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Empress Fausta, the Samaratians on the Danube & the Gothic War (326 - 334 A.D.)

      The innocence of Crispus was so universally acknowledged, that the modern Greeks, who adore the memory of their founder, are reduced to palliate the guilt of a parricide , which the common feelings of human nature forbade them to justify. They pretend, that as soon as the afflicted father discovered the falsehood of the accusation by which his credulity had been so fatally misled, he published to the world his repentance and remorse; that he mourned forty days, during which he abstained from the use of the bath, and all the ordinary comforts of life; and that, for the lasting instruction of posterity, he erected a golden statue of Crispus, with this memorable inscription: To my son, whom I unjustly condemned. 21 A tale so moral and so interesting would deserve to be supported by less exceptionable authority; but if we consult the more ancient and authentic writers, they will inform us, that the repentance of Constantine was manifested only in acts of blood and revenge; and that he atoned for the murder of an innocent son, by the execution, perhaps, of a guilty wife. They ascribe the misfortunes of Crispus to the arts of his step-mother Fausta, whose implacable hatred, or whose disappointed love, renewed in the palace of Constantine the ancient tragedy of Hippolytus and of Phaedra . 22
      Like the daughter of Minos , the daughter of Maximian accused her son-in-law of an incestuous attempt on the chastity of his father's wife; and easily obtained, from the jealousy of the emperor, a sentence of death against a young prince, whom she considered with reason as the most formidable rival of her own children. But Helena , the aged mother of Constantine, lamented and revenged the untimely fate of her grandson Crispus; nor was it long before a real or pretended discovery was made, that Fausta herself entertained a criminal connection with a slave belonging to the Imperial stables. 23 Her condemnation and punishment were the instant consequences of the charge; and the adulteress was suffocated by the steam of a bath, which, for that purpose, had been heated to an extraordinary degree. 24 By some it will perhaps be thought, that the remembrance of a conjugal union of twenty years, and the honor of their common offspring, the destined heirs of the throne, might have softened the obdurate heart of Constantine, and persuaded him to suffer his wife, however guilty she might appear, to expiate her offences in a solitary prison. But it seems a superfluous labor to weigh the propriety, unless we could ascertain the truth, of this singular event, which is attended with some circumstances of doubt and perplexity. Those who have attacked, and those who have defended, the character of Constantine, have alike disregarded two very remarkable passages of two orations pronounced under the succeeding reign. The former celebrates the virtues, the beauty, and the fortune of the empress Fausta, the daughter, wife, sister, and mother of so many princes. 25 The latter asserts, in explicit terms, that the mother of the younger Constantine, who was slain three years after his father's death, survived to weep over the fate of her son. 26 Notwithstanding the positive testimony of several writers of the Pagan as well as of the Christian religion, there may still remain some reason to believe, or at least to suspect, that Fausta escaped the blind and suspicious cruelty of her husband. * The deaths of a son and a nephew, with the execution of a great number of respectable, and perhaps innocent friends, 27 who were involved in their fall, may be sufficient, however, to justify the discontent of the Roman people, and to explain the satirical verses affixed to the palace gate, comparing the splendid and bloody reigns of Constantine and Nero . 28
Footnote 21: In order to prove that the statue was erected by Constantine, and afterwards concealed by the malice of the Arians, Codinus very readily creates (p. 34) two witnesses, Hippolytus , and the younger Herodotus , to whose imaginary histories he appeals with unblushing confidence.
Footnote 22: Zosimus (l. ii. p. 103) may be considered as our original. The ingenuity of the moderns, assisted by a few hints from the ancients, has illustrated and improved his obscure and imperfect narrative.
Footnote 23: Philostorgius, l. ii. c. 4. Zosimus (l. ii. p. 104, 116) imputes to Constantine the death of two wives, of the innocent Fausta, and of an adulteress , who was the mother of his three successor s. According to Jerom, three or four years elapsed between the death of Crispus and that of Fausta. The elder Victor is prudently silent.
Footnote 24: If Fausta was put to death, it is reasonable to believe that the private apartments of the palace were the scene of her execution. The orator Chrysostom indulges his fancy by exposing the naked desert mountain to be devoured by wild beasts.
Footnote 25: Julian. Orat. i. He seems to call her the mother of Crispus. She might assume that title by adoption. At least, she was not considered as his mortal enemy. Julian compares the fortune of Fausta with that of Parysatis , the Persian queen. A Roman would have more naturally recollected the second Agrippina: - Et moi, qui sur le trone ai suivi mes ancetres: Moi, fille, femme, soeur, et mere de vos maitres.
Footnote 26: Monod. in Constantin. Jun. c. 4, ad Calcem Eutrop. edit. Havercamp. The orator styles her the most divine and pious of queens .
Footnote 27: Interfecit numerosos amicos. Eutrop. xx. 6.
Footnote 28: Saturni aurea saecula quis requirat? Sunt haec gemmea, sed Nero niana. Sidon. Apollinar. v. 8. It is somewhat singular that these satirical lines should be attributed, not to an obscure libeller, or a disappointed patriot, but to Ablavius, prime minister and favorite of the emperor. We may now perceive that the imprecations of the Roman people were dictated by humanity, as well as by superstition. Zosim. l. ii. p. 105.
      By the death of Crispus, the inheritance of the Empire seemed to devolve on the three sons of Fausta, who have been already mentioned under the names of Constantine, of Constantius, and of Constans. These young princes were successively invested with the title of Caesar; and the dates of their promotion may be referred to the tenth, the twentieth, and the thirtieth years of the reign of their father. 29 This conduct, though it tended to multiply the future masters of the Roman world, might be excused by the partiality of paternal affection; but it is not so easy to understand the motives of the emperor, when he endangered the safety both of his family and of his people, by the unnecessary elevation of his two nephews, Dalmatius and Hannibalianus. The former was raised, by the title of Caesar, to an equality with his cousins. In favor of the latter, Constantine invented the new and singular appellation of Nobilissimus; 30 to which he annexed the flattering distinction of a robe of purple and gold. But of the whole series of Roman princes in any age of the Empire, Hannibalianus alone was distinguished by the title of King; a name which the subjects of Tiberius would have detested, as the profane and cruel insult of capricious tyranny. The use of such a title, even as it appears under the reign of Constantine, is a strange and unconnected fact, which can scarcely be admitted on the joint authority of Imperial medals and contemporary writers. 31
Footnote 29: Euseb. Orat. in Constantin. c. 3. These dates are sufficiently correct to justify the orator.
Footnote 30: Zosim. l. ii. p. 117. Under the predecessors of Constantine, Nobilissimus was a vague epithet, rather than a legal and determined title.
Footnote 31: Adstruunt nummi veteres ac singulares. Spanheim de Usu Numismat. Dissertat. xii. vol. ii. p. 357. Ammianus speaks of this Roman king (l. xiv. c. l, and Valesius ad loc.) The Valesian fragment styles him King of kings; and the Paschal Chronicle acquires the weight of Latin evidence.
Footnote *: Hannibalianus is always designated in these authors by the title of king. There still exist medals struck to his honor, on which the same title is found, Fl. Hannibaliano Regi. See Eckhel, Doct. Num. t. viii. 204. Armeniam nationesque circum socias habebat, says Aur. Victor, p. 225. The writer means the Lesser Armenia.
      The whole Empire was deeply interested in the education of these five youths, the acknowledged successor s of Constantine. The exercise of the body prepared them for the fatigues of war and the duties of active life. Those who occasionally mention the education or talents of Constantius, allow that he excelled in the gymnastic arts of leaping and running that he was a dexterous archer, a skilful horseman, and a master of all the different weapons used in the service either of the cavalry or of the infantry. 32 The same assiduous cultivation was bestowed, though not perhaps with equal success, to improve the minds of the sons and nephews of Constantine. 33 The most celebrated professors of the Christian faith, of the Grecian philosophy, and of the Roman jurisprudence , were invited by the liberality of the emperor, who reserved for himself the important task of instructing the royal youths in the science of government, and the knowledge of mankind. But the genius of Constantine himself had been formed by adversity and experience. In the free intercourse of private life, and amidst the dangers of the court of Galerius, he had learned to command his own passions, to encounter those of his equals, and to depend for his present safety and future greatness on the prudence and firmness of his personal conduct. His destined successor s had the misfortune of being born and educated in the Imperial purple. Incessantly surrounded with a train of flatterers, they passed their youth in the enjoyment of luxury, and the expectation of a throne; nor would the dignity of their rank permit them to descend from that elevated station from whence the various characters of human nature appear to wear a smooth and uniform aspect. The indulgence of Constantine admitted them, at a very tender age, to share the administration of the Empire; and they studied the art of reigning, at the expense of the people intrusted to their care. The younger Constantine was appointed to hold his court in Gaul; and his brother Constantius exchanged that department, the ancient patrimony of their father, for the more opulent, but less martial, countries of the East. Italy, the Western Illyricum, and Africa, were accustomed to revere Constans, the third of his sons, as the representative of the great Constantine. He fixed Dalmatius on the Gothic frontier, to which he annexed the government of Thrace, Macedonia, and Greece. The city of Caesarea was chosen for the residence of Hannibalianus; and the provinces of Pontus , Cappadocia , and the Lesser Armenia , were destined to form the extent of his new kingdom. For each of these princes a suitable establishment was prOvid ed. A just proportion of guards, of legions, and of auxiliaries, was allotted for their respective dignity and defence. The ministers and generals, who were placed about their persons, were such as Constantine could trust to assist, and even to control, these youthful sovereigns in the exercise of their delegated power. As they advanced in years and experience, the limits of their authority were insensibly enlarged: but the emperor always reserved for himself the title of Augustus; and while he showed the Caesars to the armies and provinces, he maintained every part of the Empire in equal obedience to its supreme head. 34 The tranquility of the last fourteen years of his reign was scarcely interrupted by the contemptible insurrection of a camel-driver in the Island of Cyprus, 35 or by the active part which the policy of Constantine engaged him to assume in the wars of the Goths and Sarmatians.
Footnote 32: His dexterity in martial exercises is celebrated by Julian, (Orat. i. p. 11, Orat. ii. p. 53,) and allowed by Ammianus, (l. xxi. c. 16.)
Footnote 33: Euseb. in Vit. Constantin. l. iv. c. 51. Julian, Orat. i. p. 11-16, with Spanheim's elaborate Commentary. Libanius, Orat. iii. p. 109. Constantius studied with laudable diligence; but the dulness of his fancy prevented him from succeeding in the art of poetry, or even of rhetoric.
Footnote 34: Eusebius, (l. iv. c. 51, 52,) with a design of exalting the authority and glory of Constantine, affirms, that he divided the Roman Empire as a private citizen might have divided his patrimony. His distribution of the provinces may be collected from Eutropius, the two Victors and the Valesian fragment.
Footnote 35: Calocerus, the obscure leader of this rebellion, or rather tumult, was apprehended and burnt alive in the market-place of Tarsus , by the vigilance of Dalmatius. See the elder Victor, the Chronicle of Jerom, and the doubtful traditions of Theophanes and Cedrenus.
      Among the different branches of the human race, the Sarmatians form a very remarkable shade; as they seem to unite the manners of the Asiatic barbarians with the figure and complexion of the ancient inhabitants of Europe. According to the various accidents of peace and war, of alliance or conquest, the Sarmatians were sometimes confined to the banks of the Tanais; and they sometimes spread themselves over the immense plains which lie between the Vistula and the Volga. 36 The care of their numerous flocks and herds, the pursuit of game, and the exercises of war, or rather of rapine, directed the vagrant motions of the Sarmatians . The movable camps or cities, the ordinary residence of their wives and children, consisted only of large wagons drawn by oxen, and covered in the form of tents. The military strength of the nation was composed of cavalry ; and the custom of their warriors, to lead in their hand one or two spare horses, enabled them to advance and to retreat with a rapid diligence, which surprised the security, and eluded the pursuit, of a distant enemy. 37 Their poverty of iron prompted their rude industry to invent a sort of cuirass , which was capable of resisting a sword or javelin, though it was formed only of horses' hoofs, cut into thin and polished slices, carefully laid over each other in the manner of scales or feathers, and strongly sewed upon an under garment of coarse linen. 38 The offensive arms of the Sarmatians were short daggers, long lances, and a weighty bow vow with a quiver of arrows. They were reduced to the necessity of employing fish- bones for the points of their weapons; but the custom of dipping them in a venomous liquor, that poisoned the wounds which they inflicted, is alone sufficient to prove the most savage manners, since a people impressed with a sense of humanity would have abhorred so cruel a practice, and a nation skilled in the arts of war would have disdained so impotent a resource. 39 Whenever these Barbarian tribes issued from their deserts in quest of prey, their shaggy beards, uncombed locks, the furs with which they were covered from head to foot, and their fierce countenances, which seemed to express the innate cruelty of their minds, inspired the more civilized provincials of Rome with horror and dismay.
Footnote 36: Cellarius has collected the opinions of the ancients concerning the European and Asiatic Sarmatia; and M. D'Anville has applied them to modern geography with the skill and accuracy which always distinguish that excellent writer.
Footnote 37: Ammian. l. xvii. c. 12. The Sarmatian horses were castrated to prevent the mischievous accidents which might happen from the noisy and ungovernable passions of the males.
Footnote 38: Pausanius, l. i. p. 50,. edit. Kuhn. That inquisitive traveler had carefully examined a Sarmatian cuirass , which was preserved in the temple of Aesculapius at Athens.
Footnote 39: Aspicis et mitti sub adunco toxica ferro, Et telum causas mortis habere duas. Ovid , ex Ponto, l. iv. ep. 7, ver. 7. See in the Recherches sur les Americains, tom. ii. p. 236 - 271, a very curious dissertation on poison ed darts. The venom was commonly extracted from the vegetable reign: but that employed by the Scythians appears to have been drawn from the viper, and a mixture of human blood. The use of poison ed arms, which has been spread over both worlds, never preserved a savage tribe from the arms of a disciplined enemy.
      The tender Ovid , after a youth spent in the enjoyment of fame and luxury, was condemned to a hopeless exile on the frozen banks of the Danube, where he was exposed, almost without defence, to the fury of these monsters of the desert, with whose stern spirits he feared that his gentle shade might hereafter be confounded. In his pathetic, but sometimes unmanly lamentations, 40 he describes in the most lively colors the dress and manners, the arms and inroads, of the Getae and Sarmatians , who were associated for the purposes of destruction; and from the accounts of history there is some reason to believe that these Sarmatians were the Jazygae , one of the most numerous and warlike tribes of the nation. The allurements of plenty engaged them to seek a permanent establishment on the frontiers of the Empire. Soon after the reign of Augustus, they obliged the Dacians, who subsisted by fishing on the banks of the River Teyss or Tibiscus, to retire into the hilly country, and to abandon to the victorious Sarmatians the fertile plains of the Upper Hungary, which are bounded by the course of the Danube and the semicircular enclosure of the Carpathian Mountains. 41 In this advantageous position, they watched or suspended the moment of attack, as they were provoked by injuries or appeased by presents; they gradually acquired the skill of using more dangerous weapons, and although the Sarmatians did not illustrate their name by any memorable exploits, they occasionally assisted their eastern and western neighbors, the Goths and the Germans, with a formidable body of cavalry. They lived under the irregular aristocracy of their chieftains: 42 but after they had received into their bosom the fugitive Vandals , who yielded to the pressure of the Gothic power, they seem to have chosen a king from that nation, and from the illustrious race of the Astingi, who had formerly dwelt on the hores of the northern ocean. 43
Footnote 40: The nine books of Poetical Epistles which Ovid composed during the seven first years of his melancholy exile, possess, beside the merit of elegance, a double value. They exhibit a picture of the human mind under very singular circumstances; and they contain many curious observations, which no Roman except Ovid , could have an opportunity of making. Every circumstance which tends to illustrate the history of the Barbarians, has been drawn together by the very accurate Count de Buat. Hist. Ancienne des Peuples de l'Europe, tom. iv. c. xvi. p. 286-317
Footnote 41: The Sarmatian Jazygae were settled on the banks of Pathissus or Tibiscus, when Pliny the Younger, in the year 79, published his Natural History. See l. iv. c. 25. In the time of Strabo and Ovid , sixty or seventy years before, they appear to have inhabited beyond the Getae, along the coast of the Euxine.
Footnote 42: Principes Sarmaturum Jazygum penes quos civitatis regimen plebem quoque et vim equitum, qua sola valent, offerebant. Tacit. Hist. iii. p. 5. This offer was made in the Civil war between Vitellino and Vespasian.
Footnote 43: This hypothesis of a Vandal king reigning over Sarmatian subjects, seems necessary to reconcile the Goth Jornandes with the Greek and Latin historian s of Constantine. It may be observed that Isidore, who lived in Spain under the dominion of the Goths, gives them for enemies, not the Vandals , but the Sarmatians . See his Chronicle in Grotius, p. 709. Note: I have already noticed the confusion which must necessarily arise in history, when names purely geographical, as this of Sarmatia, are taken for historical names belonging to a single nation. We perceive it here; it has forced Gibbon to suppose, without any reason but the necessity of extricating himself from his perplexity, that the Sarmatians had taken a king from among the Vandals ; a supposition entirely contrary to the usages of Barbarians Dacia, at this period, was occupied, not by Sarmatians , who have never formed a distinct race, but by Vandals , whom the ancients have often confounded under the general term Sarmatians . See Gatterer's Welt-Geschiehte p. 464 - G.
      This motive of enmity must have inflamed the subjects of contention, which perpetually arise on the confines of warlike and independent nations. The Vandal princes were stimulated by fear and revenge; the Gothic kings aspired to extend their dominion from the Euxine to the frontiers of Germany; and the waters of the Maros, a small river which falls into the Teyss, were stained with the blood of the contending Barbarians. After some experience of the superior strength and numbers of their adversaries, the Sarmatians implored the protection of the Roman monarch, who beheld with pleasure the discord of the nations, but who was justly alarmed by the progress of the Gothic arms. As soon as Constantine had declared himself in favor of the weaker party, the haughty Alaric, king of the Goths, instead of expecting the attack of the legions, boldly passed the Danube, and spread terror and devastation through the province of Maesia. To oppose the inroad of this destroying host, the aged emperor took the field in person; but on this occasion either his conduct or his fortune betrayed the glory which he had acquired in so many foreign and domestic wars. He had the mortification of seeing his troops fly before an inconsiderable detachment of the Barbarians, who pursued them to the edge of their fortified camp, and obliged him to consult his safety by a precipitate and ignominious retreat. * The event of a second and more successful action retrieved the honor of the Roman name; and the powers of art and discipline prevailed, after an obstinate contest, over the efforts of irregular valor. The broken army of the Goths abandoned the field of battle, the wasted province, and the passage of the Danube: and although the eldest of the sons of Constantine was permitted to supply the place of his father, the merit of the Victory, which diffused universal joy, was ascribed to the auspicious counsels of the emperor himself.
      He contributed at least to improve this advantage, by his negotiations with the free and warlike people of Chersonesus, 44 whose capital, situate on the western coast of the Tauric or Crimean peninsula, still retained some vestiges of a Grecian colony, and was governed by a perpetual magistrate, assisted by a council of senators, emphatically styled the Fathers of the City. The Chersonites were animated against the Goths, by the memory of the wars, which, in the preceding century, they had maintained with unequal forces against the invaders of their country. They were connected with the Romans by the mutual benefits of commerce; as they were supplied from the provinces of Asia with corn and manufactures, which they purchased with their only productions, salt, wax, and hides. Obedient to the requisition of Constantine, they prepared, under the conduct of their magistrate Diogenes, a considerable army, of which the principal strength consisted in cross-bows and military chariots. The speedy march and intrepid attack of the Chersonites, by diverting the attention of the Goths, assisted the operations of the Imperial generals. The Goths, vanquished on every side, were driven into the mountains, where, in the course of a severe campaign, above a hundred thousand were computed to have perished by cold and hunger Peace was at length granted to their humble supplications; the eldest son of Araric was accepted as the most valuable hostage; and Constantine endeavored to convince their chiefs, by a liberal distribution of honors and rewards, how far the friendship of the Romans was preferable to their enmity. In the expressions of his gratitude towards the faithful Chersonites, the emperor was still more magnificent. The pride of the nation was gratified by the splendid and almost royal decorations bestowed on their magistrate and his successor s. A perpetual exemption from all duties was stipulated for their vessels which traded to the ports of the Black Sea. A regular subsidy was promised, of iron, corn, oil, and of every supply which could be useful either in peace or war. But it was thought that the Sarmatians were sufficiently rewarded by their deliverance from impending ruin; and the emperor, perhaps with too strict an economy, deducted some part of the expenses of the war from the customary gratifications which were allowed to that turbulent nation.
Footnote 44: I may stand in need of some apology for having used, without scruple, the authority of Constantine Porphyrogenitus, in all that relates to the wars and negotiations of the Chersonites. I am aware that he was a Greek of the tenth century, and that his accounts of ancient history are frequently confused and fabulous. But on this occasion his narrative is, for the most part, consistent and probable nor is there much difficulty in conceiving that an emperor might have access to some secret archives, which had escaped the diligence of meaner historian s. For the situation and history of Chersone, see Peyssonel, des Peuples barbares qui ont habite les Bords du Danube, c. xvi. 84-90.
      Exasperated by this apparent neglect, the Sarmatians soon forgot, with the levity of barbarians, the services which they had so lately received, and the dangers which still threatened their safety. Their inroads on the territory of the Empire provoked the indignation of Constantine to leave them to their fate; and he no longer opposed the ambition of Geberic, a renowned warrior, who had recently ascended the Gothic throne. Wisumar, the Vandal king, whilst alone, and unassisted, he defended his dominions with undaunted courage, was vanquished and slain in a decisive battle, which swept away the flower of the Sarmatian youth. * The remainder of the nation embraced the desperate expedient of arming their slaves, a hardy race of hunters and herdsmen, by whose tumultuary aid they revenged their defeat, and expelled the invader from their confines. But they soon discovered that they had exchanged a foreign for a domestic enemy, more dangerous and more implacable. Enraged by their former servitude, elated by their present glory, the slaves, under the name of Limigantes, claimed and usurped the possession of the country which they had saved. Their masters, unable to withstand the ungoverned fury of the populace, preferred the hardships of exile to the tyranny of their servants. Some of the fugitive Sarmatians solicited a less ignominious dependence, under the hostile standard of the Goths. A more numerous band retired beyond the Carpathian Mountains, among the Quadi, their German allies, and were easily admitted to share a superfluous waste of uncultivated land. But the far greater part of the distressed nation turned their eyes towards the fruitful provinces of Rome. Imploring the protection and forgiveness of the emperor, they solemnly promised, as subjects in peace, and as soldiers in war, the most inviolable fidelity to the Empire which should graciously receive them into its bosom. According to the maxims adopted by Probus and his successor s, the offers of this barbarian colony were eagerly accepted; and a competent portion of lands in the provinces of Pannonia, Thrace, Macedonia, and Italy, were immediately assigned for the habitation and subsistence of three hundred thousand Sarmatians . 45
Footnote 45: The Gothic and Sarmatian wars are related in so broken and imperfect a manner, that I have been obliged to compare the following writers, who mutually supply, correct, and illustrate each other. Those who will take the same trouble, may acquire a right of criticizing my narrative. Ammianus, l. xvii. c. 12. Anonym. Valesian. p. 715. Eutropius, x. 7. Sextus Rufus de Provinciis, c. 26. Julian Orat. i. p. 9, and Spanheim, Comment. p. 94. Hieronym. in Chron. Euseb. in Vit. Constantin. l. iv. c. 6. Socrates, l. i. c. 18. Sozomen, l. i. c. 8. Zosimus, l. ii. p. 108. Jornandes de Reb. Geticis, c. 22. Isidorus in Chron. p. 709; in Hist. Gothorum Grotii. Constantin. Porphyrogenitus de Administrat. Imperii, c. 53, p. 208, edit. Meursii.
Footnote *: Compare, on this very obscure but remarkable war, Manso, Leben Coa xantius, p. 195 - M.

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Gibbon, Edward, 1737-1794. The history of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. (NY : Knopf, 1993), v. 2, pp. 161 - 172 .

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