UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Studies in the lives of the sons of Constantine Wilson, Edward George


The reigns of the emperor Constantine the Great and of his nephew Julian the Apostate have fascinated scholars from the fourth century to the present day. Some have seen in Constantine the founder of the Middle Ages and in Julian the last flowering of the pagan world. However, the eighteen years that passed between the death of Constantine in 337 and the proclamation of Julian as Caesar in 355 have received very little attention because of the paucity of the sources for this period. Only O. Seeck, in his monumental Gesckichte des Untevgang dev antiken Welt (Stuttgart 1922), and G. Gigli, in his notes entitled La dinastia dei seeondi Flavii: Costantino II, Costante, Costanzo II (337-361) (Rome 1959), have attempted a detailed analysis of this period, but Seeck's volume, though still essential, has been rendered somewhat dated by recent numismatic and prosopographical studies while Gigli's, which is far less thorough, emphasizes the religious problems of the age at the expense of the political. The task undertaken in this study is to determine the workings of the court during the period for which source-material is poorest (i.e., 337-353) and to show how the government ruled with an iron hand by Constantine I degenerated into the weak administration of Constantius II as revealed in the first surviving books of Ammianus Marcellinus. Because the period under consideration is poorly documented in the literary sources, thorough use has been made of the epigraphical, numismatic, and legal sources. The study of the policies and practices of the sons of Constantine is aided to a great extent by an examination of the careers of both their appointees and their opponents. At times the politics of the period are reflected in the contemporary religious disputes, especially in the struggle of Athanasius to overcome the Arian heresy. In other cases the workings of the government can be discerned in the careers of prominent bureaucrats, especially the grand chamberlain Eusebius and the praetorian prefects Ablabius, Flavius Philippus, and Fabius Titianus. These chapters encompass the training of the sons (including Crispus, Constantine II, Constantius II, and Constans), the massacre of their relatives upon the death of their father, the dispute between Constantine II and Constans, the joint reign of Constantius II and Constans, the overthrow of Constans by Magnentius, and the recovery of the West by Constantius II. The main conclusion reached is that the characters and reigns of the sons of Constantine were determined for the most part not by heredity, nor by the instructions of their father, but by their teachers during their youth and by their advisers at court after the death of their father. Constantine the Great both reigned and ruled, since he had the training of a soldier and achieved supremacy by careful strategy against considerable odds. His sons, however, succeeded to the throne before they were old enough to shake off the influence of their courtiers and can be said only to have reigned, not to have ruled. The executions of their half-brother Crispus and their mother Fausta rendered them suspicious and insecure, to the end that they trusted only the bureaucrats at court and feared the prefects and generals in the provinces and even one another. A great barrier arose between the thr sons and the problems of their subjects. This barrier, the central bureaucracy, grew more corrupt while the initiative of the armies and provincials was sapped. The weakness of the three sons foreshadows that of Arcadius and Honorius in the twilight of the Roman Empire.

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