Aetios the Eunuch

It is time once again for PEOPLE YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF WHO CHANGED THE WORLD!

Today, let’s look at Aetios the Eunuch.

In medieval Constantinople, eunuchs often played important roles in the operation of the imperial court. They were considered pure, although in reality they were often power-hungry and greedy.

Aetios was no exception. Throughout the period when Constantinople was under the influence (and eventually rule) of Irene of Athens (792-802), he struggled with his rival Staurakios to gain the upper hand.

After Charlemagne was declared Emperor of the Romans by the Pope on Christmas Day, 800, he sent an emissary to Constantinople suggesting the possibility of a marriage between himself and Irene. Although Irene seemed open to the idea, Aetios schemed against it and eventually arranged for Irene’s downfall.

What would have happened if Charlemagne and Irene had united the empire? It is hard to say. They were both older. Irene was nearly fifty and hardly of childbearing years. Charlemagne already had four sons, three of whom were adults, and Irene had her own son blinded and deposed. Could Charlemagne’s sons have ruled the empire together?

We’ll never know – because a eunuch no one has ever heard of managed to persuade Irene to refuse the proposal, and so doing, he changed the world.

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