Constantine III (Counter-emperor)

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Solidus with the portrait of Constantine (III.) On the lapel he is depicted as a victorious general holding a Victoria in one hand and a vexillum in the other. His foot symbolically steps on a subjugated enemy lying on the ground - this scene imitates the coinage of the legitimate emperors Honorius and Arcadius .
Model made by Arelate in the 4th century
Portrait of Constantine III on a siliqua , on the lapel an homage to the victorious Augustus

Constantine (III.) , Actually Flavius ​​Claudius Constantinus , († August or September 411) was proclaimed Roman emperor in Britain by his troops in 407 and ruled until 411, although his importance in the history of the Roman Empire is significantly less than in the British, because here Constantine stands at the turning point of the island's Roman period towards independence and was even considered by medieval authors to be the grandfather of the legendary King Arthur , but this cannot be proven historically.

Since Constantine (III.) Was never recognized throughout the empire, he uses the ordinal number III. only unofficially or from a Western Roman perspective. In the Eastern and all-Roman imperial lists this is the Byzantine Emperor Constantine III. († 641) reserved.


The entire course of events related to Constantine III. cannot be dated exactly, as the year of the Rhine crossing of 406 is also still controversial.

On the night of December 31, 406, several Germanic associations , including the Vandals , Burgundies , Suebi and the Iranian Alans , crossed the frozen Rhine at Mogontiacum and apparently effortlessly overran the garrison there; This was followed by the temporary collapse of the Roman border defense on the Rhine and the devastation or pillage of large areas of the Germanic and Gallic provinces.

Even before this invasion, which was perhaps triggered by internal Roman conflicts, the British provinces were also in turmoil. In the years 401/402 numerous units had been pulled out of the British provincial army in order to use them to defend the heartland of the western empire, Italy, against the Goths of Alaric ; Among the remaining troops, who presumably could no longer be paid regularly , the displeasure about this grew more and more. In contrast to the time of the early and middle empire, their loyalty was no longer to the army and the ruling emperor, but mainly to their home province. Many of the border guards had been born and raised on the island, then became landowners through the late antique army reform and were therefore primarily interested in defending their families and their property.

Probably also encouraged by the British upper class, who owned large estates in the southeast, the army in Britain eventually rose against the central government in Ravenna . Therefore, from the year 405 onwards, several emperors were proclaimed one after another by the soldiers; two of them ( Marcus and Gratian , about whom nothing else is known) were removed and killed after just a few months. At the beginning of 407, the usurpation of Constantine, who allegedly had only served as a simple soldier in the army, took place. According to Orosius , Constantine, whose family origins are also in the dark, was also chosen because his name recalled a more glorious past. His predecessor Constantine the Great had started an unprecedented triumphal march from the northern metropolis of Eburacum ( York ) about 100 years earlier , which finally led him to sole rule over the empire ( Hist. Adv. Pagan. VII 40,4). According to Prokopios of Caesarea , on the other hand, he was “not an unknown man” ( Hist. 3,2,31), possibly before his elevation he had already held the office of the chief general of the provincial armed forces, in this case that of the Comes Britanniarum . Orosius' assertion that Constantine was a social nobody, therefore, perhaps only reflects the victorious propaganda of the government in Ravenna after the usurper was eliminated. It has been suggested that the real mastermind behind the events could not have been Constantine himself, who only served as a prominent figurehead, but the military Gerontius , who was soon to pursue his own policy.

The security situation of the provinces, which were not economically or as a recruiting area of ​​essential importance for the empire, was increasingly threatened because of the declining power of the western empire. Britain, which is heavily influenced by the military, has always been prone to usurpation. At the end of the 3rd century it was able to maintain its independence for a time under Carausius and Allectus . In the 4th century, the elevation of Magnus Maximus started there . In the most westerly outskirts of the Roman Empire , people apparently felt grossly neglected by the emperor's policies in distant Rome and later in Ravenna. Due to the constant withdrawal of troops, its borders were more and more frequented by looters. For all these reasons, rebels there had an easy time of it.

Constantine had probably not received his dignity in order to conquer and rule the rest of the Western Roman Empire, but primarily to rule the British provinces and with his field army to repel the constant incursions of the northern barbarian tribes and from the sea . Only Britain was to be his empire, and the tax revenue he received was supposed to be used exclusively to support the provincial army. But Constantine had other priorities: either he followed a call for help from the Gallic nobility or the anarchy there awakened in him the ambition to exploit the apparent weakness and inability to act of the emperor in Ravenna and to expand his small empire even further at his own expense. It is also possible that he feared that he would not be able to stay in isolated Britain (like Carausius once did) without also controlling the mainland. Constantine therefore crossed the English Channel and landed with his army at Bononia ( Boulogne ) on Gallic soil. In his entourage (comitatus) he probably only carried the mobile units ( comitatenses ) (probably already personally sworn to him ) and (if at all) only a few border guards ( limitanei ) with him. Possibly he withdrew the last crews from Wales for this purpose, so that the British provinces were only defended by the border and coast guard associations in the north and south-east. The commander of the northern border and Hadrian's Wall in Eburacum , the Dux Britanniarum and its counterpart in the southeast, the Comes litoris Saxonici per Britanniam , on the Litus saxonicum ( Saxon coast ), probably saw no use in their garrisons because of the continental adventure of theirs - only nominally anyway. to weaken superior colleagues. But at least a minimum of garrison troops will have been left behind.

Constantine's generals Justinian - perhaps identical to a praepositus of this name, which appears in the last known Roman building inscription from Britain (AE 1954, 15) - and Nebiogastes , who commanded the vanguard, were however by Sarus (whom the master of the west, Stilicho , had charged with the suppression of the uprising) in a battle. Nebiogastes was killed shortly afterwards near Valence . Constantine sent further troops, led by Edobich and Gerontius , who forced Sarus to withdraw to Italy , where he had to buy the crossing of the Alps from rebellious Bagauden . Constantine then successfully secured the Rhine border and re-manned the guards on the roads from Gaul to Italy. In May 408 he chose the southern Gaulish Arelate (Arles) as his residence, where he installed the grandfather of the poet Sidonius Apollinaris as prefect.

In the summer of 408, troops were gathered in Italy to counterattack. Constantine had against family members of Honorius in Hispania proceed that there once party for the Eastern Imperator, I. Theodosius had taken. He feared that they would open a second front against him from there, while the troops of Sarus and Stilicho were pinning him down from Italy. For this he took his eldest son Constans out of the monastery, made him Caesar (co-emperor) and set him on the march with Gerontius' army to Spain. His younger son Julian received the title of Nobilissimus . The relatives of Honorius were ultimately narrowly beaten. Two of them, Didymus and Theodosiolus , were captured, while the other two, Lagodius and Verianus , managed to escape to Constantinople, where Honorius' nephew Theodosius II had ascended the throne of the Eastern Empire.

Constans left his wife and his household in the care of Gerontius in Caesar Augusta ( Zaragoza back) to reimburse in Arles report. In the meantime, the troops mutinied in Ticinum on August 13, 408 , and Stilichos was executed in Ravenna a day later . His henchman Sarus then left the imperial army, followed by his men, and left Honorius with insignificant military protection in Ravenna, who now faced Gothic rebels under Alaric who marched unhindered through Etruria at this time . When Constantine's envoy arrived in Ravenna for negotiations, Honorius was therefore forced to recognize him as co-emperor for the time being. However, no formal confirmation appears to have been given.

Constantine was now at the zenith of his power. In September of the year 409, however, those Germanic tribes who had crossed the Rhine almost two years ago and since then plundered through Gaul had reached the Pyrenees , where they broke through Constantine's positions and invaded Spain. The usurper then tried to win her as a partner. At the same time, he made a pact with the Franks and Burgundians as their leaders sought a monopoly for the defense of the Gallic provinces. This guaranteed them a privileged position and the supply of the Roman state. Presumably the Gallic elite also supported these plans, as they preferred to invest their tax money in their own country instead of transferring them to Ravenna. Honorius lost military control over Gaul and Spain for a long period of time.

While Constantine was preparing to send his son Constans back to Spain, news reached him that Gerontius had risen against him and made his son (or subordinate) Maximus emperor. In 410 Gerontius advanced into Gaul. At the same time, Saxon pirates threatened Britain, which Constantine had evidently largely left to its own devices. Enraged that their emperor did not send them any support, the citizens of Britain and Aremorica rebelled and chased away his followers who remained there.

Thereupon Constantine marched with the remaining troops against Italy, encouraged by the urgent request of a certain Allobich , who wanted Honorius to be replaced by a more capable regent. But this campaign ended in defeat; Allobich lost his life, and in the late spring of 410 Constantine had to retreat to Gaul again. His position now became more and more untenable; the defeat that the sack of Rome by Alaric meant for Honorius in the summer of that year could not be used to his advantage by Constantine. Rather, his troops were defeated in 410 or 411 (the chronology is uncertain) by Gerontius near Vienne , where his son Constans was captured and executed. Constantine's Praetorian prefect Decimius Rusticus , who had replaced Apollinaris, then turned away from Constantine and was later seized in the Rhineland in the course of the rebellion of Jovinus . Gerontius locked Constantine in Arles and besieged the city.

At the same time a new, capable general entered Honorius' service. Flavius ​​Constantius, who later became Constantius III. soon afterwards appeared with his army before Arles, put Gerontius to flight and continued the siege. Constantine held out in the hope of relief from his general Edobich, who raised troops against the Franks in Northern Gaul , but was routed after his arrival by Constantius by a ruse. Constantine's last hope faded when the Rhine Army defected to the usurper Jovinus, so that he was finally forced to surrender. Despite a promise of safe conduct and Constantine's willingness to enter the clergy, Constantius imprisoned him and had him beheaded in August or September of the year 411.

Gerontius then committed suicide in Spain, and Jovinus 'usurpation was ended by Constantius, who finally rose to Honorius' son-in-law and co-emperor in 421; but after Constantine's death Rome never succeeded in gaining a foothold in Britain. As the historian Prokopios of Caesarea later explained, ... Britain remained under the rule of tyrants from this time on. (ie probably usurpers).



  • Bruno Bleckmann : Constantinus III . In: Real Lexicon for Antiquity and Christianity . Supplement volume 2, delivery 11. Hiersemann, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-7772-0421-8 , Sp. 454-462.
  • John F. Drinkwater: The Usurpers Constantine III (407-411) and Jovinus (411-413). In: Britannia . Volume 29, 1998, pp. 269-298.
  • Kay Ehling : On the history of Constantine III . In: Francia . Volume 23, 1996, pp. 1-11 ( online ).
  • Michael Kulikowski: Barbarians in Gaul, Usurpers in Britain. In: Britannia . Volume 31, 2000, pp. 325-345.
  • Roland Steinacher: The vandals. The rise and fall of a barbarian empire. Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2016, ISBN 978-3-608-94851-6 , pp. 58ff.
  • Courtenay Edward Stevens: Marcus, Gratian, Constantine . In: Athenaeum . Volume 35, 1957, pp. 316-347.
  • Edward A. Thompson : Britain, AD 406-410 . In: Britannia . Volume 8, 1977, pp. 303-318.

Web links

Commons : Constantine III.  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files


  1. See Henning Börm: Westrom . Stuttgart 2013, p. 48.
  2. See Stuart Laycock: Warlords. The Struggle for Power in Post-Roman Britain. Stroud 2009, p. 27.
  3. See Peter Salway: A History of Roman Britain. Oxford 2001, pp. 325f.