Constantine: Biography and Notable Achievements

Constantine

Constantine the Great – the first Roman Emperor to endorse Christianity. Image source: museicapitolini.org

He was an ancient Roman ruler (emperor) who reigned from 306-337 AD. Constantine the Great, also called Constantine I, was very famous for his role in uniting Rome and contributing to the development of Christianity.

Birth

His date of birth is usually approximated to 27 February 272-284, at Naissus, Moesia (located in present-day Serbia). He was fathered by Flavius Valerius Constantius, who was a renowned Roman military man and later an emperor himself. Helena was the name of Constantine’s mother, even though it wasn’t confirmed whether she was officially married to Constantine’s father or not.

Early Life

Constantine’s father quit his relationship with Helena and went in for the stepdaughter of the emperor of Western Rome (Maximian). In 293 AD, after getting married to Maximian’s stepdaughter, he was promoted to the position of deputy emperor. Little Constantine was taken to a different royal kingdom in eastern Rome – the Diocletian’s kingdom, where he learned Greek and Latin. It has been speculated that Diocletian’s kingdom was the place where Constantine likely witnessed for himself Christian persecution.

Path to the Throne

When the ill and frail Maximian abdicated the throne in 305 AD, the imperial power was transferred to Constantius I (Constantine’s father). Following his dad’s ascendance to the throne, Constantine united with his father and assisted him to fight wars in Britain. A year later, Constantius died; and Constantine inherited the throne.

To defend his position, Constantine had to fight a lot of civil wars against other royal children such as Maxentius (a son of Maximian). Constantine was victorious in the battles. Eventually, he solely took charge of Western Rome as an emperor. Back at Eastern Rome, Constantine’s rival (Maximimus) also locked horns with Licinius. In the end, Licinius defeated Maximimus and became Emperor of Eastern Rome

Constantine Conquers East Rome

In 316, a battle over the Balkan territory was fought between Constantine and Licinius. Victory went to Constantine, but it did not end there. The war between the Eastern and Western emperors continued for years. Collectively, these wars were known as the “Tetrarchy Civil Wars.” They were some of the major battles fought by Constantine after he rose to power.

In the long run, one ruler lost his throne; that happened in 324 when Constantine defeated Licinius. He then combined powers of Eastern and Western Rome and reigned as the overall emperor.

Contributions to Christianity

Throughout Constantine’s reign, several developments, ranging from administrative, financial and religious reforms, were introduced to strengthen the Roman Empire. One notable achievement of Emperor Constantine was in Christianity. There is a short story about how and why Constantine became so attached to Christianity.

Power of Christianity/ Battle of Milvian Bridge

Around 303 AD, Christians were persecuted in the Diocletian kingdom. Growing up in East Rome, Constantine allegedly witnessed pagans do their own things. However, Christians were constantly suppressed. Many churches were destroyed, some Christians were arrested while others were executed.

Being a strong military leader, Constantine fought great battles with his father before succeeding him. He emerged victorious in battles against Samartians, Franks, Alamanni and the Visgoths. In October 312, Constantine’s soldiers clashed with Maxentius’ army. When the two rivals met at the Tiber River, his soldiers were outnumbered two times by the Maxentius forces.

According to popular legends, Constantine supposedly had an out-of-this-world night interaction with Jesus and was instructed to let his soldiers use the Christian Cross during the battle. Constantine and his soldiers obliged and used the cross. They miraculously emerged victoriously and were able to cross to Rome.  Their victory convinced Constantine to legalize Christianity while guaranteeing freedom of worship. This “Edict of Milan” he signed with Licinius was a big moment for Christians in Rome.

Founded the City of Constantinople

Following his victory over Licinius, Eastern Rome was integrated into the West as one empire ruled by Constantine. To serve as a new capital and a physical symbol of the unification of the east and west, the city of Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) was founded in Eastern Rome in 324 AD. It was put up at the Byzantium site. Constantinople became well-known for its security and attractive environments; it had water fountains and sports facilities to match its royal stature.

The Nicene Creed

Another great pillar of Christianity was founded in 325; Emperor Constantine held a meeting with the “Council of Nicaea”. This was the birthplace of the famous “Nice Creed”. The Nicene Creed shares similar views with St. Paul, backing the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Due to Constantine’s great contribution to Christianity and religion as a whole, Catholics, Anglicans, and Eastern Orthodox Churches highly revere him as a saint. Aside from being the first Roman emperor to sanction Christianity, he is credited with the establishment of the “Church of Holy Sepulchre” in Jerusalem.

Marriage Life

Constantine allegedly married or dated Minervina in 303. He and Minervina brought forth a son named Crispus. He left Minervina and got married to Fausta (daughter of Maximian).

In the 320s, Constantine killed Fausta and his first son Crispus. He also erased all their memories by removing their names from all inscriptions. Some accounts suggest that he likely executed them because of their immoral lives.

Death

After the celebration of Easter in 337 AD, Emperor Constantine was taken down by a severe illness. Many people believe that he got baptized and fully converted to Christianity while he was on his death bed. After failing to recover from his ailment, he tried to return to Constantinople, but his health condition didn’t allow him. Constantine passed away on 22nd May 337 AD, at Ancyrona, close to Nicomedia.

Due to the uncertainty surrounding Constantine’s date of birth, it has been approximated that he was probably 57-65 years at the time of his death. His Fausta-born three sons (Constans, Constantine II, and Constantius II) succeeded him.

Legacy

Constantine has been regarded by many people as a “paragon of virtue”. His war achievements is a tall list of victories on top of victories. Apart from his ability to unite the two empires (the East and West Rome), he tackled the religious crisis in ancient Rome by being the first ruler to legalize Christianity and then promote religious freedoms.

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