Sons of Constantine the Great Part II of II

Constans and Constantius II

Constans was born in about 320, the son of Constantine and Fausta. He was educated at Constantinople and proclaimed Caesar in 333.

In 337, Constantine died and Constans became joint Emperor with his two brothers. After the death of Constantine II, Constans was joint ruler of the Roman world with Constantius II. The joint rule of the two brothers was not an easy one. Constantius II was a follower of the Arianism form of Christianity, which Constantine had strictly outlawed, while Constans oppressed it in accordance to his father’s wishes. For a while the growing divide between the two brothers created a serious threat of war, but in 346 they simply agreed to differ on religious matters and live in peace.

In his role as a Christian Emperor, much like his father Constantine, Constans took an active part in trying to promote Christianity. In turn this led him to continue the persecution of the Donatist Christians in Africa, as well as to act against the pagans and the Jews.

In 342, Constans gained notable victories against the Franks and along the Danube before crossing to Britain where he oversaw operations along Hadrian’s Wall. But Constans was an unpopular ruler, especially with the troops and they eventually overthrew him. In 350, a mutiny was led by Magnentius, a former slave of Constantine who had become Constans’ army chief. The mutineer proclaimed himself Augustus and Constans was forced to flee toward Spain. But one of the usurper’s agents caught up with Constans on the way and killed him.

Constantius II was born in 317, son of Constantine the Great and Fausta and was proclaimed Caesar in 323. In the division of the Empire between the brothers, Constantius II received the east as his dominion, which largely corresponded with what his father had originally intended for him. It appeared that Constantine the Great had held Constantius II in high esteem.

Constantius II became the sole legitimate Roman Emperor following the death of Constans; but the usurper Magnentius had claimed the throne in the west. Things hung in the balance for a while, as the all-important Danubian legions could simply not make their minds up which one of the two rivals to support. And so, in a strange twist of fate, they chose neither leader and instead hailed one of their own, Vetranio, as their Emperor. Though rebellious as this might seem at first, it seemed to be in accordance with Constantius II. It all appears to have been a ploy by which the Danubian legions would be prevented from joining with Magnentius. Before the year was over, Vetranio had relinquished his position and declared for Constantius II, formally handing over command of his troops to his Emperor and Vetranio simply retired. Constantius II knew that what lay ahead was war with Magnentius.

What followed in 351 was an initial defeat by Magnentius at Atrans, as Constantius II tried to advance into Italy. Magnentius sought to follow up his victory but was heavily defeated at the grueling battle of Mursa, which cost over 50,000 soldiers their lives. It was the bloodiest battle of the fourth century. Victory now utterly hopeless, Magnetius committed suicide. Constantius II was left as the sole Emperor of the Roman Empire.

Next, Constantius II needed to deal with the Franks who had broken over the border during his struggle with Magnentius. So confident was the Frankish leader Silvanus that he proclaimed himself Emperor. Silvanus’ murder was soon arranged, but the ensuing confusion saw the city sacked by German barbarians.

Constantius II assigned his coussin Julian to deal with the troubles and to restore order. For this he elevated Julian to the rank of Caesar and gave him his sister Helena in marriage. After an assault by the Parthians, Constantius II asked Julian to send some of his western troops as reinforcements. But Julian’s solders simply refused to obey. The soldiers believed that Constantius II was jealous and sought to weaken Julian so that he could deal with him with greater ease once he had brought the Persian War to an end. These suspicions were not without foundation, as Julian’s military successes in the west did indeed win him little else but the ill will of his Emperor, so much so that it was possible that designs on Julian’s life were being made at the time.

Instead of complying with their Emperor’s orders, the troops proclaimed Julian Augustus. Julian, while reluctant to take the throne, accepted. Constantius II left the Mesopotamian frontier and marched his troops west, seeking to deal with the usurper. But as he reached Cilicia in the winter of 361, he was overcome by a sudden fever and died at Mopsucrene.

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