WIFE OF DIOCLETIAN
WIFE OF GALERIUS
WIFE OF HERCULES [MAXIMIAN]
Fortune respects neither rank nor grandeur, and the most exalted throne is no security against chances and revolutions. The Empresses Prisca and Valeria are proofs of this assertion. We shall see these two princesses, wives of the masters of the world, become wanderers and fugitives, reduced to all the misfortunes of a cruel destiny, and at last ending their lives by a violent death -- a melancholy example of the instability and precariousness of everything in this world!
Nothing positive can be said about the family or country of the Empress Prisca. The historians do not even agree about her name. Some call her Alexandra, others Serena, and others again Eleuthera. It is not impossible that she might have had all those names, but it is certain that she was also called Prisca, and she is generally known by that name.
The ecclesiastical annalist speaks of her by the name of Serena, and makes her a Christian. He also asserts that she died a quiet and natural death, and that the Empress Valeria, her daughter, did the same, soon after she had married Galerius Maximinus. This he infers from there being no further mention made of her by ancient authors. We cannot hold the same opinion as Baronius, nor the Acts of Saint Susanna, upon which he grounds his authority, because it does not appear that they are more to be credited than Lactantius, who affirms the contrary, and who not only lived at that time, but held a post in Constantine's Court.
Tristan, in his Historical Commentaries, believes that Diocletian's wife, whom he calls Serena, was daughter of Serenus, who held then one of the most important posts at Rome. Be that as it may, Prisca was a woman of such extraordinarily good qualities that it is reasonable to suppose she had some knowledge of the Christian religion, and at least practiced it secretly. The prudence of her conduct, her humility upon the throne, and the great patience with which she bore the different persecutions she met with, seem to be proofs of her having been well acquainted with those divine laws.
Diocletian, who acquitted himself with honor in all his military duties, had by Prisca, his wife, a daughter called Valeria, whose beauty, though very great, did not do her so much honor as her virtue and the regularity of her life. She was educated by the Empress with all possible care and exactness, and instructed in the Christian religion. She followed very strictly the excellent example her mother gave her, and showed that the good lessons that had been taught her were not thrown away, but on the contrary produced excellent fruit.
After the death of Numerianus, the Roman army that had been led into Persia by the Emperor Carus chose Diocletian, who passed for one of the greatest generals of his time, and was thought the most capable of governing and defending the empire. He was born in Dalmatia, of a very obscure family. He was reckoned a great but very wicked Prince, and in fact had many vices mixed with extraordinary talents. He was of commanding stature, had a grave and majestic air, but a rude and disagreeable countenance, was close and reserved, and a great master of dissimulation, always forming important designs, and never executing them till after he had well weighed and considered the consequences. He was generally victorious in war, and could never be accused of having failed by his own fault. He was so fertile in expedients that in the most desperate circumstances, and such as seemed to be past all remedy, some resource or other was sure to present itself to his superior genius. He was nobly jealous of the glory of the empire, and so encouraged arts and learning that he deserved the pompous title that was given him of Restorer of the Golden Age. Before he was Emperor he used to say that nothing was more difficult than to reign well, and lie afterwards justified this maxim by his conduct; for though he had resolved to imitate Marcus Antoninus he fell far short of his model, and exhibited scarcely any of the virtues of that great Emperor. He was, indeed, so far master of his passions that he knew how to curb and restrain them, but this victory was owing to his policy, not to his virtue. He endeavored to impose upon the public, and succeeded, for he was thought exempt from vice because he had the art of concealing it. He set no bounds to his pride, for he caused the same honors to be paid him that were given to the gods. His vanity was so conspicuous in the luxury and splendor of his apparel that even his shoes were covered with jewels. He was also so avaricious that, in order to heap up money, he did not scruple to commit the most flagrant acts of injustices but was cunning enough to throw the shame and odium of them upon his agents and instruments, who had acted by his order.
As soon as Diocletian was proclaimed Emperor, the Senate, according to customs, conferred upon Prisca the title of August, which honor rather increased her humility than otherwise, and showed that there are some few persons in the world of such exalted souls as not to be influenced or corrupted by grandeur and high stations. It is not known whether Prisca accompanied her husband when he went to Rome to have his election confirmed; but it is generally believed that she was in the East when Diocletian associated in the empire his old friend Maximianus, who took the surname of Hercules, who, indeed, had served with credit under the preceding Emperors, but was of obscure extraction; this would have been no dishonor to him if he had not at the same time plunged into all the vices of the worst of tyrants. He was brutal in the highest degree, and so passionate that, in his fury, there was nothing too bad for him to be capable of. Never were the taxes collected with so much rigor and violence as in his reign. He was covetous, unjust, without honor or conscience, suborning false witnesses against those whose riches he was resolved to be possessed of, and beyond measure debauched, so that all lawful pleasures were insipid to him. He did not scruple to carry off by force any young girls whom he took a fancy to, even in sight of their parents, whom he also compelled to be witnesses of their dishonor, so, as an historian has observed, if his valor and military capacity rendered his progress terrible to his enemies, his incontinence made it not less so to women of virtue in those places through which he passed. His person was as deformed as his mind; he was of great size, but his coarse and savage features and countenance, together with his black thick beard, caused him to be looked upon with horror so it was not to be wondered at, that with his forbidding aspect, he was not able to gain the affections of his wife Eutropia; on the contrary, it would have been more surprising if that charming Syrian had not listened to the solicitations of a passionate and handsome lover, whose merit could not but place the imperfections of Hercules in a more disadvantageous light.
Galeria Valeria Eutropia was not exempt from those vices to which her nation was subject. Some authors say she was nearly related to Eutropius, father of the Emperor Constantius. She possessed great beauty, a cheerful temper, and an amorous temperament, and was very fond of pleasures and diversions. She was married very young to a Syrian, whose name and family are not mentioned; the fruit of this marriage was Theodora, whom we shall see upon the throne. Her husband died soon after the birth of her daughter.
There is no true resolve as to the parentage of Theodora. Like the older text here, it has been most common to position Theodora as the daughter of Eutropia while the step-daughter of Maximian, thus of a now unknown paternity, and not of Maximian's blood line. In 1982, however, Timothy D. Barnes, in The New Empire of Diocletian and Constantine (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1982), pp. 33-4, presents the case that Theodora may well have been the daughter of Maximian while the step-daughter of Eutropia. Since Theodora is the mother of all of Constantine I's half siblings, the only real bearing of Theodora's paternity is whether Maximian's blood line continued into the branch of the neo-Flavian dynasty comprising Constantine's half-brothers and half-sisters. For example, the ancestry of Julian the Apostate, the last ruling member of the neo-Flavians, goes for sure back to Constantius and Theodora, but beyond that he is directly related to either Eutropia or Maximian.
It is only speculation on the part of this author, but if it is indeed Maximian's blood, and not Eutropia's, that flows within Constantine's half-siblings, then this might explain why Constantine did not delegate high governmental posts to his half-siblings during his years as sole emperor.
Eutropia's beauty suffered nothing from her deep mourning, on the contrary, it seemed to be rather heightened, for it is not probable that her countenance was of a piece with her dress. Nobody is more disposed to receive comfort than a young and amiable widow, whose vivacity and liveliness is naturally no friend to seriousness and grief, and who is surrounded by a crowd of admirers, vying with each other who shall be the first to make amends for her loss. A lover full of life and sprightliness soon obliterates the remembrance of a dead husband, for people are soon weary of fighting in vain after a shadow, and wasting their tears upon an object that can only amuse their imagination. Eutropia paid such respect to the memory of her husband as fashion and the rules of decency required, but did not think herself obliged to carry on the farce further than she was obliged she therefore looked out for a new conquest, and was go fortunate as to make a very illustrious one. Hercules, notwithstanding his rough and unpolished disposition, was far from being insensible to the power of beauty. He was captivated by her charms, and soon found means to let her know it.
Hercules, as we have observed, had a most disagreeable appearance, and was more calculated to inspire fear than love; his mind was as uncultivated as his person, so that he was quite incapable of carrying on his amours gallantly, but his fortune spoke for him, and the luster of the imperial purple made at least as deep an impression upon the heart of Eutropia as the greatest accomplishments could have done. Sovereign authority is a sort of veil that effectually eclipses the imperfections of whoever is invested with it. A lover who wears a crown is always well received, and the eyes of his mistress, being fixed upon that splendid mark of his dignity, have not time to wander about to spy out the faults and deformities of his person; for this reason, although Eutropia had an infinite number of adorers, between whom and Hercules there was no sort of comparison as to real merit, yet he had the preference, as being most able of gratifying her ambition.
Reasons of State might possibly have weighed so far with the Emperor as to induce him to marry Eutropia, especially if it be true that she was related to Eutropius, and consequently to Constantius, his son. The Emperors made a point of marrying into their own families, for we shall find that when Constantius was associated in the imperial dignity, he was obliged to divorce his wife Helena to marry the daughter-in-law of Hercules; thus Diocletian, having formed the design of placing Constantius upon the throne, who was every day rendering important services to the State, it is very probable that he persuaded Hercules to marry Eutropia in order to unite them beforehand to the Emperors by this alliance. However it was, this was the first time that two Empresses were seen reigning at the same time.
It is true that Faustina, wife of Marcus Aurelius, and Lucilla, wife of Lucius Verus, enjoyed at once the same dignity, as did afterwards Julia, wife of Severus, and Plautilla, wife of Caracalla, but we have observed that this last was not looked upon by Caracalla as his wife, because Severus his father compelled him to marry her; she lived at Court only as daughter of Plautianus, and not as wife of the prince, nor had she any sort of influence or interest. As to Faustina and Lucilla, the mother always maintained a superiority over the daughter; Lucilla could not be jealous of the honors conferred upon her mother, nor could Faustina envy her daughter the respect that was paid her, since it was of her own procuring. But when Faustina died, and Commodus had married Crispina, the case was altered. As she was then Empress, she claimed singly all the honors that were used to be given to the Emperors' wives, and which, she said, nobody could claim but the reigning Empress; she refused to share them with her sister-in-law, who thought she had a right to them as widow of an Emperor, and we have drawn attention to the confusions and quarrels that were occasioned at Court in consequence of the perpetual jealousies between these two princesses.
Prisca was not at all uneasy upon this account; she saw with great indifference Hercules's wife seated with her upon the throne; whereas Eutropia regarded the matter very differently. Prisca being guided by virtue and good sense, and perhaps by the pure maxims of the Christian religion, was an ornament to her rank and her station, and led such a life as was exempt from all suspicions and censures; Eutropia, on the contrary, indulged in such indecencies as were not at all to the advantage of her reputation. When she first came to the throne she indeed acted very cautiously, but the characteristics of her nation, added to her own natural temperament, soon prevailed, and she gave herself up to pleasures; and, however the fury and resentment of Hercules was to be dreaded, that did not hinder her from being extremely fond of a Syrian, who, being polite and agreeable, found the secret of insinuating himself into her good graces. A woman has a great deal more complaisance for a man of her own country than another, and such a one will always have a great advantage over a stranger. We cannot help leaning towards such a person, for there is implanted in everybody's heart a certain national partiality, that inclines us, whether we will or not, to give him the preference. Eutropia had this feeling for the handsome Syrian, nor had she virtue or resolution enough to withstand the solicitations of a lover who had everything she desired to recommend him.
Eutropia had been married some years to Hercules without having a child, which afflicted him very much, for he was extremely desirous to have heirs. The Empress knew this, and it did not a little contribute to persuade her to an intrigue, which answered her expectations, for she became pregnant. This gave the Emperor all the satisfaction in the world, but, if anything were wanting to make it complete, it was the fear of having a daughter; his desires were, however, accomplished by Eutropia's being delivered of a son, whom he called Maxentius. The credulous Emperor received this present with transports of joy, and caused this shameful production of his wife's libertinism to be educated with all possible care and expense.
The Anonymous Valesianus, in his Origo Constantini Imperatoris, relates how Eutropia confessed to Maxentius's illegitimate paternity, i.e., Maxentius was not the son of Maximian. Barnes (The New Empire of Diocletian and Constantine, p. 34) dates Eutropia's confession as early as November 312.
"Meanwhile Constantine after defeating the tyrant's generals at Verona, went on to Rome. When he had reached the city, Maxentius came out and chose a plain above the Tiber as the place to do battle. There the usurper was defeated, and when all his men were put to flight, he was prevented from escaping by the crowd of fugitives, thrown from his horse into the river, and drowned. On the following day his body was recovered from the river, and the head was cut off and taken into Rome. When his mother was questioned about his parentage, she admitted that he was the son of a Syrian. He ruled for six years."
If true, this event may then well be considered the first overt sign that Eutropia was altogether committed to Constantine and his Christian cause. Remember, by this time Constantine, although Eutropia's son-in-law via his marriage to Fausta (apparently the only child of both Eutropia and Maximian), was already also the cause of Maximian's death and Maxentius' death, Eutropia's husband and son respectively. Moreover, the whole notion of confession may also be viewed as indicative of Eutropia's Christian beliefs.
Conversely, Eutropia's admission of Maxentius' illegitimacy could just as well be interpreted as an effort toward survival, not only to secure her own life, but the life of her daughter Fausta as well. That Eutropia was already well positioned within Constantine's good graces, however, may be why Eutropia was able to make the confession in the first place.
In either case, Eutropia's confession works as a savvy political maneuver that, at least symbolically, renders Maxentius' usurpative reign illegitimate as well, thus signaling to those still loyal to Maxentius that, at base, the whole Maxentius event was, in simple terms, a big "mistake". And, in considering the religious implications of Eutropia's confession, they fit perfectly with the Christian "mission" that quickly spread throughout the city of Rome at the exact same time.
Some authors, who are more favorable to the Empress, say that Hercules passionately longed for a son to perpetuate his family, and seeing his wife with child, waited the event with great impatience, and that Eutropia, being brought to bed of a girl, cunningly substituted a boy in her place, in order to ingratiate herself with her husband. It must be acknowledged, for the honor of the Empress, that there are historians who will have it that Maxentius was really the son of Hercules. Be it as it may, the Emperor, who was more interested than anybody in the birth of this child, looked upon him as his son, and accordingly raised him afterwards to the throne.
When he himself was adopted by Diocletian as his colleague, that Emperor did not less consult his own interest than the friendship he had for Hercules. He saw the provinces exposed to the incursions of barbarians and the usurpation of tyrants, and, as it is impossible for one Emperor to oppose so many enemies at once, he was very glad to be eased of part of the burden by choosing a partner. Hercules had proved himself capable of answering his expectations, for, having been sent against Aelianus and Amandus, who had put themselves at the head of a band of robbers in Gaul, he dispersed in a very short time that dangerous faction, but at the same time demonstrated his cruelty by inhumanly ordering the entire Theban legion to be massacred. It was composed of Christians, and commanded by Maurice, an experienced general, who knew how to give Caesar his right, but was not a man to prefer Caesar to God, or to make his fortune at the expense of his religion. Hercules being about to offer a sacrifice to his gods to render them propitious to his designs, Maurice, as well as the officers and soldiers of his troop, not being able to prevail upon themselves to join in this idolatry, stood aside, that they might not be partakers in those abominations. The Emperor, hurried on by his superstition to revenge his despised deities, thought he could not take a better method to appease them than by putting Maurice to death; and in order to intimidate the soldiers by punishing a great many, decimated them. Those upon whom the lot fell showed so much joy in imitating their leader, and suffered the punishment to which they were condemned with such surprising intrepidity, that the tyrant, provoked at seeing himself overcome by these martyrs, put the whole legion to the sword.
This act of violence was, as it were, the signal of the persecution that was then kindled against the Church, which was one of the most terrible that had ever been known, for the oracle of Apollo having been consulted, answered that the just persons of the earth hindered it from speaking. It was not doubted that by this was meant the Christians, so it was resolved that they should be extirpated. Diocletian, who was most superstitiously jealous of the honor of his gods, began with his own family, and the first act of the persecution was committed in his palace.
The Empress Prisca, having the greatest veneration for the Christian religion, had taken care to inspire the Princess Valeria, her daughter, with the same sentiments, and if they did not profess it publicly they were at least Christians at heart. It is difficult to imagine that Diocletian was quite ignorant of the leaning these two princesses had to Christianity. Their neglect of the Roman deities and their compassion for the persecuted Christians might have made him suspect that they paid their adoration elsewhere; nor can it be supposed that they could keep so strict a guard upon their whole behavior as not to reveal the favorable opinion they entertained of a religion that the Emperor abhorred. His affection for his wife and daughter had made him often hesitate what to do, and had frequently induced him to delay the execution of what the heathen priests had assured him it was his duty to do, rather than give offense to persons he so tenderly loved. But as soon as the oracle had roused his superstition by appearing unfavorable to the Christians, he formed the design of abolishing Christianity entirely, and of causing his gods to be universally worshipped, especially Jupiter and Hercules; and in order the better to pay his court to them, he imagined that he ought to compliment them in the first place with the lives of the chief persons in the empire.
Diocletian's conduct in this affair seems to have been extremely imprudent, and not of a piece with his behavior in other respects, for he seldom did anything of consequence without having well weighed and considered it. It cannot but be acknowledged that he was very fond of his only daughter, as well as of his wife, who was so deserving of his esteem and affection; but by commanding them to assist at the sacrifice he exposed himself to the cruel necessity of either permitting his gods to be despised by the refusal of these princesses to offer incense to those fabulous divinities, or else of being compelled to expiate the contempt at the expense of those lives which were so valuable to him.
This disagreeable alternative did not, however, change his resolution, for the unbounded respect he had for his gods prevailed; he was of opinion that nothing ought to enter into rivalry with them, and thought his family should be the first to show an example of their submission to his orders, and of their zeal for the tutelary gods of the State.
This might have been a happy conjuncture for the princesses, who were thereby furnished with a fair opportunity of ennobling their names and doing honor to their faith, by refusing to pay to false deities that worship and adoration which they knew belonged only to the true God. But whether they were terrified at the threats of the Emperor, whose fury was never so dreadful as when he was to revenge any slight put upon his gods, or whether it was that the princesses were not sufficiently instructed in the principles of their religion, which commands us to confess its Divine Author, even in the midst of tortures, before the potentates and tyrants of the earth, and not to fear those who can only kill the body -- whatever was the reason, they had not resolution enough to overcome the powerful temptation, but were so weak as to conform to the command of Diocletian, and offer, externally, the sacrifice which their hearts condemned them for. They preferred to their salvation a life that they seemed to have preserved only to pass in grief and bitterness, for, by avoiding the present evil, they drew upon themselves a worse and more lasting one. The bad example of the two princesses had indeed but too many imitators, but there were a great number of good Christians, upon whom it made no bad impression, and who cheerfully sealed their faith with their blood. Even the Emperor's palace served as a stage for the triumph of some of his officers, who bore with a serene countenance and intrepidity which was not to be shaken either by threats or promises, the utmost efforts of his rage. Sebastianus especially, a captain of the Praetorian Guards, who was distinguished by his extraordinary merit, made a noble confession of his faith in presence of the whole Court, and confounded his persecutors by suffering martyrdom, not only with courage and patience, but with joy and pleasure.
The Emperors did not, however, reap from this cruelty the advantage they expected, nor were they able to procure peace and tranquillity to the empire by appeasing the gods with torrents of blood, as they flattered themselves. The Christians were exposed to all the miseries and torments that the malice of men or devils could invent, but that did not hinder new revolts from creating new wars in all the provinces, so that the sovereign authority was never in so much danger of being totally overthrown. Carausius rebelled in Britain, where he made himself an absolute tyrant. The Persians, conducted by Narses their king, made irruptions all over the East. Egypt had chosen a new master in the person of Achilles, who had caused himself to be proclaimed Emperor at Alexandria, and even Italy groaned under the unlimited and independent power that Julianus had assumed; so that it looked as if all these enemies had arisen by common consent against the empire in order to divide it amongst them.
Diocletian and Hercules, finding so much upon their bands, resolved to take other colleagues who should be as much interested in defending the empire as themselves. They therefore gave the dignity of Caesar to Galerius and Constantius, generals who were quite capable of humbling the rebels, and protecting the provinces they should be entrusted with. The former was the son of a peasant of Illyria. Romula, his mother, had an implacable hatred of the Christians, which she took care to instill into her son, the poisonous leaven of which fermented only too readily in his heart. He had in his youth been brought up as a shepherd, but afterwards took up the profession of arms, in which he became very skillful, and had great success. However, neither the air of the army nor his long residence at Court were able to rub off the rust he had contracted, so that, in the most exalted stations, he still retained his former lack of polish. To tell the truth, he was a good officer, but (that excepted) he had not one commendable quality. There was something dark and gloomy in his countenance that sufficiently showed the sourness of his mind; and his loud, harsh voice, wild look, and continual frown inspired everybody with aversion to his person. He had the vices of the worst of the Emperors, and indulged them with the utmost brutality. As he was cruel and inflexible, he could never be prevailed upon to temper justice with mercy, a virtue so necessary to princes. His vanity surpassed that of the Emperors who were most accused of it; for, notwithstanding his base extraction, he carried his pride so far that, not content with being above other men in point of rank, he also claimed a superiority with respect to his family and origin, giving out that he was the son of Mars, who, he said, in the form of a dragon, had had connection with his mother, being very willing to dishonor her by so monstrous a union, rather than not be thought of illustrious descent. Besides all this, he was so covetous that, in order to gratify his insatiable avarice, he made all the provinces groan under the intolerable burden of his extortions.
Flavius Constantius was son of Eutropius, one of the greatest lords of Dardania, and of Claudia, daughter of Crispus, brother of the Emperor Claudius the Goth, and he honored his nobility by the greatest virtues, especially sweetness of temper, affability, and the most engaging behavior. He never filled his coffers with the riches of the provinces; for it was a maxim of his that it was much better the gold should circulate among the people than be treasured up by the prince. He had acquired so great a reputation in the army that Carus judged him worthy of the empire. Before the title of Caesar was conferred on him, he married Helena, but he was forced to divorce her, conformably to the will of Hercules and Diocletian, who obliged him to marry Theodora, daughter of Eutropia.
About this time Maximianus Galerius married the Princess Valeria; and it is very probable that when Diocletian gave her to him he did not much consult the inclinations of his daughter, for it is certain that Galerius had none of the qualifications that were necessary to make him acceptable to so accomplished a lady. In his first wife's time he had led a most dissolute life, nor were matters much better after his marriage with Valeria, for he had a favorite mistress whom he preferred infinitely to her. It is true that the princess did not take this affront much to heart, for her virtue and good disposition made her unsusceptible to jealousy. She not only submitted to his ill treatment without complaining, but even showed him marks of esteem and affection of which he was by no means worthy; for, finding that she had no children, she adopted Candidianus, her husband's natural son.
By the creation of these new Caesars there were four Empresses upon the throne. To all appearance Prisca, who was the oldest of them, preserved a kind of superiority over the rest. The other Emperors owed their fortunes to Diocletian, and gratitude required that their Empresses should yield the precedence to the wife of their benefactor. They were not, however, much exposed to the jealousy and disputes that are generally occasioned by equality of rank and condition, for the Emperors having divided the provinces that each might protect his own part against the barbarians and tyrants, the Empresses accompanied their husbands, and each in her own territory enjoyed all the honors that are combined with the supreme authority.
Galerius marched against the Persians, who had already conquered Mesopotamia. His first campaign was not successful, for he was defeated by the barbarians. Diocletian heard this news with great vexation; he was so out of humor with his son-in-law, and gave him so cold a reception that he allowed Galerius to follow his litter on foot for half an hour, though he was clothed in the imperial purple, the luster of which only served to augment his confusion. This misfortune did not, however, discourage Galerius, for he raised another powerful army, and attacked the Persians again. The Empress Valeria accompanied him in this expedition, and shared with him the fatigue and the honor of it; she even greatly facilitated the victory he obtained over the enemy, for, as Diocletian was very fond of his daughter, she employed all her influence with him to procure everything that was necessary to enable Galerius to carry on the war with success, and so won the hearts of the soldiers by her liberality that they were all ready to lay down their lives to re-establish the reputation of the Roman arms. By these means Galerius defeated the Persians in Armenia, and Narses, their King, was put to flight, abandoning to the conqueror his Queen, sisters, children, and treasure, together with his camp and equipage. The Romans retook all that they had lost the year before, and if Galerius had been at liberty to have pushed his good fortune as he at first intended he would have absolutely destroyed the Persian empire. But Diocletian's jealousy was a piece of good fortune for the barbarians. He saw with envy the laurels with which Galerius was covered, and recalled him, pretending that it was high time for him to take some repose after his labors, and enjoy the honor of the triumph that was preparing for him.
Constantius in the meantime met with the like vicissitudes of fortune in Gaul. He was first surprised and beaten by the enemy, but afterwards defeated them near Langres. Hercules subdued the Africans; and Diocletian having humbled the tyrant Achilles, made himself master of all Egypt; so that the four Emperors had the honor of re-establishing the fortunes of the State. The Senate decreed them a triumph, and Diocletian, accompanied by Hercules, went to Rome to reap the fruits of his victories. The Empress Eutropia undertook the journey with her husband, though she was pregnant. She had never been at Rome, and passionately longed to see the capital of the world. She was there brought to bed of a daughter, who was named Fausta this was a new subject of joy to the city, and added very much to the splendor and magnificence of the triumph. It was celebrated with extraordinary pomp, and all classes strove to out-do each other by the most flattering language upon this occasion. The Empress Valeria had the satisfaction of sharing all these honors with her husband, for the Senate, who were very assiduous in obtaining the good graces of Diocletian, for whom the other Caesars had the greatest deference and respect, did not think they could pay their court to him more effectually than by conferring upon his only daughter the honors that had been granted to preceding Empresses, especially since she was so deserving of them. Besides the proud title of Mother of the Armies, with which none but the most illustrious of the Empresses had been dignified, they decreed her a crown of laurel, a glorious and special privilege that had never before been bestowed upon any woman, in consideration of her having had so large a share in and so much contributed to her husband's military exploits. They did not stop there, for, in order to immortalize her name and memory, they gave the name of Valeria to that part of Pannonia which is between the Drave and the Danube. Thus liberal of her favors was Fortune to the princess, giving her no hint of the bitter afflictions that were soon to overtake her.
Diocletian, after the example of other Emperors, entertained the people with shows and diversions, but in so mean a way that, instead of gaining their esteem and affection, it afforded ample matter for raillery and ridicule, whereupon he was so affronted that he left Rome and went to Ravenna in such bad weather that he contracted a disorder, which emaciated his body and so enfeebled his mind that he was out of his senses for a considerable time. This accident made his colleagues lose a great deal of the respect they had hitherto shown him, and Galerius, his son-in-law, was the first who gave signs of this. For a long time past the submission that he had been forced to render to Diocletian had gone much against the grain with him. His late victory had so puffed him up that he imagines himself the only person capable of governing, and looked upon Diocletian and Hercules as old and worn out. He flattered himself that it would not be impossible for him to persuade them to abdicate, and then thought he could easily manage Constantius. He omitted nothing that he supposed necessary to carry out this project, but did not, at first, find them so ready to gratify him as he could have wished. People are not so eager to condemn themselves to a private life after having tasted the sweets of power and sovereignty; nor is it so easy for those who have been used to command to submit to a voluntary obedience. The two Emperors struggled a long time against all the efforts of Galerius, but were at last so intimidated by his threatening letters that, to avoid a civil war, they were forced to divest themselves of their dignity.
Diocletian did this with a great deal of solemnity. He assembled at Nicomedia all the officers of his army and the great men of his Court, and told them with tears in his eyes that his infirmities would not permit him to support the fatigues of war any longer, wherefore he was determined to give up his share of the government to his colleagues, who had all the talents that were required for so important a trust, and were in the prime of life. He added that Hercules had formed the same design. After a very moving speech he quitted the purple, assumed the garb of a private person, and retired to Salona, a town in Dalmatia. Hercules went through the same ceremony at Milan, and, no doubt, with the same regret; after which he went to Rome in his private capacity. Diocletian desired that Constantine (son of Constantius) and Maxentius, who passed for the son of Hercules, should be created Caesars, but Galerius, who intended to make himself sole Emperor, opposed it. He was, nevertheless, obliged to accept those two princes for his colleagues, for Constantius, when he was dying at York, named Constantine his successor, and Maxentius took upon himself that dignity of his own authority, causing himself to be proclaimed Emperor.
By the abdication of Diocletian and Hercules, the Empresses Prisca and Eutropia found themselves deprived of their dignity. It is more than probable that they did not quit it with a very good grace, for ladies do not generally submit to a degradation without some sighs. Be that as it may, it appears that it was not long before Hercules repented of the step he had taken, for being soon weary of a private life he reassumed the insignia of sovereign authority, and again increased the number of Caesars. He would fain have prevailed upon Diocletian to imitate him, and sent a nobleman of his Court to urge him to do so, but Diocletian very prudently rejected the proposal. He declared to the envoy that he infinitely preferred the tranquillity of his retreat to the hurry and bustle of a Court, and in his letter he says: "I wish that you were at Salona to see my garden, and the herbs that I have planted with my own hands; you would not then endeavor to entice me away from my agreeable retirement, to embroil myself afresh in affairs of State."
Diocletian and Maximian together abdicated as Augusti 1 May 305 at Nicomedia. No doubt Prisca, Diocletian's wife, and Eutropia, Maximian's wife, were present at the abdication as well. This occasion may indeed be that last time Prisca and Eutropia were together. By this point in time, both Empresses saw their respective daughters betrothed, via arranged marriage, to the men that would now be the new Augusti of the Empire--Valeria, daughter of Diocletian and Prisca was the wife of Galerius, and Theodora, virtual daughter of Maximian and Eutropia was the wife of Constantius. It appears that Galerius and Valeria were also present at the abdication, however, Constantius was probably on a military campaign in either northeastern Gaul or Britain.
Diocletian retired to his palace near Salona in Dalmatia, and Maximian retired to either Lucania or Campania in Italy. As time progressed, it turns out that Prisca did not remain with Diocletian in his retirement, but rather returned to Nicomedia to live at (the eastern) court with her daughter Valeria. Likewise, Eutropia ultimately found herself living at (the western) court with her younger daughter Fausta, who in 307 married then Caesar Constantine.
Of all the rivals and competitors of Galerius, Maxentius seemed to him the most formidable. This prince was full of ambitious designs, capable of forming vast projects, and, believing himself the son of Hercules, thought he had a right to aspire to the empire. As he did not receive his authority from anybody, but had seized it of himself, Galerius treated him as a usurper, and sent Severus with an army against him, who, having attacked Maxentius, was put to flight and forced to take shelter at Ravenna. Hercules ordered him to be executed, though he had promised to save his life.
This piece of treachery furnished Galerius with a pretense to declare war against Hercules, and in order to be the better able to carry it on with success he took Licinius as a colleague. Hercules, being alarmed at the number of his enemies, endeavored to procure the assistance of Constantine, and to that end gave him his daughter Fausta in marriage, but notwithstanding this close alliance he soon formed very black designs against the life of his son-in-law. But he was the dupe of his own artifices, for Constantine, having discovered the mischief that was hatching against him, drove Hercules to such a pitch of despair that he killed himself. Galerius did not long survive him, but terminated by a shameful death a life which his cruelty and incontinence had made detestable. He was smitten with a horrible disease in the most sensitive parts of his body, being devoured alive by worms, and such a stench proceeded from him as was offensive even to those who were without the palace.
The inexpressible noxiousness of this dreadful distemper did not hinder the Empress Valeria from attending her husband with all the care and affection that could have been expected from a woman who had met with the best treatment in the world, and giving such proofs of her dutifulness as be was in no sort deserving of. But the terrible and uncommon plague that he was afflicted with having obstinately resisted all the means that could be thought of for his recovery, he knew that he had nothing to expect but a miserable death. Then it was that he began to make dismal reflections upon his cruelty to the Christians, and issued an edict to put a stop to the persecutions he had set on foot against those poor innocent people, whose blood cried aloud for vengeance. At last, after having recommended his wife and Candidianus, his natural son, to the care of Licinius, he died without being regretted.
As soon as Maximinus was informed of his death he set out for the East to take possession of those provinces that had fallen to the lot of his uncle. But Licinius would not admit his claims and this dispute obliging them to have recourse to arms, they determined to decide it by a battle. Means were, however, found to adjust the difference, and then they mutually swore to live in friendship with each other. As the territories of Galerius had been the subject of their quarrel, Valeria, who was resolved to live quietly and free from disturbance, yielded to Maximinus everything that he had a right to as belonging to her husband; but Maximinus with great courtesy declined it, and insisted upon her enjoying the riches that Galerius had left her. He gave the most generous tokens of a sincere friendship and esteem, and even eagerly embraced every opportunity of contributing to her pleasure and satisfaction.
There being now no rancor or animosity between Licinius and Maximinus they both retired to their respective provinces; but before they separated they each of them offered Valeria a revenue suitable to her rank. She hesitated a long time about what was best for her to do. She knew that Diocletian, her father, was drawing near his end, and that after his death neither Salona nor Nicomedia could be a place of safety for her; she therefore thought it best to pass the remainder of her days either with Licinius or Maximinus, who, being beholden to her late husband for their fortunes, could not in honor and gratitude but have a particular regard for his widow, so all the difficulty lay in the choice she should make. On the one hand she recollected that her husband had very warmly recommended her to Licinius, which looked as if he had thereby declared his intention; but, on the other hand, she was not ignorant that Licinius had a very bad character and was even afraid that, as she was not married, he might make her some disagreeable proposals that should be directly contrary to the resolution she had taken of passing the rest of her life in widowhood. These reasons determined her to put herself under the protection of Maximinus, who, being nephew to Galerius, would be most likely to treat with kindness and affection a person who had been the wife of his uncle and benefactor.
The Empress Prisca was so excessively fond of her daughter that she could not bear the thought of separating from her. Besides, she hoped to be more at liberty to practice the Christian religion with Maximinus than elsewhere; for, though she knew him to be no friend to Christianity in general, yet she could not suppose that she or her daughter were to be subject to the rigor of whatever edicts be might issue against it. Diocletian did not think proper to oppose the princesses' design, for be had for a long time past been so used to solitude that he gave himself very little trouble about what was going on; his garden at Salona was all be cared for, and indeed, the disorders he was subject to would not permit him to employ himself in anything else. So he willingly consented to the departure of his wife and daughter. They were accompanied by Candidianus, natural son of Galerius, and Prince Severianus, son of the Emperor Flavius Valerius Severus.
These two princesses, by their virtue, beauty and merit, were the greatest ornaments of the Court. Prisca especially was highly esteemed for the prudence of her conduct; she never meddled with any State affairs, but passed her time in the performance of the duties of the religion she secretly practiced. Valeria was yet in the height of her beauty, which was in a great measure owing to her having had no children; her modesty set off her charms, and the mourning habit, which she never quitted, added to her charms instead of having a contrary effect.
Maximinus at first behaved with the greatest politeness and civility to the two princesses. He showed Prisca all the deference and respect that was due to her age and quality, and treated Valeria as a kind and dutiful son would a good mother. The princesses thought themselves so happy that it was not in the power of anything to add to their felicity, congratulated each other upon their good fortune in having preferred Maximinus to Licinius, and were far from regretting their former condition. As they were entirely their own mistresses, and at liberty to do whatever the pleased, they imagined that nothing could interrupt their tranquillity. The extreme complaisance of the Emperor and his eagerness to procure them all possible satisfaction made them forget all that had been disagreeable in their past life; but they little knew that this calm was so soon to be succeeded by a storm, and this state of peace and serenity by a cruel persecution.
The Empress Valeria was herself the innocent occasion of it; her beauty kindled in the heart of Maximinus a flame that was not to be resisted, so that in fact he was rather her slave than her protector; and as he had not been accustomed to curb his passions, he gave himself up to the violence of his love, without considering whether it was lawful or not. Neither the respect he owed to the memory of his uncle, nor the strict virtue of Valeria (which did not permit him to flatter himself with the least hopes of success) were strong enough to restrain him. He had unlimited power, which seldom permits those who are invested with it to act according to reason or religion: some people are apt to think everything lawful that is possible.
It is certain that Valeria could not have made a more dangerous conquest, for in Maximinus were united all the vices that can be imagined; he had an extreme aversion to the Christian religion, and an inexhaustible fund of brutality that made him dreadful to all the world; as he passed most of his time in drinking to excess, and consequently was never master of his reason, it cannot be wondered at that he fell into all sorts of irregularities and debaucheries; particularly, his incontinence was carried to such a pitch that there was no security against it. As he was not a man to put in practice the virtue of self-denial, he thought of nothing but how to gratify those desires which were more and more excited by the beauty of Valeria; and not having the patience to wait till the expiration of her mourning, be was resolved to let her know it without further loss of time. He began with the usual complaisance, and studying what could be most agreeable to her; but Valeria, taking all this for an effect of his politeness, and far from imagining that it was anything more than bare civility, behaved in such a manner as gave the Emperor plainly to understand that she did not see into his designs; it was therefore necessary for him to come to a clearer explanation. He did not, however, choose to do this himself, for the first steps in love are generally the most troublesome, and there are few men, however great their wit and assurance, who are not embarrassed upon such an occasion, especially when the declaration is to be made to a person whom it is unlawful for them to address in such language. Maximinus, who felt this sort of uneasiness, and was well acquainted with Valeria's austerity and reserve, gave this commission to one of his favorites, charging him to acquaint the princess with the impression her charms had made on him; and, that he might be more favorably heard, Maximinus gave him orders to declare that he had no other intention than to raise her to the throne, by marrying her after first divorcing his wife.
Valeria was thunderstruck at this proposal, and immediately reflected upon all the miseries that this fatal passion would involve her in. All the evils that the most cruel and the most libidinous of mankind could bring upon her crowded into her imagination. She felt little gratitude to her beauty that had laid such a snare for her, and plunged her into such deep distress. Her inclination, as well as her religion, forbade her to think of it without horror.
The emissary did not fail to exaggerate the violence and sincerity of the Emperor's love, and the great advantage she would reap by this match. She acknowledged herself infinitely obliged to the Emperor for the honor he did her, but added that, in her present condition, it did not become her to listen to any proposals of that nature; that the ashes of Galerius were scarce cold, and that the mourning which she wore reminded her every moment of her husband's death. Besides this, the laws of decency would not permit her to accept the Emperor's offer, for she could look upon him in no other light than as the son of Galerius, since he had been adopted by him. That it would be unpardonable in her to do the wife of Maximinus so great an injury as to deprive her of her husband's affection; and, in short, that it would be the height of injustice, if he should divorce his wife who was so worthy of his esteem, and by no means deserved such treatment. She added that it would be very unseemly for a person of her rank to marry a second husband, and tarnish her widowhood by a fresh engagement.
The favorite did not fail to oppose all these arguments, but in vain; for the princess protested that she bad made a solemn resolution against ever marrying again, and thereby cut short all hopes of her being prevailed upon to alter her mind, whatever brilliant and flattering promises night be made her. This answer, so little favorable to Maximinus's hopes, provoked him beyond measure, and changed his love into hatred. He resolved that Valeria should fear him at least, since she could not be brought to love him; and as it is usual for tyrants to pass from one extreme to another, he became her most cruel persecutor. At first he was determined to make her feel all the weight of his resentment, but some small remains of regard for Diocletian induced him to delay for a little time the gratification of his vengeance, which, nevertheless, only fell the heavier upon her afterwards. He turned her brutally out of her palace, seized all her effects, deprived her of her domestics, and inflicted upon her all the mortifications he could possibly invent.
The Empress Prisca, being involved in the same persecution, shared with her daughter in all these afflictions, and met with the same treatment. The princesses submitted to this inhuman usage with great courage and resolution, as far as they themselves were concerned; but what grieved them most was the affronts that were put upon many ladies of their retinue, whom they honored with their friendship and esteem. Maximinus endeavored to blacken their reputations, after having in vain attempted to corrupt them. This monster of impurity, against whose attacks no woman was safe, having found in these ladies a chastity that was proof against all his solicitations, thought he could not be more effectually revenged than by accusing them of the very crime he would have persuaded them to commit, knowing that a woman of virtue is more sensible of the loss of her honor than of her life.
An infamous Jew was thought a fitting tool to carry on this piece of work. He was a notorious villain, who had been convicted of the greatest crimes; but Maximinus promised him his pardon upon condition that he would accuse these ladies before Eratineus, Governor of Nicaea, where the Court then was. The Emperor, who knew that this magistrate was fit for his purpose, had made him judge of the case. Eratineus was of a cruel, arbitrary disposition, severe against those whom he had a mind to destroy, however innocent they might be, and indulgent to such offenders as he intended to screen from punishment, however guilty they were. He had a corrupt and mercenary soul, and was anxious about nothing so much as how to make his fortune, without troubling himself about the means.
This miserable wretch, who rejoiced at having so fair an opportunity of exempting himself from the chastisement he had deserved upon such easy terms, greedily embraced the offer, and accused the ladies of the most horrible prostitutions. Amongst these illustrious criminals there were two senators' wives who were nearly related to the Empress Prisca, and another whose daughter was one of the Vestal Virgins, and for whom Valeria had a particular regard. These ladies were all extremely handsome, and their beauty was adorned with such virtue as had enabled them to withstand all the advances of Maximinus, which was in reality the crime they were guilty of.
The accusation of this Jew, though supported by no proofs, was a sufficient reason for the condemnation of the ladies. So unjust a sentence made everybody tremble, for in such a case none could be secure. The people clamored exceedingly against it, and a thousand voices were heard in the crowd, extolling the virtue and merit of the pretended criminals. This did not, however, save them, for as it was pre-determined that they should be martyrs to their chastity, they were accordingly executed without the city, and the iniquitous judge was not ashamed to feast his eyes upon this tragic spectacle.
But to his great confusion, as well as the Emperor's, it was not long before the wickedness of this action was discovered, for the Jew, having committed some new crime for which he was condemned to death, confessed the whole affair.
Maximinus's cruelty did not stop there. He condemned the two princesses to a strict banishment, and committed them to the charge of the most pitiless and hardhearted wretches who could be procured, who had orders to treat them with the utmost inhumanity. They were sent into the deserts of Syria, where they were reduced to the greatest misery. It was a melancholy sight to see two of the most illustrious persons in the universe, who had been always used to be treated with the greatest respect and distinction, dragged from town to town like the vilest offenders, and the objects of compassion of those who had had reason to envy their former splendor.
In all the places they passed through great multitudes flocked about them, some to gaze and gratify their curiosity, and others to be witnesses of the strange vicissitudes of Fortune, who frequently hurls people down from the highest pinnacle of grandeur to the lowest depth of wretchedness.
Valeria, however, found means to inform her father of all their afflictions, and Diocletian felt upon this occasion all that a father and a husband can suffer on account of the misfortunes inflicted upon a wife and a daughter. He sent a person of quality belonging to his Court to Maximinus to demand the Empresses; but he, looking upon Diocletian as a poor hermit who need not be regarded, despised the message.
Diocletian, having divested himself of all authority, and not being in a condition to command, had no other method of procuring redress than that of negotiating. He therefore deputed one of his near relations, who held considerable rank in the army, to obtain if possible what he had requested of Maximinus. The ambassador represented to him that both Galerius, his uncle, and he himself had been made Emperor by Diocletian's means, and though the latter, exhibiting extraordinary modesty, had resigned the empire, he had been always treated with the respect that was due to him. He added that nothing could be more reasonable than for a father and husband to demand his daughter and wife. But all these arguments and remonstrances were to no purpose, for they only served to increase Maximinus's cruelty. Instead of giving, the Empresses their liberty, he increased the rigor of their exile. This deprived Diocletian of all patience; his solitude had not so infinitely broken his spirit as to render him insensible of this insulting treatment; on the contrary, it made so deep an impression on him that he felt tired of his life, and a new vexation that befell him made him resolve to destroy himself.
Licinius and Constantine, in order to cement the peace and friendship that existed between them, entered into a close alliance. Constantine married his sister Constantia to Licinius, and the nuptials were celebrated at Milan. Diocletian was invited to be present at the ceremony, but as he had upon his abdication renounced all pleasures and diversions, and particularly at this time, when he was overwhelmed with grief on account of the misfortunes of his family, he returned thanks to the two Caesars for the Honor they did him, but desired, for the above mentioned reasons and on account of his age and infirmities, to be excused.
This refusal was taken very ill by Constantine and Licinius, and looked upon as an insult, in consequence of which they wrote him such threatening letters and so terrified the old Emperor that he killed himself. Maximinus did not long survive him, for, having quarreled with Licinius and declared war against him, the two armies met near Adrianople. Maximinus addressed himself to his gods, and promised to extirpate the Christians entirely if they would grant him the victory; but Licinius, as is credibly reported, dreamt that if he invoked the God of the Christians he would infallibly conquer. However that may have been, Maximinus was defeated, and obliged to flee with such precipitation that he traveled sixty leagues in twenty-four hours, till he got into Cappadocia, where, knowing that he was pursued, he poisoned himself.
It was hoped that the death of Maximinus would put an end to the sufferings of Prisca and Valeria, and, in fact, Licinius had nothing to apprehend from two Empresses who enjoyed no more than the shadow of their former dignity, for, as there were no traces remaining of their past grandeur, they could not be objects of jealousy to the reigning Empresses. Besides, they were neither ambitious enough to intrigue, nor powerful enough to carry into execution any project that might be formed for their advantage. They thought of nothing but how to pass in tranquillity the remainder of a life that Maximinus had embittered with sorrow and affliction. Fortune seemed to give them some rays of hope that they might some day or other see better days, for, as soon as Maximinus was dead, Candidianus, Galerius's natural and adopted son, went to pay his respects to Licinius at Nicomedia, was received with great courtesy, and great honor and respect was paid to him by order of the Emperor. Valeria, who had the interests of Candidianus much at heart, heard with great joy of the kind reception that Licinius had given him, and thence conceived good hopes of seeing her fortune re-established. Full of these flattering ideas she resolved to go secretly to Nicomedia, that she might be a witness of the figure Candidianus made at Court. She therefore disguised herself, went thither, and had the satisfaction of seeing him receive all the respect and honor that was due to his birth. Severianus, being encouraged by this to try his fortune, went also to Nicomedia, and was treated in such a manner as gave him reason to hope. In fact, Licinius, looking upon Severianus as the son of his ancient colleague, showed him such distinguishing marks of his esteem as procured him great respect from all the nobles of the Court; but the same reasons for which they paid him all these honors were the cause of his ruin. Those who envied him his good fortune insinuated to the Emperor that he ought to be upon his guard against a prince who thought he had a right to the throne. They told him that his name alone was sufficient to make him dreaded, for that the son of an Emperor would be apt to believe he had good claims to a throne that had been in a manner hereditary in his family -- that Severianus had a good share of ambition, and wanted nothing but a suitable opportunity of making himself head of a party.
Licinius listened to these artful insinuations, and began to look upon Severianus as a dangerous person. His jealousy was attended with cruel consequences, for, fearing he might one day have a troublesome competitor in this prince, he was determined to make himself easy in that respect, and resolved that Severianus should expiate with his life whatever designs of that kind be might have entertained. The unfortunate prince fell a victim to this inhuman precaution, and Candidianus was also involved with him in the same misfortune, when he had least reason to expect any such thing, for they were both put to death together. Valeria and Prisca, her mother, were proscribed, but being disguised, made their escape, and wandered about from province to province for fifteen months.
Their escape made Licinius the more eager to apprehend them. For a longtime past he had been exasperated against Valeria, who had refused to yield up to him her right to Galerius's effects. Besides, as she was the daughter and widow of two Emperors, he looked upon her as one who, if not in a condition to form a party, was at least capable of encouraging some other person. The Emperor, after weighing and considering these things, thought he had reason sufficient to take away the lives of these fugitive princesses. He had them pursued by people, who took their measures so well that they were overtaken at Thessalonica, where he caused them to be tried as prisoners of State. It was certainly a difficult matter to convict them of any crime, but those are always guilty who have the misfortune to fall under the displeasure of the prince; accordingly, the corrupt judges knew their duty too well not to condemn them to death. They were conducted, therefore, to the place of execution, accompanied by a great multitude, who were drawn together by the novelty of the spectacles and who beheld, with great astonishment, the heads of two Empresses cut off by the hands of the common hangman. The bodies were thrown into the sea. This was the tragical end of Prisca and Valeria, who may be said to have died martyrs to their illustrious birth and their extraordinary virtue.
The Empress Eutropia had a happier destiny. After the death of Maximinus Hercules, her husband, she went to live with Fausta, her daughter, at Constantine's Court. As she was past the age of pleasure, she thought of nothing but how to pass the remainder of her life in peace and quietness, far from the noise and hurry of State affairs. She lived to see that happy change in the empire, occasioned by Constantine, her son-in-law, embracing Christianity, which Hercules and Diocletian had endeavored to extirpate. This religion daily gained ground from that time, got the better of idolatry, and was professed at Court and in all the provinces. The Cross became the greatest ornament of the Roman ensigns and the crowns of the Emperors. Constantine was so assiduous in propagating the faith that not only the imperial family, but the greatest part of the Court embraced Christianity; Eutropia was one of the first to profess a religion that had maintained itself in opposition to all the power of Emperors, who had exhausted all their malice and authority to abolish it, though the Christians in their defense made use of no other weapons than their patience and their prayers.
As already related, by November 312 Eutropia was an integral part of Constantine's court, and indeed at Rome. It is thus not at all unlikely that Eutropia and Helena knew each other quite well, since Helena too was an integral part of Constantine's court very likely since late 306. Eutropia and Helena may even have known each other since the marriage of Constantine and Fausta in 307.
After Eutropia had been instructed in the precepts of the Gospel, she practiced them with so much zeal and strictness that all the indiscretions of her past life were forgotten. She was as solicitous to promote Christianity as Hercules her husband had been to destroy it. She not only conformed to its laws, but used her utmost endeavors to abolish the impious rites of the Pagans, and even some superstitions that had been introduced among the Christians, to the scandal of their holy religion, which more than anything evinced the soundness of her belief. This was shown in her care to suppress the annual ceremonies that were performed under the famous Oak of Mamre, so remarkable in the Scriptures for having been the residence of the patriarch Abraham, and the place where the angels announced the ruin of Sodom.
This was always celebrated in summer, and a vast concourse of Jews, Christians, and even heathens used to assemble there upon that occasion: the first, to honor the memory of Abraham, the second to solemnize the apparition of their Messiah, who they imagined spoke to the patriarch in the form of an angel; and the Pagans, because they considered those angels to have been, in reality, their own gods, whom they honored by erecting altars there, upon which they placed idols, and offered sacrifices and libations ; so that each of them, for one reason or other, had the greatest respect and veneration for that place, and this occasioned an odd mixture of Pagan ceremonies, Jewish superstitions, and Christian devotions. There was a great fair held every year in that place, which drew an infinite number of people from Phoenicia, Palestine, and Arabia.
Eutropia, taking a journey into Palestine, passed through the Valley of Mamre just when they were performing these ceremonies and saw the impious sacrifices that the heathens offered to their idols and the superstitions practiced by the Christians, who imagined they were performing their duty in a very commendable way. She was extremely offended when she observed that God and the devil were worshipped in the same place; and that this valley, which had been sanctified by the solemn promises which the Almighty had made to Abraham, that from him should spring One in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed, should become a theater of impiety and profanity. She resolved to do all in her power to remedy this evil, and wrote to her son-in-law upon this subject, informing him of what she had seen done by the Pagans, Jews, and even Christians, who all dishonored that venerable place, some by their idolatrous libations, and others by their indiscreet practice of a mistaken devotion.
Constantine, who eagerly embraced every opportunity of signalizing his zeal for the Christian religion, ordered all the idols to be burnt, the altars to be overthrown, and everything that savored of Paganism and superstition to be destroyed. He caused a church to be built on the very spot, and laid under severe penalties those who in the future should dare to profane that venerable place.
History makes no further mention of Eutropia, but apparently she continued the rest of her life in the strictest practice of the religion she had once professed.