Analysis Of David Woods’ Theory Of Fausta Death

David Woods proposes that the cause of the hitherto mysterious death of the Empress Fausta in 326 was an unintended death during an abortion attempt. Woods strongly believes that Fausta’s death is directly related to Crispus’s which he argues to be a suicide pre-empting possible execution. Consequently, Woods asserts that Constantine is not to blame for either death, affirming that he did not order their executions, prompting his argument that Constantine’s reputation should be re-evaluated. In this regard, by removing the responsibility of Constantine having ordered the executions, Woods hinders questions surrounding Constantine’s commitment to Christianity. This sustains that Constantine was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, which could have influenced Woods in opposing the prevalent belief that Constantine ordered the executions. To a degree, this aspect of Woods argument contributes to the credibility, especially when considering the influential role of Constantine in affirming religious acceptance of Christianity through the proclamation of the Edict of Milan 313.

Despite Woods theory that execution did not occur, he nonetheless establishes his belief in adultery having taken place, which he argues is the only logical explanation that leads to the deaths. To support this theory Woods interprets the eradication of their memories and reticence of early Christian authors to be sufficient evidence that there was a scandal. Furthermore, Woods uses extensive detail to explain the unusual manner of their deaths to link to the idea of adultery. However, despite the substantial explanations he includes, his evidence is not sufficient for the theory to be deemed entirely convincing. The credibility of his argument also weakens as it becomes apparent that not only is his own evidence largely conjecture but so too are the connections he provides for answers to unresolved questions; how Constantine found out about the affair, why the deaths were kept so secret and the involvement of Constantine’s mother, Helena. Additionally, Woods is mainly dependent on the Historia Augusta to corroborate this theory which is no more than his interpretation of fiction. Therefore, it is not a compelling theory because there is no concrete proof, but his argument is plausible. Woods disagrees predominately with other historians’ conclusions from the sources, exposing their flaws patently. However, he does agree with the consistent element of all the sources, the adultery scandal, and as such he is reliant on the sources as the foundation to support his new idea. Despite this, Woods blatantly dismisses all the sources on the basis that they could have all derived from one pagan source. As a result, doubt towards Woods inferences is elevated by his claim that you cannot completely trust the source based on its pagan prejudice, yet he does not question the assertion that adultery took place.

Woods’ partial reliance on the sources he discredits further demerits the credibility of his theory. To an extent, it can be argued that the only way Woods’ theory has some merit is the role of adultery being a key factor in the deaths and so he claims the Pagan historian and the other sources too, did not necessarily invent the story of an adulterous relationship. It is for this reason that while Woods’ theory is plausible as a recount of the events that took place, it is not compelling as it lacks evidence. He addresses any objections to his theory that there is insufficient evidence by claiming Christians wanted to silence the exposer of such a scandal and the condemnation of their memories meant there is no comprehensive recollection. This therefore leads Woods new theory to be heavily dependent on circumstantial evidence founded by a single source, the Historia Augusta.

On the one hand this aids his argument in that all his ideas have developed from a source that has been overlooked. On the other hand, he determines his alternate source as fictional and the content is also described as deteriorating in its historical value, especially when reaching the main focus of Woods evidence, Carinus. Despite the extract bearing striking similarities through the reference to a hot bath being for a woman and for Carinus to be put to death, the evidence itself is largely unreliable. For it is only alluded that this could be a writing on the life of Constantine, nor does it actually support Woods argument in that execution is included and the theme of adultery is not suggested at all. Woods main piece of evidence to back his own theory is indirect, evident not only in the title of the section as an allusion but also the extract itself is an allegorical text. Woods uses an extensive amount of detail that distracts from the weakness of his limited evidence that can been seen largely as his own interpretation rather than answering questions surrounding their deaths with certitude.

The most compelling evidence for his theory is that the mode of death of both Crispus and Fausta were not typical execution methods or locations. In this regard, it can be argued that Woods is not using evidence to support his theory, rather he is attempting to prove his theory to be in line with the very little evidence available. This can be seen in the way Woods writes an extensive repudiation of a hot bath as a means of execution which seems credible. So too is the very detailed explanation of hot baths for the purpose of an abortion and the high mortality rate associated with this. Woods’ argument is further convincing as while not only does he demonstrate that the means and locations are atypical, but he determines the occurrence of execution as a punishment for adultery to likewise be abnormal.

The theory of Fausta having died as a result of an attempted abortion seems a strong possibility and for it to have been Crispus’s child can explain the unusual location of his death and use of poison. Although, there is no direct evidence that she was pregnant at all and serves more to allow Woods argument to function. Additionally, for Woods reasoning for Crispus’s location of death to be plausible, Constantine would had to have discovered the affair, which there is only hearsay evidence, like much of the theory.

15 July 2020
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