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Constantina (Wife of the Emperor Maurice)

Lynda Garland
University of New England, New South Wales

Coin with the images of Maurice and Constantina (c)1999, Chris ConnellMaurice and Constantina

Constantina, one of the three children of the emperor Tiberius Constantine and his wife Ino (Anastasia), was chosen by her father, as he lay dying, to marry the general Maurice. This betrothal took place in August 582. With her mother and sister Charito, she had slipped into the capital by boat on her father's accession as sole emperor in October 578, to avoid possible threats from the dowager empress Sophia, whose husband Justin had finally died after several years of dementia.[[1]] After four years of experiencing imperial status, the family of Tiberius was again threatened by Sophia's appointment of Maurice as Tiberius's successor. Tiberius circumvented this by orchestrating his daughters' marriages, Constantina to Maurice, and Charito to the general Germanus, governor of Africa, with both his sons-in-law-elect being given the rank of Caesar.[[2]] Constantina's role in the transfer of power was specifically recognised by Evagrius who, in recording the betrothal of Maurice and Constantina, speaks of the empire as being her dowry.[[3]] The two girls were relatively young at their marriage, for Tiberius speaks of their 'immature youth' in his speech prior to Maurice's proclamation as emperor.[[4]] According to John of Ephesus, Tiberius gave his daughter the name Constantina as a coronation name, in which case we do not know her baptismal name; presumably, like the names of her mother Ino and her sister Charito, it may have had 'hellenic', i.e., pagan, overtones, and thus been unsuitable nomenclature for an empress.[[5]]

Maurice and Constantina succeeded Tiberius at his death on 14 August 582, and were married by the patriarch John Nesteutes with due pomp later in the autumn:

"The royal bridal chamber had been magnificently arrayed within the circuit of the first great precinct of the palace, adorned with gold and princely stones, and furthermore empurpled with crimson hangings of priceless deep-tinged Tyrian dye. The daughter of Tiberius, the virgin bride, preceded the emperor to the bridal throne, as though in hiding, shortly to be seen by the people when the fine curtains were suddenly thrown apart as if at an agreed signal. At once the emperor arrived at the bridal chamber, magnificently escorted by many white-robed men. And so he entered within the lofty curtains to escort the queen to the presence of the onlookers and to embrace her. The emperor's bridal attendant was present; this man was an imperial eunuch, Margarites by name, a distinguished man in the royal household. The queen rose from her throne to honour her bridegroom the emperor, while the factions chanted the bridal hymn. In full view of the people the bride's attendant saluted the bridal pair with a cup, for it was not right to put on crowns, since they were not in fact private individuals who were being married: for this action had already been anticipated by their royal title."[[6]]

The wedding celebrations lasted for seven days and the citizens were entertained with displays of wealth and the music of flutes, lyres and pipes, conjurors, mimes, and chariot-races.[[7]] The acclamations, which greeted the couple at their marriage, have been preserved, and speak of God blessing their marriage, '...Who once in Cana attended the marriage/ And there blessed the water in his love for men/ And changed it into wine for the enjoyment of men;/ So He, God, will give you children, born in the purple.'[[8]]

Constantina was depicted on the copper coinage of Maurice's reign, though not on that minted in Constantinople. She is shown both seated beside him on a double throne and standing holding a long cruciform sceptre.[[9]] Maurice also had statues of himself, Constantina, and their children placed on the Chalce facade of the palace, above the famous icon of Christ.[[10]] Constantina's status as empress, and that of imperial women in general, is shown by the fact that Pope Gregory maintained contact with both her and Maurice's widowed sister Theoctiste.[[11]]

Constantina had to share the rank of empress and the imperial palace with two predecessors, her mother Ino, and the redoubtable Sophia, widow of Justin II, and John of Ephesus devoted a chapter (now lost) of his Ecclesiastical History to the three empresses who inhabited the palace,[[12]] although the Patria speaks of Maurice as repairing the old palace of Sophiae as a residence for his mother-in-law.[[13]] While relations between Sophia and Ino may have been strained, Sophia seems to have been on good terms with Constantina: on Easter Sunday (26 March) 601 they are recorded as having given a precious crown to Maurice, which caused friction between them and the emperor. Maurice apparently took one look at it and then had it hung above the altar of St Sophia by a triple chain of gold and precious stones. When the empresses heard of this they were greatly upset and they celebrated Easter in conflict with the emperor.[[14]] It may have been this crown which was supposedly coveted by Leo IV, and which caused him to break out into a carbuncle which caused a fever and early death; the crown was returned to the church after his death by his widow, the empress Irene.[[15]] The rift between Maurice and Constantina may have been connected with the popular discontent being evinced with Maurice's government at the time. Not long afterwards Maurice and his eldest son were nearly killed in a popular riot, while early in 602, following severe food shortages, Maurice was made the subject of a diapompeusis, or parade of infamy, in the capital.[[16]]

Constantina was a prolific wife, giving birth to nine children, the eldest of whom, Theodosius, was born on 4 August 583. According to John of Ephesus, he was the only heir to the throne who had been born to a ruling emperor since the birth of Theodosius II, after whom he was named.[[17]] Theodosius was followed by five boys, Tiberius, Peter, Paul, Justin and Justinian, and three girls, Anastasia (named after her grandmother), Theoctiste (named after Maurice's sister) and Cleopatra.[[18]] To have such a number of surviving children was unusual, and Maurice's procreative proclivities were made the subject of popular ridicule. Following the riot in which he was nearly killed, the people (presumably the factions, in particular the Greens) dressed up a man who looked like Maurice in a black cloak and crown of garlic, and paraded him before the populace on a donkey, to the accompanying vernacular chant in 'political', ie, 15-syllable, verse:

"He found his heifer tender and soft,| and he fucked her like the proverbial young cock,|and fathered children like chips off the block. |Now no one dares speak; he's muzzled us all.| My holy Lord, my holy Lord, fearful and mighty,| let him have it on the head to stop his conceit,| and I'll bring you the great bull in thanksgiving."[[19]]

In November 602 Maurice was overthrown by Phocas. On the night of 22 November, facing mutiny by the Green faction, Maurice donned civilian dress and, with Constantina and their children, fled the capital on board a warship. The army crowned Phocas the following day. After weathering a storm at sea, Maurice and his family landed at St Autonomos, near Praenetus some 45 miles from the capital, but were detained there by Maurice's arthritis. They were captured and brought to the harbour of Eutropius at Chalcedon, where on 27 November the five younger boys were put to death, followed by the emperor. Maurice's sister Gordia gathered their remains for burial and had them interred, not in the Holy Apostles but in the monastery of St Mamas, or Nea Metanoia, which Gordia herself had founded.[[20]]

In the following year Constantina and her three daughters were confined in a monastic institution, called 'the house of Leo', apparently the monastery of St Mamas.[[21]] In 605, according to Theophanes, they escaped in the middle of the night to St Sophia, with the help of the palace eunuch Scholasticus. This was at the instigation of the patrician Germanus, presumably Constantina's brother-in-law, whose daughter had married her cousin, Theodosius, Maurice's eldest son. The Greens, who were hostile to Germanus, reviled Constantina and were impervious to bribery, and the patriarch Cyriacus eventually agreed to the removal of the women from the church on the terms that they would not be harmed. Phocas then had them confined again in a monastery, and Germanus was ordained a priest. However, in this account of the events of 605, Theophanes' story is confused, and it is likely that he has created a historical doublet and is renarrating their previous incarceration in 603. In any case, Constantina had clearly not given up her resistance to Phocas's regime. In 605, she was certainly intriguing with Germanus, using her serving maid Petronia as a go-between, and both had hopes that Constantina's eldest son, Theodosius, was still alive. Petronia, however, betrayed her mistress, and Phocas had Constantina delivered to Theopemptus, prefect of Constantinople, to be tortured, and she confessed the complicity of the patrician Romanus. His interrogation revealed the names of other conspirators. Romanus was beheaded, and Constantina and her daughters, together with Germanus and his daughter, were put to the sword at the jetty of Eutropius, where Maurice had been killed.[[23]]

Constantina was buried with Maurice in the monastery of St Mamas, her sister-in-law's foundation.[[24]]


Kaegi, W.E., Byzantine Military Unrest. Amsterdam, 1981.

Olster, D., The Politics of Usurpation, Amsterdam, 1993.

Stratos, A.N., Byzantium in the Seventh Century, vol. I. Amsterdam, 1968, esp. pp. 40-56, 70-71.

Whitby, M., The Emperor Maurice and his Historian. Oxford, 1988.


[[1]]John Eph., Ecclesiastical History, 3.7, 3.9; Theophanes, Chronographia, AM 6071 [AD 578/9].

[[2]]Gregory of Tours, Historia Francorum, 6.30; John Eph., EH, 5.13; Theophanes AM 6074 [AD 581/2]; Chronicon Paschale, 690; Theophylact Simocatta, History, 1.1.4.

[[3]]Evagrius, Ecclesiastical History, 5.2; cf. 6.1, where he speaks of Maurice's piety marrying Constantina's 'basileia' or sovereignty.

[[4]]Theoph. Sim. 1.1.8: 'For kingdom and children and wife are likewise burdens, the one seeking a wise leader, the next a most capable and dutiful guardian for widowhood, my daughters men to lead them by the hand because of their immature youth and the greater weakness of female nature' (tr. M.& M. Whitby, The History of Theophylact Simocatta, Oxford, 1986, 20).

[[5]] John. Eph. EH, 5.13.

[[6]] Theoph. Sim. 1.10.6-9 (tr. Whitby, 33-34). Theophylact's description of an imperial marriage in the Augusteus, the principal stateroom of the Daphne palace, varies somewhat from the later account of Constantine Porphyrogenitus (de ceremoniis, 1.48, 50, cf. 20).

[[7]] Theoph. Sim. 1.10.10-12; cf. Evagr. 6.1, where Evagrius gives an extremely high-flown account of proceedings.

[[8]] Ed. R. Cantarella, Poeti Bizantini, I, Milan, 1948, p. 82, no. 3; trans. P. Allen, Evagrius Scholasticus, the Church Historian, Louvain, 1981, 244-45.

[[9]] A.R. Bellinger, Catalogue of the Byzantine Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection and in the Whittemore Collection, vol. I: Anastasius to Maurice 491-602, Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks, 1966, 320, 373-74.

[[10]] Patria Constantinopoleos, 2.28.

[[11]] M. Whitby, The Emperor Maurice and his Historian, Oxford, 1988, 14.

[[12]] R. Payne Smith, The Third Part of the Ecclesiastical History of John Bishop of Ephesus, Oxford, 1860, 243.

[[13]]Patria, 3.125.

[[14]] Theophanes AM 6093 [AD 600/1]. Cf. ibid. AM 6083 [AD 590/1] and Theoph. Sim. 5.16.3, where Constantina, together with the patriarch and senate, begs Maurice in 590 not to conduct a war in person against the Avars, advice which Maurice ignores.

[[15]]Theophanes AM 6272 [AD 779/80]; cf. Const. Porph. de administrando imperio, 13; 'La vie de l'impératrice Sainte Irène', ed. F. Halkin, Analecta Bollandiana 106 (1988), 9.

[[16]]Theoph. Sim. 8.4.11-5.4; Theophanes AM 6093 [AD 600/1].

[[17]] John. Eph. EH, 5.14. Theophanes AM 6077 dates the birth to 584/5.

[[18]] Chron. Pasch. 693.

[[19]]Theophanes AM 6093 [AD 600/1]; translation by G. Horrocks, Greek: a History of the Language and its Speakers, Longman, 1997, pp. 257-58.

[[20]]Chron. Pasch. 693; Theoph. Sim. 8.9.9-10; Theophanes AM 6094 [AD 601/2]; Patria, 3.185.

[[21]]Theophanes AM 6095 [AD 602/3]; Theoph. Sim. 8.10.

[[22]]Theophanes AM 6095 [AD 602/3], 6094 [AD 601/2], 6098 [605/6].

[[23]]Chron. Pasch. 695-6 (according to which Constantina was beheaded); Theoph. Sim. 8.15.1; Theophanes AM 6099 [AD 606/7], cf. AM 6101. On the conspiracy, see D. Olster, The Politics of Usurpation in the Seventh Century, Amsterdam, 1993, pp. 69-75.

[[24]]Const. Porph. de cer. 2.42 (pp. 646-47); Cedrenus, History, ed. I. Bekker (CSHB, 1838), 1.707-8, who speaks of the poignant elegy inscribed on her tomb; R. Janin, La géographie ecclésiastique de l'Empire byzantin, vol. 3: Les églises et les monastères, Paris, 1969, 314-19; cf. Patria 3.185 (p. 274), according to which Constantina was beheaded and thrown into the sea, rather than buried.

Copyright (C) 1999, Lynda Garland. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents, including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.
Comments to: Lynda Garland.

Updated: 10 September 1999

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