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“He was a shit. We can't mix words about this guy”
Here is a mystery. Why don't people know more about Roman Emperor Constantine II? The second son of Constantine the Great but the eldest surviving heir at the time of his father's death, Constantine junior's name ought to be remembererd as one drenched in blood. He was as bad as Nero and yet his dishonour has been forgotten by history. It is a curious state of affairs and nor can Constantine's crimes be blamed on 'paganism', he was brought up as a full, on the money Nicene Christian.
For the record, Constantine II was the lead instigator in a general massacre of all his uncles and male cousins - bar two - as they were still in the playpen (Gallus and Julian, later known as emperor Julian the Apostate and even Constantine baulked at killing children. His two full siblings , emperors Constantius II and Constans I went along with the murders but within three years Constantine tried to kill the latter. If he had succeeded, there is no doubt Constantine would have taken on his other brother but this wasn't to happen. So what was this man really all about? This is one attempt to work out what went wrong.
It's in the name
The future kin killer was born Constantine Flavius Claudius in around 316 AD. He was the second son of Constantine I but unlike the elder brother Crispus, received his father's name. That Constantine the Great would have by his wife Fausta two more sons Constantius and Constans suggests the first Christian emperor was dyslexic too. However later writers, perhaps to excuse a famous father for producing such a blood thirsty son, suggest Constantine II was in fact illegitmate and that his supposed mother adopted him as her own for political reasons. If so, perhaps that explains Constantine's later murderous plan to bump off all his relatives and rule the Roman Empire alone.
Constantine's position in the imperial family were changed in 326 when Constantine I poisoned Crispus and steam boiled Fausta in her bathroom by bolting the door from the outside. Constantine arranged this when he received a message that the two had been spied on having sex. Pre-Christianity, this wouldn't have been much of a deal - emperor Claudius had married his niece and Caligula had learnt all about sex from his sisters. However this was now the Christian era and the church was very against any suggestions of incest.
Constantine I had ordered a cover up and that anyone who asked where his wife were would be guaranteed a rowing seat on a roman galley. But here is another suggestion: the deaths of Crispus and Fausta were arranged by young Constantine. He would have seen Crispus as a rival (and being older by a good 10 years or more) and if Fausta wasn't his real mother, then her death would have been acceptable.
Young Contantine was sent away to Trier in Germany to represent his father as Caesar. Emperor Constantine had no wish to promote anyone outside of the family but kept his son on short pocket money to keep him dependent. Constantine Junior didn't openly complain but sent anonymous letters to his father suggesting his brothers Constantius and Constans were a pair of bed wetters and deserved no share of the Roman Empire.
Constantine the Great died in 337 but had made no provision about how he wanted the empire to be run. This time there were no outsiders, all the contenders were the later emperor's relatives: His three sons Constantine, Constantius and Constans and two nephews Flavius Dalmatius and Julius Constantius. Constantine thought this was four too many but first he needed to cut down the odds.
In a secret alliance with Constantius and Constans, the three brothers called on the Roman legions to 'defend the empire' from a conspiracy. The soldiers read this as a proclamation to eliminate unnecessary family members and killed Dalmatius, Julius Constantius and every boy old enough to start shaving. It was an act of barbarity ignored by the church, let alone condemned. Indeed the blame for killing would be later blamed on Constantius but then he had become the wrong sort of Christian. Something was definitely going on.
A few months later after the cousinly bloodbath, Constantine, Constans and Constantius met to divide the Roman Empire. Constantine took Spain, Gaul and Britain. Constans got Italy. Carthage and Illyricum whilst Constantius got all the east. Constantine also got the right to bully Constans at future family dinners.
So crap are the surviving chronicles of this time that Constantine II's wife is known as 'Empress Anonyma'. Her name was evidently so unmemorable that it wasn't recorded, she could have been called 'Dolly Partononia' for all we know. It is like the record has been scrubbed clean.
Back in Gaul, Constantine evidently brooded about the division made and called for another fraternal conference. He saw his main enemey as Constantius but to get to his brother with an army, the 'patsy' Constans had to be removed.
Constantine II kept his resentments under check but in 340 he saw an opportunity. Constans was up on the German border, Italy - and therefore Rome was apparently undefended. However Constans had left a small force about in case Constantine wanted to cause trouble.
Well Constantine was up for that. He crossed from Gaul into Italy with what appears to have been a mob of armed friends and lackeys, hardly an invasion force. Constantine must have known that what he had was inadequate to conquer Italy so what was Constantine up to? Possibly it was just to embarrass Constans and hope his brother would be killed by his own soldiers for being a time waster. Then at least he wouldn't have the blood on his manicured hands. Instead it was Constantine who was killed, dying an ambush set up by Constans soldiers. It ranks as one of the most pathetically stupid ways to die in Roman history.
Constans returned to Italy and annexed his brother domains to his. Constantine's anonymous wife disappears as well - how and why is unknown, like virtually everything else connected to this emperor. Rome was now free of one brother down, just two more to go but Constantine II was no longer in the game.
The near silence about Constantine II's crimes is really quite astounding. His brother Constantius II was condemned and much written about but that was because he supported the Arian Christians and any story or rumour about them was much commented. But Constantine II did have one friend, a saint no less , St.Athanasius of Alexandria. He had been exiled to house arrest in Trier by a bored Constantine the Great for his doctrinal disputes with the Arians and to shut up him, sent into exile. When Constantine II became emperor, he released Athanasius and gave him a first class cabin to return to Egypt. Constantine II knew this would cause the renewal of theological battles in the eastern half of the empire and distract Constantius. It did but by then Constantine II was dead. Perhaps that was the imperial trade off. Constantine II may have been a shit emperor but at least he was catholic shit emperor. It was a mark of how the church would later influence the reputations of everyone, omitting uncomfortable facts in the name of a supposed higher ideal.
Constantine the Great