Posted by: ken98 | December 18, 2009

Incest, Death, and the American Revolution

Day 98 – Ken here (F)
(DEF v.2, ch.18, pp.650-660)

Again, moving (way too quickly) towards the holidays (dies feriae longi, vita brevis – too much holidays, too little time)- but it’s good to stop every so often and smell the history, so here goes…

Gibbon ends the life of Constantine with Constantine’s executions of his eldest son and his wife (a very strange story), and a long introduction to the Sarmatians and their wars with the empire. We are at the end of Constantine’s life (the last 10 years or so – the part Gibbon characterizes as rapacious and out-of-control), he will die with great ceremony, and the empire will promptly disintegrate into civil war (again).

The Story
 
Constantine: The Strange Stories of Crispus and his stepmother Fausta
 

  • Gibbon describes Crispus’ (Constantine’s eldest son) fall from power due to the jealousy of Constantine over Crispus’ popularity
  • Constantine holds his 20th year festival, invites the unwitting Crispus, has him arrested and terminated (326)
  • Rumors: versions of this story flow back and forth in history after this: Crispus is the stepson of Constantine’s current wife Fausta – it’s said she wanted her sons (Constantius, etc) to succeed Constantine, so Fausta claimed Crispus tried to seduce her
  • Rumors: Helena (the mother of Constantine, grandmother of Crispus) has revenge on Fausta by finding her guilty of adultery with a stableboy, she is shut up in a sauna and cooked to death
  • Education, Political Division of empire under 5 male relatives of Constantine – Constantine (now eldest son)=Gaul,Spain,Brit – Constantius=East – Constans=Italy,Africa,Illyricum = Dalmatius(nephew)=Danube Frontier,Italy,Greece,Thrace – Hannibalianus(nephew)=King of Pontus,Armenia,Cappadocia – what a guarantee for a WILD time at his death!
  •  
    Sarmatians

  • Gibbon describes: “Asiatic barbarians with figure and complexion of ancient European inhabitants”
  • Sarmatians: historical origins – (a blond, blue-eyed indo-eur people like the ancient Iranians/Persians – nomadic) lived on the upper Danube in Augustus’ time (20 BCE)
  • Sarmatians: helped Germans, Goths, allowed the Vandals to live in their territories (when the Vandals moved down from Scandinavia)
  • Constantine’s Gothic wars – Goths want to push the Vandals aside to take over Europe, Sarmatians caught in the middle, Sarmatians call upon Const. to help (331), Const. loses 1st battle, absolutely routs Goths in 2nd battle (4-20-332)
  • Decrepit Greek/Barbarian colony of the Chersonese attack the Goths (helping Const. in his Gothic wars) – rewarded by Const. with trade/tribute subsidies
  • Sarmatians: Goths war again against Sarmatians, this time Const. allows them to fall, the Sarmatians arm their slaves,who overthrow the Sarmatians – Sarmatians disbursed throughout the empire, settling in imperial lands in Pannonia, Thrace, Macedonia, Italy
  • Painting of Crispus Attucks - 1st man shot in the Boston Massacre at the beginning of the American Revolution (1770's - the time when Gibbon was writing the 1st, 2nd volumes of the Decline and Fall), and a person of color

    Painting of Crispus Attucks - 1st man shot in the Boston Massacre at the beginning of the American Revolution (1770's - the time when Gibbon was writing the 1st, 2nd volumes of the Decline and Fall), and a person of color

    The American Revolution – Other Famous Crispus’s: Crispus Attucks, Gibbon’s Contemporary (died Mar 5, 1770)
    The name Crispus would not seem to be a common one – especially since he was executed by his father for a supposed adultery with his step-mother – but he was also known as an exemplary son and excellent soldier and noble, stoic Roman before the last few months of his life. As the story goes, Constantine later found out Crispus was innocent, so he goes down in popular history as a martyr and a hero. His name turns up in U.S. (and African-American) history in a big way. This from Wiki (note: there is a strange emphasis on Crispus’ apparent non-black appearance in this Wiki extract which seems suspiciously strident to me):

    “Crispus Attucks (c. 1723 – March 5, 1770) was the first of five people killed in the Boston Massacre in Boston, Massachusetts. He has been frequently named as the first martyr of the American Revolution and is the only Boston Massacre victim whose name is commonly remembered. He is regarded as an important inspirational figure in American history.
    Little is known for certain about Attucks beyond his death in the conflict. Two major sources of eyewitness testimony about the Boston Massacre, both published in 1770, did not refer to Attucks as a “Negro,” or “black” man. The first was a report commissioned by the town of Boston, “A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre,” which contained over one hundred depositions from locals about what they saw on March 5, 1770. The second source, “The Trial of William Wemms,” referred to Attucks more than a dozen times as a “mulatto” or “molatto,” and once as an “Indian,” another as a “tall man,” and yet another as a “stout,” or muscular man. While 19th-century anti-slavery advocates later focused on Attucks’ African heritage, Bostonians in 1770 considered him mixed-race.”

     
    Quotable Gibbon: On Historians and History
    Gibbon notes what affect the passage of time has on historians’ historical certainty (speaking about Constantine’s execution of his eldest son Crispus):

    “…without a trial, is the strong and most probably the just expression of Suidas. The elder Victor, who wrote under the next reign, speaks with becoming caution. “Natu grandior, incertum qua causa, patris judicio occidisset.” [De Caesar. c. 41.] (for uncertain cause) If we consult the succeeding writers, Eutropius, the younger Victor, Orosius,Jerom, Zosimus, Philostorgius, and Gregory of Tours, their knowledge will appear gradually to increase as their means of information must have diminished, a circumstance which frequently occurs in historical disquisition.” (DEF, v.2, ch.18, p.650 fn.16)

    Fausta, Emperor Constantine's wife, executed by Constantine for suspicious reasons - rumors are that she accused Crispus (her stepson of Constantine) of trying to seduce her - Crispus was executed almost a year before her for suspicious reasons

    Fausta, Emperor Constantine's wife, executed by Constantine for suspicious reasons - rumors are that she accused Crispus (her stepson of Constantine) of trying to seduce her - Crispus was executed almost a year before her for suspicious reasons

    Solid Gold Solidus of Crispus - issued for his vitory in Sirmium - later, he was executed by Constantine for supposedly trying to seduce Constantine's wife - the reasons for his execution are still very unclear - all memory of him and his family was erased, this coin is from the period just prior to his downfall and death

    Solid Gold Solidus of Crispus - issued for his vitory in Sirmium - later, he was executed by Constantine for supposedly trying to seduce Constantine's wife - the reasons for his execution are still very unclear - all memory of him and his family was erased, this coin is from the period just prior to his downfall and death

    Helena - mother of Constantine - supposedly had Fausta executed for her accusations and successful death-plot against her grandson Crispus  - this is also Saint Helena, the woman who found the True Cross in the early 300's while visiting Palestine

    Statue in St Peter's, Vatican. Helena - mother of Constantine - supposedly had Fausta executed for her accusations and successful death-plot against her grandson Crispus - this is also Saint Helena, the woman who found the True Cross in the early 300's while visiting Palestine (note the large cross she is holding above) - but thats another story...

    Incest and Death in the Imperial Family

    The incident of Crispus’ death and his stepmother Fausta’s death has always been a subject of intense controversy. The more livid, pulp-magazine descriptions come from historians 100 years later and 800 years later. This from Wiki

    “In 326, Crispus life came to a sudden end: on his father’s orders, he was tried by a local court at Pola, Istria, condemned to death and executed. Soon afterwards, Constantine had his own wife, Fausta, killed; she was suffocated in an over-heated bath.
    The reason for this act remains unclear and historians have long debated Constantine’s motivation:
    Zosimus in the 5th century and Joannes Zonaras in the 12th century both reported that Fausta, stepmother of Crispus, was extremely jealous of him. She was reportedly afraid that Constantine would put aside the sons she bore him. So, in order to get rid of Crispus, Fausta set him up. She reportedly told the young Caesar that she was in love with him and suggested an illegitimate love affair. Crispus denied the immoral wishes of Fausta and left the palace in a state of a shock. Then Fausta said to Constantine that Crispus had no respect for his father, since the Caesar was in love with his father’s own wife. She reported to Constantine that she dismissed him after his attempt to rape her. Constantine believed her and, true to his strong personality and short temper, executed his beloved son. A few months later, Constantine reportedly found out the whole truth and then killed Fausta.
    This version of events has become the most widely accepted, since all other reports are even less satisfactory.
    That Fausta and Crispus could have plotted treason against Constantine is rejected by most historians. as they would have nothing to gain considering their positions as favourites of Constantine. In any case, such a case would not have been tried by a local court as Crispus’ case clearly was.
    Another view suggests that Constantine killed Crispus because as an supposedly illegitimate son, he would cause a crisis in the order of succession to the throne. However, Constantine had kept him at his side for twenty years without any such decision. Constantine also had the authority to appoint his younger, legitimate sons as his heirs.
    Some reports claimed that Constantine was envious of the success of his son and afraid of him. This seems improbable, given that Constantine had twenty years of experience as emperor while Crispus was still a young Caesar. Similarly, there seems to be no evidence that Crispus had any ambitions to harm or displace his father.
    So while the story of Zosimus and Zonaras seems the most believable one, there are also problems relating to their version of events:
    Constantine’s reaction suggests that he suspected Crispus of a crime so terrible that death was not enough. Crispus also suffered damnatio memoriae, meaning his name was never mentioned again and was deleted from all official documents and monuments. Crispus, his wife Helena and their son were never to be mentioned again in historical records. The eventual fate of Helena and her son is a mystery.
    Constantine did not restore his son’s innocence and name, as he probably would have on learning of his son’s innocence. Perhaps Constantine’s pride, or shame at having executed his son, prevented him from publicly admitting having made a mistake.
    It is beyond doubt that there was a connection between the deaths of Crispus and Fausta. Such agreement among different sources connecting two deaths is extremely rare in itself. A number of modern historians have suggested that Crispus and Fausta really did have an illegitimate affair. When Constantine found out, his reaction was to have both of them killed. What delayed the death of Fausta may have been a pregnancy. Since the years of birth for the two known daughters of Constantine and Fausta remain unknown, one of their births may have delayed their mother’s execution.
    The story of Zosimus and Zonaras listed above is suspiciously similar to both the legend of Hippolytus of Athens (casting Crispus in the role of the youth, Constantine in the role of Theseus and Fausta in the role of Phaedra) as well as the Biblical account of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife.”

    Map of Scythia, Parthia, Sarmatians 100 BCE = note the Sarmatians in the upper right

    Map of Scythia, Parthia, Sarmatians 100 BCE = note the Sarmatians in the upper right

    On the Catch-All Phrase “Sarmatians”
    Often in ancient writers/historians, unknown races to the north and east of Europe (Indo-European – with fair skin, blue eyes, etc) were generally lumped into the generic nation-group “Sarmatian”. Gibbon is no exception. The result is that the nomenclature (socio-anthroplogical uses) in some ways becomes meaningless. This from Wiki on tribes associated with the name Sarmatians from ancient authors:

    “Below is a list of tribes considered by various ancient writers to be among the people called Sarmatian, or to be in territory considered Sarmatian. Note that the political and ethnic affiliations of the Sarmatians as well as their territory varied somewhat over the centuries. Authors do not all identify the same tribes.
    Abii, Achaei, Acibi, Agathyrsi, Agoritae, Alans (Alauni, Halani, Alanorsi), Alontae, Amadoci, Amaxobi, Amazones, Anartophracti, Antae, Aorsi (Adorsi, Alanorsi), Arichi, Arsietae, Asaei, Aspurgiani, Atmoni, Avarini
    Basilici, Basternae, Biessi, Bosporani, Bodini, Borusci, Burgiones
    Carbones, Careotae, Cariones, Carpians, Caucasii, Cercetae, Chaenides, Choroatos, Chuni, Cimmerians, Costoboci, Conapseni
    Diduri
    Exobygitae
    Fenni (Tacitus was not sure if Fenni were Sarmatians or Germanic people)
    Galactophagi, Galindae, Gelones, Gerri, Gevini, Greater Venedae, Gythones
    Hamaksoikoi, Heniochi, Hippemolgi, Hippophagi, Hippopodes, Hyperboreans, Horouathos or Horouatos
    Iaxamatae, Iazyges, Igylliones, Isondae
    Materi, Melanchlaeni or Melanchlani, Metibi, Modoca, Mysi
    Nasci, Navari, Nesioti
    Ombrones, Ophlones, Orinei, Osili, Ossi
    Pagyritae, Perierbidi, Peucini, Piengitae, Phrungundiones, Phthirophagi, Psessi
    Rheucanali, Rhoxolani
    Saboci, Sacani, Saii, Sargati, Savari, Scythian Alani, Senaraei, Serboi, Sidoni, Siraces, Stavani, Sturni, Suani, Suanocolchi, Suardeni, Sudini, Sulones
    Taïphali, Tanaitae, Tauroscythae, Thatemeotae, Tigri, Toreccadae, Transmontani, Tusci, Tyrambae, Tyrangitae
    Udae
    Vali, Veltae, Venedae, Vibiones
    Zacatae, Zinchi”

    Sarmatia - Great Steppes of Western Kazakhstan in early spring - you can see why you'd have to move around/nomad around a lot

    Sarmatia - Great Steppes of Western Kazakhstan in early spring - you can see why you'd have to move around/nomad around a lot


    Lost Civilizatioins - Sarmatian crown - the Sarmatians were actually a strong, intact civilization from antiquity until their Diaspora in the 300's when they were finally driven from their homeland by the Goths and Huns and folded into the Roman Empire

    Lost Civilizatioins - Sarmatian crown - the Sarmatians were actually a strong, intact civilization from antiquity until their Diaspora in the 300's when they were finally driven from their homeland by the Goths and Huns and folded into the Roman Empire

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    Responses

    1. I found this blog extremely interesting as I am teaching in a University. Have you come across Pocock’s Barabrism and Religion.

      Bahu Virupaksha, Pondicherry, INDIA

      • hey – thanks for the comment

        No, I haven’t – I hadn’t heard of Pocock or Contextualism before – I googled them, and I’ll look up that book, it sounds interesting.


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