Constantius II

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Constantius II

317 c.e.–361 c.e.

Roman emperor

Dressing for the Imperial Office.

Roman emperors, from the first emperor Augustus (27 b.c.e.–14 c.e.) onwards, had always sought to maintain the dignity and prestige of their office with their dress and their deportment, but from the end of the third century c.e. their efforts to set themselves apart from ordinary citizens became more pronounced. One of the most striking descriptions of this period of an emperor on public display concerns Constantius II, who inherited the empire along with his two brothers, Constantine II and Constans, after the death of his father, Constantine I, in 337 c.e. Upon the deaths of his brothers in 340 and 350, respectively, he became ruler of the whole empire. In 357 c.e. Constantius II visited Rome for the first time, and his ceremonial entrance into the city is described vividly by the last great classical historian to write in Latin, Ammianus Marcellinus. The emperor rode, seated in a golden coach studded with precious stones. Before him were attendants with banners in the shape of dragons billowing in the wind, tied to the tips of golden, jewel-studded lances. On both sides of his coach were soldiers with shields, plumed helmets, and gleaming breastplates, and along with them in the parade were corps of cavalrymen wearing armor made of thin plates of steel that covered their bodies. Constantius II stared straight ahead, not acknowledging the cheers, though when he passed under a gateway he stooped slightly as if he were too tall to fit under it, thought he was, in fact, a rather short man. He did not spit or blow his nose; instead he remained motionless, even when his coach jolted over a bump in the road. He attempted to appear superhuman.

Reflects Change in Status.

While the Roman Empire was still pagan, Roman emperors had been considered divine, and loyal subjects sacrificed to them. But after Constantine I, all the Roman emperors save one were Christian, and their relationship to the divine world had to change. The emperors became the deputies on earth of God in Heaven, and as such, they had to adopt a style and deportment that fitted this new Christian concept of the imperial office. The "advent" or ceremonial entrance of Constantius II into Rome in 357 c.e. is a vivid illustration of this new fashion in practice.

sources

Ammianus Marcellinus, The Later Roman Empire. Trans. Walter Hamilton (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1986): 100–101.

H. P. L'Orange, The Roman Empire: Art Forms and Civic Life (New York, Rizzoli, 1985).