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Bill Thayer

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Book I
Note D

This webpage reproduces a section of
Italy and Her Invaders

Thomas Hodgkin

published by the Clarendon Press

The text, and illustrations except as noted,
are in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Book I
Chapter 8

Book 1 (continued)

Vol. I
Note E

St. Chrysostom on the Deaths of Emperors

A passage in a letter of St. Chrysostom addressed 'to a young widow,' throws an interesting light on the state of the Empire, and on the anxiety with which the career of Gratian was observed by his contemporaries: — 'And to leave old matters, of those who have reigned over our generation, nine in all, two only have died by a common death. But of the rest, one by an usurper, one in a war, one by a conspiracy of his household guards, one by the very man who raised him to the throne and put the purple robe upon him.'

Apparently St. Chrysostom's list of nine Emperors reaches from  p408 Constantine the Great to Valens. The two who died by a natural death are Constantine I and Constantius II. Then come four violent deaths: Constans by order of the usurper Magnentius, Constantine II in the war with his brother, Jovian by the treachery of his guards (St. Chrysostom must have accepted some version of that story which has not found favour with historians), and Gallus by order of his cousin Constantius, who had raised him to the throne. St. Chrysostom then proceeds: —

'Julian fell in battle with the Persians, Valentinian died in a fit of rage, and Valens, together with his retinue, was burnt in a house to which the Goths set fire. Of the wives whom these Emperors married, some, they say, died of poison, and others of very despair. And of those widows who yet survive, one, having an orphan child, fears and trembles lest any of the rulers through fear of the future should destroy it; and the other, with difficulty, by the entreaty of many persons, has been recalled from the banishment to which the former Emperor had sentenced her.'

The first of these widows is pretty clearly the widow of Jovian, who trembles for the safety of her son, Varronianus; the second may, perhaps, be Faustina, the widow of Constantius II, who, as having been to a certain extent involved in the usurpation of Procopius, might easily incur the resentment of Valens.

Chrysostom continues: —

'Of the wives of the reigning Emperors, one is racked by constant anxiety on account of the youth and inexperience of her husband; the other is subject to no less anxiety for her husband's safety, inasmuch as ever since his elevation to the throne he has been engaged in constant warfare with the Goths.'

The first of these ladies is evidently Constantia, wife of Gratian; the second Flaccilla, wife of Theodosius.

I owe this interesting quotation to the Rev. W. R. W. Stephens' St. Chrysostom, his Life and Times (p99),º and I have in the main followed his interpretation of the passage.

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Page updated: 4 May 20