Constantine II. (317–340), son of Constantine the Great, Roman emperor (337–340), was born at Arelate (Arles) in February 317. On the 1st of March in the same year he was created Caesar, and was consul in 320, 321, 324 and 329. The fifth anniversary of his Caesarship was celebrated by the panegyrist Nazarius (q.v.). He gained the credit of the victories of his generals over the Alamanni (331, for which he received the title Alamannicus), and over the Goths (332). From 335 he administered the Gallic portion of the empire as Caesar till his father’s death (22nd of May 337). On the 9th of September in the same year he assumed the title of Augustus, together with his brothers Constans and Constantius, and in 338 a meeting was held at Viminiacum, on the borders of Pannonia, to arrange the distribution of the empire. In accordance with the arrangements made by his father, Constantine received Britain, Spain and the Gauls; Pontus, Asia, the East, and Egypt fell to Constantius; Africa, Pannonia and the Italies to the youngest brother Constans, whose dominions were further increased by the addition of Macedonia, Dalmatia and Thrace, originally intended for Delmatius, a nephew of Constantine I. and one of the victims of the general massacre of that emperor’s kinsmen. By virtue of his seniority, Constantine claimed a kind of control over his brothers. Constans, an ambitious youth encouraged by intriguing advisers, declined to submit; and Constantine, jealous of his prerogatives and dissatisfied with his share in the empire, demanded from Constans the cession of Africa and equal authority in Italy. After protracted but unavailing negotiations, Constantine in 340 invaded Italy. He had advanced as far as Aquileia, when he fell into an ambuscade and lost his life. His body was thrown into the little river Alsa, but subsequently recovered and buried with royal honours.
See Zosimus ii. xii.; Aurelius Victor, Epit. 41; Eusebius, Vita Constantini, iv.; O. Seeck in Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyclopädie, iv. pt. 1 (1900); Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ch. 18.
Constantine III., son of the emperor Heraclius (d. 641) by his first wife Eudocia, succeeded his father as joint-emperor with Heracleonas, the son of Heraclius by his second wife Martina. Court intrigues nearly led to a civil war, which was prevented by the death of Constantine (May 641), after a brief reign of 103 days. He was supposed to have been poisoned by order of his step-mother Martina.
Constantine IV. Pogonatus (the “bearded”), son of Constans II., was emperor from 668 to 685. After his father’s death he set out for Sicily, where an Armenian named Mizizius had been declared emperor. Having defeated and put the usurper to death, he returned to the capital. For six years (672–677) the Arabs under the caliph Moawiya (see Caliphate) besieged Constantinople, but the ravages caused amongst them by the so-called “Greek fire,” heavy losses by land and sea, and the inroads of the Christian Mardaites (or Maronites, q.v.) of Mount Lebanon, obliged Moawiya to make peace and agree to pay tribute for thirty years. The attacks of the Slavs and Avars upon Thessalonica were heroically repulsed by the inhabitants. But Constantine, exhausted by the war with the Arabs, was unable to prevent the Bulgars, a tribe of Finno-Ugrian race, from crossing the Danube and settling in the district where their name still survives. The Bulgarian kingdom was established under its first king Isperich in 679. The tribute paid by the Arabs was used to purchase the good will of the new settlers. In order to restore peace in the church, Constantine summoned an ecumenical council (the sixth) at Constantinople, which held its sittings from the 7th of November 680 to the 16th of September 681. The result was the condemnation of the Monothelites and a recognition of the doctrine that two wills, neither opposed nor intermingled, were united in the person of Christ, in accordance with his twofold nature (see under Constantinople, Councils of).
Constantine V. Copronymus (Gr. κόπρος), son of Leo III. the iconoclast, was emperor 740–775, Immediately after his accession, while he was engaged in a campaign against the Arabs, his brother-in-law, an Armenian named Artavasdus, a supporter of the image-worshippers, had been proclaimed emperor, and it was not till the end of 743 that Constantine re-entered Constantinople. When he felt his position secure, he determined to settle the religious controversy once for all. In 754 he assembled at the palace of Hiereion 338 bishops, by whom the worship of images was forbidden as opposed to all Christian doctrine and a curse pronounced upon all those who upheld it. But in spite of the severity with which the resolution was enforced, the resistance to iconoclasm continued, chiefly owing to the attitude of the monks, who exercised great influence over the common people. A vigorous campaign against monasticism took place; the monasteries were closed, and many of them pulled down or converted into barracks; monks and nuns were compelled to marry, and exiled in large numbers to Cyprus; the literary and artistic treasures were sold for the benefit of the imperial treasury. One of the most important results of the struggle was the defection of the pope, who sought and obtained protection from Pippin, king of the Franks. All attempts to induce Pippin to throw over his new protégé failed, and from this time onward the nominal dependence of Rome and the papacy on emperors at Constantinople ceased. Constantine has been described by the orthodox historians of his time as a monster of iniquity; but, in spite of the harshness and occasional cruelty with which he treated his religious opponents, for which an excuse may be found in the obstinate fanaticism of the monks, it is now generally admitted that he was one of the most capable rulers who ever occupied the Byzantine throne. He restored the aqueduct built by Valens and destroyed by the barbarians in the reign of Heraclius, re-peopled Constantinople (after it had been devastated by a great plague) and some of the cities of Thrace, revived commercial prosperity, and carried on a number of wars, in which, on the whole, he was successful, against the Arabs, Slavs and Bulgarians. In the year of his death he set out on an expedition against the last-named, but a violent attack of fever obliged him to discontinue his journey. He died on board his fleet on his way home.
Constantine VI., grandson of Constantine V., was emperor 780–797. At ten years of age he succeeded his father, Leo IV., under the guardianship of his mother Irene (q.v.), who held the reins of government for ten years. In 782 the Arabs under Harun al-Rashid penetrated as far as the Bosporus, and exacted an annual tribute as the price of an inglorious peace (see Caliphate, § C, 3 ad fin). Even when Constantine came of age, Irene practically retained the supreme power. At length Constantine had her arrested, but foolishly pardoned her shortly afterwards. Disastrous campaigns against the Bulgarians and Arabs afforded her an opportunity of rousing the contempt and hatred of the people against their ruler. On his return to Constantinople, Constantine managed to escape to the Asiatic coast, but being brought back practically by force he was seized and blinded. According to some, he died on the same day; according to others, he survived for several years. With Constantine VI. the Syrian (Isaurian) dynasty became extinct.
See Theophanes, and the biographies of the patriarch Tarasius and Theodore of Studium; also F. C. Schlosser, Geschichte der bilderstürmenden Kaiser des oströmischen Reichs (Frankfurt am Main, 1812); other works s.v. Irene.
Constantine VII. Porphyrogenitus (Gr. Porphyrogennētos, “born in the purple”) (905–959), East Roman emperor, author and patron of literature, was the son of Leo VI. the Wise. Though nominally emperor from 912–959, it was not until 945 that Constantine could really be called sole ruler. During this period he had been practically excluded from all real share in the government by ambitious relatives. Though wanting in strength of will, Constantine possessed intelligence and many other good qualities, and his reign on the whole was not unsatisfactory. He was poisoned by his son Romanus in 959. Constantine was a painter and a patron of art, a literary man and a patron of literature; and herein consists his real importance, since it is to works written by or directly inspired by him that we are indebted for our chief knowledge of his times. He was the author or inspirer of several works of considerable length. (1) De Thematibus, an account of the military districts (Themata)