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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The empire from Constantine the Great to Justinian

From Constantine to the Early Sixth Century


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After the death of Constantine his three sons, Constantine, Constantius, and Constans, all assumed the title of Augustus and divided among themselves the rule of the Empire. A struggle soon broke out among the three rulers, during which two of the brothers were killed, Constantine in the year 340 and Constans ten years later. Constantius thus became the sole master of the Empire and ruled until the year 361. He was childless, and after the death of his brothers he was greatly troubled by the question of a successor to the throne. His policy of extinguishing all the members of his family spared only two cousins, Gallus and Julian, whom he kept away from the capital. Anxious, however, to secure the throne for his dynasty, he made Gallus Caesar. But the latter incurred the Emperor's suspicions and was assassinated in the year 354.

Such was the state of affairs when the brother of Gallus, Julian, was called to the court of Constantius, where he was appointed to the position of Caesar (355) married Helena, a sister of Constantius. The short reign (361-63) of Julian, whose death ended the dynasty of Constantine the Great, was followed by the equally short rule of his successor, the former commander of the court guards, Jovian (363-64), who was elected Augustus by the army. After his death the new choice fell on Valentinian (364-75) who, immediately after his own election, was forced by the demands of his soldiers to appoint his brother, Valens, as Augustus and co-ruler (364-78). Valentinian ruled the western part of the Empire and entrusted the eastern half to Valens. Valentinian was succeeded in the west by his son Gratian (375-83), while at the same time the army proclaimed as Augustus Valentinian II (375-92), the four-year-old stepbrother of Gratian. Following the death of Valens (378), Gratian appointed Theodosius to the high position of Augustus and commissioned him to rule over the eastern half of the Empire and a large part of Illyricum. Theodosius, originally from the far West (Spain), was the first emperor of the dynasty which occupied the throne until the death of Theodosius the Younger in 450 A.D.

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