23. A Great Emperor’s Not so Great Treatment of His Son
Emperor Constantine I, commonly known as Constantine the Great, had many admirers in his era. Christians were particularly grateful because he took Christianity out of the catacombs and into the palace. He also gave the Roman Empire a new lease on life, relocated the capital from Rome to the newly built Constantinople, and laid the foundations for an Eastern Roman Empire whose remnants survived into the fifteenth century. However, his admirers seldom mentioned his shortcomings, such as the mercurial temper that led him to kill his eldest son, Flavius Julius Crispus (circa 299 – 326).
It was especially unfortunate because from the available historical accounts, it seems that Crispus was the kind of dutiful and capable son who would have made any father proud. While still in his teens, Constantine appointed Crispus commander in Gaul, and he delivered. Crispus won victories in 318, 320, and 323, that secured the province and the Germanic frontier for his father. In a civil war against Valerius Licinianus Licinius, a challenger to Constantine’s claim on rulership of the Roman world, Crispus commanded his father’s navy and led it to a decisive victory over a far larger enemy fleet.