Constantine the Great

Constantine the Great

(c. 280-337)

The man who made Christianity accept¬ able to Rome was born in Naissus in what later became Yugoslavia. Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus was the son of Constantius and Helena (who later became a saint of the Catholic Church). Constantine grew up amid the turmoil caused by the divi¬ sion of leadership within the Roman Empire; there were two augusti (rulers), each with a caesar (governor) who ruled the Eastern and Western Roman Empires. Since his father was one of the two caesars,Constantine was sent as a hostage to the court of the other cae¬sar, Galerius, a prac¬ tice that was designed to ensure peace.

Constantine served ably against the Persians in Galerius’ army. He then escaped from Galerius and joined his father in Gaul; the two went to Britain to fight the Piets. While they were there his father died, and Constantine was recognized as a new caesar.

Galerius accepted Constantine as caesar of the lands north of the Alps, but further politi¬ cal tumult led to a civil war by A.D. 308. Constantine married Fausta, the daughter of a former augusti named Maximian. He later had to fight his brother-in-law Maxentius, the son of Maximian and brother of Fausta, for the throne. Prior to meeting Maxentius, he experienced a vision in which he was told he would conquer under the sign of the Christian cross.

Constantine won the Battle of Milvian Bridge (312). He entered the imperial city of Rome in triumph. He took care to disband the elite Praetorian Guard, which for cen¬ turies had made and unmade emperors before him.As ruler of the Western Roman Empire, Constantine came into conflict with Licinius, who ruled the Eastern Roman Empire. The two men finally came to blows in A.D.323; Constantine won a battle near Adrianople (present-day Greece) and became sole ruler of the empire.

As emperor, Constantine reorgan¬ ized the Roman army. He recruited more cavalry troops and turned the army into more of a field force than a fortification- based one. The mobile troops he created allowed the empire to survive longer than it would have otherwise. Constantine also changed the imperial capital; he had the city of Constantinople built where Greece and Turkey meet.

Most importantly, Constantine changed imperial policy toward the Christian minority within the empire. The Edict of Milan (A.D. 313) abolished the official persecution of Christians. Constantine presided over the Council of Nicaea (a.D. 323) which estab¬ lished the official Nicaean Creed of the Church; it declared that God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit were inseparable from one another. All Christians who failed to follow this doctrine were labeled heretics. Constantine fully accepted Christianity him¬ self, just prior to his death.