Emperor Constans II of Constantinople (641-668/669), according to the historical tradition of his reign, was accused of murdering his own brother, Theodore, around the year 659 or 660. No clear account was given about how Theodore was killed or why, but the narrative presented by the chroniclers and historians of Constantinople was that Theodore was killed in some kind of plot or government action. One prominent chronicler, named Theophanes (c. 750s-818), wrote in his entry for the year Annus Mundi 6151 (659-660 CE) the following brief statement: “In this year Constans killed his brother Theodore” (Theophanes, Chronographia, Annus Mundi 6151). Unfortunately, no further information is given about the circumstances of the death. It should be noted that, due to religious issues and general tyranny in Emperor Constans II’s reign, the accounts of medieval chroniclers and historians from Constantinople were often biased and overly-hostile when discussing Constans’ actions. As such, it is difficult to say how involved Emperor Constans II truly was in the death of Theodore. Nevertheless, even if it could have possibly been rumor spread by the emperor’s enemies, the notion that Constans II had a hand in his brother’s death was an idea that festered in the minds of people in the empire, inspiring conspiracies. Indeed, the emperor was eventually assassinated by conspirators who reportedly cited the murder of Theodore as one of the reasons for the plot. Theophanes, in his entry for the year Annus Mundi 6160 (668-669 CE), wrote, “In this year the Emperor Constans was assassinated in Sicily at the Syracusan bath-house called Daphne. This was the reason: the Byzantines had hated him after he killed his brother Theodore…” (Chronographia, Annus Mundi 6160). Again, this later passage still leaves blank any detail about how and why the emperor’s brother died—the passages only divulge that Theodore died around 659 or 660, and the word around the empire was that the emperor was responsible for the death. Whatever the truth of the matter may be, questions about Prince Theodore’s death undoubtedly plagued Constans II’s reign and negatively affected his reputation and legacy.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (Illustration labeled Roman Soldiers Arresting Saint Peter, attributed to an artist known as Polidoro da Caravaggio (16th century), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Art Institute of Chicago).
- Theophanes, The Chronicle of Theophanes, translated by Harry Turtledove. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.
- The Oxford Dictionary of Late Antiquity, edited by Oliver Nicholson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018.