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Constantine the Great
272 - 337

Constantine the Great

Words: nono umasy


Byzantium under the Constantinian and Valentinianic dynasties was the earliest period of the Byzantine history that saw a shift in government from Rome in the west to Constantinople in the East within the Roman Empire under emperor Constantine the Great and his successors. Constantinople, formally named Nova Roma, was founded in the city of Byzantium, which is the origin of the historiographical name for the Eastern Empire, which self-identified simply as the "Roman Empire".






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272 Feb 27

Prologue

İzmit, Kocaeli, Turkey


Prologue
| ©Jean Claude Golvin


Flavius Valerius Constantinus, as he was originally named, was born in the city of Naissus (today Niš, Serbia), part of the Dardania province of Moesia on 27 February, probably c. AD 272. His father was Flavius Constantius, who was born in Dacia Ripensis, and a native of the province of Moesia. Diocletian divided the Empire again in AD 293, appointing two caesars (junior emperors) to rule over further subdivisions of East and West. Each would be subordinate to their respective augustus (senior emperor) but would act with supreme authority in his assigned lands. This system would later be called the Tetrarchy. Constantine went to the court of Diocletian, where he lived as his father's heir presumptive. Constantine received a formal education at Diocletian's court, where he learned Latin literature, Greek, and philosophy.


303 Jan 1

The Great Persecution

Rome, Metropolitan City of Rom


The Great Persecution
The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883)


The Diocletianic or Great Persecution was the last and most severe persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. In 303, the emperors Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius, and Constantius issued a series of edicts rescinding Christians' legal rights and demanding that they comply with traditional religious practices. Later edicts targeted the clergy and demanded universal sacrifice, ordering all inhabitants to sacrifice to the gods. The persecution varied in intensity across the empire—weakest in Gaul and Britain, where only the first edict was applied, and strongest in the Eastern provinces. Persecutory laws were nullified by different emperors (Galerius with the Edict of Serdica in 311) at different times, but Constantine and Licinius' Edict of Milan (313) has traditionally marked the end of the persecution.


305 Apr 1

Escape to the west

Boulogne, France


Escape to the west


Constantine recognized the implicit danger in remaining at Galerius' court, where he was held as a virtual hostage. His career depended on being rescued by his father in the west. Constantius was quick to intervene. In the late spring or early summer of AD 305, Constantius requested leave for his son to help him campaign in Britain. After a long evening of drinking, Galerius granted the request. Constantine's later propaganda describes how he fled the court in the night, before Galerius could change his mind. He rode from post-house to post-house at high speed, hamstringing every horse in his wake. By the time Galerius awoke the following morning, Constantine had fled too far to be caught. Constantine joined his father in Gaul, at Bononia (Boulogne) before the summer of AD 305.


305 Dec 1

Campaigns in Britain

York, UK


Campaigns in Britain
| ©Angus McBride


From Bononia, they crossed the Channel to Britain and made their way to Eboracum (York), capital of the province of Britannia Secunda and home to a large military base. Constantine was able to spend a Year in northern Britain at his father's side, campaigning against the Picts beyond Hadrian's Wall in the summer and autumn. Constantius' campaign, like that of Septimius Severus before it, probably advanced far into the north without achieving great success.


306 Jul 25

Constantine becomes Caesar

York, UK


Constantine becomes Caesar
Constantine becomes Caesar


After fleeing Galerius, Constantine joins his father on campaign in Britain. However, his father falls sick during the campaign and dies on July 25, 306. He names Constantine his heir as Augustus, and Gaul and Britain support his rule - though Iberia, which has only recently been conquered, does not. Galerius is outraged by the news, but he is forced to compromise and grants him the title of Caesar. Constantine accepts to solidify his claim. He is granted control over Britain, Gaul, and Spain.


306 Aug 1

Gaul

Trier, Germany


Gaul


Constantine's share of the Empire consisted of Britain, Gaul, and Spain, and he commanded one of the largest Roman armies which was stationed along the important Rhine frontier. He remained in Britain after his promotion to emperor, driving back the tribes of the Picts and securing his control in the northwestern dioceses. He completed the reconstruction of military bases begun under his father's rule, and he ordered the repair of the region's roadways. He then left for Augusta Treverorum (Trier) in Gaul, the Tetrarchic capital of the northwestern Roman Empire. The Franks learned of Constantine's acclamation and invaded Gaul across the lower Rhine over the winter of 306–307 AD. He drove them back beyond the Rhine and captured Kings Ascaric and Merogais; the kings and their soldiers were fed to the beasts of Trier's amphitheatre in the adventus (arrival) celebrations which followed.


306 Oct 28

Maxentius's rebellion

Italy


Maxentius's rebellion


Following Galerius' recognition of Constantine as caesar, Constantine's portrait was brought to Rome, as was customary. Maxentius mocked the portrait's subject as the son of a harlot and lamented his own powerlessness. Maxentius, envious of Constantine's authority, seized the title of emperor on 28 October AD 306. Galerius refused to recognize him but failed to unseat him. Galerius sent Severus against Maxentius, but during the campaign, Severus' armies, previously under command of Maxentius' father Maximian, defected, and Severus was seized and imprisoned. Maximian, brought out of retirement by his son's rebellion, left for Gaul to confer with Constantine in late AD 307. He offered to marry his daughter Fausta to Constantine and elevate him to augustan rank. In return, Constantine would reaffirm the old family alliance between Maximian and Constantius and offer support to Maxentius' cause in Italy. Constantine accepted and married Fausta in Trier in late summer AD 307. Constantine now gave Maxentius his meagre support, offering Maxentius political recognition.


310 Jan 1

Maximian's rebellion

Marseille, France


Maximian's rebellion
| ©Angus McBride


In AD 310, a dispossessed Maximian rebelled against Constantine while Constantine was away campaigning against the Franks. Maximian had been sent south to Arles with a contingent of Constantine's army, in preparation for any attacks by Maxentius in southern Gaul. He announced that Constantine was dead, and took up the imperial purple. In spite of a large donative pledge to any who would support him as emperor, most of Constantine's army remained loyal to their emperor, and Maximian was soon compelled to leave. Constantine soon heard of the rebellion, abandoned his campaign against the Franks, and marched his army up the Rhine. At Cabillunum (Chalon-sur-Saône), he moved his troops onto waiting boats to row down the slow waters of the Saône to the quicker waters of the Rhone. He disembarked at Lugdunum (Lyon). Maximian fled to Massilia (Marseille), a town better able to withstand a long siege than Arles. It made little difference, however, as loyal citizens opened the rear gates to Constantine. Maximian was captured and reproved for his crimes. Constantine granted some clemency, but strongly encouraged his suicide. In July AD 310, Maximian hanged himself.


311 Jan 1

End of Christians persecution

İzmit, Kocaeli, Turkey


End of Christians persecution


Galerius falls ill in 311, and as his last act in power, sends a letter that restores religious freedom to Christians. However, he soon dies thereafter. This sets off a war between Constantine and Maxentius, who barricades himself in Rome.


311 Jan 2

Maxentius declares War

Rome, Metropolitan City of Rom


Maxentius declares War
Civil War | ©JohnnyShumate


Maximinus mobilized against Licinius, and seized Asia Minor. A hasty peace was signed on a boat in the middle of the Bosphorus. While Constantine toured Britain and Gaul, Maxentius prepared for war. He fortified northern Italy, and strengthened his support in the Christian community by allowing it to elect a new Bishop of Rome, Eusebius.


Maxentius' rule was nevertheless insecure. His early support dissolved in the wake of heightened tax rates and depressed trade; riots broke out in Rome and Carthage. In the summer of AD 311, Maxentius mobilized against Constantine while Licinius was occupied with affairs in the East. He declared war on Constantine, vowing to avenge his father's "murder". To prevent Maxentius from forming an alliance against him with Licinius, Constantine forged his own alliance with Licinius over the winter of AD 311–312, and offered him his sister Constantia in marriage. Maximinus considered Constantine's arrangement with Licinius an affront to his authority. In response, he sent ambassadors to Rome, offering political recognition to Maxentius in exchange for a military support. Maxentius accepted. According to Eusebius, inter-regional travel became impossible, and there was military buildup everywhere.


312 Jan 1

Battle of Turin

Turin, Metropolitan City of Tu


Battle of Turin


At the approach to the west of the important city of Augusta Taurinorum (Turin, Italy), Constantine met a large force of heavily armed Maxentian cavalry. In the ensuing battle Constantine's army encircled Maxentius' cavalry, flanked them with his own cavalry, and dismounted them with blows from his soldiers' iron-tipped clubs. Constantine's armies emerged victorious. Turin refused to give refuge to Maxentius' retreating forces, opening its gates to Constantine instead. Other cities of the north Italian plain sent Constantine embassies of congratulation for his victory. He moved on to Milan, where he was met with open gates and jubilant rejoicing. Constantine rested his army in Milan until mid-summer AD 312, when he moved on to Brixia (Brescia). Constantine won the battle, showing an early example of the tactical skill which was to characterise his later military career.


312 Jan 8

Road to Rome

Verona, VR, Italy


Road to Rome
Road to Rome


Brescia's army was easily dispersed, and Constantine quickly advanced to Verona, where a large Maxentian force was camped. Ruricius Pompeianus, general of the Veronese forces and Maxentius' praetorian prefect, was in a strong defensive position, since the town was surrounded on three sides by the Adige. Constantine sent a small force north of the town in an attempt to cross the river unnoticed. Ruricius sent a large detachment to counter Constantine's expeditionary force, but was defeated. Constantine's forces successfully surrounded the town and laid siege. Ruricius gave Constantine the slip and returned with a larger force to oppose Constantine. Constantine refused to let up on the siege, and sent only a small force to oppose him. In the desperately fought encounter that followed, Ruricius was killed and his army destroyed. Verona surrendered soon afterwards, followed by Aquileia, Mutina (Modena), and Ravenna. The road to Rome was now wide open to Constantine.


312 Oct 28

Battle of the Milvian Bridge

Ponte Milvio, Ponte Milvio, Ro


Battle of the Milvian Bridge
Battle of the Milvian Bridge


The Battle of the Milvian Bridge took place between the Roman Emperors Constantine I and Maxentius on 28 October 312. It takes its name from the Milvian Bridge, an important route over the Tiber. Constantine won the battle and started on the path that led him to end the Tetrarchy and become the sole ruler of the Roman Empire. Maxentius drowned in the Tiber during the battle; his body was later taken from the river and decapitated, and his head was paraded through the streets of Rome on the day following the battle before being taken to Africa. According to chroniclers such as Eusebius of Caesarea and Lactantius, the battle marked the beginning of Constantine's conversion to Christianity. Eusebius of Caesarea recounts that Constantine and his soldiers had a vision sent by the Christian God. This was interpreted as a promise of victory if the sign of the Chi Rho, the first two letters of Christ's name in Greek, was painted on the soldiers' shields. The Arch of Constantine, erected in celebration of the victory, certainly attributes Constantine's success to divine intervention; however, the monument does not display any overtly Christian symbolism.


312 Dec 1

Solidus introduced

Rome, Metropolitan City of Rom


Solidus introduced


The solidus was introduced by Constantine the Great in c. AD 312 and was composed of relatively solid gold. Constantine's solidus was struck at a rate of 72 to a Roman pound (of about 326.6 g) of gold; each coin weighed 24 Greco-Roman carats (189 mg each), or about 4.5 grams of gold per coin. By this time, the solidus was worth 275,000 increasingly debased denarii, each denarius containing just 5% silver (or one twentieth) of the amount it had three and a half centuries beforehand. With the exception of the early issues of Constantine the Great and the odd usurpers, the solidus today is a much more affordable gold Roman coin to collect, compared to the older aureus, especially those of Valens, Honorius and later Byzantine issues.


313 Feb 1

Edict of Milan

Milan, Italy


Edict of Milan
Edict of Milan | ©Angus McBride


The Edict of Milan was the February AD 313 agreement to treat Christians benevolently within the Roman Empire. Western Roman Emperor Constantine I and Emperor Licinius, who controlled the Balkans, met in Mediolanum (modern-day Milan) and, among other things, agreed to change policies towards Christians following the Edict of Toleration issued by Emperor Galerius two years earlier in Serdica. The Edict of Milan gave Christianity legal status and a reprieve from persecution but did not make it the state church of the Roman Empire.


314 Jan 1

War with Licinius

Bosporus, Turkey


War with Licinius
War with Licinius | ©Radu Oltean


In the following years, Constantine gradually consolidated his military superiority over his rivals in the crumbling Tetrarchy. In 313, he met Licinius in Milan to secure their alliance by the marriage of Licinius and Constantine's half-sister Constantia. During this meeting, the emperors agreed on the so-called Edict of Milan, officially granting full tolerance to Christianity and all religions in the Empire. The conference was cut short, however, when news reached Licinius that his rival Maximinus had crossed the Bosporus and invaded European territory. Licinius departed and eventually defeated Maximinus, gaining control over the entire eastern half of the Roman Empire. Relations between the two remaining emperors deteriorated, as Constantine suffered an assassination attempt at the hands of a character that Licinius wanted elevated to the rank of Caesar; Licinius, for his part, had Constantine's statues in Emona destroyed.


316 Jan 1

Battle of Cibalae

Vinkovci, Croatia


Battle of Cibalae


The Battle of Cibalae was fought in 316 between the two Roman emperors Constantine I (r. 306–337) and Licinius (r. 308–324). The site of the battle, near the town of Cibalae (now Vinkovci, Croatia) in the Roman province of Pannonia Secunda, was approximately 350 kilometers within the territory of Licinius. Constantine won a resounding victory, despite being outnumbered.


317 Jan 1

Battle of Mardia

Harmanli, Bulgaria


Battle of Mardia


The Battle of Mardia, also known as Battle of Campus Mardiensis or Battle of Campus Ardiensis, was most likely fought at modern Harmanli (Bulgaria) in Thrace, in late 316/early 317 between the forces of Roman Emperors Constantine I and Licinius.


324 Jul 3

Battle of Adrianople

Edirne, Turkey


Battle of Adrianople
Battle of Adrianople | ©Angus McBride


The Battle of Adrianople was fought on July 3, 324, during a Roman civil war, the second to be waged between the two emperors Constantine I and Licinius. Licinius was soundly defeated, his army suffering heavy casualties as a result. Constantine built up military momentum, winning further battles on land and sea, eventually leading to the final defeat of Licinius at Chrysopolis. In 326, Constantine became the sole emperor of the Roman Empire.


324 Jul 4

Battle of the Hellespont

Dardanelles Strait, Turkey


Battle of the Hellespont


The Battle of the Hellespont, consisting of two separate naval clashes, was fought in 324 between a Constantinian fleet, led by the eldest son of Constantine I, Crispus; and a larger fleet under Licinius' admiral, Abantus (or Amandus). Despite being outnumbered, Crispus won a very complete victory.


324 Sep 18

Battle of Chrysopolis

Kadıköy/İstanbul, Turkey


Battle of Chrysopolis


The Battle of Chrysopolis was fought on 18 September 324 at Chrysopolis (modern Üsküdar), near Chalcedon (modern Kadıköy), between the two Roman emperors Constantine I and Licinius. The battle was the final encounter between the two emperors. After his navy's defeat in the Battle of the Hellespont, Licinius withdrew his forces from the city of Byzantium across the Bosphorus to Chalcedon in Bithynia. Constantine followed, and won the subsequent battle. This left Constantine as the sole emperor, ending the period of the Tetrarchy.


325 May 1

First Council of Nicaea

İznik, Bursa, Turkey


First Council of Nicaea


The First Council of Nicaea was a council of Christian bishops convened in the Bithynian city of Nicaea (now İznik, Turkey) by the Roman Emperor Constantine I in AD 325. This ecumenical council was the first effort to attain consensus in the church through an assembly representing all Christendom. Hosius of Corduba may have presided over its deliberations. Its main accomplishments were settlement of the Christological issue of the divine nature of God the Son and his relationship to God the Father, the construction of the first part of the Nicene Creed, mandating uniform observance of the date of Easter, and promulgation of early canon law.


326 Jan 1

Church of the Holy Sepulchre built

Church of the Holy Sepulchre,


Church of the Holy Sepulchre built


After allegedly seeing a vision of a cross in the sky in 312, Constantine the Great converted to Christianity, signed the Edict of Milan legalising the religion, and sent his mother Helena to Jerusalem to look for Christ's tomb. With the help of Bishop of Caesarea Eusebius and Bishop of Jerusalem Macarius, three crosses were found near a tomb, leading the Romans to believe that they had found Calvary. Constantine ordered in about 326 that the temple to Jupiter/Venus be replaced by a church. After the temple was torn down and its ruins removed, the soil was removed from the cave, revealing a rock-cut tomb that Helena and Macarius identified as the burial site of Jesus. A shrine was built, enclosing the rock tomb walls within its own.


330 Jan 1

Constantinople Founded

İstanbul, Turkey


Constantinople Founded


Constantine had recognized the shift of the center of gravity of the Empire from the remote and depopulated West to the richer cities of the East, and the military strategic importance of protecting the Danube from barbarian excursions and Asia from a hostile Persia in choosing his new capital as well as being able to monitor shipping traffic between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Eventually, however, Constantine decided to work on the Greek city of Byzantium, which offered the advantage of having already been extensively rebuilt on Roman patterns of urbanism, during the preceding century, by Septimius Severus and Caracalla, who had already acknowledged its strategic importance. The city was thus founded in 324, dedicated on 11 May 330 and renamed Constantinopolis.


337 May 22

Death of Constantine

İstanbul, Turkey


Death of Constantine


After solidifying the empire and instituting political and economic reforms, Constantine is finally baptized as a Christian shortly before dying on May 22, 337. He is buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles at Constantinople and succeeded by his son from Fausta, Constantine II.



338 Jan 1

Epilogue

İstanbul, Turkey


Epilogue


Constantine reunited the Empire under one emperor, and he won major victories over the Franks and Alamanni in 306–308, the Franks again in 313–314, the Goths in 332, and the Sarmatians in 334. By 336, he had reoccupied most of the long-lost province of Dacia which Aurelian had been forced to abandon in 271.


In the cultural sphere, Constantine revived the clean-shaven face fashion of earlier emperors, originally introduced among the Romans by Scipio Africanus and changed into the wearing of the beard by Hadrian. This new Roman imperial fashion lasted until the reign of Phocas.


The Holy Roman Empire reckoned Constantine among the venerable figures of its tradition. In the later Byzantine state, it became a great honor for an emperor to be hailed as a "new Constantine"; ten emperors carried the name, including the last emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire. Charlemagne used monumental Constantinian forms in his court to suggest that he was Constantine's successor and equal. Constantine acquired a mythic role as a warrior against heathens. His reception as a saint seems to have spread within the Byzantine empire during wars against the Sasanian Persians and the Muslims in the late sixth and seventh century. The motif of the Romanesque equestrian, the mounted figure in the posture of a triumphant Roman emperor, became a visual metaphor in statuary in praise of local benefactors. The name "Constantine" itself enjoyed renewed popularity in western France in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.





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References



  • Alföldi, Andrew.;The Conversion of Constantine and Pagan Rome. Translated by Harold Mattingly. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1948.
  • Anderson, Perry.;Passages from Antiquity to Feudalism. London: Verso, 1981 [1974].;ISBN;0-86091-709-6
  • Arjava, Antii.;Women and Law in Late Antiquity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.;ISBN;0-19-815233-7
  • Armstrong, Gregory T. (1964). "Church and State Relations: The Changes Wrought by Constantine".;Journal of the American Academy of Religion.;XXXII: 1–7.;doi:10.1093/jaarel/XXXII.1.1.




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