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What was Constantineâ€™s famous vision? How did it prove useful in his military campaign in Italy? How did he reward this sign of Godâ€™s favor? How could Constantine worship both the Sun and Christianity? Why is he seen as having â€œsyncretistic tendencies?â€ How was the emperor himself seen as a God? Did Constantine give the Christian church too much power? Why did he attend Church Councils? Assess Constantine as a reformer. Was he generous to the poor and to children? What were the reported circumstances of his death and how might they reflect his personal religious beliefs? use the description below:
His coins give his name as M., or more frequently as C., Flavius Valerius Constantinus. He was born at Naissus, now Nisch in Servia Nis, Serbia —Ed., the son of a Roman officer, Constantius, who later became Roman Emperor, and St. Helena, a woman of humble extraction but remarkable character and unusual ability. The dateof his birth is not certain, being given as early as 274 and as late as 288. After his father’s elevation to the dignity of Caesar we find him at the court of Diocletian and later (305) fighting under Galerius on the Danube. When, on the resignation of his father, Constantius was made Augustus, the new Emperor of the West asked Galerius, the Eastern Emperor, to let Constantine, whom he had not seen for a long time, return to his father’s court. This was reluctantly granted. Constantine joined his father, under whom he had just time to distinguish himself in Britain before death carried off Constantius (25 July, 306). Constantine was immediately proclaimed Caesar by his troops, and his title was acknowledged by Galerius somewhat hesitatingly. This event was the first break in Diocletian’s scheme of a four-headed empire (tetrarchy) and was soon followed by the proclamation in Rome of Maxentius, the son of Maximian, a tyrant and profligate, as Caesar, October, 306.
During the wars between Maxentius and the Emperors Severus and Galerius, Constantine remained inactive in his provinces. The attempt which the old Emperors Diocletian and Maximian made, at Carmentum in 307, to restore order in the empire having failed, the promotion of Licinius to the position of Augustus, the assumption of the imperial title by Maximinus Daia, and Maxentius’ claim to be sole emperor (April, 308), led to the proclamation of Constantine as Augustus. Constantine, having the most efficient army, was acknowledged as such by Galerius, who was fighting against Maximinus in the East, as well as by Licinius.
So far Constantine, who was at this time defending his own frontier against the Germans, had taken no part in the quarrels of the other claimants to the throne. But when, in 311, Galerius, the eldest Augustus and the most violent persecutor of the Christians, had died a miserable death, after cancelling his edicts against the Christians, and when Maxentius, after throwing down Constantine’s statues, proclaimed him a tyrant, the latter saw that war was inevitable. Though his army was far inferior to that of Maxentius, numbering according to various statements from 25,000 to 100,000 men, while Maxentius disposed of fully 190,000, he did not hesitate to march rapidly into Italy (spring of 312). After storming Susa and almost annihilating a powerful army near Turin, he continued his march southward. At Verona he met a hostile army under the prefect of Maxentius’ guard, Ruricius, who shut himself up in the fortress. While besieging the city Constantine, with a detachment of his army, boldly assailed a fresh force of the enemy coming to the relief of the besieged fortress and completely defeated it. The surrender of Veronawas the consequence. In spite of the overwhelming numbers of his enemy (an estimated 100,000 in Maxentius’ army against 20,000 in Constantine’s army) the emperor confidently marched forward to Rome. A vision had assured him that he should conquer in the sign of the Christ, and his warriors carried Christ’s monogramon their shields, though the majority of them were pagans. The opposing forces met near the bridge over the Tiber called the Milvian Bridge, and here Maxentius’ troops suffered a complete defeat, the tyrant himself losing his life in the Tiber (28 October, 312). Of his gratitude to the God of the Christians the victor immediately gave convincing proof; the Christian worship was henceforth tolerated throughout the empire (Edict of Milan, early in 313). His enemies he treated with the greatest magnanimity; no bloody executions followed the victory of the Milvian Bridge. Constantine stayed in Rome but a short time after his victory. Proceeding to Milan(end of 312, or beginning of 313) he met his colleague the Augustus Licinius, marriedhis sister to him, secured his protection for the Christians in the East, and promised him support against Maximinus Daia. The last, a bigoted pagan and a cruel tyrant, who persecuted the Christians even after Galerius’ death, was now defeated by Licinius, whose soldiers, by his orders, had invoked the God of the Christians on the battle-field (30 April, 313). Maximinus, in his turn, implored the God of the Christians, but died of a painful disease in the following autumn.
Of all Diocletian’s tetrarchs Licinius was now the only survivor. His treachery soon compelled Constantine to make war on him. Pushing forward with his wonted impetuosity, the emperor struck him a decisive blow at Cibalae (8 October, 314). But Licinius was able to recover himself, and the battle fought between the two rivals at Castra Jarba (November, 314) left the two armies in such a position that both parties thought it best to make peace. For ten years the peace lasted, but when, about 322, Licinius, not content with openly professing paganism, began to persecute the Christians, while at the same time he treated with contempt Constantine’s undoubted rights and privileges, the outbreak of war was certain, and Constantine gathered an army of 125,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry, besides a fleet of 200 vessels to gain control of the Bosporus. Licinius, on the other hand, by leaving the eastern boundaries of the empire undefended succeeded in collecting an even more numerous army, made up of 150,000 infantry and 15,000 cavalry, while his fleet consisted of no fewer than 350 ships. The opposing armies met at Adrianople, 3 July, 324, and Constantine’s well-disciplined troops defeated and put to flight the less disciplined forces of Licinius. Licinius strengthened the garrison of Byzantium so that an attack seemed likely to result in failure and the only hope of taking the fortress lay in a blockade and famine. This required the assistance of Constantine’s fleet, but his opponent’s ships barred the way. A sea fight at the entrance to the Dardanelles was indecisive, and Constantine’s detachment retired to Elains, where it joined the bulk of his fleet. When the fleet of the Licinian admiral Abantus pursued on the following day, it was overtaken by a violent storm which destroyed 130 ships and 5000 men. Constantine crossed the Bosporus, leaving a sufficient corps to maintain the blockade of Byzantium, and overtook his opponent’s main body at Chrysopolis, near Chalcedon. Again he inflicted on him a crushing defeat, killing 25,000 men and scattering the greater part of the remainder. Licinius with 30,000 men escaped to Nicomedia. But he now saw that further resistance was useless. He surrendered at discretion, and his noble-hearted conqueror spared his life. But when, in the following year (325), Licinius renewed his treacherous practices he was condemned to death by the Roman Senate and executed.
Henceforth, Constantine was sole master of the Roman Empire. Shortly after the defeat of Licinius, Constantine determined to make Constantinople the future capital of the empire, and with his usual energy he took every measure to enlarge, strengthen, and beautify it. For the next ten years of his reign he devoted himself to promoting the moral, political, and economical welfare of his possessions and made dispositions for the future government of the empire. While he placed his nephews, Dalmatius and Hannibalianus in charge of lesser provinces, he designated his sons Constantius, Constantine, and Constans as the future rulers of the empire. Not long before his end, the hostile movement of the Persian king, ShÃ¢pÃ»r, again summoned him into the field. When he was about to march against the enemy he was seized with an illness of which he died in May, 337, after receiving baptism.
Constantine can rightfully claim the title of Great, for he turned the history of the world into a new course and made Christianity, which until then had suffered bloody persecution, the religion of the State. It is true that the deeper reasons for this change are to be found in the religious movement of the time, but these reasons were hardly imperative, as the Christians formed only a small portion of the population, being a fifth part in the West and the half of the population in a large section of the East. Constantine’s decision depended less on general conditions than on a personal act; his personality, therefore, deserves careful consideration.
Long before this, belief in the old polytheism had been shaken; in more stolid natures, as Diocletian, it showed its strength only in the form of superstition, magic, and divination. The world was fully ripe for monotheism or its modified form, henotheism, but this monotheism offered itself in varied guises, under the forms of various Oriental religions: in the worship of the sun, in the veneration of Mithras, in Judaism, and in Christianity. Whoever wished to avoid making a violent break with the past and his surroundings sought out some Oriental form of worship which did not demand from him too severe a sacrifice; in such cases Christianity naturally came last. Probably many of the more noble-minded recognized the truth contained in Judaism and Christianity, but believed that they could appropriate it without being obliged on that account to renounce the beauty of other worships. Such a man was the Emperor Alexander Severus; another thus minded was Aurelian, whose opinions were confirmed by Christians like Paul of Samosata. Not only Gnostics and other heretics, but Christians who considered themselves faithful, held in a measure to the worship of the sun. Leo the Great in his day says that it was the custom of many Christians to stand on the steps of the church of St. Peter and pay homage to the sun by obeisance and prayers (cf. Euseb. Alexand. in Mai, “Nov. Patr. Bibl.”, 11, 523; Augustine, Enarration on Psalm 10; Leo I, Sermon 26). When such conditionsprevailed it is easy to understand that many of the emperors yielded to the delusion that they could unite all their subjects in the adoration of the one sun-god who combined in himself the Father-God of the Christians and the much-worshipped Mithras; thus the empire could be founded anew on unity of religion. Even Constantine, as will be shown farther on, for a time cherished this mistaken belief. It looks almost as though the last persecutions of the Christians were directed more against all irreconcilables and extremists than against the great body of Christians. The policy of the emperors was not a consistent one; Diocletian was at first friendly towards Christianity; even its grimmest foe, Julian, wavered. Caesar Constantius, Constantine’s father, protected the Christians during a most cruel persecution.
Constantine grew up under the influence of his father’s ideas. He was the son of Constantius Chlorus by his first, informal marriage, called concubinatus, with Helena, a woman of inferior birth. For a short time Constantine had been compelled to stay at the court of Galerius, and had evidently not received a good impression from his surroundings there. When Diocletian retired, Constantius advanced from the position of Caesar to that of Augustus, and the army, against the wishes of the other emperors, raised the young Constantine to the vacant position. Right here was seen at once how unsuccessful would be the artificial system of division of the empire and succession to the throne by which Diocletian sought to frustrate the overweening power of the Praetorian Guard. Diocletian’s personality is full of contradictions; he was just as crude in his religious feelings as he was shrewd and far-seeing in state affairs; a man of autocratic nature, but one who, under certain circumstances, voluntarily set bounds to himself. He began a reconstruction of the empire, which Constantine completed. The existence of the empire was threatened by many serious evils, the lack of national and religious unity, its financial and military weakness. Consequently the system of taxation had to be accommodated to the revived economic barter system. The taxes bore most heavily on the peasants, the peasant communities, and the landed proprietors; increasingly heavy compulsory service was also laid on those engaged in industrial pursuits, and they were therefore combined into state guilds. The army was strengthened, the troops on the frontier being increased to 360,000 men. In addition, the tribes living on the frontiers were taken into the pay of the State as allies, many cities were fortified, and new fortresses and garrisons were established, bringing soldiers and civilians more into contact, contrary to the old Roman axiom. When a frontier was endangered the household troops took the field. This body of soldiers, known as palatini, comitatenses, which had taken the place of the Praetorian Guard, numbered not quite 200,000 men (sometimes given as 194,500). A good postal service maintained constant communication between the different parts of the empire. The civil and military administration were, perhaps, somewhat more sharply divided than before, but an equally increased importance was laid on the military capacity of all state officials. Service at court was termed militia, “military service”. Over all, like to a god, was enthroned the emperor, and the imperial dignity was surrounded by a halo, a sacredness, a ceremonial, which was borrowed from the Oriental theocracies. The East from the earliest times had been a favourable soil for theocratic government; each ruler was believed by his people to be in direct communication with the godhead, and the law of the State was regarded as revealed law. In the same manner the emperors allowed themselves to be veneratedas holy oracles and deities, and everything connected with them was called sacred. Instead of imperial, the word sacred had now always to be used. A large court-retinue, elaborate court-ceremonials, and an ostentatious court-costume made access to the emperor more difficult. Whoever wished to approach the head of the State must first pass through many ante-rooms and prostrate himself before the emperor as before a divinity. As the old Roman population had no liking for such ceremonial, the emperors showed a constantly increasing preference for the East, where monotheism held almost undisputed sway, and where, besides, economic conditionswere better. Rome was no longer able to control the whole of the great empire with its peculiar civilizations.
In all directions new and vigorous national forces began to show themselves. Only two policies were possible: either to give way to the various national movements, or to take a firm stand on the foundation of antiquity, to revive old Roman principles, the ancient military severity, and the patriotism of Old Rome. Several emperors had tried to follow this latter course, but in vain. It was just as impossible to bring men back to the old simplicity as to make them return to the old pagan beliefs and to the national form of worship. Consequently, the empire had to identify itself with the progressive movement, employ as far as possible the existing resources of national life, exercise tolerance, make concessions to the new religious tendencies, and receive the Germanic tribes into the empire. This conviction constantly spread, especially as Constantine’s father had obtained good results therefrom. In Gaul, Britain, and Spain, where Constantius Chlorus ruled, peace and contentment prevailed, and the prosperity of the provinces visibly increased, while in the Eastprosperity was undermined by the existing confusion and instability. But it was especially in the western part of the empire that the veneration of Mithraspredominated. Would it not be possible to gather all the different nationalities around his altars? Could not Sol Deus Invictus, to whom even Constantine dedicated his coins for a long time, or Sol Mithras Deus Invictus, venerated by Diocletian and Galerius, become the supreme god of the empire? Constantine may have pondered over this. Nor had he absolutely rejected the thought even after a miraculous event had strongly influenced him in favour of the God of the Christians.
In deciding for Christianity he was no doubt also influenced by reasons of conscience–reasons resulting from the impression made on every unprejudiced person both by the Christians and by the moral force of Christianity, and from the practical knowledge which the emperors had of the Christian military officers and state officials. These reasons are, however, not mentioned in history, which gives the chief prominence to a miraculous event. Before Constantine advanced against his rival Maxentius, according to ancient custom he summoned the haruspices, who prophesied disaster; so reports a pagan panegyrist. But when the gods would not aid him, continues this writer, one particular god urged him on, for Constantine had close relations with the divinity itself. Under what