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                          CONSTANS I AND HIS A.D. 343 VISIT TO BRITAIN
                                          By Darrell Wolcott
         The youngest of the sons of Constantine the Great, Constans shared the rule of the Roman Empire with two older brothers following the death of their father in 337.  But dissention soon alienated the siblings and in 340, Constantine II moved to take Italy from Constans while the latter was in the east repairing relations with Constantius II. Troops loyal to Constans killed his eldest brother and the portion of the west which had been ruled by Constantine II now fell to Constans. This included the island of Britain.
        In the winter of 342/343, Constans made an unannounced visit to Britain accompanied by only 100 men.  Libanius[1] tells us there was no military crisis which prompted the visit, but gives no hint of its purpose.  Instead, he commends the daring of Constans for making the voyage in mid-winter when others would have waited for more favorable seas. Ammianus Marcellinus[2] also mentioned the trip in reflection a few years afterwards, but the portion of his history covering these years has been lost.
        Modern historians generally admit there is no way to know why he went or what he did while in Britain, but this didn't stop them from conjecturing.  Collingwood[3] infers that Constans invited various settlers as foederati on the western shores which included the Deisi tribe.  Frere[4], ignoring the contemporary source of Libanius, says a crisis prompted the hurried visit.  He posits an attack from Picts and/or Scots in the north, as well as the creation of the Count of the Saxon Shore were two matters which Constans dealt with.  Frere also thinks he brought the elder Gratian and made him a comes rei militaris. Salway[5] mentions all of these conjectures, but concludes "we do not know that the reason for his journey was military".  Less cautious, Fry[6] repeats the conjectures of Frere as "facts".
          We think Collingwood's guess was closer to the truth, but the invitation to the Irish Deisi was only a quid pro quo of the main purpose of Constan's visit.  Constans was not married and probably never had a wife, but we think he may have come to Britain to father a son. In 343, he was a man in his early to mid 20's with impeccable Roman bloodlines, yet no family among his peers had offered a daughter to bear his children.  As a boy of 13, he had been betrothed to the daughter of Ablabius of Crete but she later married the king of Persia instead.  It is said the young Constans had found himself attracted to boys[7], but when he reached manhood he probably realized he needed a son to continue his dynasty. It is that dynasty which we posit ruled Britain after the Romans withdrew.
         Once Britain became a part of his empire, we suggest Constans corresponded with his first-cousin Anwn Dynod.  That man, born in Britain, was a base son of Maxentius[8].  Constan's mother, Fausta was the sister of Maxentius.  The father of those siblings was former Emperor Maximianus Herculius.  We think that in the winter of 342/343, Constans received word from Anwn Dynod that a suitable young lady had been found to bear him a son.  A small sept of Menapii Celts had been invited to settle on Anwn's lands at Menevia (now St. David's). It's patriarch had been forced from Ireland by the same powerful tribe that was now seeking to exterminate the Deisi tribe which had been his close ally. This man had agreed to provide his 14 year old daughter to bear and raise a son of Constans in exchange for Rome's protection of his people and his friends the Deisi. 
        We suggest the base son of Constans, called Magnus Maximus, was born in Minevia in 344 and grew up with the Menapii family.  Zosimus described Magnus Maximus as a Menapian which historians took to be the tribe of that name in north Spain. In fact, there were smaller Celt tribes also called Menapii which are likely wholly unconnected with the Spanish tribe; another was located on the east coast of Ireland near Dublin.  This man, better known as Maxen Wledig[9], would indeed continue the progeny of Constans as rulers of Britain right up to the end of the 5th century.  Our chart of his ancestry appears as:
                 249  Emperor Maximianus Herculius         Eudaf Hen  230
            ___________________l_________                      l
            l                                                   l                     l
 288 Faustus                             279  Maxentius===/==Elen  285 
    (next chart)                                                 l
                                                      300  Anwn Dynod
  274  Constantine the Great====Faustus  288    Menapii patriarch 
                                         l                                 l
                           320   Constans============daughter  329
                                     344-388  Maxen Wledig
          Although Constans was slain in 350 when Maxentius usurped the purple, the seeds for a Roman Royal Family in Britain had been planted.  By 367, a new house ruled the Western Empire.  Valentinian I was called upon to repel a Pict invasion in the north of Britain and he sent Theodosius the elder to Britain, who before leaving, elevated Coel Hen to dux Brittanium[10]. Coel was the head of the Celt tribe near Carlisle, but moved his seat of operations to York. Among the regional military commanders appointed by Coel were Maxen Wledig, Padern ap Tegid[11] of the Votadini, Ednyfed ap Anwn Dynod of Dyfed and Turmwr Morfawr of Gwynedd, the latter being his brother-in-law and an experienced mariner[12].
          In 383, dissatisfied with the lack of military attention Rome was giving to Britain's protection, Maxen Wledig was prevailed upon to assume his birthright as Emperor and, after expelling the Pict invaders from north Britain, he was sent to Gaul to overthrow Gratian, the incumbent ruler of the Western Empire.  By a British wife, Maxen was father to 3 sons and 2 daughters.  His eldest son, Victor was yet in his teens when he and his father were slain in 388.  Neither Constantine (the Welsh Custinnen) nor Owain (his other sons) were old enough to succeed their father, and Britain turned to Rome for assistance with renewed Pict invasions.  General Stilicho was sent to reclaim the island for the Empire and his forces drove out the invaders.  By 405, he was recalled to combat new threats over on the continent; an appeal by the Britians to Emperor Honorius for a replacement legion failed.  They were told to look to themselves for their own defenses.  The following is our suggested scenerio of Britain in the fifth century:
          Custinnen ap Maxen Wledig had been trained for priesthood and had little desire to be a military leader.  His brother Owain had been killed leading operations against Irish invaders and Owain's son was only 10 years old.  Of the daughters of Maxen, Gratiana had married Tudwal ap Turmwr who was then past his 50th birthday while Sefera had married Constantine ap Selyf[13].  This Constantine was descended from a brother of Eudaf Hen.  Accepting the call to duty as a son-in-law of Maxen Wledig, he was elevated to Emperor by Britian's leading men as Constantine III.  In 407, he moved an army to Gual to force recognition as the legitimate Western Emperor.
         History is silent as to why Britian rejected him in 409, but we are told they purged the entire Roman bureaucracy from their cities.  Perhaps Constantine III had levied outrageous taxes to fund his campaign and the wealthy class in Britain rebelled.  By the time he was slain in 411, Britain had instituted a new system of government.  Reverting to the Celtic model of each tribe being ruled by its own "royal family" with no central government binding the tribes together, they did create the office of "overking" to direct their common defense against outside invaders.  To appease the yet large contingent of city dwellers who were Roman citizens to the core, the ruling council agreed to treat the family of Maxen Wledig as the proper holders of the new "overking" office.  Custinnen ap Maxen was pursuaded it was his proper duty to leave the seclusion of the clergy and accept this new role[14].
         About 425, Custinnen was killed in a raid by Picts[15].  His son Ambrosius was but 15/16 years old, so the council of tribal leaders chose his son-in-law as interim overking.  Custinnen's daughter, Sefera, had married a wealthy man of Gloucester from the Cornovii tribe.  This man, Gwrtheyrn ap Gwydol, became known to history as Vortigern[16].  When Ambrosius ap Custinnen[17] attained the age of eligibility for kingship in 437, Vortigern refused to relinquish the office.  An attempt to unseat Vortigern militarily failed, but many of the wealthy class believed Ambrosius' claim was valid.  To shore up his regime, Vortigern turned to a small group of Saxons whom he had settled on Thanet 10 years earlier.  He asked them to send for their friends and kinsman, and thousands of eager mercenaries arrived in Kent.  But when Vortigern's political opponents withheld their taxes, he was unable to pay his huge private army.  To feed themselves, they began to loot the countryside and lay waste to nearby cities.  When the rebellion spread beyond their confined area in Kent and threatened the lands of Vortigern's domestic opponents, the latter funded an army to oppose the Saxons.  When unable to subdue the Saxons militarily, Vortigern offered them a truce on these terms:  if they returned to his service, they would be given all of Kent where they could grow crops to eat and build homes for their families.  To seal the alliance, a daughter of Hengest, the Saxon leader, would be married to a son of Vortigern[18].  The tribal leader in Kent was not pleased to lose his lands in Vortigern's deal, and appealed to Rome for help but none was forthcoming[19].
         With peace restored, Vortigern bowed to the pressure and resigned his office. It was about 445 when Ambrosius finally was elected overking as the proper representative of Britain's Royal Roman Family. He immediately backed the claims of the men of Kent, repudiated Vortigern's grant and told the Saxons to leave the island of Britain.  They felt betrayed and struck back angrily; the war with them resumed.
         Although the sides are described as relatively equal, both winning and losing battles during the subsequent years, the lands controlled by the Saxons gradually crept south to the coast and west toward the midlands. By the 470's, Ambrosius was past 60 years of age and ready to step down from active rule.  There is no mention of him having a son to succeed himself, but he may have had a daughter whose son was now in his late 20's.  We suggest that grandson of Ambrosius, whom history fails to identify, was elected overking and continued the war against the Saxons.  About the year 495, we think it was his son who was made the battle leader and it was this young warrior who dealt the Saxons a crushing defeat at Badon sometime between 495 and 505.  Not yet a king at that battle, he was elected to succeed his father a few years later.  Called "the bear" by his contemporaries, we know him as King Arthur[20].
                       Our suggested Roman "Royal" Family of Britain*
                                 274  Constantine the Great
                                       320  Constans I
                                      344  Maxen Wledig
                                    371  Blessed Custinnen
                                        409  Ambrosius
                                       433  daughter=====??
                                               447  Unnamed son
                                                475  King Arthur
                                   *Birthdates are principally our own estimates 

[1] Libanius, Orations 59, 141
[2] Ammianus Marcellinius, 20,1,1
[3] R.G. Collingwood, Roman Britain, 1936, pp 282/283
[4] Sheppard Frere, Britannia, 1967, pp 387/389
[5] Peter Salway, Roman Britain, 1981, pp 349/350
[6] Plantagenet Somerset Fry, Roman Britain, 1984, pp 152/153
[7] For the sources of Constans' early betrothal, see DiMaio and Arnold's "A Study of Murder and Ecclesiastical Politics in the year 337 AD" Byzantion, 62 (1992), 196/197.  For a discussion of Constans' homosexual tendencies, see DiMaio's "Zonaras' Account of the Neo-Flavian Emperors", (1984), 279ff
[8] Refer to the paper "Maxen Wledig and the Welsh Legends" at the link below:
[9] Jesus Coll Ms 20, 12/13 and ABT 18(a) when collated with Harleian Ms 3859, 2 make Maxen Wledig the son of Constans and grandson of Constantine the Great; refer to the paper "Maxen Wledig and the Welsh Genealogies" elsewhere on this site
[10] The suggestion that Coel Hen was the dux Brittanium was first made by John Morris in his The Age of Arthur, 1973, p 54
[11] Padern "of the red cloak" was the grandfather of Cunedda
[12] These men, all born between 325 and 350, were contemporary with Coel Hen but it is merely our conjecture they were given military positions by him
[13] Harleian 1974, 30/31 cites the marriage of Gratianna.  The Pillar of Eliseg, erected in the first quarter of the 9th century, says Sefera ferch Maxen Wledig married Vortigern, but the chronology makes that doubtful.  We think she married Constantine III, an earlier man, and that it was Sefera ferch Custinnen ap Maxen whom Vortigern married.  Perhaps the two ladies became merged in memories by the 9th century
[14] Geoffrey of Monmouth confuses the clergyman elevated to kingship with Constans, son of Constantine III who was slain with his father in 411.
[15] While Geoffrey says the king was killed by Picts, he says they were friends of Vortigern who was complicit in the murder.  We suggest it highly unlikely any Picts were at the king's court, or that Vortigern had anything to do with the king's death, and assign the tale to a campaign to defame Vortigern
[16] As noted earlier, we suggest it was an age-appropriate lady whom Vortigern married, the granddaughter of Maxen Wledig.  It is entirely possible that both the marriage we posit for Constantine III and that for Vortigern with daughters of the "royal family", was required of the men for elevation to kingship; they may have been chosen on merit, not simply because they were in-laws of a prior king.
[17] Geoffrey's story makes Ambrosius an infant brother of the king who preceeded Vortigern, but the chronology insists he was a full generation younger.  We think Ambrosius was born c. 410 to Custinnen ap Maxen soon after that man left the seclusion of the abbey to become Britian's high king.  Gildas described his parents as having "worn the purple" and the office of "high king" was Britian's version of Emperor.
[18] Ninnius claims it was Vortigern himself who married the Saxon princess, but he was an old man by this time.  We think this was another falsehood told to discredit Vortigern, but it was a common practice for a new alliance between former foes to be sealed by the marriage of a son of one to a daughter of the other,
[19] The reference is to the appeal to the Roman consul Aetius c. 450.  It seems very unlikely the leaders of Britain at that time would ask Rome for military help having long since purged its officials from their government,  but the men of Kent might have appealed to Rome since their own king had deprived them of their lands. 
[20] We will not speculate as to the real name of this man, but do think he was maternally descended from Constans, Maxen and Ambrosius, probably through his grandmother.