Constantine the Great

gigatos | May 10, 2023


Saint Constantine – Constantine I (Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus, 27 February 272 – 22 May 337), also known as Constantine the Great, was a Greek-born Roman Emperor who ruled from 306 to 337. Born in the area now known as Nis (Ниш, in Serbia), he was the son of Flavius Valerius Constantius, a Roman army officer from the Illyrian region. His mother, Eleni, was a Greek Asia Minor woman, originally from the town of Drepano in Bithynia, Asia Minor. His father became Caesar and deputy emperor in the West in 293. Constantine was sent east, where he rose through the hierarchy to become chilarch to the emperors Diocletian and Galerius.

In 305 he rose to the rank of Augustus and was recalled west to campaign under his father in Britain. After his father’s death in 306, he was recognized as Emperor by the army at Evoracus and emerged victorious in a series of civil wars against the Emperors Maxentius and Licinius to become the sole leader of the West and East by 324.

As Emperor, Constantine instituted a host of administrative, economic, social and military reforms to strengthen the Empire. He restructured governmental authorities and, to combat inflation, introduced the solidus, a new gold coin that became the standard for Byzantine and European currencies for more than a thousand years. The Roman army was reorganized to consist of mobile infantry and guard units capable of dealing with internal threats and invasions. Constantine’s tenure as Caesar was accompanied by successful campaigns against the tribes on the Roman frontier, the Franks, the Alamanni, the Goths and the Sarmatians, and even the reclamation of territories lost by his predecessors during the Third Century Crisis.

Constantine was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. Although he lived most of his life as a pagan, according to many sources he was converted to Christianity shortly before his death, being baptized by Eusebius of Caesarea. He also played an important role in the Edict of Median in 313, under which Christians and adherents of other religions had complete freedom to practice their religious beliefs; however, he suppressed other religions by destroying temples among other measures he took. He convened the First Ecumenical Council at which the Creed was established. The Church of the Resurrection was built on the orders of him and his mother, St. Helena, on the site of Jesus’ tomb in Jerusalem which remains the holiest place in Christendom. At the same time, the papal claim to perpetual power in the Middle Ages was based on Constantine’s alleged Donation (now considered a forgery). He has been declared an Apostle and is venerated as a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church along with his mother St. Helen on May 21. He has historically been referred to as the “First Christian Emperor”, and strongly promoted the Christian faith. Nevertheless, his relationship with Christianity remains a controversial issue open to multiple interpretations.

The reign of Constantine marked a special era in the history of the Roman Empire. He created a new imperial residence in Byzantium and renamed the ancient colony of Byzantium “Constantinople” where the capital was moved. His most immediate political innovation was that he replaced Diocletian’s Tetrarchy with the principle of imperial succession, thus giving the right of inheritance to his children. The medieval church regarded him as an agent of virtue, while secular rulers invoked him as a reference point and symbol of imperial legitimacy and identity. Beginning in the Renaissance, there were more critical assessments of his reign due to the discovery of anti-Constantinian sources.

Constantine was a ruler of great importance, and always a controversial personality. The fluctuations in his reputation reflect the nature of the ancient sources for his reign. These are plentiful and detailed, but have been heavily influenced by the official propaganda of the time; no modern histories and biographies dealing with his life and tenure have survived. The closest can be described as Eusebius of Caesarea’s work, Vita Constantini (Greek: Vita Constantini (Greek: Life of Constantine the Great)) a mixture of “blessing” and “hagiography” written between 335 A.D. and about 339 A.D. It extols Constantine’s moral and religious virtues and continually creates an indiscriminately positive image of him. Modern philosophers have often questioned its credibility. The full secular life of Constantine is found in the work of an unknown author Origo Constantini, which focuses on military and political events as well as the eventual neglect of cultural and religious issues.

Lactantius, in De Mortibus Persecutorum, a Christian political pamphlet on the terms of Diocletian and the Tetrarchy, provides valuable but tenuous details about Constantine’s predecessors and early life. The histories of Socrates of Constantinople, Sozomenos, and Theodore describe Constantine’s ecclesiastical conflicts and his subsequent tenure as Caesar; from the 4th to the 6th centuries CE, these church historians obscure the events and theologies of Constantine’s time with misdirection, misrepresentation, and deliberate indifference. The contemporary writings of Athanasius and the ecclesiastical history of Arias survive, but the prejudices are pervasive.

He was born in Naisso, Moesia (now Nis, Serbia) on 27 February 272. Constantine’s parents were the Roman Caesar Constantius I Chlorus (Aurelius Valerius Constantius), who probably belonged to an Illyrian family, and Helen (later St. Helen, the Isapostolos), a Greek Asia Minorist, daughter of an innkeeper from Drepano in Bithynia. Constantius was probably of humble origins, despite his son’s claims that he was descended from the Emperor Claudius II. When they met in Helen’s hometown in 270 AD, Constantius had already risen through the ranks of the Roman army and had been awarded the title of ‘dux’ (dux, ruler).

Helen followed her husband on his campaigns in Germany and Britain and in about 274 AD, she gave birth to their son Constantine in Naissos, the city where her husband came from. The date of Constantine’s birth is a matter of research for historians, since it has not been precisely determined. Other suggested dates are 271, 272 or 273, while some place his birth even 10 years later, around 285 AD.

In the early days Constantine lived close to his father, watching his military struggles. In Constantine’s environment Constantine received his military education and learned the encyclical letters.

The emperor Diocletian undertook administrative reform of the Roman Empire by introducing the institution of the “quaternary” and in 293 AD he appointed Constantius I Xloro Caesar of Gaul, Spain and Britain (the western provinces). The law, however, forbade high officials to be married to women of lowly birth. So Constantius divorced, after an “edict” (imperial decree) of Diocletian, Helen and married Flavia Theodora, a relative of Maximianus, Augustus of the West. His son Constantine and Helen remained in Nicomedia, hostages of Diocletian and the Eastern Caesar Galerius, to ensure Constantine’s loyalty.

In Diocletian’s environment, where he stayed for many years, Constantine completed his education alongside notable scholars. The older view that Constantine lacked education is no longer accepted. Many years later he took a special interest in the education of his own children, and this indicates a man who recognized and valued the benefits of education. At the same time he participated in the campaigns of Diocletian and Galerius and rose to the rank of “tribune” (Tribunus, he commanded the imperial bodyguard and auxiliary cohorts).

At the court of the emperor, the young Constantine stood out and prevailed with his impressive appearance and physical gifts, physical skills, administrative abilities, increased sense of duty, courtesy of manners and behaviour. All these made his presence felt and Constantine won the special favour of Diocletian.

One incident is indicative of Constantine’s impetuosity and quick temper, which never left him and which, as we shall see, led him to take tough decisions that marked his family life: Caesar Galerius celebrated his victorious campaign against the Persians with savage battles in the arena of Nicomedia, watched by the Emperor Diocletian, all the highest officials, including Constantine, and of course the people. Galerius, who saw in Constantine a most capable future opponent, with his nephew Maximinus Dia, challenged Constantine’s courage and challenged him to face a Numidian lion to prove his skills. Constantine, enraged at Galerius’ public insult, accepted the challenge, despite the explicit objections of Diocletian, who feared for the life of his young officer. Constantine killed the lion in the arena, to the cheers of the crowd, who were understandably unused to seeing the sons of the highest military and administrative aristocracy engage in wildly dangerous feuds.

Next to Diocletian, Constantine witnessed one of the greatest persecutions against Christians, the torture and public executions of the followers of the new religion, which began with the emperor’s “edict” in 303 AD from Nicomedia. His Christian mother and father, who disregarded all decrees against Christianity and never persecuted Christians, must have acted as a counterweight in shaping the young tribune’s personality.

Constantine Augustus of the western provinces

In 305 AD Diocletian, due to old age, abdicated his throne, convincing his fellow emperor in the West Maximianos to do the same. Thus the two Caesars of the East and West, Galerius and Constantius Chlorus respectively, received the title of “Augustus”. Galerius, as Augustus of the East, had to appoint the two new caesars of the eastern and western provinces. Despite the general expectation that Constantine would receive the title of Caesar so that he could later succeed his father, Galerius bypassed him in order to strengthen his position by building alliances. Thus he appointed his nephew Maximinus Darius Caesar in the East and his friend Severus Caesar in the West. Constantine remained hostage to Galerius.

In the same year (305), however, Constantine managed to obtain permission from Galerius to go to the West, probably by pretending that Constantine was ill. Constantine then hastened to meet his father in the town of Augusta in Trevira (note: Trier, Germany). From there, the son accompanied his father on the victorious campaign to Britain. Constantine distinguished himself and won the confidence of Constantius and the admiration of the army for his outstanding administrative and strategic skills.

On 25 July 306 AD, when Constantine died, the legions at Eboracum (now York) declared Constantine Augustus with enthusiastic celebrations. The provinces he was to rule were Britain and Gaul. From Britain, Constantine returned to Trevira, which remained the seat of his dominions for the next six years. In the modern city of Trier, the imperial baths (“Kaiserthermen”) and the single-aisled basilica (Basilika), the throne room (Aula Palatina), bear witness to Constantine’s stay in the city to the present day.

At the same time the Senate and the Praetorian Guard allied themselves with Maximian’s son, Maxentius, in Rome, and declared him first “prince” (princeps) and then Augustus. Maxentius then recalled his father to the throne and anointed him co-emperor to secure his support. In November 307 he received in the East the title of Augustus and Licinius, a trusted friend of Galerius.

Galerius refused to recognize the title of Augustus to Constantine, granting him only the title of Caesar. Constantine, however, was not prepared to give up his ambitions so easily. He therefore tried to get Galerius to accept him. To this end, he sought kinship with the two emperors Maximian and Maxentius. In 307 A.D. he divorced his wife Minervin (his concubine, according to others) with whom he had had a son, Crispus, and married at Trevira the beautiful Fausta, daughter of Maximianus and sister of Maxentius, the beautiful Fausta. Galerius did not consider these conditions sufficient, and continued to recognise Constantine as Caesar, but not as Augustus.

In general, these years were marked by an extraordinary anarchy, in which those who had received the title of Caesar, following the abdication of Diocletian, were later proclaimed Augustans and were engaged in fighting against each other. In the end they remained Augustans: Constantine in Britain and Gaul; Maximian and Maxentius in the provinces of Italy, Spain and West Africa; Licinius in the provinces of Pannonia, Rhaetia, Dalmatia, and Noricum, and Valeria; Maximinus on the southern coast of Asia Minor, the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, Egypt and Libya; Galerius throughout the East (his territory included present-day Greece). Thus the Roman Empire was divided into five emperors. The ambitions of each made inevitable a long period of fierce and long-lasting conflicts that would decide who would rule as monarch over the vast empire.

Constantine and Maximian

The first to confront Constantine was Maximianos, through a series of intrigues.

In 308 AD the old emperor tried to persuade his son Maxentius to recognize him as “consul Augustus”. But Maxentius refused, and Maximian tried to dethrone his son by force, but failed.

At the end of 308, at the meeting of all the Augustans at Carnuntum under the abdicated emperor Diocletian, Maximian tried to persuade Diocletian to put the purple back on so that they could reconcile. But again he failed and even Diocletian forced him to resign the title of Augustus. Then Maximian fled to his son-in-law Constantine in Gaul.

Constantine welcomed Maximianos and gave him all the honours befitting a former emperor. In general, he seems to have treated him like a son to a father (as has been mentioned above, Constantine had married Maximianus’ daughter Fausta). Maximian, however, still dreamed of the purple and planned to usurp Constantine’s power.

The opportunity presented itself in the summer of 310, during a Frankish uprising. Constantine with a part of his army set out to suppress the rebellion. Then Maximian spread the word that Constantine had been killed in a battle, declared himself emperor and tried to secure the loyalty of the soldiers to him with money. But he entrusted these plans to his daughter and she managed to alert Constantine.

Constantine then, in July 310, rushed south and captured Arelati (note Arles), to prevent Maximianos from organizing his defence well. Maximian was confined to the walls of Marseilles. Constantine besieged and captured the city and took Maximian captive. For Fausta’s sake, however, he forgave his father-in-law, but stripped him of his purple and the honours accorded to emperors.

But it seems that Maximian could not understand that his time of power had passed. So he tried to assassinate Constantine while he was asleep. Once again he involved Fausta in his machinations, apparently unaware of the role his daughter had played in the failure of the first plan. She again chose her husband over her father and revealed everything to Constantine. Maximianos was arrested and a short time later he was found hanged in his room.

Constantine consistently claimed that his father-in-law had committed suicide, while Maxentius, Maximianos’ son, blamed Constantine for his father’s death. Historians consider it very likely that it was Fausta who motivated Constantine to execute her father, judging by her attitude towards Maximianus and Constantine.

The Battle of the Mulvian Bridge, 28 October 312 AD.

At the same time that Constantine was facing Maximianus, the other Augustans in the East were fighting civil wars against each other. Those who remained in power were Maxentius, who held Italy and Africa, Licinius, who ruled all the eastern parts, and of course Constantine in the West, who in 310 also annexed Spain to his territories, wresting it from Maxentius.

Maxentius, having survived his father Maximianus’ attacks, the rebellion of Lefkius Domitius Alexander, commissioner of Africa, and the campaigns against him by Augustus Severus and Galerius, thought that the next opponent he would face was Augustus of the East, Licinius. To be ready for an imminent attack, Maxentius began to fortify the region of Raetia. He quickly realized, however, that his main opponent was Constantine, who wanted to neutralize Maxentius so that he could remain absolute master of the West.

Maxentius planned to invade Gaul by surprise, but Constantine beat him to it, gathered an army, crossed the Alps and invaded Italy in the spring of 312. He easily defeated military units at Piedmont and began to move south. He captured Verona and Aquileia (cities in northern Italy). In September 312, he made a triumphant entry into Medieval Italy and then moved towards Rome to fight the decisive battle. In the process, he reinforced his army by recruiting from the local population, without making any distinction between ethnic and Christian populations. This behaviour boosted the morale of the Christians, as they considered it indicative of the attitude that the new emperor would take towards Christianity and its adherents, even though he himself was still faithful to the gods of Rome.

Inextricably linked to the battle that was to be fought, and which would go down in history as the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, is Constantine’s famous vision on the eve of the great conflict: the bright cross, formed with the Greek letters X-R, with the inscription “En touto nika” (Latin: in hoc signo vinces). The Christian orator Lactantius, who was the tutor of Constantine’s eldest son Crispus, and therefore had close ties to the imperial family, says that Constantine’s vision was enunciated. Eusebius only observes that in setting out to save Rome, Constantine “prayed to the God of heaven and for his Word, Jesus Christ”. Twenty-five years later, another work wrongly attributed to Eusebius, “The Life of Constantine,” describes the event with particular emphasis as a true vision, which appeared in the midday sky and was seen by the soldiers. In fact, he continues his narrative by saying that the next night, following the divine vision, Christ appeared to Constantine and commanded him to put the cross-shaped complex as an emblem on the shields of his legions. Constantine himself avoided speaking of this experience, but he did not hesitate to attribute his final victory to the will of the God of the Christians. On the arch he erected in 315 in commemoration of his victory he engraved that the victory was the fruit of divine inspiration.

Historians of our time tried to interpret the vision of Constantine I the Great scientifically, using psychology and astronomy. Thus, Constantine may not have been able to understand at the time that the outcome of the battle would determine the course of Europe and the world, but he certainly realised how decisive the coming conflict was for his own monarchy, which he was aiming for. Besides, however inexperienced in war Maxentius might be, Constantine could not overlook the fact that in the past he had succeeded in defeating the forces of Galerius and Severus. Moreover, the Christian element in his legions was now dynamic, and this was indicative of his disposition towards Christian doctrine as well as his personal quest. It is in this psychological context, charged with anxiety about the outcome of the battle, that the vision should perhaps be understood.

Other historians, following the findings of astronomy, observed that the positions of the planets on a given day formed an X and a P in a cross-shaped pattern. That is why they believe that Constantine saw the vision at night, i.e. they approach the report of Lactantius. It goes without saying that for the Orthodox Church, which honours Constantine as a saint and an apostle, the vision was real and had a divine origin: “Seeing the type of Thy cross in heaven and as Paul saw the call not from men…” Christians hear in the churches on the feast day of Constantine.

Whatever the truth may be, the fact is that Constantine saw or experienced “something” which prompted him to take a historic and unprecedented decision: The Roman legions, when they were led into battle, had the statues of the native gods in front of them. Constantine ordered these statues to be replaced by a red cloth in the middle of which was embroidered the cluster of the letters X and P, as he saw him in his vision. This cloth was the emperor’s new emblem and came to be known as the banner (labarum). The X and P (chrism) cluster was also placed on the soldiers’ shields. The Christian soldiers were encouraged by their emperor’s order. Later Constantine put the cross symbol on his crown as well. Only on coins of the time does it not appear.

Eventually the two rivals met on 28 October 312 AD at Saxa Rubra, on the Flaminia road and near the Milvian bridge over the Tiber River. Maxentius had initially decided to close in on the strong walls of Rome and force Constantine’s forces to be drawn up in a siege. But he changed his mind and decided to confront his opponent openly. In the ensuing battle, Maxentius’ Praetorians put up a stiff resistance. But Constantine’s excellent strategy, the excellent planning of his cavalry movements and the enthusiasm of the soldiers, especially the Christians, who understood that the future of their religion depended on this battle, decimated Maxentius’ army.

Maxentius himself drowned with many other soldiers in Tiberis. At Constantine’s order his body was recovered and, after being decapitated, his head was impaled on a stake and paraded through the streets of Rome. Maxentius was the brother of Constantine’s wife, Fausta. We do not know Fausta’s reaction to this violent act of her husband against her brother. The fact is that from the day they were married Constantine never withdrew his favour from Fausta, nor did he on any occasion revoke the honours he bestowed on her, at least until the tragic end of their married life.

The Battle of Milvian Bridge has been described as one of the most decisive battles of all time. With his victory Constantine was proclaimed the only Augustus of the West. Persecution against Christianity ceased and now the emperor himself was actively protecting the new religion, whose followers had been persecuted until a few years before. His favourable measures in favour of Christianity resulted in a rapid increase in the number of Christians in the Roman Empire, for in a period of twenty years after the beginning of the fourth century, when pagans predominated in numbers, Christians increased to the point of probably constituting half of the total population. Constantine himself, after his experience on the eve of the battle, became personally interested in the teachings of Christianity.

The importance of this battle and the vision of Constantine the Great did not leave art unmoved. Painters such as Raphael and Rubens produced paintings on the battle and the vision. Vision also occupies an important place in the art of the Orthodox Church and is depicted in icons of Constantine the Great.

The Edict of Midian, February 313 AD.

In February 313 AD, Constantine met Augustus Licinius in Medieval Italy (now Milan). During this meeting, decisions were made on a common policy on religious matters. This was necessary to bring about internal peace in the Roman Empire, after centuries of persecution for religious beliefs.

According to the decisions of the Mediolan Council, religious freedom and religious tolerance were guaranteed. Special mention was made of Christianity, which was made a permissible and legal religion for Roman citizens, and Christians were free to exercise their religious duties. However, Christianity was not recognized as an official and protected religion of the empire.

These decrees have come to be incorrectly called the Edict of the Midianites. In reality they did not take the form of an official imperial decree. More recent research has shown that the two emperors were in fact activating earlier decrees which had not entered into force. The original document has not survived, but a Latin decree sent by Licinius to the prefect of Nicomedia to implement the decisions in order to gain the sympathy of his Christian subjects has survived. This text has been preserved under the designation ‘Decree of the Mediolan’ and this title has been identified with the text of the jointly agreed decisions of Constantine and Licinius.

In the West, Constantine did not limit himself to the theoretical institutionalization of Christianity, but he actively protected Christian communities with financial subsidies, the return of confiscated places of worship and the property of Christian citizens, the exemption of the clergy from public burdens, etc. These measures made Constantine particularly popular with Christians, even in the East, in the territory of Licinius.

After signing the decisions on the religious policy they would follow and the alliance between them, Constantine married his 18-year-old sister Constantia to Licinius, who was 45 years old in 313. This sealed a fragile peace, to which the two rivals were driven by the necessity of the circumstances rather than by mutual goodwill.

The conflict with Licinium

In June 313 Licinius defeated Galerius’ nephew Maximino Dia, who still held the eastern provinces of the Empire, in a decisive battle east of Hadrianople. Maximinus committed suicide, and Licinius, now absolute ruler of the East, sought an opportunity to take on Constantine.

The occasion was not long in coming, just a year after the agreements had been signed. Licinius allied himself with Basil and his wife Anastasia, half-sister of Constantine, at the expense of the latter. Constantine, of course, did not let the opportunity slip away, since he himself coveted Licinius’ power and desired war with him.

Their armies clashed in the city of Kibali in Pannonia on October 8, 314 AD. The battle came to be known as the bellum Cibalense and ended in a Pyrrhic victory for Constantine. The forces of both rivals had been exhausted in the arduous campaigns of the previous year and the endurance of their soldiers had reached its limit. The two emperors had no choice but to return to their territories in order to heal their wounds in manpower.

During this period of truce, Constantine of Trevirus and Likinius of Sirmion, along with their other activities, were preparing for the next confrontation.

Constantine in Rome celebrated the tenth anniversary of his proclamation to Augustus (his decennalia). Constantine’s famous arch was already prepared for the occasion. The celebrations included all the usual events, but Constantine did not personally sacrifice to the gods of Rome and this did not go unnoticed by the Gentiles of the eternal city.

After the decennalia had been completed, Constantine returned to Trevira, where he stayed during the spring and summer of 316 and prepared feverishly for the coming war with Licinius. But Licinus was acting accordingly. He had fully reconstituted his forces and had proclaimed an Illyrian general, Ouali, Caesar. In December 316 Constantine was in Serdica (now Sofia, Bulgaria).

The two rivals met sometime between 1 December 316 and 28 February 317 in Thrace. The outcome of the battle was ambiguous and Constantine preferred to sign an agreement with Licinius. However, he remained in a position of power and so he imposed his terms.

On 1 March 317 Constantine triumphantly entered Serdica, where the concordia Augustorum (the Treaty of Augustus) was signed. Thanks to the intervention of Constantia, who was loyal to Licinius but at the same time had the special favour of her brother, Augustus of the East retained his throne. He was obliged, however, to cede to Constantine Pannonia and Moesia, and to execute Ouali. Furthermore, Constantine’s twelve-year-old son from Minervin, Crispus, his first-born son from Fausta, Constantine II (who was only a seven-month-old infant), and the son of Likinius and Constantia, Likinius (a 20-month-old baby), were proclaimed Caesars.

A period of delicate balance followed. Licinius strengthened his army and amassed vast treasures. Soon old tensions and mutual suspicions came to the surface. By 320, Licinius’ Christian subjects were openly showing great loyalty and sympathy to Constantine. Licinius, fearing these sentiments, seven years after the Edict of Mediolanus which he issued, launched a mild persecution against them. This persecution had the deeper aim of enraging Constantine, so that he might be the first to begin hostilities. Licinius knew that the Western emperor protected Christianity and suspected that he himself had embraced the new religion, denying the Roman deities.

Finally, on the occasion of the Sarmatian and Gothic revolts in 321, Constantine invaded the territory of Licinius, intending to suppress the rebels. Licinius felt that Constantine had violated the treaty they had signed.

To confront his political rival Licinius, Constantine the Great settled in Thessaloniki in 322

The war broke out in 324. On 3 July Constantine defeated Licinius in a decisive battle at Adrianople. Licinius fortified himself in the Byzantine city, where he was besieged by his opponent. At sea, Constantine’s fleet, led by his son Crispus, completely defeated the fleet of Licinius, which was under the command of Avantus, at Hellespont. Having lost all possibility of resupply, Licinius left Byzantium and marched to Chrysoupolis in Asia Minor. There he was defeated once again by the combined forces of Constantine and Crispus on 18 September. Licinius, after this final defeat, fled to Nicomedia, where he was arrested.

Once again Constantia’s pleas to her brother saved Likinios’ life. As an ordinary citizen he was placed under house arrest in Thessaloniki. A few months later, however, he was sentenced to death because Constantine feared rumours that Licinius had made secret agreements with the Goths in order to regain his throne. Shortly afterwards Constantine also ordered the execution of the eleven-year-old Licinian, the son of Licinius, breaking his promises to Constantia.

Constantine was now the undisputed leader of the entire Roman Empire.

Constantine the Monarch (324-337)

After the victory over Licinius, Constantine moved the main seat to the East. This practice was not a novelty, since in the time of the Tetrarchy the Caesars had each chosen different capitals. Constantine had to consider several regions, but in the end he chose the ancient Greek colony of Byzantium. The city was a transport hub in a strategically important area and was surrounded on three sides by the sea; already during the campaign against Licinius Constantine had recognized the advantages of the location. Shortly afterwards he enlarged the city and extended it magnificently. The new capital was called Constantinople (“Constantine’s City”). In giving his name to the city, Constantine followed the tradition of the rulers of the Hellenistic period and the early Roman emperors. The fortifications of the wider area, which was now six times the size of the old city, were improved. At the same time numerous new buildings were erected. These included administrative buildings, palace buildings, baths and representative official buildings such as the Hippodrome and the Avgostion. Lastly, a large parallelogram square was added, which housed the Senate building and the entrance to the Palace area. From there a street led to the circular forum of Constantine, where the statue of the Emperor was placed on top of a pillar and a second building of the Senate was located. Many works of art from the Greek world were brought to the city, including the Tripod of the Plataea from Delphi. Constantine inaugurated the city on 11 May 330, while the extensive building work was not yet finished.

The new headquarters had the great advantage of being located in the economically crucial eastern region of the Empire. Churches were built in the expanded city, but there were also a few temples and many pagan architectural elements, which gave the city a classical character. As can be seen from the scale of the grandiose design, it was considered the rival of ‘old Rome’, although it undertook a building programme there too. In Rome he had also celebrated his decennial in 315, as well as his twentieth anniversary in 326, which he had already celebrated in Nicomedia. Rome had already been a formal capital for decades and lost even more of its importance with the creation of the new seat of government, but it remained an important symbol of Romidee. Constantinople was in many respects equated with Rome; it was, for example, given a senate of its own, though second in rank to the Roman one and not subject to the provincial administration but to a separate anthyptus. Moreover Constantine took care to create incentives for settlement in his new seat. The court’s expository eloquence and ecclesiastical policy elevated the city to the status of a new Rome. Constantinople, whose urban area later expanded to the west, became one of the largest and most magnificent cities of the empire and in the 5th century even the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.

In 326 Constantine ordered the murder of his eldest son Crispus and shortly afterwards his wife Fausta. The court deliberately obscured this dark spot in Constantine’s biography, probably with a damnatio memoriae. Eusebius does not devote a single word to the above events, while other sources only speculate.

In 360, the historian Aurelius Victor recounts only the murder of Crispus, which Constantine ordered for an unknown reason. In the Epitome de Caesaribus for the first time the death of Crispus is linked to that of Fausta: Because his mother Helen was mourning Crispus, whom he held in high esteem, the emperor executed his wife as well. From this basic narrative, later writers adapted the story. Indeed, in the early 5th century the Arian ecclesiastical historian Philostorgius gives details of a scandalous story: Fausta is said to have lusted after Crispus and, when he denied her passion, in order to avenge him she urged her husband to kill her agent. When Fausta committed infidelity on another occasion, the emperor killed her too. According to the pagan historian Zosimo, Crispus was accused of having an affair with Fausta. Constantine then executed his son, and when his mother seemed grieved, he made Fausta disappear by drowning her in the bath. Since the emperor could not purify himself from these acts, he had become a Christian because he believed that all his sins could be erased in Christianity. Zosimo, who wrote around 500 (and his original Eunapius) apparently did not have accurate information about the events; so Crispus was not murdered in Rome, as Zosimo reports, but probably in Pula (Croatia). Zosimo took the opportunity to present the emperor and his favouritism towards Christianity in a negative light. Moreover, he agrees with Philostorgius regarding the circumstances of Fausta’s death, which is perhaps the essential core of both accounts.

The ferocity of Constantine I was unprecedented. For example, according to his biographer Eusebius, he ordered the extermination of all Egyptian castrati and issued a series of decrees against the creation of eunuchs because it was against his moral codes.

When Constantine took over the rule of the empire, Christianity was a small religion, divided into many groups and sects. Constantine gave several privileges to Christians while acting repressively against other religions such as paganism or other Christian sects. He laid the foundation for the Christian Church to become dominant in the religious life of the empire. Whether Constantine was actually a Christian or simply used Christianity for his political advancement is a matter of debate.

A much discussed and studied chapter of Constantine’s life and politics is his relationship with Christianity. It has already been mentioned that Constantine made use of Christians in his army without discrimination, applied the principle of tolerance in his territory, and actively protected Christian communities in various ways. It has been said that Constantine chose tolerance of Christianity in order to strengthen the internal cohesion of the Roman state, which had for 60 years been in a state of multifaceted crisis.

The first decree favouring Christianity was issued in 311 by Galerius, who was one of its most ferocious persecutors. This decree recognized their legal right to exist. According to the decree, “Christians may exist and assemble, provided they do nothing contrary to the common good, and are obliged to pray to their God for our good, the good of the state and their own.”

Of the various measures he introduced, the most important for Christians were the return of their confiscated property during the periods of persecution and the right they acquired to increase this property. Every man could also now bequeath his property to the Church, which again acquired the right of inheritance. Thus the legal status of each Christian community was also recognized. Furthermore, Constantine strengthened the moral position of the bishops in their communities. He granted them the right to resolve the private disputes of their flock, not in the capacity of a judge, but rather as arbitrators. The decisions of the bishop’s courts were recognized by the state, even in matters of non-ecclesiastical matters. Episcopal jurisdiction, as it was called, was an institution favourable to Christians, since Christians had much more confidence in bishops than in state judges. Bishops were also relieved of all public obligations and the financial burdens that corresponded to them. Additional measures included a ban on working on Sunday, as well as on other major Christian holidays, such as Christmas. Particularly important were the imperial grants, which were used to build Christian temples. Among these temples are the Christian temples of the Resurrection, the Nativity and the Mount of Olives in the Christian Holy Land.

By all these decrees, and although he himself was a convert to Christianity, Constantine retained the office of pontifex maximus of the main deity of the Roman state, Zeus, which was the highest office of the imperial religion exercised by the Roman emperor. During his lifetime he used the expressions “Day of the Sun” (Dies Solis) and “Invincible Sun” (Sol Invictus). It is certain that Constantine was a supporter of the cult of the Sun, having inherited this dedication to the Sun from his family. He did not deprive the followers of the ancient religion of their rights, nor did he at the same time cease to support the traditional religion of the Roman Empire. For example, he respected the privileges given to the Esthian virgins, the state continued to cover the expenses of the various festivals and ceremonies of the Gentiles, the associated symbols remained on the coins for several years, and it is reported that he even founded temples for the believers of the Roman cult.

According to this evidence, the information that Constantine destroyed temples of the traditional religion is not correct and cannot be verified with certainty either by historical facts or by Constantine’s political thinking. Moreover, it is significant that in Constantine’s time Christianity may have spread throughout the Roman Empire, but Gentiles still constituted the majority of its inhabitants. So the emperor could not have turned against his subjects so openly. Besides, even within the imperial family his wife and son remained loyal to the gods of Rome. Furthermore, Constantine’s primary motive when he legalized Christianity was to promote harmony among the citizens. It would therefore be against his policy to start a new cycle of controversy and persecution, this time against the pagans.

The demolitions of ancient temples that he must have ordered are those in Jerusalem, where the temple of Aphrodite was demolished from the hill of Golgotha to build the temple of the Resurrection. These places, however, had been completely disconnected from Roman worship, and had been designated as holy and godly to the Christians, especially after the extensive excavations conducted by Helen, and were therefore attributed to them. He also closed down religious centres of morally objectionable deities, such as Astarte, and banned nightly and secret sacrifices, as these could not be controlled for the events performed by their participants. Statues and architectural members of pagan temples were looted from the temples and taken to Constantinople for embellishment by Constantine.

Constantine, following his father’s religious beliefs, had adopted the belief in a supreme god and the existence of other lesser deities. He worshipped the god Sun (Apollo) and the goddess Nike as the supreme god, with a clear syncretism, that is, with a mixture of elements from ancient Greek religion and eastern religions. The transition from unotheism to monotheism should not have been particularly difficult. Perhaps Constantine found it difficult to subordinate his impetuous personality to the ascetic and forgiving spirit of Christianity. Constantine’s acceptance of Christianity must be seen not as an overnight event, but rather as a life course that was completed by his baptism on the day of his death.

Of great importance is the fact that Constantine marked the transition from emperor-god to emperor with the grace of God. This conviction stamps the entire Middle Ages in Europe and inevitably influences political thought. In the polytheistic traditional religion of Rome the emperor was another god on earth and after his death he returned to the Pantheon. In monotheistic Christianity this theory was by definition incompatible. Thus Constantine himself defined the role of the Christian emperor as the man who was set to take care of the believers of the new religion. Speaking to some bishops, he distinguished the work of the emperor from that of the bishop: “Ye are of the church, but I am a bishop apart from God, if I am” (Euseb.²B.C.B.²Log. D. 24). Characteristic is his exhortation to his subjects and officials to embrace Christianity and his view that he should assist the bishops in spreading their religion (Euseb.²B.C.B.²Log. C. 17.1,2). He believed that God had entrusted him with the special mission of bringing harmony to the state and the church. The church, respectively, regarded him as a servant of God and his conversion as a divine act aimed at expanding Christianity. During his reign Christianity gained the official right to exist and grow.

First Ecumenical Council of Nicea, 325 AD.

The cause of one of the greatest conflicts among Christians was in the early 4th century AD, Arius, an elder in Alexandria, perhaps the greatest philosophical centre of the time. A graduate of Lucian’s theological school in Antioch, Arius began to put forward the theory that Christ was a “creature” of God and was not himself God. Arius’ teaching, which came to be known as Arianism, was in stark contrast to the teachings of the Christian church, which held that Christ was a perfect God and a perfect man.

Arrios’ deep education and the mastery of his speech (the proverb of the time “Arrios’ bottomless mouth” is characteristic) led many people from all classes to embrace his spiritual beliefs. Thus, he soon found himself supported by followers throughout the East, despite the excommunication and anathema unleashed against him by the elderly Bishop Alexander of Alexandria. Among the followers of Arius were the bishops of Nicomedia Eusebius and Caesarea Eusebius, personal friends of the emperor, as well as members of the imperial family, perhaps most notably Constantine’s sister, the nobilissima femina Constantia, who, as has been mentioned above, enjoyed special favour from her brother.

Constantine initially tried to reconcile the warring parties through a letter sent to both sides, with the bishop of Cordova in Spain as messenger. On his return, however, the bishop explained to Constantine the political significance of Arius’ move, whereupon the emperor decided to convene a synod.

Information about the Synod is only available from participants and historians, as no minutes survive, assuming they were kept. After lively debates, the Synod condemned Arius’ heresy, while Arius and his most ardent followers were sentenced to confinement and exile.

Nevertheless, the results of the Council did not succeed in curbing Arianism. A few years later, Constantine changed his attitude, recalled Arius from exile, and punished Arius’ great opponent at the Council, Athanasius, Archdeacon of the Church of Alexandria, in the same way. Athanasius remained in exile until the sentence was lifted by Constantine himself, on the day he was baptized a Christian. There is no absolute agreement among historians as to the reasons for this conversion of Constantine. Reasons such as the influence of the court, family reasons, the political influence of Arianism in the East, etc. have been given.

Sometime between 15 May and 17 June 326, on Constantine’s orders, his eldest son (and son of Minervin), Crispus, was arrested and executed with “cold poison” at Pula in Croatia. In July, Constantine had his wife Fausta executed on the orders of his mother Helen. Fausta was left to die in an overheated bath. Their names were erased from many inscriptions, references to their lives were removed from literary records, and their memory was condemned. Eusebius, for example, in his eulogy of Constantine, compiled from later copies of his Historia Ecclesiastica, and Vita Constantini, includes no references to Fausta or Crispus. Few ancient sources intend to analyze the possible motives for these events. These few sources are of more recent origin and are generally considered unreliable as they do not offer convincing explanations.

Shortly after the feast of Easter in 337, Constantine fell seriously ill. He left Constantinople for the hot baths near his mother’s hometown, the Asia Minor city of Eleanor in Bithynia, on the southern shores of the Gulf of Nicomedia. There, in the church of the Apostle Lucian, built by his mother, he prayed and realized he was dying.

Constantine died in 337 AD. Both his work and himself received a rare appreciation from many quarters. The Roman Senate, as the historian Eutropius reports, deified Constantine. History called him the Great, and the Orthodox Church declared him a saint and an apostle. After his death, his body was taken to Constantinople and buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles, in a purple stone sarcophagus. His body survived the sacking of the city during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, but was destroyed sometime later. Today his remains are kept in the Church of Saints Constantine and Helen of Hippodrome in Thessaloniki.

He first married Minervini in 303 (or had her as a concubine, as no divorce is mentioned) and had a child:

Constantine I then made a second marriage with Fausta, daughter of Maximianos, co-emperor of Diocletian, and had children:


  1. Μέγας Κωνσταντίνoς
  2. Constantine the Great
  3. Οι ημερομηνίες γέννησης ποικίλλουν, αλλά οι περισσότεροι σύγχρονοι ιστορικοί χρησιμοποιούν το έτος 272.
  4. Προκοπίου Ιστορικού, Ανέκδοτα ή Απόκρυφη ιστορία, απόδ. Αλόη Σιδέρη, Εκδ. ΑΓΡΑ, Αθήνα 1988, ISBN 960-325-036-8
  5. ^ Costantino si attribuì il titolo Invictus dopo la propria autoproclamazione ad Augusto, nella seconda metà del 310. Si veda nel merito Thomas Grünewald, Constantinus Maximus Augustus. Herrschaftspropaganda in der zeitgenössischen Überlieferung, Stoccarda 1990, pp. 46-61.
  6. ^ a b Il senato di Roma gli accordò questo titolo dopo la vittoria su Massenzio. Si veda Lattanzio, De mortibus persecutorum XLIV 11-12.
  7. ^ Costantino adottò il titolo Victor in sostituzione di Invictus nel 324, dopo la vittoria definitiva su Licinio. Si veda nel merito Thomas Grünewald, Constantinus Maximus Augustus. Herrschaftspropaganda in der zeitgenössischen Überlieferung, Stoccarda 1990, pp. 134-144.
  8. La date retenue pour la naissance de Constantin Ier varie selon les historiens. 272 est l’année la plus ancienne.
  9. Entre 271 et 277, si l’on s’en tient aux sources qui fixent son âge lors de sa mort en 337 entre 60 et 66 ans (62 ans selon Aurelius Victor, 63 ans selon l’Épitomé de Caesaribus, 63-64 ans selon Eusèbe de Césarée, 65 ans selon Socrate le Scolastique, entre 65 et 66 ans selon Eutrope. Certains historiens modernes ont avancé l’hypothèse qu’il soit né après 280 (Maraval 2011)
  10. La mention de stabuleria apparait dans l’œuvre d’Ambroise de Milan De obitu Theodosii qui est une nécrologie de l’Empereur Théodose
  11. Selon toute vraisemblance, la différence de statut social entre Constance, général d’armée, et Hélène, servante d’auberge, aurait rendu le mariage impossible pour Constance. Cependant, d’autres sources désignent Hélène comme fille d’un riche aubergiste et donc, comme épouse potentielle.(Gauthier 1999)
  12. Proclamado como Augusto en Occidente, oficialmente nombrado César por Galerio con Severo como Augusto, por acuerdo con Maximiano, rechazó la relegación a César en 309
  13. Principal Augusto en el Imperio
  14. Disuelto por muerte o divorcio antes de 307
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