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His poor tactics, which Constantine noted and exploited, made him the loser. Maxentius had deployed his troops with their backs to the Tiber, leaving them insufficient room to manoeuvre. To make matters worse, the pontoon would not bear the panicked escaping forces and many drowned, including Maxentius himself. After the battle, his body was hauled out of the Tiber, his head cut off and paraded into Rome on a spear, in line with a long Roman triumphal tradition. Strategically highly significant, giving him power over the ancient capital, the victory had at least equal religious significance.

While Roman generals often invoked godly support, usually from Sol Invictus, and claimed morale-building visions or dreams before battle, the Milvian Bridge encounter was the first when a general claimed such revelations from the god of the Christians. Accordingly, we are told, he ordered his men to paint the labarum the Chi Ro sign on their shields, and they won resoundingly. Modern scholarship is apt to doubt supernatural interventions and question whether the effects of sunlight and clouds might not have been over-interpreted. The Edict of Milan of February , a year after the Milvian Bridge battle , commonly attributed to Constantine, is seen as an important document for ensuring freedom of religion in the Roman world and particularly for freeing Christians from the kinds of systematic oppression that Diocletian had practised.

Confiscated church properties were returned to them too, but there were limits that tend to be less noted: the freedoms were conditional and the religions practised should support the Roman empire. The relationship between the two emperors was not amicable for long.

Constantine did much to blacken the name of Licinius. Moreover, having already beaten him in the naval battle of the Hellespont, Constantine beat him on land at Chrysopolis in ad Constantia persuaded Licinius to surrender to Constantine and pleaded for his life with her brother. None the less, Constantine subsequently ordered his execution. He also ordered the death of his nephew also Licinius and ended the tetrarchy, taking control of the whole Roman empire, shifting power to its eastern side, and founding its new capital at Constantinople.

We are left with a puzzle. Constantine was plainly a military strategist and tactician of great skill, capable too of enlisting the loyalties of armies and seeing the wisdom of moving the centre of empire to the east where its influence would endure for longer. Peter was begun in the later s and lavishly endowed by Constantine with plate and property. The emperor was an earnest student of his religion. Even before the defeat of Licinius, he had summoned to Trier the theologian and polemicist Lactantius to be the tutor of Crispus.

In later years he commissioned new copies of the Bible for the growing congregations at Constantinople. He composed a special prayer for his troops and went on campaigns with a mobile chapel in a tent.

Biography of Constantine the Great

Constantine had hoped to be baptized in the Jordan River , but perhaps because of the lack of opportunity to do so—together possibly with the reflection that his office necessarily involved responsibility for actions hardly compatible with the baptized state—he delayed the ceremony until the end of his life. It was while preparing for a campaign against Persia that he fell ill at Helenopolis.

When treatment failed, he made to return to Constantinople but was forced to take to his bed near Nicomedia. There, Constantine received baptism , putting off the imperial purple for the white robes of a neophyte; and he died in He was buried at Constantinople in his church of the Apostles, whose memorials, six on each side, flanked his tomb. The reign of Constantine must be interpreted against the background of his personal commitment to Christianity.

2 Constantine the Great

His public actions and policies, however, were not entirely without ambiguity. Roman opinion expected of its emperors not innovation but the preservation of traditional ways; Roman propaganda and political communication were conditioned, by statement, allusion , and symbol, to express these expectations.

The suppression of paganism , by law and by the sporadic destruction of pagan shrines, is balanced by particular acts of deference. A town in Asia Minor mentioned the unanimous Christianity of its inhabitants in support of a petition to the emperor; while, on the other hand, one in Italy was allowed to hold a local festival incorporating gladiatorial games and to found a shrine of the imperial dynasty—although direct religious observance there was firmly forbidden. Traditional country magic was tolerated by Constantine.

Constantine the Great

Classical culture and education, which were intimately linked with paganism, continued to enjoy enormous prestige and influence; provincial priesthoods, which were as intimately linked with civic life, long survived the reign of Constantine. Constantinople itself was predominantly a Christian city, its dedication celebrated by Christian services; yet its foundation was also attended by a well-known pagan seer, Sopatros.

So may be judged the further development, taking place in his reign, of the administrative court hierarchy and an increasing reliance upon a mobile field army, to what was considered the detriment of frontier garrisons. The establishment by Constantine of a new gold coin , the solidus , which was to survive for centuries as the basic unit of Byzantine currency, could hardly have been achieved without the work of his predecessors in restoring political and military stability after the anarchy of the 3rd century.

Commitment to Christianity

A real innovation, from which Constantine could expect little popularity, was his institution of a new tax, the collatio lustralis. It was levied every five years upon trade and business and seems to have become genuinely oppressive. A lavish spender, Constantine was notoriously openhanded to his supporters and was accused of promoting beyond their deserts men of inferior social status. Yet it, too, had been foreshadowed; Diocletian enhanced Nicomedia to an extent that was considered to challenge Rome.

V. Rev. Fr. Thaddaeus Hardenbrook

Its Senate, created to match that of Rome, long lacked the aristocratic pedigree and prestige of its counterpart. In military policy Constantine enjoyed unbroken success, with triumphs over the Franks, Sarmatians, and Goths to add to his victories in the civil wars; the latter, in particular, show a bold and imaginative mastery of strategy.

Constantine was totally ruthless toward his political enemies, while his legislation, apart from its concessions to Christianity, is notable mainly for a brutality that became characteristic of late Roman enforcement of law. It was the development, after his example, of a Christianized imperial governing class that, together with his dynastic success, most firmly entrenched the privileged position of Christianity; and it was this movement of fashion, rather than the enforcement of any program of legislation, that was the basis of the Christianization of the Roman Empire.

Emerging from it in the course of the 4th century were two developments that contributed fundamentally to the nature of Byzantine and Western medieval culture: the growth of a specifically Christian, biblical culture that took its place beside the traditional Classical culture of the upper classes; and the extension of new forms of religious patronage between the secular governing classes and bishops, Christian intellectuals and holy men.

Constantine left much for his successors to do, but it was his personal choice made in that determined the emergence of the Roman Empire as a Christian state. We welcome suggested improvements to any of our articles. You can make it easier for us to review and, hopefully, publish your contribution by keeping a few points in mind.

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Unfortunately, our editorial approach may not be able to accommodate all contributions. Our editors will review what you've submitted, and if it meets our criteria, we'll add it to the article. Please note that our editors may make some formatting changes or correct spelling or grammatical errors, and may also contact you if any clarifications are needed. Top Questions. Read more below: Legacy. Edict of Milan. Read more below: Commitment to Christianity.

Council of Arles. Council of Nicaea. Read more below: Career and conversion. Battle of Milvian Bridge. Hagia Sophia. Institutional Repository. Library Instructions. New Books. SKL Digital Collections. B Constantine, Divine Emperor of the Christian Golden Age offers a radical reassessment of Constantine as an emperor, a pagan, and a Christian. The book examines in detail a wide variety of evidence, including literature, secular and religious architectural monuments, coins, sculpture, and other works of art.

Setting the emperor in the context of the kings and emperors who preceded him, Jonathan Bardill shows how Constantine's propagandists exploited the traditional themes and imagery of rulership to portray him as having been elected by the supreme solar God to save his people and inaugurate a brilliant golden age. B37 Drawing on recent scholarly advances and new evidence, Timothy Barnes offers a fresh and exciting study of Constantine and his life. First study of Constantine to make use of Kevin Wilkinson's re-dating of the poet Palladas to the reign of Constantine, disproving the predominant scholarly belief that Constantine remained tolerant in matters of religion to the end of his reign, clearly sets out the problems associated with depictions of Constantine and answers them with great clarity Includes Barnes' own research into the marriage of Constantine's parents, Constantine's status as a crown prince and his father's legitimate heir, and his dynastic plans.

Baynes Call Number: BR B3 Norman Baynes's Raleigh Lecture on Constantine, delivered in and published the following year, provided not only a major and incisive contribution to the study of the Emperor and the early Christian Church, but also a unique survey of research up to that date. Subsequent bibliographical surveys have done no more than supplement his work on defined areas within the field. This important lecture is now reprinted with a new Preface by Dr. Henry Chadwick which outlines the progress of studies on the subject in the intervening forty years, including Baynes's own contributions before his death in Constantine and the Bishops by H.

Drake Call Number: DG D72 Historians who viewed imperial Rome in terms of a conflict between pagans and Christians have often regarded the emperor Constantine's conversion as the triumph of Christianity over paganism. But in Constantine and the Bishops, historian H.


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Drake offers a fresh and more nuanced understanding of Constantine's rule and, especially, of his relations with Christians. Constantine, Drake suggests, was looking not only for a god in whom to believe but also a policy he could adopt. Uncovering the political motivations behind Constantine's policies, Drake shows how those policies were constructed to ensure the stability of the empire and fulfill Constantine's imperial duty in securing the favor of heaven. Despite the emperor's conversion to Christianity, Drake concludes, Rome remained a world filled with gods and with men seeking to depose rivals from power.

A book for students and scholars of ancient history and religion, Constantine and the Bishops shows how Christian belief motivated and gave shape to imperial rule. C67 This volume makes available three works attributed to Constantine - two of which were certainly not written by him - which are important sources for historians of the papacy, Christianity and Constantine himself. The Oration to the Saints is an intellectual defence of Christianity, which puts the case for monotheism, extols the incarnation and voluntary abasement of the Son of God, and finally declares Constantine's personal adherence to the Saviour.

The legend of the discovery of the True Cross by the empress Helena, mother of Constantine, following her conversion to Christianity is presented in translations of two variant accounts.

Biography for Kids: Constantine the Great

The third text, the Edict of Constantine, presents Constantine's supposed edict to Pope Silvester transferring lands to the papacy. An introduction considers the authorship, motivation and historical context for each of the works, and extensive annotation elucidates textual difficulties and allusions. G73