Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Mystery Coin - What happened to Fausta?

For today a coin with no ambiguity as to its subject matter:

This rather severe looking dame was Flavia Maxima Fausta.  Her family tree will give anyone not a serious history junkie a splitting headache.  She was the daughter of one Emperor, brother of a second one, and mother of three more.  But the subject of today's "mystery" has to do with her also being the wife of an Emperor, in fact of a personage no less than Constantine the Great.

It was probably a political marriage, Roman politics in the fourth century was always on the verge of collapse into bloody civil strife. As a peacemaking gesture Constantine divorced his first wife (she might instead have passed away) and married the daughter of one of his political rivals.  This seems like a sensible thing to do, but there was a bit of a problem, as shown on the reverse of the above coin:

Here Fausta is depicted under the legend SPES REIPUBLICAE, meaning hope for the State.  And the "hope" would be the two children she holds.  Actually she had a total of five kids with Constantine, setting up an inevitable rivalry with the Emperor's son from his first marriage.

No reliable source can say exactly what happened, but gossip has come down to us from antiquity says that Fausta schemed against the Emperor's oldest son (by his first wife) Crispus, making accusations so severe that Constantine had him executed in 326 AD.  Very soon afterwards Constantine decided that his wife also must die, and had her executed in grisly fashion by boiling her in a tub of hot water. Some claim that Crispus and his step-mother had an illicit relationship, but really nobody knows for sure and the later writers who pass along this dirt had their own political axes to grind in the matter.

Since Fausta was at other times said to have betrayed her own father to his death in earlier Imperial scheming, and to have seen her brother's head on a pike after he lost the Battle of Milvian bridge to her hubby Constantine, I am prepared to believe her as a conniver. She looks like one mean old bird.

No comments: