Latest Event Updates

“An Unpleasant Man” – ‘Who was Constantius II? Dr Peter Crawford Review

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1856, 1205.2

The oldest dateable coin of the Coleraine Hoard (itself a topic of CANI events in the past – HERE and HERE, Constantius II, 353-355, Arelate RIC VIII.218, 207; BM 1856, 1205.2

On Thursday 8th June, Dr Peter Crawford delivered the final lecture in the Classical Association in Northern Ireland’s 2016/17 programme of events, entitled ‘Who was Constantius II?’

Dr Crawford’s biography of the fourth-century Roman emperor (2016) with its subtitle ‘Usurpers, Eunuchs and the Antichrist’ posed the same question, offering three frameworks through which we might view the son of Constantine the Great. Thursday night’s audience heard a more extensive range of possibilities, Dr Crawford stating that, when asked to summarise the character of Constantius II, he found it difficult to do so without perpetuating the same underestimating, sidelining and misrepresentation of the ‘philosopher king’ that had prompted him to write the biography in the first place. So he supplied each audience member with a checklist. Amongst other descriptions, this introduced us to Constantius II as: an imperial stop-gap; the ‘wrong kind’ of Christian; a paranoid monster and family annihilator; and – as his book suggests – the Antichrist.

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Dr Crawford began by introducing those of us unfamiliar with this emperor, to the bare details of his reign: Flavius Julius Constantius was born in Sirmium in 317, first serving as Caesar (junior emperor) from 324 until 337, then as co-Augustus with his two brothers until 350, when, after their brutal deaths, he became sole Augustus until his own death in 361. It soon began to become clear that the initial assertion of Constantius’s enigmaticism was sound: analysis of Constantius II’s character and reign is frustrated by a basic lack of information. In fact, Dr Crawford’s talk was punctuated by a series of compelling questions that remain unanswered by historical sources; although he reigned for 24 years between Constantine I and Julian, general works on this period overlook Constantius II’s substantial reign in order to reach Julian the Apostate.

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Constantine I, Constantine II, Constantius II, Constans and Julian (left to right)

More details of Constantius II’s background were explored: the ‘scandal-mongering’ that surrounded his rise and inheritance of the Empire, including discussion of his mother’s possible extra-marital honey-pot trap, as well as multiple executions and inter-familial murder plots. Combined with the psychological impact of his father’s murderous actions and manipulation of his sons, our eyes were opened to why this emperor might be characterised as the ‘paranoid monster’ on Dr Crawford’s checklist.

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The Rivals – Dalmatius, Hannibalianus, Constantine II, Constans, Magnentius, Decentius, Vetranio, Nepotianus and Julian (left to right)

The body of the lecture dealt with not simply the paucity of the sources, which itself significantly undermines Constantius II’s reign, but also the dislike of Constantius II exhibited by those sources. The chief of these is Ammianus Marcellinus. Despite the importance of Ammianus’s work to historians of Constantius II, he refers to the emperor’s ‘dullness of mind’, claiming that he ‘accomplished nothing worthwhile’. This derision persists even in modern presentations of Constantius II; the famous historian of late antiquity A.H.M. Jones (1964) brands him a ‘vain and stupid man’ and ‘easy prey to flatterers’. Ammianus also decries Constantius II’s military record, unfairly, it would appear, since Dr Crawford was able to contradict many of the half-truths quoted from Ammianus; Constantius won many civil wars, and was a well-renowned battlefield commander, defeating revolts and barbarian tribes, as well as successfully invading Persian territory.

Dr Crawford then addressed the rather different problems posed by ecclesiastical histories, which denigrate Constantius II’s reputation due to his supposed Arianism. This is where ‘Constantius the Antichrist’ comes in. I gained a deeper understanding of the term ‘Arian’, as a follower of the doctrinal teachings of Arius of Alexandria, the main thrust of which was that a ‘created’ Jesus was separate from and thus inferior to God. As the Church moved to have Arianism suppressed, Constantius was faced with dire opposition for what were more likely progressive rather than Arian views. Even as Augustus, Constantius II’s attempts at reform and unification were seen as a disguise for being an Antichrist. Yet it was not only his confrontation with the church that damaged his reputation; another moniker on the checklist is ‘family annihilator’, justified in the light of confrontations with his extended family about succession after his father’s death, which led him to assassinate uncles and cousins, securing the accession of himself and his brothers.

Furthermore, Constantius II’s excessive emphasis on personal imperial dignity rendered him an aloof, domineering character. Instead of ‘first among equals’, we have a dominus, as Dr Crawford put it, ‘lording it over his underlings’. This aloofness went hand-in-hand with a paranoia bred by self-fulfilling usurpations, disloyalty, and revolt.

The conclusion of Dr Crawford’s lecture, then, asked us, how do we judge Constantius II, given the inadequacy, misinformation and bias that dominate the historical evidence of this emperor’s reign? It was clear that attempting to cut through the bias does not affect any significant shift in the perception of him. If not a paranoid monster, at best Constantius II was a ‘good, bad, and ugly’ enigma. Was Ammianus correct in his portrayal? Even accounting for some exaggeration still leaves a picture of, as Dr Crawford put it, ‘a potentially unpleasant, utterly ruthless and unscrupulous man.’ If not the psychologically damaged, uncreative, barbarian-using Antichrist, Constantius II certainly lacked a good publicist, as his military and political achievements are downplayed more than they should be.

Dr Erin Halliday

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You can see a few more photos from the event in our ‘Who Was Constantius II?’ Gallery.

 

Standing out from the Crowd: Constans and his Go-Go-Gadget Neck

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index2What do Vladimir Klitschko, Inspector Gadget, friend and ally of He-Man, Mekaneck, the Kayan people of Myanmar and the fourth century Roman emperor Constans I all have in common?

They have all been seen to have an extremely long neck.

indexAny of you who follow the CANI Twitter and/or Facebook feeds may know that on occasion, you will see some coins posted as I attempt to collect a coin of every Roman emperor.

Starting not quite from scratch but aiming to have a coin of every Roman emperor…

Posted by The Classical Association in Northern Ireland on Sunday, July 26, 2015

Now, looking at that album, you may notice that there is already a coin of Constans, minted in Thessalonica one or two years before his accession as co-Augustus with his two brothers, Constantine II and Constantius II, on 9 September 337.

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O: CONSTANS NOB CAES; R: GLORIA EXERCITVS SMTS [A/Δ] RIC VII.526 n.201/529 n.225, Thessalonica

However, in the course of my search for some of the more rare Roman emperors, I came across this issue of Constans.

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O: DN CONSTA-NS PF AVG; R: FEL TEMP REPARATIO [TRP*]; RIC VIII.154 n.236; Trier

Now, the Ukrainian giant and former World Heavyweight Champion, Klitschko is probably still a little rubber-necked after that uppercut by Anthony Joshua; Inspector Gadget needed any and every advantage (along with the hidden/unrecognised skills of Penny and Brain) to thwart Dr Claw and his henchmen; He-Man required the periscopic abilities of Mekaneck to keep an eye on what Skeletor and his minions had planned for Eternia, while various reasons for why the Kayan people choose to wear brass rings to give the appearance of an elongated neck – cultural identity, protection from slavery or lions, gender differentiation or symbolising a dragon – but why would Constans feel the need to himself portrayed in such a way?

Might it be a poorly stamped or well-worn coin? A brief internet search told me that there is plenty of precedent for such oesophageally extended emperors.

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O: FL VAL CONSTANTIVS NOB C; R: GENIO POPVLI ROMANI; RIC VI.124 n.14a; London http://www.coincommunity.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=139980

Finding such similar traits in other Constantinians might lead to the idea that this was a family trait or a family choice for their propaganda, possibly linked to their Illyrian origins, but that would not explain the depictions of the British usurpers Carausius and Allectus with similarly long necks.

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O: IMP C CARAVSIVS PF AVG; R: PAX AVG (S ….. P); RIC Vb.504 n.475; London http://www.coincommunity.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=139980

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O: IMP C ALLECTVS PF AVG; R: PAX AVG ML (S ….. A); RIC Vb.561 n.33; London http://www.coincommunity.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=139980

From these emperors so far listed, it could be suggested that there was some kind of British connection to such long necks as both Carausius and Allectus ruled the island as independent usurpers; Constantius I Chlorus reintegrated Britain into the Empire, while Constans campaigned there in 343. A connection between long necks and Britain could be further promoted by the existence of a coin such as this of Galerius, who had no personal connection to Britain apart from being a member of the Tetrarchy, but there were still coins minted in London depicting him with a long neck.

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O: MAXIMIANVS NOB CAES; R: GENIO POPVLI ROMANI; RIC VI.124 n.15; London http://www.coincommunity.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=139980

However, moving slightly further back in time, into the melee of the Third Century Crisis, coins can be found depicting emperors with no connection to Britain and which were minted elsewhere in the Empire. Aurelian and Probus issued coins presenting themselves with chins a considerable distance from their upper torso; both of these coins were minted in Siscia, which seems to have become associated with such a physical exaggeration during the mid to late third century, enough for wildwinds.com to suggest the identification aid of a long neck likely being an issue from Siscia in Pannonia.

 

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O: IMP AVRELIANVS AVG; R: VIRTVS MILITVM [Γ*]; RIC Va.285 n.184; Siscia http://www.wildwinds.com/coins/ric/aurelian/RIC_0184

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O: IMP PROBVS PF AVG; R: CONCORDIA MILIT [XXIS]; RIC Vb.89 n.666; Siscia https://www.coincommunity.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=139980

Going even further back in time though, we find elongated necks as being prominent in the coinage of Rome’s first imperial dynasty, the Julio-Claudians. It was particularly prominent in the issues of Claudius, which might lead to a resurrection of a connection to Britain, given his overseeing the conquest of that province, but again the coins below were minted in Rome, rather than Britain.

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O: TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG P M TR P IMP; R: SPES AUGUSTA [SC]; RIC I.128 n.99; Rome http://www.coincommunity.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=139980

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O: TI CLAVDIVS CAESAR AVG P M TR P IMP P P; R: LIBERTAS AVGVSTA; RIC I.130 n.113; Rome http://www.coincommunity.com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=139980

Furthermore, not only does a similarly giraffe-like head support appear on coins of Nero, it also appears on the issues of Augustus and Tiberius, emperors with little to no connection to Britain.

Silver Denarius Nero

O: NERO CAESAR AVG IMP; R: PONTIF MAX R P VII COS IIII PP [EX SC]; RIC I.151-152, nn.26/28; Rome https://www.ngccoin.com/news/article/3274/Ancient-Roman-Coinage/

April Four

O: None; R: AVGVSTVS; RIC I.50, n.125; Colonia Patricia(?) https://www.ngccoin.com/news/article/3274/Ancient-Roman-Coinage/

April Three

O: CAESAR AVGVSTVS DIVI F PATER PATRIAE; R: TI CAESAR AVG F TR POT XV; RIC I.56, n.56; Lugdunum https://www.ngccoin.com/news/article/3274/Ancient-Roman-Coinage/

You might suggest that this long neck was a Julio-Claudian trait, although that does not exactly explain why both Augustus and Tiberius, who shared no blood, appear with such a trait, unless it was a trait of both of their families – the Octavii-Julii and the Claudians, or it was a trait of Augustus (or even Julius Caesar) and the rest of the Julio-Claudians followed it in order to project some kind of familial, dynastic bond.

Regardless of whether or not this was a regional or a familial trait/custom, it leaves the question of why would the emperor want to have himself portrayed in such a grotesque fashion?

The timing of some of these issues might provide some answers in the form of building legitimacy through ‘other-worldliness.’ Augustus was still attempting to solidify his transformation of the Republic to the Empire; Claudius could have been worried over his lack of legitimacy having been elevated from behind a curtain, while the young Nero may have had to deal with some murmurings of the circumstances of Claudius’ demise and his own elevation over Britannicus. In the mid-third century, the turnover of emperors must have undermined the sanctity of that once mighty imperial institution so perhaps the like of Aurelian and Probus were looking to put themselves on a pedestal above other men and even other emperors and usurpers by making it appear that they were something more than a man; something worthy of not just a soldier’s loyalty but perhaps also their reverence and worship. Certainly by the reign of Diocletian and his Tetrarchy, imperial propaganda had begun to associate the emperor with more dominant and divine characteristics: no longer a princeps – first among equals – but a dominus and even a deus with Diocletian and Maximian associating themselves with Jupiter and Hercules.

But then again such divine developments were not new. Arguments over the scale or timing of an emperor’s divinity had been raging on and off since the time of Julius Caesar and Augustus – could an emperor or an aspect of his genius be worshipped as divine during his lifetime?

Perhaps all of these emperors – Aurelian, Probus, the British usurpers, and the Constantinians were not only hoping to achieve some added legitimacy by appearing other-worldly on their coins but also by harking back to the Julio-Claudians, who not only used similar depictions on their coins but were also the fountain of the original imperial legitimacy.

This aspiration to divinity could be reflected in the ‘other-worldly’ depictions on other coins, such as this issue from the moneyer Gnaeus Blasio in 112-111BC. It could be a depiction of Scipio Africanus but with enough deniability built in so it could passed off as the god Mars. The exaggerated features perhaps say something about the Roman perception of how to appear divine.

Silver-Denarius-Blasio

Scipio Africanus/Mars https://www.ngccoin.com/news/article/3274/Ancient-Roman-Coinage/

However, it must not be overlooked that on certain occasions, a long neck, bulging eyes or fat head might not represent what the emperor wanted people or specific regions to think of him but perhaps what the people, and more specifically the die engraver or his direct overseer already thought of him…

Silver Denarius NeroAD66-67

O: IMP NERO CAESAR AVGVSTVS; R: SALVS; RIC I.153, n.60; Rome https://www.ngccoin.com/news/article/3274/Ancient-Roman-Coinage/

Someone minting coins in Rome does not seem to have liked Nero…

The contrast between this coin and the issue earlier is striking, demonstrating the almost complete collapse in Nero’s popularity from the young fresh faced heir to Claudius to the fat, ugly, pig-featured of the second coin. There can be little doubt that such a depiction reflected the enmity that Nero had raised amongst the population by the time of the issue of this coin in c.66-67, only months before his deposition and death. This Nero is hardly the picture of health, well-being and safety hinted at by the seated portrait of the personification of Salus along with the declaration of SALVS on the reverse. It is almost as if the engraver was making an ironic point about not only Nero himself but his regime and the empire as a whole, a point which hindsight makes more visible (or existent) given the events of 68-69.

It must be pointed out that the coin of Constans which started this little voyage of discovery came from the mint at Trier in 349-350, which in the region of the empire which birthed the usurpation of Magnentius in early 350 that ousted and then assassinated Constans. Could this long-necked coin be an attempt by someone in Trier to ridicule the emperor, demonstrating how Constans had become increasingly unpopular with segments of his political and military hierarchies throughout the 340s?

Whether it is positive or negative propaganda, depicting an ‘other-worldly’, out-of-reach, divine emperor to be respected and obeyed or a strange looking, unpopular man, worthy only of your ridicule, such coins can show how intricate, varied and dare I say amusing the whole subject of Roman numismatics can be.

Peter Crawford

‘Greek Percussion’ Dr Katerina Kolotourou Review

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CANI_LOGOOn Thursday 6th April 2017, The Classical Association in Northern Ireland was proud to host its latest talk on ‘Greek Percussion’ by Dr Katerina Kolotourou in the Old Staff Common Room of Queen’s University Belfast.

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To welcome an expert on ancient Greek culture, history and society to Belfast at any time is a great pleasure but to find a speaker with the distinction of Dr Kolotourou, now resident in the city, is doubly a boon to the Association. A historian, linguist, field-archaeologist and herself an accomplished pianist, Dr Kolotorou delivered a bravura lecture on Greek percussion to an audience, in which many will have known of poets, rhetors and drama, but may easily have overlooked (or underheard) the wide range of percussive instruments that accompanied many aspects of Greek culture.

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Calling upon a literary sources and fragmentary sculptural evidence, Dr Kolotourou restored the sistrumtympanon and kithara to the prominent roles required of them by the classical Greek musical ear. From the pulsing energy of the ceremonies of Dionysius to the high spirits of street-musicians of the Piraeus, the Belfast audience had an audio-world powerfully evoked. Understanding the sounds, instruments and players recreated the uniqueness of percussion as a means of musical expression, then as now.

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And striking parallels and differences between Greek instruments and those of ancient Egypt and the Near East opened up yet another avenue of enquiry into the relationship between ancient peoples of the eastern Mediterranean.

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Not surprisingly, the lecture had attracted the attention of historians of music as well as musicians themselves, and Dr Kolotorou was able to offer food for thought to questioners on 14th century Sweden as well as early modern English song. We very much look forward to hearing from Dr Kolotourou again and wish her well for her ongoing research which is to culminate in what will certainly be a fascinating monograph.

You can see a few more photos from the event in our ‘Greek Percussion’ Gallery

‘Greek Percussion’ Dr Katerina Kolotourou Gallery

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Check out the review of ‘Greek Percussion’ Review as well as a few pictures of instruments and a video of Ancient Greek style music in action

Greater than Gibbon?

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Greater than Gibbon: A.H.M. Jones’ The Later Roman Empire 284-602

Edward Gibbon used it to create ‘modern’ historical writing; various German scholars nurtured it during the nineteenth century for it to then be taken on by the likes of J.B. Bury, but it was not until 1964 that the Late Roman Empire was dragged out of the shadows of its Republican and Principate predecessors. And all it took was a seminal work of such mind-boggling depth of inquiry that even now fifty years later, The Later Roman Empire 284-602 by Arnold Hugh Martin Jones still towers over the subject.

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It is easy to espouse the greatness of the LRE but even now having used it frequently over the course of a decade, I still find myself truly staggered by the breadth of its interaction with myriad primary sources and a vast array of topics. At times, I leaf through its colossal notes section hoping for perhaps a couple of primary sources on an obscure person or event only to find that Jones has not only devoted three or four pages to it but also an invaluable bibliographical essay of endnotes. It even contains an extensive appendix on the Notitia Dignitatum, which itself could have been a separate work.

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Almost any academic at the beginning of a work involving the Late Roman Empire will likely ask rather quickly “I wonder what the LRE has to say about this.” This shows not only how well thought off it remains as an invaluable source of information but also that it so high profile that despite not being a multi-volume reference book, an annual publication of articles or a collection of inscriptions, it has come to be recognised by its own italicised acronym.

Any historian would have every right to consider such a monumental achievement a magnum opus worthy of the dedication of an entire career. And yet, A.H.M. Jones produced the LRE on top of many other high profile works on numerous subjects – ancient economies, cities, Sparta, Athenian Democracy, Constantine, Augustus and the PLRE to name but a few.

Jones may be rightly criticised for his lack of acknowledgement of other academics or archaeology; you may question why he stopped on the eve of an empire-changing cataclysm in 602; you might even find a source that he did not consult (although it had likely not been uncovered from a desert-bound urn or the mouldy shelves of a monastic library in the early 1960s); but none of this detracts from the achievement of the LRE.

It would not be overly hyperbolic to state that the history of the study of the Late Roman Empire is divided into pre- and post-LRE. Before 1964, Late Antiquity was not a separate subject in its own right; since, it has become one of the most widely published upon periods of the Ancient World. Not many books can say that they birthed a subject. That alone puts the LRE on a par with Gibbon. What is within its pages puts it above Decline and Fall.

Peter Crawford