Flavius Iulius Crispus: The Tragic Prince

Publication Date


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Masters of Arts in History



Major Advisor

Charles M. Odahl, Ph.D.


The narrative of Flavius Iulius Crispus, eldest son of the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine the Great, exists in relative obscurity. There are no current biographies of him, and the few scholarly articles that have been written on Crispus focus almost solely on his role in two events: the religious civil war against Licinius late in A.D. 324, and the bizarre events surrounding his tragic execution in 326. Given the compelling nature of his life and death, this is an unfortunate state of affairs. He was the eldest and faithful son of the emperor, heir apparent to the most powerful position in the western world, the beloved grandson of a saint, the student of the most famous Christian apologist and rhetorician of his day, and a skilled military commander who struck the decisive blow in the war between paganism and Christianity. At the end of A.D. 324, Crispus was poised to assume the mantle of his father, and there was little doubt that he would have been a tremendously successful and popular Augustus; eighteen months later he was put to death by the same father whom he had faithfully served for nearly a decade. Few events from antiquity can compare to the enigmatic and tragic nature of Crispus' death.

This study includes a narrative of Crisp us' life constructed with the available literary, numismatic, epigraphic, and archaeological evidence. It also creates a sketch of Crispus' character by closely examining both his military career and his closest associations: his particularly close relationship with his paternal grandmother, Saint Helena; his notable relationship with his tutor, Lactantius, the famous Christian rhetorician; his dedicated service to his father, Constantine; and finally, what must have been a tumultuous and ultimately tragic relationship with his stepmother, Fausta, Constantine's second wife. It shows that Crispus was a Christian himself, that he closely identified himself with his father's Christian programs, and that he served Constantine loyally. It shows that the allegations made against Crispus that ultimately led to his execution were entirely contrary to his nature, and therefore he was almost certainly wrongfully accused. The study concludes with a study of modem interpretations of Crispus and an analysis of his ultimate legacy.

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