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Constantius III

Emperor A. D. 421

This image is of the reverse of a gold solidus struck by the Eastern emperor Theodosius II but it is typical of the reverses on solidi of the time of Constantius II, which are all exceedingly rare.

Constantius was a very competent Roman general who first makes his appearance in history during the early Fifth Century. Like many of the Roman empire's most illustrious military men, he had been born in Illyria. It is most likely that he had attained the rank of Master of Soldiers and Cavalry in the service of the Roman emperor Honorius by the year A. D. 411. He swiftly ended the rebellion and usurpation of Constantine III by trapping him in the city of Arelate. Constantine III held out for three months, then surrendered the city after the besiegers promised to spare his life. Honorius refused to honor the promise of clemency and had the ex emperor and his son executed thirty miles outside the city of Ravenna where Honorius maintained his residence.

During these troubled times, The weak Roman government in the West had to deal with a seemingly endless succession of rebels, illegitimate emperors, and barbarian invaders. Alaric and his Visigothic army had forced his way into Rome in 410, spending three days looting and pillaging the city. He left with his army and an enormous amount of treasure and headed South, raiding farms and villas throughout the central Italian countryside for supplies to feed his army. Alaric planned to take his army and his stolen booty and sail to Africa but his ships were destroyed by storms. Alaric suddenly died before he could make any further plans and his brother Athaulf became King of the Visigoths.

The Visigoths had taken the Honorius’ half-sister Galla Placidia captive when they left Rome. Constantius was deeply in love with her, and brought pressure on the Visigoths to release her. Instead, Athaulf married her. She was finally returned to the Romans in 416 and reluctantly agreed to marry Constantius on January I, A. D. 417.

Since Honorius was either unable or unwilling to have children, Constantius and Placidia were the most likely to produce a royal heir. Placidia had two children by Constantius, Valentinian and Justa Grata Honoria. Constantius was proclaimed augustus on February 8, 421 and became the Roman emperor Constantius III. He did not live to enjoy a long reign, though. Constantius III died of pleurisy seven months later on the second of September.

If Constantius III had lived longer, many historians believe that the history of the Roman Empire in the West would have been much different. He was an excellent general and had shown that he could effectively keep the barbarians at bay. He was also a talented administrator. This was the precise combination of qualities the empire needed in these times of crisis, and he may have been able to forestall the collapse of the West for another 50 years if he had lived another ten years or so. Honorius died two years later also and the government of the West without any solid leadership.

The family that Constantius left behind earned itself a place in folklore and legend. After a brief period during which the usurper Johannes reigned in the West, the government passed into the hands of Galla Placidia and her four year old son, Emperor Valentinian III. Galla Placidia acted as regent for the weak Valentinian for over twenty years during which she managed to play one powerful general off against another while still making use of their services in keeping the barbarians at bay. Valentinian III was most well known for being a Roman Emperor who enjoyed a reign of thirty years without ever really doing anything significant. Luckily, his strong mother and the gifted general Flavius Aetius dealt with the multitude of crises faced by the Western Roman Empire during these critical years.

There is a curious legend concerning Justa Grata Honoria, Daughter of Constantius and Placidia and sister of Valentinian III. People have been having secret love affairs ever since the dawn of history but when a member of the royal family has an illicit relationship, it can be politically dangerous. It seems that Honoria was feeling lonely and neglected and decided to remedy that situation by taking up with the manager of the royal estates. Whether the couple really intended to depose Valentinian and seize power was never really established but her brother believed they were conspiring against him. The lover was executed and Honoria had her titles taken away and was married to an old but perfectly safe senator. Of course, she resented this turn of events and wrote a secret letter to Attila, the Hun warlord who was currently ravaging the countryside around Constantinople. Attila acted on this flimsy excuse and demanded half the Western Empire as dowry! Valentinian wanted to execute his rebellious sister but his aged though still powerful mother forbade the act of revenge.


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