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Constantius II Roman Emperor 337-361AD Ancient Coins for Sale at top eBay Coin Shop
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Constantius II - Roman Emperor: 337-361 A.D. -
Constantius joins the lengthy list of emperors whose career was marked by a seemingly endless series of wars both domestic and foreign. He served as Caesar from 324 until his father's death in 337 at which time he shared the title of Augustus with two other brothers, Constantine II and Constans. To make sure no more Johnny-come-latelies in his family would try their hand at being emperor too it is thought that he engineered a bloodbath that left nary a relative. Constantine II died in battle and Constans was murdered by the men of Magnentius, the first of several usurpers. This left Constantius finally as sole legitimate emperor and he moved quickly to suppress Magnentius, an endeavor he eventually accomplished. The strife didn't end there, however, as he still had to deal with other revolts and wars on every corner of the empire. Caught in these never-ending battles he died while on his way to battle Julian II.
Flavius Iulius Constantius was born at Sirmium (now Sremska Mitrovica in Serbia) in province of Pannonia, the third son of Constantine the Great, and second by his second wife Fausta, the daughter of Maximian. Constantius was made Caesar by his father on 13 November 324.
When the elder Constantine died at Constantinople on 22 May 337, Constantius was nearest of his sons to that city, and despite being on campaign in the eastern provinces, immediately returned to the city to oversee his father's funeral.
The Massacre of 337
The role of Constantius in the massacre of his relatives (those descended from the second marriage of his paternal grandfather Constantius Chlorus and Theodora) is unclear. Zosimus, writing 498-518 claims that Constantius “caused” the soldiers to murder his relatives, as opposed to actually ordering the action. Eutropius, writing between 350 and 370, writes that Constantius merely sanctioned “the act, rather than commanding it”. However, it must be noted that both of these sources are hostile to Constantius - Zosimus being a pagan, Eutropius a friend of Julian, Constantius’ cousin and, ultimately, his enemy.
Whatever the case, Constantius himself, his older brother Constantine II, his younger brother Constans and three cousins, Gallus, his half-brother Julian and Nepotianus, son of Eutropia, were left as the only surviving males related to Constantine.
Division of the Empire
Meeting at Sirmium not long after the massacre, the three brothers proceeded to divide the Roman Empire among them, according to their father's will. Constantine II received Britannia, Gaul and Hispania; Constans (initially under the supervision of Constantine II) Italia, Africa, Illyricum, Thrace, Macedon and Achaea; and Constantius the East.
Reign in the East
There are few details of the early years of Constantius' sole reign in the East. He seems to have spent most of his time defending the eastern border against invasions by the aggressive Sassanid Empire under Shapur II. These conflicts seem to have been mainly limited to Sassanid sieges of the various fortresses (Nisibis, Singara, Constantia and Amida) of Roman Mesopotamia, which achieved little for either side. Although Shapur II seems to have been victorious in most of the confrontations - except the Battle of Narasara, where one of Shapur II's brothers, Narses, was killed - the overall result must be considered a victory for Constantius because Shapur failed to make any significant gains.
In the meantime, Constantine II's desire to retain control of Constans' realm had lead Constantius' two surviving brothers into open conflict; resulting in the death of the elder in 340. As a result, Constans took control of his deceased elder brother’s realms and became sole ruler of the Western two-thirds of the Empire. This division lasted until 350, when Constans was killed in battle by forces loyal to the usurper Magnentius.
War against Magnentius
This new state of affairs proved unacceptable to Constantius, who felt that, as the only surviving son of Constantine the Great, the position of Emperor was his alone. As such, he determined to march west to enforce his claims. However, feeling that the east still required some sort of imperial control, he elevated his cousin Constantius Gallus to Caesar of the East. As an extra measure to ensure the loyalty of his cousin, he married the elder of his two sisters, Constantina, to Gallus.
Before facing Magnentius, Constantius first came to terms with Vetranio, a loyal Constantian general, who had previously accepted the position of Augustus in order to retain the loyalty of his troops, and probably to stop Magnentius from gaining more support. This action may have been carried out at the urging of Constantius’ own sister, Constantina, who had since traveled east to marry Gallus. Constantius for his own part had previously sent Vetranio the imperial diadem and acknowledged the general‘s new position. However, when Constantius arrived, Vetranio willingly and gladly resigned his position and accepted Constantius’ offer of a comfortable retirement in Bithynia.
The following year, Constantius finally met Magnentius in the Battle of Mursa Major, one of the bloodiest battles in Roman history. The result was a defeat for the usurper, who withdrew back to his Gaulish domains. As a result, the cities of Italy switched their allegiance to Constantius and ejected all of Magnentius’ garrisons. Constantius spent the early months of 352 on a campaign against the Sarmatians, before moving on to invade Italy.
When Constantius and Magnentius finally met again, at the Battle of Mons Seleucus in southern Gaul, Constantius once again emerged the victor. Soon after, Magnentius, realising the futility of continuing his revolt, committed suicide 10 August 353.
Sole Ruler of the Roman Empire
Constantius spent much of the rest of 353 and early 354 on campaign against the Alemanni on the Danubian borders. The exact details of this campaign are uncertain, though it seems to have ended with victory for Constantius.
The Downfall of Gallus
In the meantime, Constantius had been receiving some disturbing reports regarding the actions of his cousin, Gallus. Possibly as a result of these reports, Constantius concluded a peace with the Alemanni, and withdrew to Milan.
Once there, he decided to first call Ursicinus, Gallus’ magister equitum, to Milan for reasons that remain unclear. Constantius then requested the presence of Gallus and Constantina. Although at first Gallus and Constantina complied with this order, when Constantina died in Bithynia, Gallus begun to hesitate. However, after some convincing by one of Constantius’ agents, Gallus continued his journey west, passing through Constantinople and Thrace to Petobio in the province of Noricum.
It was there that Gallus was arrested by the soldiers of Constantius under the command of Barbatio. He was then moved to Pola, and interrogated. Once there, Gallus claimed that it was Constantina who was to blame for all the trouble that had been caused while he was in charge of the east. Apparently, at first, this so greatly angered Constantius that he immediately ordered the death of Gallus. However, soon after, he changed his mind, and recanted his execution order. Unfortunately for Gallus, this order was delayed by Eusebius, one of Constantius‘ eunuchs, and, as a result, Gallus was executed.
More Usurpers and Julian Caesar
On 11 August 355, the magister militum Claudius Silvanus revolted in Gaul. Silvanus had surrendered to Constantius after the battle of Mursa Major. Constantius had made him magister militum in 353, with the purpose of blocking the German threats, a feat that Silvanus achieved by bribing the German tribes with the money he had collected. A plot organized by members of Constantius' court led the emperor to recall Silvanus. After Silvanus revolted, he received a letter by Constantius that recalled him to Milan, but which made no reference to the revolt. Ursicinus, who was meant to replace Silvanus, bribed some troops, and Silvanus was killed.
However, Constantius realised that too many threats still faced the Empire, and he could not possibly handle all of them by himself, so on 6 November 355, he elevated his last remaining relative, Julian, to the rank of Caesar. A few days later, Julian was married to Helena, the last surviving sister of Constantius. Not long after Constantius sent Julian off to Gaul.
Constantius in the West and Return to the East
Constantius spent the next few years overseeing affairs in the western part of the Empire primarily from his base at Milan. However, he also visited Rome - for the first and only time in his life - in 357, and, in that same year, he forced Sarmatian and Quadi invaders out of Pannonia and Moesia Inferior, then led a successful campaign across the Danube against the Sarmatians and the Germanic Quadi tribe.
Around 357/8, Constantius received ambassadors from Shapur II, who demanded that Constantius restore the lands surrendered by Narseh. Despite rejecting these terms, Constantius still tried to avert war with the Sassanid Empire by sending two embassies to Shapur II.
As a result of Constantius' rejection of his terms, Shapur II launched another invasion of Roman Mesopotamia. When news reached Constantius that Shapur II had not only invaded Roman territory, but taken Amida, destroyed Singara and taken Bezabde he decided to return to there to face this re-emergent threat in 360.
The usurpation of Julian and Problems in the East
In the meantime, Julian had won some victories against the Alemanni tribe, who had once again invaded Roman Gaul. As such, Constantius requested reinforcements from Julian for his own campaign against Shapur II. However, when he requested reinforcements from Julian’s Gaulish army, the Gaulish legions revolted and proclaimed Julian Augustus.
However, on account of the immediate Sassanid threat, Constantius was unable to directly respond to his cousin’s usurpation other than by sending missives by which he tried to convince Julian to resign the title of Augustus and be satisfied with that of Caesar.
By 361, Constantius saw no alternative but to face the usurper with violent force; and yet the threat of the Sassanids remained. Constantius had already spent part of early 361 unsuccessfully attempting to take the fortress of Bezabde. After a time, he had withdrawn to Antioch to regroup, and prepare for a confrontation with Shapur II. However, as it turned out, the campaigns of the previous year had inflicted such heavy losses on the Sassanids that they did not attempt another round of engagements in 361. This allowed Constantius to turn his full attention to facing the usurpation of Julian.
As such, Constantius immediately gathered his forces and set off west. However, by the time he reached Mopsuestia in Cicilia, it was clear that he was fatally ill and would not survive to face Julian. Apparently, realising his death was near, Constantius had himself baptised by Euzoius, the Semi-Arian bishop of Antioch, and then declared that Julian was his rightful successor. Constantius II died of fever on 3 November 361.
Marriages and Children
Constantius II was married three times:
Constantius seems to have had a particular interest in the religious state of the Roman Empire. As a Christian Roman Emperor, Constantius made a concerted effort to promote Christianity at the expense of Roman polytheism (‘paganism’). As such, over the course of his reign, he issued a number of different edicts designed specifically to carry out this agenda (see below). Constantius also took an active part in attempting to shape the Christian church.
Paganism under Constantius
In spite of the some of the edicts issued by Constantius, it should be recognised that he was not fanatically anti-pagan - he never made any attempt to disband the various Roman priestly colleges or the Vestal Virgins, he never acted against the various pagan schools, and, at times, he actually even made some effort to protect paganism. Also, most notably, he remained pontifex maximus until his death, and was actually deified by the Roman Senate after his death. The relative moderation of Constantius' actions toward paganism is reflected by the fact that it was not until over 20 years after Constantius' death, during the reign of Gratian, that any pagan senators protested their religion's treatment.
Christianity under Constantius
Although often considered an Arian, Constantius ultimately preferred a third, compromise version that lay somewhere in between Arianism and the Nicaean Creed, retrospectively called Semi-Arianism. As such, during his reign, Constantius made a concerted attempt to mold the Christian church to follow this compromise position, and to this end, he convened several Christian councils during his reign, the most notable of which were one at Rimini and its twin at Seleuca, which met in 359 and 360 respectively. "Unfortunately for his memory the theologians whose advice he took were ultimately discredited and the malcontents whom he pressed to conform emerged victorious," writes the historian A.H.M. Jones. "The great councils of 359-60 are therefore not reckoned ecumenical in the tradition of the church, and Constantius II is not remembered as a restorer of unity, but as a heretic who arbitrarily imposed his will on the church."
Judaism under Constantius
Judaism faced some severe restrictions under Constantius, who seems to have followed an anti-Jewish policy in line with that of his father. Early in his reign, Constantius issued a double edict in concert with his brothers limiting the ownership of slaves by Jewish people and banning marriages between Jews and Christian women. A later edict (issued by Constantius after becoming sole Emperor) decreed that a person who was proven to have converted from Christianity to Judaism would have their entire property confiscated by the state. However, it should be noted that Constantius' actions in this regard may not have been so much to do with Jewish religion as Jewish business; apparently, it was often the case that privately-owned Jewish businesses were in competition with state-owned businesses. As such, Constantius may have sought to provide as much of an advantage to the state-owned businesses as possible by limiting the skilled workers and the slaves available to the Jewish businesses.
Religious Edicts Issued by Constantius
Pagan-related edicts issued by Constantius (by himself or with others) included:
Christian-related edicts issued by Constantius (by himself or with others) included:
Jew-related edicts issued by Constantius (by himself or with others) included:
Constantius II is a particularly difficult figure to judge properly, mainly as a result of the hostility of most every source that mentions him.
A.H.M Jones writes that Constantius "appears in the pages of Ammianus as a conscientious emperor but a vain and stupid man, an easy prey to flatterers. He was timid and suspicious, and interested persons could easily play on his fears for their own advantage."
However, Kent & M. and A. Hirmer suggest that Constantius "has suffered at the hands of unsympathetic authors, ecclesiastical and civil alike. To orthodox churchmen he was a bigoted supporter of the Arian heresy, to Julian the Apostate and the many who have subsequently taken his part he was a murderer, a tyrant and inept as a ruler". They go on to add, "Most contemporaries seem in fact to have held him in high esteem, and he certainly inspired loyalty in a way his brother could not".
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