39. After Killing His Son, Constantine Killed His Wife
Flavia Maxima Fausta (289 – 326), daughter of Roman Emperor Maximianus, was married to Constantine the Great in 307 to seal an alliance between him and her father. She bore Constantine three sons, but her stepson Crispus, Constantine’s eldest from a previous marriage, stood between her sons and the throne. In 326, Crispus was at the height of his power and the odds on favorite to succeed Constantine, having played a key role in defeating a recent challenger to his father. By contrast, Fausta’s sons were in no position to don the purple, the eldest of them being only ten years old at the time. In order for any of Fausta’s sons to succeed Constantine, something would have to happen to Crispus. So Fausta saw to it that something did.
Fausta reportedly tried to seduce Crispus, but he balked, and hurriedly left the palace. Undaunted, she told Constantine that Crispus did not respect his father, since he was in love with and had tried to rape his father’s wife. Constantine believed her, and had his eldest son executed. A few months later, however, Constantine discovered how his wife had manipulated him into killing Crispus, and had her executed by tossing her into boiling water. He then issued a damnatio memoriae (“condemnation of memory”) to erase her from official accounts – a form of dishonor issued against traitors and those who brought discredit to the Roman state.