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her unpopularity in the capital was the motive of certain measures of relief or favour which the Empress adopted in March A.D. 801. She remitted the "urban tribute," the principal tax paid by the inhabitants of Constantinople,1 but we are unable to say whether this indulgence was intended to be temporary or permanent. She lightened the custom dues which were collected in the Hellespont and the Bosphorus. We may question the need and suspect the wisdom of either of these measures; but a better case could probably be made out for the abolition of the duty on receipts. This tax, similar to the notorious Chrysargyron which Anastasius I. did away with, was from the conditions of its collection especially liable to abuse, and it was difficult for the fisc to check the honesty of the excise officers who gathered it. We have a lurid picture of the hardships which it entailed." Tradesmen of every order were groaning under extravagant exactions. Sheep-dealers and pig-dealers, butchers, wine-merchants, weavers and shoemakers, fullers, bronzesmiths, goldsmiths, workers in wood, perfumers, architects are enumerated as sufferers. The high-roads and the sea-coasts were infested by fiscal officers demanding dues on the most insignificant articles. When a traveller came to some narrow defile, he would be startled by the sudden appearance of a tax-gatherer, sitting aloft like a thing uncanny. The fisherman who caught three fishes, barely enough to support him, was obliged to surrender one to the necessities of the treasury, or rather of its representative. Those who made their livelihood by catching or shooting birds were in the same predicament. It is needless to say that all the proceeds of these exactions did not flow into the fisc; there was unlimited opportunity for peculation and oppression on the part of the collectors.5
We learn that Irene abolished this harsh and impolitic system from a congratulatory letter addressed to her on the
1 For this tax see below, Chap. VII. § 1. Theoph. A. M. 6293.
2 See Theodore Stud. Epp. i. 6, who says that the σrpayyaλía of violent and unjust exactions which existed had escaped the notice of Irene's predecessors. By her measure πópos ἀδικίας πολυπλάσιος συνεξεκόπη (p. 932).
3 Theodore, ib. οὐκέτι ai ὁδοὶ τελωνοῦνται ὅσαι κατὰ γῆν ὅσαι κατὰ
θάλασσαν, οὐκέτι ἠπειρῶται ἐξαργυρίζονται ἄδικα κατὰ τοὺς στενωποὺς ἐκ τῶν ἐπικαθημένων ὥσπερ ἀγρίου τινὸς δαίμονος. 4 The τοξότης and the ἰξευτής.
5 Theodore also mentions the removal of a hardship suffered by soldiers' wives, who, when they lost their husbands, were required to pay death duties-τὴν ὑπὲρ τοῦ θανόντος ἐλεεινὴν καὶ ἀπάνθρωπον ἐξαπαίτησιν.
occasion by Theodore, the abbot of Studion. We must remember that the writer was an ardent partisan of the Empress, whom he lauds in hyperbolic phrases, according to the manner of the age, and we may reasonably suspect that he has overdrawn the abuses which she remedied in order to exalt the merit of her reform.1
The monks of Studion, driven from their cloister by her son, had been restored with high honour by Irene, and we may believe that they were the most devoted of her supporters. The letter which Theodore addressed to her on this occasion shows that in his eyes her offences against humanity counted as nothing, if set against her services to orthodoxy and canonical law. It is characteristic of medieval Christianity that one who made such high professions of respect for Christian ethics should extol the "virtue" of the woman who had blinded her son, and assert that her virtue has made her government popular and will preserve it unshaken.
Even if Irene's capacity for ruling had equalled her appetite for power, and if the reverence which the monks entertained for her had been universal, her sex was a weak point in her position. Other women had governed-Pulcheria, for instance
-in the name of an Emperor; but Irene was the first who had reigned alone, not as a regent, but as sole and supreme autocrat. This was an innovation against which no constitutional objection seems to have been urged or recognized as valid at Constantinople; though in Western Europe it was said that the Roman Empire could not devolve upon a woman, and this principle was alleged as an argument justifying the coronation of Charles the Great. But in the army there was undoubtedly a feeling of dissatisfaction that the sovran was disqualified by her sex from leading her hosts in war; and as the spirit of iconoclasm was still prevalent in the army, especially in the powerful Asiatic Themes, there was no inclination to waive this objection in the case of the restorer of image-worship.2
1 It is remarkable that Theophanes (loc. cit.) does not mention directly the existence of the abuses described by Theodore. The reforms for which Theodore chiefly thanks her must be included in the chronicler's σὺν ἄλλοις πολλοῖς.
2 That her sex was regarded as a disadvantage by public opinion seems
to be disclosed undesignedly by an admirer, the deacon Ignatius, who speaks of her as a woman, and then almost apologizes for doing so. Vit. Niceph. 146 τὸ κραταιόφρον ἐκεῖνο καὶ φιλόθεον γύναιον· εἴπερ γυναῖκα θέμις καλεῖν τὴν καὶ ἀνδρῶν τῷ εὐσεβεῖ διενεγκοῦσαν φρονήματι.
The power exercised by the eunuch Aetius was intolerable to many of the magnates who held high offices of state, and they had good reason to argue that in the interests of the Empire, placed as it was between two formidable foes, a stronger government than that of a favourite who wielded authority at the caprice of a woman was imperatively required. The negotiations of the Empress with Charles the Great, and the arrival of ambassadors from him and the Pope, to discuss a marriage between the two monarchs which should restore in Eastern and Western Europe the political unity of the Roman Empire once more, were equally distasteful and alarming to Aetius and to his opponents. The overtures of Charles may well have impressed the patricians of New Rome with the danger of the existing situation and with the urgent need that the Empire should have a strong sovran to maintain its rights and prestige against the pretensions of the Western barbarian who claimed to be a true Augustus. It might also be foreseen that Aetius would now move heaven and earth to secure the elevation of his brother to the throne as speedily as possible.
These circumstances may sufficiently explain the fact that the discontent of the leading officials with Irene's government culminated in October A.D. 802, while the Western ambassadors were still in Constantinople. The leader of the conspiracy was Nicephorus, who held the post of Logothete of the General Treasury, and he was recognized by his accomplices as the man who should succeed to the Imperial crown. His two chief supporters were Nicetas Triphyllios, the Domestic of the scholarian guards, and his brother Leo, who had formerly been stratêgos of Thrace. The co-operation of these men was highly important; for Aetius counted upon their loyalty, as Nicetas had espoused his part against his rival Stauracius.2 Leo, who held the high financial office of Sakellarios, and the quaestor Theoktistos joined in the plot, and several other patricians.3
1 Theoph. 47527, 47828- The manner in which the presence of the ambassadors (ȧTоkρioιápioι) is noticed in the second passage (ὁρώντων τὰ Tрáyμara) suggests that Theophanes derived some of his information from their account of the transactions.
2 For this reason Theophanes calls
them τῶν ἐπιόρκων καὶ δολερῶν ΤριφυλMwv (476). Michael Syr. iii. 12 assigns a leading rôle to Nicetas.
3 As Leo Seranta pêchos and Gregory, son of Musulakios (formerly Count of the Opsikian Theme). Also some of the chief officers of the other Tagmata (the Excubitors and the Arithmos).
On the night of October 31 the conspirators appeared before the Brazen Gate (Chalkê) of the Palace, and induced the guard to admit them, by a story which certainly bore little appearance of likelihood. They said that Aetius had been attempting to force the Empress to elevate his brother to the rank of Augustus, and that she, in order to obviate his importunities, had dispatched the patricians at this late hour to proclaim Nicephorus as Emperor. The authority of such important men could hardly be resisted by the guardians of the gate, and in obedience to the supposed command of their sovran they joined in proclaiming the usurper. It was not yet midnight. Slaves and others were sent to all quarters of the city to spread the news, and the Palace of Eleutherios, in which the Augusta was then staying, was surrounded by soldiers. This Palace, which she had built herself, was probably situated to the north of the harbour of Eleutherios, somewhere in the vicinity of the Forum which was known as Bous.1 the morning she was removed to the Great Palace and detained in custody, while the ceremony of coronation was performed for Nicephorus by the Patriarch Tarasius, in the presence of a large multitude, who beheld the spectacle with various emotions. The writer from whom we learn these events was a monk, violently hostile to the new Emperor, and devoted to the orthodox Irene, who had testified so brilliantly to the "true faith." We must not forget his bias when we read that all the spectators were imprecating curses on the Patriarch, and on the Emperor and his well-wishers. Some, he says, marvelled how Providence could permit such an event and see the pious Empress deserted by those courtiers who had professed to be most attached to her, like the brothers Triphyllios. Others, unable to believe the evidence of their eyes, thought they were dreaming. Those who took in the situation were contrasting in prophetic fancy the days that were coming with the blessed condition of things which existed under Irene. This description represents the attitude
1 It is supposed that Ak Serai, "White Palace," the present name of the quarter where the Forum Bous was situated, is derived from Irene's palace. See Mordtmann, Esquisse, p. 76. In any case, it must have been situated in the Eleutherios quarter
(τὰ Ελευθερίου), which stretched northward from the harbour of that name.
2 Theophanes (476) καὶ πάντες ἐπὶ τοῖς πραττομένοις ἐδυσχέραινον κτλ., and again κοινὴ δὲ πάντας κατεῖχε ζόφωσις καὶ ἀπαράκλητος ἀθυμία.
of the monks and the large number of people who were under their influence. But we may well believe that the populace showed no enthusiasm at the revolution; Nicephorus can hardly have been a popular minister.
The new Emperor determined, as a matter of course, to send the deposed Empress into banishment, but she possessed a secret which it was important for him to discover. The economy of Leo III. and Constantine V. had accumulated a large treasure, which was stored away in some secret hidingplace, known only to the sovran, and not communicated to the Sakellarios, who was head of the treasury. Nicephorus knew of its existence, and on the day after his coronation he had an interview with Irene in the Palace, and by promises and blandishments persuaded her to reveal where the store was hidden. Irene on this occasion made a dignified speech,1 explaining her fall as a punishment of her sins, and asking to be allowed to live in her own house of Eleutherios. Nicephorus, however, banished her first to Prince's Island in the Propontis, and afterwards to more distant Lesbos, where she died within a year. We cannot accept unhesitatingly the assertion of the Greek chronographer that Nicephorus broke his faith. There is some evidence, adequate at least to make us suspicious, that he kept his promise, and that Irene was not banished until she or her partisans organized a conspiracy against his life.2
1 Theophanes professes to give Irene's speech verbatim; and the substance of it may perhaps be genuine. Some patricians were present at the interview, and the chronographer may have derived his information from one of these. Irene's steadfast bearing after her sudden misfortune made an impression.
2 Michael Syr. 12-13. The passage is literally transcribed by BarHebraeus, 138: "Imperium igitur adeptus est anno 1114 et honorifice habuit Irenem reginam et Aetium. Hi caedem ejus parare voluerunt manu monachorum. Insidiis vero manifestatis Irene in exilium missa est Athenas ubi monache facta est
[leg. obiit]. Aetio retribuit uti ei facere voluit." The details of Michael's statements concerning Roman history are frequently inaccurate and confused, but it seems probable that there was some real foundation for this explicit notice of a conspiracy in which Irene was concerned after her dethronement. The silence of Theophanes proves nothing. He wished to tell as little as possible to the discredit of the Empress and to blacken the character of the Emperor. The last sentence in the above passage means that Aetius was spared, because he had concealed Nicephorus from the anger of Irene.