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Introduction

These words formed part of the ceremony of the marriage of an emperor and empress and reflect the ideology implicit in the act of imperial coronation. In the Byzantine empire power was technically vested in the emperor. Nevertheless a number of empresses played an important part in government and even took control of the empire in appropriate circumstances. Most commonly empresses came to power as regents for young sons, implying a fixed period of caretaker government until the young emperor came of age, usually at sixteen. But not all regents were ready to step aside - Irene finally had her son Constantine VI blinded so that she could stay in power - and Eudokia Makrembolitissa was appointed as regent for her son Michael, even though he was technically of age. Co-ruling regents were officially acknowledged on coins, in acclamations and in dating formulas, although generally (but not always) yielding precedence to the young emperor. Empresses could also in exceptional circumstances rule in their own right, though it was considered more normal that they should take the opportunity to choose a husband and make him emperor. Irene and Theodora, the last Macedonian, however, chose not to, while the sisters Zoe and Theodora ruled together as autokratores for seven weeks until Zoe decided to marry again: the regime could have lasted for longer had not the empresses been at loggerheads. Empresses also possessed power as consorts, but in these circumstances they were naturally bound by the wishes and temperaments of their husbands. The principle of collegiality, however, ensured that in certain cases they were seen almost as co-rulers. Indeed, Sophia, as niece of Theodora, seems to have felt that her dynastic claim on the empire was as good as her husband's. Even without official nomination as regent, the long absences of emperors on

campaign could still give empresses the chance to wield power and make executive decisions. This could also be formalised, as in the chrysobull of Alexios Komnenos appointing his mother Anna Dalassene regent, a position she retained for fifteen years or more. An empress interested in politics, like Theodora wife of Justinian, or Euphrosyne, was able to interview ministers, clerics and foreign ambassadors without reference to her husband, and correspond privately with world leaders. Euphrosyne, wife of Alexios III Angelos, held her own court, parallel to that of the emperor, and was noted for her role in government. This involvement was, however, totally at the will of the emperor and when Alexios wanted to get rid of her, he could send her instantaneously to a convent.