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Saturday, July 25, 2020

Flavia Maxima Fausta: Victim of Constantine's Wrath

Flavia Maxima Fausta was Constantine's second wife, the daughter of the Emperor Maximian. She became empress in 307 CE when Constantine set aside his wife Minervina and married Fausta to seal the alliance set forth in Diocletian's tetrarchy.  In 310 CE when her father became involved in an assassination plot against Constantine, Fausta revealed the plot to Constantine, resulting in the death of her own father.  For her loyalty, Constantine eventually proclaimed her augusta in 324 CE, a promotion from her previous title of nobilissima femina. Fausta bore Constantine three sons, Constantine II, Constantius II, and Constans, who all eventually became emperors, and three daughters, including Helena who married the Emperor Julian.  But none of this saved her from Constantine's wrath when he suspected Fausta of having improper relations with his son (by his first wife), Crispus. Zosimus reports Constantine killed Crispus then, to assuage the anger of his mother (the young man's grandmother), boiled Fausta alive in the baths.

This head likely represents the Empress Fausta, wife of the Emperor Constantine. There has been some debate as to whether Helena, Constantine’s mother, is depicted. However, the square jaw, full cheeks, and small mouth conform to numismatic portraits of Fausta. Typical of members of Constantine’s family, this head has heavy-lidded eyes and incised eyebrows. The incised pupils and upward gaze are characteristic features of late antique portraits. The face is smooth and blemish-free with full cheeks and softly modeled flesh. Her hair is in a style known as the Scheitelzopf, in which the hair is drawn back and folded over the top of the head to form a broad roll. At the point where the hair folds upwards at the back of the neck, her hair is interwoven with false locks in a net rendered through cross-hatching. The semicircular locks of hair framing her face are punctuated by drill points. - Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Portrait head of Fausta at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 300-325 CE


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