In these days of women’s liberation it must be a matter of satisfaction for the ladies of Athens to reflect that during the long Byzantine period the two most eminent native-born Athenians were both of them women. There was, in the early days, the scholar Athenai’s who became the pious empress Eudocia, and, in the high Byzantine era, Irene, the first woman in recorded European history to reign as a sovereign monarch. It is Irene whom I wish to discuss, as I think that she has been rather shabbily treated by historians. Her reign was a period of ecclesiastical, constitutional, diplomatic and economic importance, with herself at the centre of it all. Yet, so far as I know, no one has ever published a monograph on her or on her reign or given it more than cursory treatment. It must be admitted that the reason for this is not disapproval or contempt for the empress, but simply the inadequacy of the source material. Apart from the seventh oecumenical council, which is fully documented, the events of the reign are covered by one original source only, the Chronographia of Theophanes.