Constantina (c. 321–c. 354)

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Constantina (c. 321–c. 354)

Roman empress and saint. Name variations: Constance; Constantia. Born around 321; died in Bithynia around 354; buried in a mausoleum attached to the basilica of St. Agnes; elder daughter of Constantine I the Great (285–337), Roman emperor (r. 306–337), and Fausta (d. 324); sister of Constantius II; married her cousin Hannibalianus, in 335 (divorced 337); married Flavius Claudius Constantius Gallus also known as Gallus Caesar, Roman emperor (r. 351–354), in 350.

There are two versions of the story of Constantina (or there may be two daughters of Constantine the Great whose stories have become intertwined). In the first, she is the elder daughter of Fausta and Constantine I the Great, and briefly married to her cousin Hannibalianus from 335 to 337. In 350, when a senior Roman army officer named Magnentius usurped the Western emperor Constans, Constantina convinced Vetranio, the aging Master of the Infantry, to rebel and block Magnentius as he progressed eastward. Magnentius wanted to marry Constantina and form an alliance with her brother, the Eastern emperor Constantius II, but Constantius offered her to a cousin, Gallus, an Arian Christian like herself, instead. Historian Ammianus describes her as a "mortal fury," who encouraged her second husband's cruelty as he suppressed conspiracies and a Jewish rising when he became Roman emperor from 351 to 354. When Constantius II accused Gallus of treason, Constantina hurried to Bithynia to plead her husband's case. She died there and was buried in an exquisite porphyry sarcophagus in a mausoleum attached to the basilica of St. Agnes (d. 304?), a church she had founded. The mausoleum, now known as S. Costanza, still exists.

In the second version, Constantina—a daughter, or possibly a niece, of Constantine I the Great and Fausta (or possibly Minervina )—was a leper who learned of miracles taking place at the tomb of the Christian martyr St. Agnes. Constantina had a vision from St. Agnes on a pilgrimage to the tomb and was promised a cure if she converted to Christianity. Baptized and restored to health, Constantina dedicated herself to her new religion and was intent on remaining a virgin.

When General Vulcacius Gallicanus, conqueror of the Persians, sought her hand in marriage, she refused. The Emperor Constantine, though Christian, was annoyed by her refusal; to please him, Constantina agreed to marry the general after he had warded off the Scythians who were invading Thrace. When Gallicanus left on his mission, he placed his daughters Attica and Artemia in Constantina's care and took two of her servants with him to further strengthen their bond.

While he was away, Constantina begged God to free her from her pledge to Gallicanus. Meanwhile, her servants convinced Gallicanus that he would be invincible in his campaign against the Scythians if he embraced Christianity. Following his victory, Gallicanus remained a Christian, gave up all thought of marrying Constantina, and turned his attention toward good works. He was later martyred, along with Constantina's servants (around 361–363), under the reign of Julian the Apostate. Constantina passed her life in the company of Attica and Artemia, who had also been converted, near the church of St. Agnes and was buried there. Her feast day is February 18th.

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Constantina (c. 321–c. 354)

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