Constantius III

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Constantius III
Co-emperor of the Western Roman Empire with Honorius
Solidus Constantius III-RIC 1325.jpg
Constantius on a solidus. The reverse shows Constantius as a general, holding Victory in one hand and a captive enemy in the other.
Co-emperor of the
Western Roman Empire
Reign 421 (7 months, as co-emperor in the west with Honorius)
Predecessor Honorius (alone)
Successor Honorius (alone)
Born Naissus
Died (421-09-02)2 September 421
Issue Justa Grata Honoria (417/418),
Valentinian III (419)
Full name
Flavius Constantius

Constantius (Latin: Flavius Constantius Augustus) (died 2 September 421), commonly known as Constantius III, was Western Roman Emperor for seven months in 421. A prominent general and politician, he was the power behind the throne for much of the 410s, and in 421 briefly became co-emperor of the Western Empire with Honorius.

Early life and career[edit]

Consular diptych of Constantius III, produced for his consulate in 413 or 417.

Constantius was born in Naissus (modern-day Niš, Serbia[1]) and was probably a career soldier, who reached the rank of magister militum under Honorius.

Constantius avenged the killing of his friend and previous magister militum Stilicho by having Olympius, the principal instigator of Stilicho's assassination, clubbed to death in 410/11.[2]

Defeating rebellions, 407-411[edit]

In 406, a mixed band of Alans, Sueves, and Siling and Asding Vandals crossed the Rhine and invaded Roman Gaul, meeting little or no resistance from the Italian-based government. Probably in response, Constantine, the Roman commander in Britain, rebelled against Honorius in 407 and declared himself Emperor. In 409, Constantine's general Gerontius in Spain proclaimed Maximus Emperor in opposition to both Honorius and Constantine, and invited the four invading tribes to migrate to Spain, which they entered in October 409. Gerontius besieged Constantine in the city of Arles in 411, but the arrival of Constantius and the imperial army from Italy made the besieger a besieged. Gerontius, abandoned by his soldiers, was killed in Hispania.

Constantius then besieged the city himself for three months while Edobichus, another of Constantine's generals, was sent across the border to find allies. He returned with a large army of Franks and Alamanni to reinforce Constantine's forces within the city. Before the walls of Arles, Constantius confronted and defeated Edobichus, who was later betrayed and killed by a friend. Constantine was forced to surrender to Constantius. Constantius granted Constantine safe conduct, and the usurper was later ordained as a priest; nevertheless, he was eventually executed on the orders of Honorius.

Rise to power[edit]

In 413 Contantius was appointed consul for the first time. In 414, with his army now bolstered by the remaining forces of Constantine III, and perhaps an additional 10,000 Huns, Constantius began a military offensive against the Visigoths. By this point the Visigoths had moved out of Italy in late 412 to southwest Gaul. Ataulf, leader of the Visigoths, elevated Priscus Attalus as emperor for the second time (the first had been just before the sack of Rome in 410 in a vain bid to attract support). Instead of seeking a set piece battle with the Visigoths, Constantius instilled a land and sea blockade that was so effective that by 415, with food being of such short supply, the Visigoths had to evacuate Gaul to Hispania in search of supplies. Attalus too tried to flee but was captured by the forces of Constantius and sent to Ravenna. The defeat caused a dissent within the Visigothic ranks, causing a coup in which Ataulf lost his life. His successor Segeric was killed shortly after and the new king Wallia agreed to terms with the Romans. The Visigoths accepted 600,000 modii of wheat from the Romans; a modius weighed variously between 13.5-15 pounds, so this was enough for 3 to 4 months for 100,000 persons, probably to make bread while they were moved from Spain to Gaul or prevent starvation. In return, the Visigoths pledged to settle in land assigned to them in Aquitaine between the Pyrenees to the Garonne, and to fight on behalf of the Romans as official treaty allies of the Empire (foederati). The agreement also provided for the release of Galla Placidia, Honorius' half-sister, captured during the sack of Rome in 410. Now armed with a force of Visigoths to complement his own army, Constantius entered Hispania to return it to Roman authority and bring the four tribes which had entered it a few years before to submission. During the subsequent campaign the Siling Vandals were completely destroyed and the Alans were so reduced that they were forced to merge with the Hasding Vandals. [3]

Constantius was appointed patricius, and in 417 consul for the second time with Honorius as colleague. He married Galla Placidia and with her had two children, Justa Grata Honoria (born 417/418) and the future Emperor Valentinian III (born 419). In 420 he was appointed consul for the third time, with the Eastern Emperor Theodosius II as colleague.

Brief reign and death[edit]

On February 8, 421, Constantius was appointed co-emperor with his ineffectual brother-in-law, Honorius, becoming the real master of the West. Curiously, he complained of the loss of personal freedom implied by the new role. The elevation of Constantius, however, was not recognized by his colleague in the East, Theodosius II, who was the nephew of Honorius.

It is said that Constantius was organizing a military expedition to the East to have his rights recognized when he died suddenly on September 2, 421, after just seven months as emperor, the archetype of able soldier and politician that the Western Roman Empire desperately needed at the time. A struggle to replace Constantius swiftly erupted, with some open fighting. Galla Placidia fled with her son Valentinian to Constantinople. Her brother Honorius, still childless, died in 423.[4]

Constantius' success in rising from head of the Roman army to emperor was a facilitated by the fact that he was a Roman while Flavius Aëtius was a Goth or Scythian on his father's side and Ricimer was Sueve on his father's and Visigoth on his mothers. Though both men were Romanized their ancestry made them ineligible to be emperor. Other usurpers were Roman.


  1. ^ Roman Empire, Constantius III
  2. ^ Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians, (Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 237.
  3. ^ Heather, 237-44
  4. ^ Adrian Goldsworthy, The Fall of the West:The Slow Death of the Roman Superpower, Orion Books Ltd, Paperback Edition 2010, London, p.305.


External links[edit]

Media related to Constantius III at Wikimedia Commons

Political offices
Preceded by
Western Roman Emperor
Served alongside: Honorius
Succeeded by
Honorius and then Joannes
Preceded by
Fl. Lucius
Consul of the Roman Empire
Served alongside: Fl. Constans
Succeeded by
Imp. Caesar Fl. Honorius Augustus X,
Imp. Caesar Fl. Theodosius Augustus VI
Preceded by
Imp. Caesar Fl. Theodosius Augustus VII,
Fl. Junius Quartus Palladius
Consul of the Roman Empire
Served alongside: Imp. Caesar Fl. Honorius Augustus XI
Succeeded by
Imp. Caesar Fl. Honorius Augustus XII,
Imp. Caesar Fl. Theodosius Augustus VIII
Preceded by
Fl. Monaxius,
Fl. Plinta
Consul of the Roman Empire
Served alongside: Imp. Caesar Fl. Theodosius Augustus IX
Succeeded by
Fl. Iulius Agricola,
Fl. Eustathius
Military offices
Preceded by
Fl. Stilicho
In 408
Supreme Commander of the Western Roman Army
Succeeded by
Fl. Felix
In 425