Fausta was the second wife of Constantine (he had divorced his first wife, Minervina). Their sons were Constans, Constantius II, and Constantine II. Constantine's first son, Crispus, was mothered by Minverina. We know Fausta was awarded the title Augusta by 324 AD largely because it “is revealed in the coins [in her name] with this title” (Woods 1998: 70). Yet these coins, dated as late as 328 AD, reveal a dramatic and dark mystery, both historical and numismatic.
|AE 20mm Follis of Flavia Maxima Fausta, commonly known as Fausta. Struck in Thessalonica, circa 326-328 AD, though other mints struck similar issues as early as 324 AD. The obverse legend reads "FLAV MAX FAVSTA AVG," the final letters, AVG, indicate she had been awarded the title Augusta, or Empress, by her husband, Constantine I "The Great."|
The reverse depicts the Empress holding a pair of infants (or Spes holding the infants, rather than the Empress, as the image is often interpreted, or sometimes "the Empress as Spes"). The infants' identities are uncertain. Perhaps they were the couple's sons, Constantine II (b. 316 AD) and Constantius II (b. 317), or, perhaps, mythical or symbolic characters such as Romulus and Remus. If they were living sons, Constans may have been omitted for cultural or simply practical reasons, being further down the line of regnal succession and/or born in 323 AD, very shortly before the first of these coins were struck.
The real mystery behind this coin is why this coin exists in the first place. In 326 AD Constantine I "The Great" had already issued the extreme measure, characteristic of the ancient world, of a damnatio memoriae against Fausta—a proclamation prohibiting a historical record of the person, an erasure or “damnation of memory,” as translated literally. There is some debate over why and how she died, but it was clearly in disgrace. She was either executed upon Constantine's order, committed suicide "voluntarily," or, perhaps, suffered a horrible death during a failed attempt to abort an adulterous pregnancy. (For more nuance and the context of the ongoing debate about her demise, see, e.g.: David Woods, 1998, "On the Death of the Empress Fausta," Greece and Rome 45: 70-86; Paul Stephenson, 2009, Constantine, London: Quercus).
By 324 (the first issue of the coin at any mint), Crispus already held considerable power, having been named Caesar, the position second in power and responsibility only to the Augustus (Emperor). Importantly, Crispus would have been the traditional heir to succeed the throne upon the Emperor's (Constantine's) death.