Note: s a general and administrator under Emperor Maximian, who adoptedhim and gave him the government of Gaul and the rank of Caesar in 293.When his co emperors, Maximian and Diocletian, abdicated in 305,Constantius became emperor in the West and prepared to conquer the Picts of Scotland. He died duringthe campaign, after proclaiming his son, Constantine the Great, hissuccessor as emperor. The following was contributed by: Jay Bregman, Ph.D. Associate Professor of History, University of Maine. Author ofSynesius of Cyrene: Philosopher-Bishop. Constantine the Great (about AD 274-337), Roman emperor (306-37), thefirst Roman ruler to be converted to Christianity. He was the founderof Constantinople (present-day Istanbul), which remained the capitalof the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire until 1453. Early Life Constantine the Great was born Flavius Valerius Constantius at Nis, inwhat is now Serbia, son of the commander Constantius Chlorus (laterConstantius I) and Helena (later Saint Helena), a camp follower.Constantius became co-emperor in 305. Constantine, who had shownmilitary talent in the East, joined his father in Britain in 306. Hewas popular with the troops, who proclaimed him emperor whenConstantius died later the same year. Over the next two decades,however, Constantine had to fight his rivals for the throne, and hedid not finally establish himself as sole ruler until 324. Following the example of his father and earlier 3rd-century emperors,Constantine in his early life was a solar henotheist, believing thatthe Roman sun god, Sol, was the visible manifestation of an invisible"Highest God" (summus deus), who was the principle behind theuniverse. This god was thought to be the companion of the Romanemperor. Constantine's adherence to this faith is evident from hisclaim of having had a vision of the sun god in 310 while in a grove ofApollo in Gaul. In 312, on the eve of a battle against Maxentius, hisrival in Italy, Constantine is reported to have dreamed that Christappeared to him and told him to inscribe the first two letters of hisname (XP in Greek) on the shields of his troops. The next day he issaid to have seen a cross superimposed on the sun and the words "inthis sign you will be the victor" (usually given in Latin, in hocsigno vinces). Constantine then defeated Maxentius at the Battle ofthe Milvian Bridge, near Rome. The Senate hailed the victor as saviorof the Roman people. Thus, Constantine, who had been a pagan solarworshiper, now looked upon the Christian deity as a bringer ofvictory. Persecution of the Christians was ended, and Constantine'sco-emperor, Licinius, joined him in issuing the Edict of Milan (313),which mandated toleration of Christians in the Roman Empire. Asguardian of Constantine's favored religion, the church was then givenlegal rights and large financial donations. Sole Ruler A struggle for power soon began between Licinius and Constantine, fromwhich Constantine emerged in 324 as a victorious Christian champion.Now emperor of both East and West, he began to implement importantadministrative reforms. The army was reorganized, and the separationof civil and military authority, begun by his predecessor, Diocletian,was completed. The central government was run by Constantine and hiscouncil, known as the sacrum consistorium. The Senate was given backthe powers that it had lost in the 3rd century, and new gold coins (solidi) wereissued, which remained the standard of exchange until the end of theByzantine Empire. Constantine intervened in ecclesiastical affairs to achieve unity; hepresided over the first ecumenical council of the church at Nicaea in325. He also began the building of Constantinople in 326 on the siteof ancient Greek Byzantium. The city was completed in 330 (laterexpanded), given Roman institutions, and beautified by ancient Greekworks of art. In addition, Constantine built churches in the HolyLand, where his mother (also a Christian) supposedly found the TrueCross on which Jesus was crucified. The emperor was baptized shortlybefore his death, on May 22, 337. Evaluation Constantine the Great unified a tottering empire, reorganized theRoman state, and set the stage for the final victory of Christianityat the end of the 4th century. Many modern scholars accept thesincerity of his religious conviction. His conversion was a gradualprocess; at first he probably associated Christ with the victorioussun god. By the time of the Council of Nicaea (325), however, he wascompletely Christian, but still tolerated paganism among his subjects.Although criticized by his enemies as a proponent of a crude and falsereligion, Constantine the Great strengthened the Roman Empire andensured its survival in the East. As the first emperor to rule in thename of Christ, he was a major figure in the foundation of medievalChristian Europe. More About Constantine The Great, Emperor Of Rome: Bapt. or Christ.: 22 May 337, Constantinople
Note: Constantius I, called Constantius Chlorus, Roman emperor (305-06). Hewa
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