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September 3, 2018

Saint Constantine the New, Emperor of the Romans (+ 641)

St. Constantine the New of Constantinople (Feast Day - September 3);
Coin depicts Heraclius (left) with Constantine III (right)


Christ the King O pious Constantine,
Crowned you in heaven with an embellished crown.

Constantine III, born 3 May 612, was Roman Emperor for four months in 641, making him the shortest reigning Eastern Roman emperor. He was the eldest son of the Emperor Heraclius and his first wife Eudokia.

Constantine's birth name was Heraclius Novus Constantinus, which was also the official name under which he reigned. The name Constantine became established in later Byzantine texts as short for the Emperor and has become standard in modern historiography. In terms of official imperial nomenclature, the style "Constantine III" would be more appropriate for his son Constans II (r. 641–668).

Constantine was crowned co-emperor by his father on 22 January 613 and shortly after was betrothed to his cousin, Gregoria, a daughter of his father's first cousin, Niketas. As the couple were second cousins, the marriage was technically incestuous, but this consideration must have been outweighed by the advantages of the match to the family as a whole. Furthermore, its illegality paled into insignificance beside Heraclius' marriage to his niece Martina the same year. In comparison, Constantine's marriage was far less scandalous than that of his father.

Constantine and Gregoria married in 629 or perhaps early 630 and in that year their first child, Constans II was born. Their second child was another son, Theodosios. They also had a daughter named Manyanh who later married the last Sassanid King of Persia, Yazdgerd III.

Constantine became senior Emperor when his father died in 641. He reigned together with his younger half-brother Heraklonas, the son of Martina. His supporters feared action against him on the part of Martina and Heraklonas, and the treasurer Philagrios advised him to write to the army, informing them that he was dying and asking for their assistance in protecting the rights of his children. He also sent a vast sum of money, more than two million solidi (gold coins), to Valentinus, an adjutant of Philagrios, to distribute to the soldiers to persuade them to secure the succession for his sons after his death. Indeed, he died of tuberculosis after only four months, in April or May of 641, and he was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles, leaving Heraklonas sole emperor. A rumor that Martina had him poisoned led first to the imposition of Constans II as co-emperor and then to the deposition, mutilation (her nose and tongue were cut off), and banishment of Martina and her sons to the island of Rhodes. The months of internal turmoil, however, had weakened the empire militarily and certainly contributed to the advance of the Arabs in Egypt who could no longer be stopped.

Under his reign, Constantine III suppressed the Ekthesis, a letter published in 638 by the Emperor Heraclius which defined monotheletism as the official imperial form of Christianity, to which had subscribed the Patriarch Pyrrhus of Constantinople and all the bishops. This decree was condemned by Pope John IV in 640 and caused the break with the Church of Constantinople. When Heraclius died in February 641, the Pope wrote to his successor, Constantine III, expecting that the Ekthesis would now be withdrawn and also apologizing for Pope Honorius, who, he said, had not meant to teach "one will" in Christ.