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“I am not a runt! I am an emperor! ”
Constans I (337-350) was the runt of Constantine the Great's imperial litter. In those days the word was also spelt with a c which is perhaps a more accurate assessment of this less than impressive third century ruler of the Roman Empire. 'Blessed' with a name that appears that even his own father couldn't be much bothered to be inventive with, Constans grew up to be a testy, irritable young man who would find it hard to retain anyone's loyalty. He was party to a family massacre, the death of an elder brother and a religious feud with another sibling before meeting a squalid end pleading for his life from a band of sweaty mercenaries. Constans failed and died unmourned.
Constans was born in around 323 AD to Emperor Constantine and his wife Fausta. His mother (daughter of emperor Maximian) wasn't around long enough for Constans to remember her. One day she and Constans's brother Crispus were at the breakfast table, the next day they weren't. Later on Constans would learn they have been both done away with by his father and the less said of that, the better. He just understood incest wasn't something Rome would be tolerant of anymore and that you should never have a sauna with the door bolted from the outside.
In 337 Constans's father died, leaving the Roman Empire to his sons and other bits to nephews. Constans's elder brothers Constantine II and Constantius II considered this too many and bribed their soldiers with bonus payments to kill off the others. Considering all the family were supposed to be christians, this example of fratricide would you have expected be at least condemned by a leading bishop or theologian but there was no protest or condemnation. Having so recently been showered with favours and fancy new churches, the Christians kept quiet about this killing spree and looked the other way.
Emperor in Name
In the great imperial carve up, Constantius II got the East, Constantine II the West and piggy-in-the-middle Constans took Italy and North Africa. However since he was only 14, Constantine demanded a 'guardian' be appointed to look after Constans's share and that would be...Constantine II. The young Emperor was also told to stand in the corner after he complained.
Considering the family history, Constans doubled the number of food tasters at his palace and made background checks on anyone recommended by Constantine as a 'friend or advisor'. Perhaps feeling a bit cornered in Rome, in 340 Constans headed for one of the frontiers to add a few barbarian heads to his military reputation (since he had none, bashing barbarians would be a good start). Constantine II saw this as a bad move and in an attempt to mock his brother, invaded Italy with what appears to have a stage army of washouts, grooms and travelling minstrels. Whatever Constantine's real intentions were never clear but his Italian jaunt was cut short by an ambush and sharp sword in the guts.
Emperor in Trousers
The 'runt' was now the undisputed Emperor in the West. This was enough for him and he sent a message to Constantius II explaining what happened. However though the brothers could get along, their respective Christians couldn't. In the West they were Catholic but in the East the Christians had inclined towards the Arian version of Christianity, which to boil in down to the fundamentals, denied the 'God-in-Three-Manifestations' credo with a simpler version that Jesus was special but he wasn't God in a human form. Consequently in the history as written by the winners (the Trinitarian Christians), Constans may have been a cut down crap version of Constantine I, he was nevertheless a good Catholic boy. Constans's subsequent career got the catholic sponge over. This is all the more remarkable considering the strong probability that Constans was gay too. There certainly was no 'Mrs Imperial' in this emperor's life.
Career and Death
Since nothing much has been preserved about Constans's career besides a few campaigns in Britain and Gaul, it remained uneventful until 350. A general called Magnentius was proclaimed by his troops as emperor. If Constans had any friends, they all quickly deserted him. He went on the run until found sheltering inside a pagan temple (an odd choice of sanctuary considering everything) where he was dispatched by a band of troops loyal to Magnentius. Constans had left no heirs, or indeed graces. His brother Constantius II (they had ceased contact some years ago over a religious disagreement and had also declined to send birthday cards to each other) noted Constans's death as 'regretable' but made no immediate plans to avenge him. Perhaps even Constantius saw that would be a farcical considering how much time and effort the family of Constantine the Great had spent trying to kill each other.
- Valens (someone else with a half arsed name)
Constantine the Great