Constantine I or Constantine the Great was Roman emperor from 306 to 337 AD. The previous emperor Diocletian decided to split the empire in two parts, since it was too large to be ruled by one person, creating a tetrarchy or the rule of four. Diocletian ruled the east from Nicomedia as an “augustus” with Galerius as his “caesar.” Maximian and Constantius the Pale ruled the west.
The son of Constantius, Constantine, reunited the split empire and moved the capital away from Old Rome and built a new capital – Constantinople
Constantine, Gaius Flavis Valerius Constantinus, was born at Naissus in today’s Serbia in the period from 272 to 285 AD. His father was a military commander and the caesar of the west, so Constantine lived his life in the imperial court with later rise in a ranking as a staff officer for Diocletian. All people who surrounded Constantine, thought about him as a person with an endless energy.
In 305, Diocletian and Maximian abdicated their thrones to Galerius in the east and Constantius in the west. However, the son of Maximian, Maxentius, and Constantine felt themselves betrayed. It led to a long battle over control of both parts of the empire. After the abdication of Diocletian, Galerius allowed Constantine to return to the west in 306 and to serve under his father. Before Constancius died of leukemia (the reason he was called “Pale”) in 306 in York, Constantine had a chance to campaign with his father in Britain against the Picts.
After the death of father, Constantine continued to build a reputation as a person able to make strong decisions in a fast way and in 307 he attacked the Franks. There, he killed two Frankish kings by throwing them to beasts in the amphitheatre at Trier. He gained the respect of the army and they started to trust him.
With the death of Constantius and the success of the war in Britain, people expected Constantine to become the new augustus in the west. However, Severus, who was caesar and close friend of Galerius, was advanced to the post, despite the claim that Constantius had named his son as augustus before the death.
Race for Power
In spite of the official decree, Constantine was declared augustus by his people. Galerius, however, refused to acknowledge this statement, calling himself a caesar. It shouldn’t be overlooked that Maxentius ignored Galerius and Constantine and declared himself augustus in 307 AD. With the support of the people of Rome and the Praetorian Guard, he controlled Sicily, Corsica, Sardinia, and some parts of North Africa. In the end, six different people will eventually take control in the west.
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Because of the friendship with Galerius, Severus was not trusted by both Constantine and the brother-in-law of Constantine Maxentius, and in order to defeat the new augustus, they united with the former augustus Maximian and joined forces against Severus. Unfortunately for Severus, who received the order to stop Maxentius, his army left him. Being feared for his life, he moved to Ravenna to be killed outside of Rome. His death prompted Galerius unsuccessfully invasion to the west with the military forced. In 308 AD, a new tetrachy was formed with Licinius as the new augustus, while Constantine retained the position of caesar. Eventually, Maximian commited suicide.
The Battle of Milvian Bridge
Maxentius left Rome for meeting with Constantine in the famous Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312. One day before the battle, Constantine saw in the sky the sign of the cross superimposed over the sun. Moreover, he saw an inscription under it: “In Hoc Signo Vinae,” which meant “conquer by this sign.” Later during the night, Constantine had a dream with the sign’s explanation, where Christ appeared in front of him telling to carry the sign of the cross into the battle.
Next day, the old banners were changed with new ones with the sign of the cross. Constantine easily defeated Maxentius, who fled back to Rome. However before coming to the city, he fell into the river and drowned. Historians consider this victory as an important turning point in history, which meant a fusion of church and state.
Constantine gained complete control over the west. One of his first acts was to issue the Edict of Milan, a toleration of all religions
Galerius and Maximinus Daia were serving as augustus and caesar in the east. However, soon Galerius died and Maximinus and Licinius started to fight for control of the east. This led to the split of the empire between them, where Licinius got the Balkans and Maximinus got Asia Minor with eastern provinces. Their arrangement didn’t last long and soon they met in a fight in Thrace in 313. Moreover, Licinus fought under the sign of cross in that battle.
Licinus and Constantine didn’t have good relationships. Moreover, Licinius married Constantine’s half-sister Constantia. The two men first met on the battle field in Cibalae in 316, where Constantine defeated Licinus. During the next years, Licinius executed Christians and destructed churches. This led Constantine to gather an army and defeat him in a second battle at Hadrianopolis.
In 324, Licinius was totally defeated at Chrysopolis and Constantine’s victory reunited the empire
Constatine became the sole emperor when he was 52 years old. He realized that Old Rome is not the city that he wants to see as a capital and he changed it to Byzantium. The ancient city had a valuable location on the European side of the Strait Bosporus, so it would control traffic to and from the Black Sea. The city had wide streets with statues of Alexander, Caesar, Diocletian, and Constantine. He rebuilt Christian churches, pagan temples and worken on many other public projects. In 330, the city was dedicated.
Constantine showed his religious tolerance with both Christians and pagans. In 312, he officially started to claim himself to be a Christian. His mother Helena was a devout Christian and her influence on the son gave an obvious effect. Constantine tolerated certain pagan religious practices, but crucifixions became abolished and pagan sacrifices became forbidden. Moreover, his reign gave the end to the gladiatoral contests and there were several new laws against sexual immortality and ritual prostitution.
- All people who surrounded Constantine, thought about him as a person with an endless energy
- With the death of Constantius and the success of the war in Britain, people expected Constantine to become the new augustus in the west
- One day before the battle of the Milvian Bridge, Constantine saw in the sky the sign of the cross superimposed over the sun. Moreover, he saw an inscription under it: “In Hoc Signo Vinae,” which meant “conquer by this sign”
- Constatine became the sole emperor when he was 52 years old
- The emperor realized that Old Rome is not the city that he wants to see as a capital and he changed it to Byzantium
- Constantine showed his religious tolerance with both Christians and pagans
- In 312, he officially started to claim himself to be a Christian
- The most modern survived arch of ancient Rome is the Arch of Constantine, located right nearby the Colosseum and Roman Forum
- His mother Helena was a devout Christian and her influence on the son gave an obvious effect
- He was buried at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople, leaving the reign in the hands of his three sons: Constantine II, Constantius II, and Constans.
Constantine was a military commander and the emperor. In 328, he fough the Alemani with his son Constantius II, defeating the Goths in 332 and capturing the lost territories from the Dacians. He died from being ill in 337. The emperor ruled for 31 years. He was buried at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople, leaving the reign in the hands of his three sons: Constantine II, Constantius II, and Constans. Eventually, Constantinus II defeated his brothers to become a sole emperor.