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Roman Emperor Constans (337–350)

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Flavius Julius Constans was a Roman Emperor, Caesar from 333 to 337, and August from 337 to 350. Constans was the youngest son of Emperor Constantine I the Great. In 333 he received the title of Caesar. After the death of his father, Constans received an inheritance: Italy, Illyricum, and Africa. In 340 he had a conflict with his brother Constantine II, who was killed as a result, after which Constans received his possessions: Spain, Gaul, and Britain. The Emperor fought with the Sarmatians on the Danube, the Franks on the Rhine and the Picts and Scots in Britain. As an advocate of orthodox views, Constans supported the side of Athanasius the Great in the Arian Church dispute and fought against pagans, Jews and Donatists in Africa. However, as a result of a conspiracy under the leadership of Commander Magnetius, the Emperor was overthrown in 350.


At the time of death, Constans was thirty years old, he was born around 320. Constans’s father was the Roman Emperor Constantine I the Great; his mother was Flavius Fausta. He was the third and youngest son born of this marriage. On the maternal line, Constans was the grandson of one of the founders of the tetrarchy, Maximian, and on the paternal side Constantius I Chlorus. Constans was brought up as a Christian.

On December 25, 333, Constans was proclaimed Caesar by his father; most likely in Constantinople. Then the young Caesar lived for some time at the court of Constantine I; but around 335, he was sent to Italy, which he was given under his administration. Later, perhaps in 336, but at least shortly before the death of his father, Constans was betrothed to the daughter of the Prefect of Pretoria, gourd Flavia Ablabia, a political marriage. However, the marriage did not take place, just after the death of Constantin.

Governing body

After the death of Constantine I the Great on May 22, 337, and the killing by the soldiers of virtually all of his relatives who might have claimed the throne, Constans and his two brothers, Constantine II and Constantius II, on September 9, 337, were proclaimed Augustus by the army. Initially, the territory of the Praetorian prefecture of Italy and Africa was imparted to Constans. Constans was dissatisfied with this, so the brothers met in the Pannonian town of Viminacium in the summer of 338, to review the boundaries of their lands. They also revised and expandedthe legislation of the Constantine time.

Under the new deal, Constans received not only the dioceses of Macedonia, Dacia, and Pannonia, but also the diocese of Thrace, together with Constantinople. However, when the relationship between Constans and Constantine II deteriorated, since they first disputed over the right of the second to be the senior August, Constans in 339 gave Constantius II Constantinople and part of Thrace, counting on this gift to support him in the dispute. In principle, Constans’ possessions were a buffer between the domains of Constantine II and Constantius II. Also, Constantine II received custody of his underage co-regent. He adopted laws binding on the possessions of both brothers and appointed viceroys in the province of Constans. Perhaps, Constantius II also did not like the fact that, in the hands of his elder brother, power over three-quarters of the territory of the Roman Empire was concentrated.

Meanwhile, in the fall of 338, Constans won a victory over the Sarmatians in the Danube provinces. This success strengthened his self-confidence, and he demanded complete independence, and began to independently enact legislation for his territory.

Irritated by the fact that Constans received Illyria and Thrace, Constantine demanded that he give him the African provinces as compensation for the rich region he acquired. He also demanded concession to Italy, but Constans refused. In addition, he enlisted the support of Constantius II, transferring to him some of the territories, and served along with him as counsel in 339.

As a result, in 340, Constantine II invaded Italy. Constans sent against him the advanced corps of Illyrian troops. His army made an ambush near Aquileia and destroyed the detachment of Constantine II and the sovereign himself. As a result, he annexed the possessions of his brother – Spain, Gaul, and Britain.

Joint government

Constans became the last legitimate Roman emperor to visit Britain. The brothers were united in resolving political issues, but religious differences between them were great. The theme of religion remained dominant in domestic politics. Although both emperors were Christians, Constantius, like many of his compatriots in the East, was a supporter of Arianism. Constans, however, was an adherent to orthodox Christianity, based on the symbol of faith adopted by the Council of Nicaea.

Constant conflicts with the Persians weakened the position of Constantius II, and in 345/346, Constans openly threatened to start a war if he did not agree with the return of Athanasius to the post of bishop of Alexandria. He wrote him a conciliatory letter, in which he said that he would fulfill his desire. As a sign of reconciliation, the brothers became consuls in 346.

Under Constans, the persecution of Jews was encouraged. The emperor, together with Constantius II, issued a law prohibiting pagan sacrifices, but already in 343, under pressure from the pagan nobility of Rome, Constans was forced to suspend the law.


Although the first part of Constans’ rule was quite successful, he gradually began to lose his authority. The Emperor apparently tried to gather as much money as he could squeeze out of his people. In addition, ancient sources tell stories that Constans openly showed disdain for the soldiers. The Emperor was also condemned for homosexual inclinations.

A conspiracy led by the commander of the bodyguards, Magnetius, rose against him, and they killed him. The conspirators instantly welcomed Magnetius as the new Emperor. The soldiers hesitated to take the oath of allegiance to the new sovereign but soon did.

Religious politics was one of the main directions of his government. Events of that time show that religion and politics at that time were strongly interrelated. Despite his young age – he ruled 13 years and at the age of 27 was killed, Constans can be considered a worthy successor to Constantine I the Great. Victories over external enemies, and political mastery in relations with his brother Constantius, testify to the abilities that would enable him to conquer the entire Roman Empire at one point. But tense relations with the army and, possibly, incorrectly selected advisers prevented him from doing that.


  • Gibbon, Edward. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
  • Jones AHM Fl. Iul. Constans 3 // Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire
  • Grant, M. Roman emperors. The constant I
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