Sunday, July 26, 2020

The Fate of Crispus

Anytime I read about a Roman imperial execution and the rationale given is a sexual tryst I become suspicious because sexual indiscretions have historically been used to justify Roman assassinations since the beginning of Roman history.  So, after writing that post about Constantine's wife, Fausta, yesterday, I did a little more research on Constantine's son, Crispus.

Crispus was leader in victorious military operations against the Franks and the Alamanni in 318, 320 and 323. Thus he secured the continued Roman presence in the areas of Gaul and Germania. The soldiers adored him thanks to his strategic abilities and the victories to which he had led the Roman legions.

Crispus spent the following years assisting Constantine in the war against by then hostile Licinius. In 324, Constantine appointed Crispus as the commander of his fleet which left the port of Piraeus to confront Licinius' fleet. The subsequent Battle of the Hellespont was fought at the straits of Bosporus. The 200 ships under the command of Crispus managed to decisively defeat the enemy forces, which were at least double in number. Thus Crispus achieved his most important and difficult victory which further established his reputation as a brilliant general.

Following his navy activities, Crispus was assigned part of the legions loyal to his father. The other part was commanded by Constantine himself. Crispus led the legions assigned to him in another victorious battle outside Chrysopolis against the armies of Licinius.

The two victories were his contribution to the final triumph of his father over Licinius. Constantine was the only Augustus left in the Empire. He honored his son for his support and success by depicting his face in imperial coins, statues, mosaics, cameos, etc. Eusebius of Caesaria wrote for Crispus that he is "an Imperator most dear to God and in all regards comparable to his father."

"...Comparable to his father." There are the damning words (in my opinion).  After reading this summary of Crispus' career, I can't help but suspect that the son's military genius actually outshone Constantine and like other successful generals before him, including  Germanicus, Corbulo, and Agricola, and those who followed him, including Aetius and Belisarius, was perceived as a threat to Constantine's power.

I also suspect both Constantine's mother, Helena, and his wife, Fausta, fiercely defended young Crispus, infuriating Constantine, so the fiction of adultery was concocted to provide a socially acceptable pretext that unfortunately required the murder of Fausta as well. Some scholars think Fausta's execution was subsequently delayed because of a final pregnancy since the dates of birth of the last two daughters of Constantine are not known. 

Image: Tapestry showing Constantine's triumphal entry into Rome by Peter Paul Rubens Flemish 1623-1625 CE wool and silk that I photographed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
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