Flavius Iulius Constans
9 September 337 – 18 January 350 CE
18 January 350 CE
Constans was born as the youngest son of Emperor Constantine I. The old emperor, in order to prevent the risk of a civil war after his death, decided to divide the Empire between the sons who had previously been appointed Caesars and other family members. Constantine I died on May 22, 337. Young Constans (at the time of his father’s death was only seventeen years old) fell to the central part of the Empire: Italy with the Alpine lands as far as the Danube and part of the Balkans and North Africa (excluding Egypt). Soon the brothers became the only masters of the Empire because Constantine’s stepbrothers and their families were murdered (only the emperor’s two nephews – Gallus and the great Julian survived), Constans’ territories expanded thanks to this, for the former reign of the killed Dalmatian, which covers the lands on the Danube.
During the convention in Viminacjum in Moesia, on September 9, 337, the brothers assumed the title of Augustów. Constans, along with his middle brother – Constantius, also received the titles Victores semper Augusti – Always Faithful Augustów, and Constantine II, as the formal head of state, held the title of Maximus Triumphator Augustus – The Greatest Triumphator Augustus.
Constans, despite his young age, was doing very well. Over the middle Danube, it successfully repelled barbarian attacks, even assuming the nickname Sarmaticus. He was also active in domestic politics, which he conducted entirely independently, to the regret of his eldest brother.
Attack of Constantine II
Constantine II looked anxiously at the actions of his brother. Initially, he tried to subjugate Constans, because, as he argued, he was still too young to exercise power on his own. However, due to the fact that the youngest brother acted very boldly, Constantine began to formulate allegations of harm in the division of the Empire and to direct claims to Italy and Africa.
Finally, in March 430, Constantine’s troops unexpectedly (especially due to the season) crossed the Alps. Officially, it was announced that they were marching to help Constantius, who was involved in heavy fighting on the border with Persia.
News of the invasion reached Constans while he was in Naissus. He decided to act without undue delay since his older brother’s capture of the Padu valley would cut him off from Italy and Africa. So, without waiting for the entire force to be deployed across the Eastern Alps, he sent a vanguard to try to stop the marching forces of Constantine until the main forces arrived from the Danube.
Battle of Aquila
Constantine II, marching forward, only came across his younger brother’s troops at Aquileia. Constans’ weak detachment unit was unable to resist Constantine’s mighty army, so soon the soldiers rushed to flee. The victors, as was often the case before and later, set off in an uncontrolled pursuit of the fleeing opponent. Constans’ soldiers stopped at some point and engaged the enemy again. When the battle flared up in earnest, the rear of Constantine’s troops was suddenly attacked by the part of Constans’ troops who had been hidden earlier. Panic quickly crept into the ranks of the surrounded invaders. In a chaotic clash, an arrow or a spear reached one of the horses harnessed by Constantine’s chariot, the latter was thrown from it and fell into the Alsa River. The wounded Augustus was probably not able to get out of the water trap on his own. After the battle, Constans’ soldiers pulled his body out of the mud.
Imperator Caesar Flavius Iulius Constans Augustus
The young emperor came to Italy after the battle. With an edict, he sentenced the fallen Constantine to damnatio memoriae, which, despite the fact that it had been practised many times before, this time seemed to the people exceptionally fair, as the name of the imperial brother was removed who willingly wanted to push the state into the depths of another civil war.
Constans reigned as Imperator Caesar Flavius Iulius Constans Augustus. He was an energetic ruler, although he ruled about 2/3 of the Empire, he constantly traversed the subordinate territories, relieving anxiety. His army was shackled by tough Roman discipline.
He was extremely greedy, probably due to his love of luxury. Instead of claiming the offices of the most eminent citizens, he sold them, which the appointed officials reflected on the citizens. There were huge abuses. Zosimos claimed that exercised every species of cruelty toward his subjects, exceeding the most intolerable tyranny. He purchased some well favored barbarians, and had others with him as hostages, to whom he gave liberty to harrass his subjects as they pleased, in order to gratify his vicious disposition. In this manner he reduced all the nations that were subject to him to extreme misery1.
The emperor was sick at an early age, which made it difficult for him to function normally. The wicked claimed it was God’s punishment for a dissolute and sinful life.
He was a zealous Christian. He was the only son of Constantine who was baptized at a young age by those standards. He passionately persecuted the followers of ancient Roman beliefs. Although greedy, he spared no gifts for the churches.
He issued extremely strict laws against pederasty. However, like many zealous believers, he combined his ostentatious piety worthy of a neophyte with a blatant violation of numerous dogmas of faith in the quiet of the palace. Being an admirer of young boys, he surrounded himself with them, not hiding his inclinations from the court and dignitaries. He cooperated with young Germans who were sent to the court as hostages. He drank in luxury. He was – as Prof. A. Krawczuk infamous for being a seducer of boys.
The victory over the older and stronger brother came extremely easily for Constans. This filled him with faith in his lucky star, which in turn lulled his vigilance. He did not expect that a conspiracy against him could be established in his surroundings. He did not see the reluctance of the army for him, held briefly and sometimes downright humiliated.
And it happened. On January 18, 350, in Augustodunum, in the house of Marcellinus, who was comes rei private, a meeting of Roman dignitaries took place. Marcellin invited them to his son’s birthday. Among the invited guests was a high-ranking military commander – Magnentius, who commanded the elite units of Ioviani and Herculiani. During the meeting, he suddenly got up and left the crowd. After a while, he returned, but with an armed escort and dressed in purple! He was greeted by shouts of greeting the new Augustus, first, they came out of the throats of the conspirators themselves, then the others joined them, either out of fear of the swords of the usurper’s soldiers or because of the awareness that in the event of Magnentius’ defeat, each participant in the meeting in Augustodunum would pay for betrayal with his life.
The next day, the new Augustus presented itself to the inhabitants of Augustodunum, who welcomed it with sincere enthusiasm – because Constans was already hated by most of the citizens, and it was hoped that Magnentius would not forget about the inhabitants of the city where he wore the purple. Especially that the inhabitants of Augustodunum looked with envy at the prosperity of Trier, who was fond of the Constantinian dynasty.
The conspiracy has certainly been around for a long time, as evidenced by its excellent preparation. For shortly after the proclamation of the new emperor, his support was expressed by numerous military formations – and this was the key to the success of the coup.
The emperor’s reaction was delayed, because at the time of Magnentius’ usurpation, he was hunting for several days, and it was in the vicinity of Agustodunum – which was probably not accidental. When news of the rebellion reached him, it was too late. Constans, aware of his position, knew that his only chance to live with life was to escape. So he set off with the last handful of the faithful to Spain. He was probably planning to get to Constantius.
In the last days of January 350, in the town of Helena, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, the emperor was pursued by the emperor. Constans managed to take refuge in the church, where, in the hope of saving his life, he deposited the insignia of power. These circumstances, however, did not impress Gajson, an officer of Germanic origin, who was in charge of the pursuit. The former lord of the western part of the Empire was dragged out and killed.
Interestingly, Constans’ death was to fulfil the astrologers’ prophecy, which allegedly showed that death would find him in the arms of Helena, who was interpreted as his grandmother. When she died in his childhood, Constans dismissed the prophecy and often mocked the astrologers on that basis. Whether it is true or not, we will never know again.