost re-assembling the old Roman empire through a family alliance, while serving as absolute ruler.


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