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This Week In History

Minervina and Fausta. March 31,307.

Minervina was the first wife of Constantine the Great. Constantine either took her as a concubine or married her in 303 AD, and the couple had one son, Crispus, also known as Flavius Claudius Crispus and Flavius Valerius Crispus, who later would be a Caesar of the Roman Empire.

Constantine served as a hostage in the court of Eastern Roman Emperor Diocletian in Nicomedia, thus securing the loyalty of his father Constantius Chlorus, Caesar of the Western Roman Empire.

When Constantine wanted to strengthen his bonds with the other Tetrarchs, in 307 AD he set aside Minervina and married Fausta, daughter of Augustus Maximian.

The marriage of Constantine to Fausta has caused modern historians to question the status of his relation to Minervina and Crispus. If Minervina was his legitimate wife, Constantine would have needed to secure a divorce before marrying Fausta on March 31, 307. This would have required an official written order signed by Constantine himself, but no such order is mentioned by contemporary sources. This silence in the sources has led many historians to conclude that the relationship between Constantine and Minervina was informal and to assume her to have been an unofficial lover. However, Minervina may have already been dead by 307. A widowed Constantine would need no divorce.

The story of Minervina is quite similar to that of Constantine’s mother Helena. Constantine’s father later had to divorce her for political reasons, specifically, to marry Flavia Maximiana Theodora, the daughter of Maximian, in order to secure his alliance with his new father-in-law. Constantine in turn may have had to put aside Minervina in order to secure an alliance with the same man. Constantius did not however dismiss Constantine as his son, and perhaps Constantine chose to follow the example of his father. Whatever the reason, Constantine kept Crispus at his side.

To seal the alliance between Constantine and Maximianus for control of the Tetrarchy, in 307 Maximianus married his daughter Fausta to Constantine I, who set aside his wife Minervina in her favour.

As the sister of Emperor Maxentius, Fausta had a part in her father’s downfall. In 310 Maximian died as a consequence of an assassination plot against Constantine. Maximian decided to involve his daughter Fausta, but she revealed the plot to her husband, and the assassination was disrupted. Maximian died, by suicide or by assassination, in July of that same year.

Empress Fausta was held in high esteem by Constantine, and proof of his favour was that in 324 she was proclaimed Augusta; previously she held the title of Nobilissima Femina. However, in 326, Fausta was put to death by Constantine, following the execution of Crispus, his eldest son by Minervina.

The circumstances surrounding the two deaths were unclear. Various explanations have been suggested; in one, Fausta is set jealously against Crispus, as in the anonymous Epitome de Caesaribus, or conversely her adultery, perhaps with the stepson who was close to her in age, is suggested. According to the Latin Epitome de Caesaribus and the Ecclesiastical History of Philostorgius (as epitomized by Photius), Fausta was executed by being cast into boiling water, in connection with the death of Crispus, whose death was reportedly caused by her allegations of sexual impropriety. On the other hand, Gregory of Tours, writing in the 6th century, reports that the pair plotted treason.

 

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