Constantius Chlorus


Flavius Valerius Constantius (March 31, 250, Upper Moesia – July 25, 306, Eboracum, Britain), known more in Roman historiography as Constantius I Chlorus, – the Roman emperor as Caesar in 293-305, as Augustus in 305-306. Father of Constantine the Great and founder of the Constantine dynasty. The nickname Chlorus (Greek χλωρός, meaning “pale”) was later earned by Byzantine historians.

He came from the Danubian provinces. In 293 Constantius was proclaimed Caesar by Diocletian. In this position he campaigned against the usurper Allectus in Britain, on the Rhine against the Alemanni and the Franks. Becoming Augustus in 305, Constantius began a successful punitive campaign against the Picts and Scots. The following year, however, he died at Eboracum. His death caused the beginning of the crisis of the tetrarchy.

Constantius wore the following titles of victory: “Germanic Greatest” since 294, “British Greatest” since 296, “Carpathian Greatest”, “Armenian Greatest”, “Midian Greatest”, “Adiabene Greatest”, “Persian Greatest” since 297, “Sarmatian Greatest” probably from 299, “Sarmatian Greatest” (second time) and “Germanic Greatest” (second time) from 301, “British Greatest” (second time) from 306.

Life before the assumption of power

Flavius Valerius Constantius Chlorus was born in Illyrica on March 31, supposedly in the year 250. According to the History of the Augusta, he was the son of a nobleman from Dardania, Eutropius and Claudia, niece of Emperors Claudius II and Quintilus. The panegyrist Eumenius even calls him the illegitimate son of Claudius. Modern historians, like Pat Sutherne and the authors of PLRE, suspect that this genealogy was invented by Constantine I the Great after Constantius” death in order to consolidate his power and that his family was of humble origin.

Constantius was a member of the emperor”s protector corps under Aurelian and took part in the campaign against the Kingdom of Palmyra. According to the collection of biographies of emperors “History of the Augustians”, Constantius was a duke during the reign of Probus, but this is most likely a fiction of the author. According to the Valesian Anonymus, Constantius was also a military tribune. The only documented position of Constantius is his appointment as presid of Dalmatia during the reign of Carus. It has been suggested that after Diocletian”s revolt Constantius went over to his side and took part in the battle of Margus in 285.

In 286 Diocletian appoints his friend Maximian as co-emperor and gives him control of the Western provinces, while he himself takes over the entire East, beginning a process that would eventually lead to the division of the Roman Empire into two parts – Western and Eastern. In 288, when his term as presid of Dalmatia ended, Constantius was appointed prefect of the praetorium under the Western emperor Maximian. Since then he appears to have occupied a significant position in the imperial court. During the period of 288-289, Constantius, under Maximian”s command, took an active part in the war against the Alemanni, campaigning in the barbarian tribes across the Rhine and the Danube. To strengthen ties between the emperor and his influential warlord, in 289 Constantius renounced his wife (or concubine) Helen and married Emperor Maximian”s daughter Theodora.


In 293 Diocletian, aware of his co-emperor”s ambitions, allowed Maximian to assist Constantius in obtaining the title of emperor during the new division of the empire. Diocletian divides the administration of the Roman empire into two halves, pertaining to the western and eastern parts. Each half would be ruled by Augustus with the support of Caesar. Both Caesars had the right of succession after Augustus” death.

At Mediolanus on March 1, 293 Constantius was officially appointed Caesar Maximian. He took the name Flavius Valerius and was given Gaul, Britain, and possibly Spain. Diocletian, an eastern Augustus, in an effort to maintain the balance of power in the empire, appoints the warlord Galerius as his Caesar at Philippopolis on May 21, 293. Constantius was the eldest of the two Caesars, and so in official documents he always had priority, being mentioned before Galerius. Constantius” capital was Augusta Trevirov, located on the Mosella River. In this city the emperor began the construction of a grand palace complex, which was completed by his son. The complex occupied the entire northwestern part of the city.

Constantius” first task after being proclaimed Caesar was to suppress the rebellion of the Roman usurper Carausius, who had declared himself emperor in Britain and northern Gaul in 286. After the defeat he inflicted on Maximian, the latter was forced to recognize the rebel”s authority. In late 293 Constantius besieged and stormed the main base and harbor of Carausius on the continent, Bononia. A large causeway at the entrance to the harbor prevented Carausius from sending reinforcements to the city, and so the usurper was forced to surrender the city. Shortly thereafter, Carausius was assassinated by his treasurer, Allectus, who proclaimed himself emperor.

Constantius spent the next two years neutralizing the threat of attack by the Franks, who were allied with Allecht, as northern Gaul remained under the control of the British usurper until at least 295. He also fought against the Alemanni and achieved some victories at the mouth of the Rhine that year. Administrative problems meant that he made at least one trip to Italy at this time. Finally, in 296, Constantius thought he had gained enough ground on the continent and surrendered command of the troops on the Rhine to Maximian. He organized two flotillas. One, led by Constantius himself, sailed from Bononia, and the other, under the command of Julius Asclepiodotus, prefect of the praetorium, sailed from the mouth of the Seine. Thanks to a heavy fog, the prefect was able to avoid safely meeting the main fleet of Allectus and landed with his army on the Isle of Wight. With all the forces he had, Allectus set out to meet Asclepiodot”s army, and this gave Constantius the opportunity to land in Kent without impediment. However, the attempt was not successful, because due to a strong fog, some of the ships could not join the main fleet, and the current carried her to the mouth of the Thames. After a while the emperor went to the south bank of the Channel, and the prefect succeeded in finally defeating Allecht somewhere in the north of Hampshire or Berkshire, with the result that the usurper perished. Some of his Frankish mercenaries, however, escaped and plundered as far as Londinium, where they were overpowered by Constantius” legionnaires, who missed him on landing off the Kent coast and bypassed the provincial capital. The inhabitants of the city greeted the emperor as a liberator.

To commemorate these victories, Constantius issued a series of large gold commemorative medallions. One of them with the inscription “Mercy of the Emperors” depicts the emperor himself in a lion”s cloak extending his hand to kneeling Britain, while Victory places a crown on his head. Another medallion, larger, bears the inscription “Restorer of Eternal Light” and depicts Constantius riding a horse to the city wall. It is indicated that this is the city of Londinium.

Constantius remained in Britain for several months, during which time he replaced much of the usurper”s administration and instituted reforms to the division of the province. The division transformed Upper Britain into Maxima Caesarea and Britannia I, and Lower Britain into Flavia Caesarea and Britannia II. On his orders, Hadrian”s ramparts and frontier fortresses were rebuilt, and a mint was built in Londinia. A number of craftsmen were sent from Gaul to Britain to rebuild cities destroyed in the fighting. In the summer of 297 the emperor went to Italy to follow it while Maximian was at war with the Moors in Africa, but soon returned back to Gaul.

After returning to Gaul in 297, Constantius settled many desolate lands there with Franks to compensate for the considerable losses caused by his previous campaigns against the allies Allectus and Carausius. The following year Constantius fought the Battle of Lingon against the Alemanni, but his unit was turned to flight. Constantius himself was wounded and, due to the proximity of the enemy, ordered that the city gates not be opened, but that he be hoisted on ropes to the wall. He was trapped in the city, but was freed by his army six hours later and defeated the enemy, who lost 60,000 soldiers. The emperor defeated the barbarians who had crossed the frozen Rhine again at Vindonissa, thereby strengthening the defense of the Germanic frontier. In 300 Constantius waged a campaign against the Franks on the Rhine. For the next three years, however, the Rhine frontier continued to occupy Constantius” attention. During his reign Constantius created three new legions: I Reliable Flavius Gallicus, I Flavius Mars and XII Victorious.

In 303 Constantius was faced with Diocletian”s decree, marking the beginning of the Great Persecution of Christians. Of the four tetrarchs, Constantius, who was a pagan, made the least effort to implement Diocletian”s decree in the western provinces, which were under his direct supervision. He merely confined himself to the closing of several churches. Eusebius of Caesarea claimed that Constantius was a Christian.

Between 303 and 305, Galerius began to seek to ensure that he could take Constantius” power after Diocletian left. In 304 Maximian Herculeius met with Galerius, probably to discuss this question of succession, and Constantius was either not invited or was unable to attend the meeting because of the tense situation on the Rhine. Until 303 there seems to have been a tacit agreement between the tetrarchs that Constantius” son Constantine and Maximian”s son Maxentius were to be appointed Caesars after Diocletian and Maximian”s abdication. By the end of 304, Galerius persuaded Diocletian (who in turn persuaded Maximian) to appoint his protégés Flavius Severus and Maximinus Daza as Caesars.

Diocletian and Maximian resigned on May 1, 305, probably because of Diocletian”s poor health. Flavius Severus and Maximinus Daza were appointed Caesars. Before the assembled troops in Mediolanus, Maximian Herculean removed his purple cloak and handed it to the new Caesar Severus and proclaimed Constantius Augustus. The same scene played out at Nicomedia, where Diocletian declared Maximinus Daza Caesar and Galerius Augustus. Constantius, who was conventionally the senior emperor, ruled the western provinces, giving up Italy and Africa, while Galerius took charge of the eastern provinces. Constantine, disappointed in his hopes of becoming Caesar, fled from Galerius” supervision after Constantius asked the eastern Augustus to release his son because of his illness. Constantine joined his father”s court on the coast of Gaul in preparation for the campaign in Britain.

In 305 Constantius crossed into Britain and headed to the far north of the island, launching a military expedition against the Picts, and was apparently victorious, as evidenced by the victorious title “imperator II” he received on January 7, 306. After returning to Eboracum for the winter, Constantius planned to continue the campaign, but he died on July 25, 306. When Constantius was dying, he recommended his son to the soldiers as his successor, and Constantine was then proclaimed emperor by the legions at Eboracum. From Britain Constantius”s body was transported to Gaul, where it was buried, apparently at Augusta Trevere.

Constantius Chlorus appears in antique literature in an exceptionally favorable light. Apparently, he was indeed respected in his domains by his skillful rule, and his military achievements were very considerable, even if we take into account that Britannia was recovered through the efforts of the prefect of Praetorius. Constantius is commended for not openly confronting Galerius and thus not plunging the state into a new civil war. However, because Galerius had a strong army and large funds, Constantius simply had no other option. But it is possible that his untimely death kept him from attempting a coup.

In ancient literature Constantius I receives favorable reviews. Pagan and Christian authors had a good opinion of him, such as Eutropius:

“He was a husband of great and benevolent character, zealous in enriching provincials and private individuals, without seeking the same increase in the state treasury, and said that it was better to keep public wealth with private individuals than to keep it in one coffer. He lived so modestly that on feast days, when he wished to give a feast for his many friends, he borrowed from private persons silver utensils to decorate his table. He was not only beloved, but in Gaul even revered on a par with the gods and especially because in his reign finally got rid of Diocletian dangerous prudence and from Maximian bloodthirsty recklessness.”

Eusebius of Caesarea in his Ecclesiastical History also speaks positively of Constantine:

“He was the kindest and gentlest of all the emperors. He was the only one of his contemporaries who spent all the time of his reign with dignity, showing himself to be otherwise available to all and merciful to all. He did not engage in war against us at all, protected his Christian subjects from harm and offence, did not ruin churches and did not invent anything else against us.

Christian authors praise him for his mild attitude toward their religion and his failure to abide by Diocletian”s decree of persecution. In addition, he was able to win the esteem of his subjects by his skillful administration.

In the literature.

Constantius Chlorus is one of the main characters in Evelyn Waugh”s novel Helena.

In the legends

Constantius” name remains in the legends of the Britons – for example, in his History of the Kings of the Britons, Galfrid of Monmouth devotes several chapters to him. According to this work, Constantius was sent to Britain by the Roman Senate after the British king Asclepiodotus was overthrown by Coelus. Coelus agreed to pay tribute to Rome, but he soon died. Constantius married Coel”s daughter Helen and became king of England. Helena bore him a son, Constantine, who ascended the throne of Britain when his father died in York eleven years later. However, Henry of Huntingdon debunked the legend that Helena was the daughter of the British king, for Constantius divorced her even before the British campaign.



  1. Констанций I Хлор
  2. Constantius Chlorus
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