When the weak, ineffectual emperor Leo IV died in 780, he left the empire divided and in the hands of an orphan from Athens; the beautiful and grasping Empress Irene. 17 years later she was crowned as sole ruler after murdering her own son to take his place. It was hardly an auspicious start, beset by enemies on every border, the empire was now facing its most serious internal threat; the terrible iconoclastic controversy. Successive emperors had neglected the frontiers to concentrate on the war against icons, and in the process had not only weakened the state, but had destroyed some of the finest works of art the Byzantine world ever produced. Even worse, an emperor had at last returned to the long vacant throne of the West, to challenge Byzantium's claim of universal temporal domination. If ever the empire had needed strong leadership, it was now. Join Lars Brownworth as he looks at the reign of Irene; the only woman to rule the empire, not as Queen or Regent, but as a King.