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Constantine I the Great

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Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus (27 February 272, Naissus, Moesia — 22 May 337, Nicomedia) was a Roman emperor. After his father's death in 306 ad, was proclaimed army by Augustus, after his victory over Maxentius in 312 at the battle Pulviscolo bridge over litsiniy 324 became the sole ruler of the Roman state; made Christianity the dominant religion in 330 moved the capital of the state in the city of New Rome, later renamed Constantinople, organized the new state system.

The name of Constantine I is associated with the final establishment of the dominant system in the Roman Empire , that is, the unlimited power of the emperor. The monarch began to enjoy unprecedented honors. Constantine is revered by some Christian churches as a saint in the face of the Equal-to-the-Apostles (Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Tsar Constantine). At the same time, the Roman Catholic Church did not include his name in the list of its saints for a long time, but after the Union of Brest, the name of Constantine was included in the list of saints of the Catholic Church, he is currently venerated as a saint in the face of equal-to-the-Apostles, commemorated on May 21 or June 3 in churches using the Eastern rite.

Constantine himself converted to Christianity only on his deathbed.

Emperor Constantine I, 4th century AD

Before taking the title of Emperor

In 285, the Emperor Diocletian approved a new system of governance for the empire, according to which not one, but four rulers were in power at once, two of whom were called Augustus (senior emperors), and the other two Caesars (junior). It was assumed that after 20 years of rule, the Augustans would abdicate in favor of the Caesars, who, in turn, would also appoint their successors. In the same year, Diocletian chose Maximian as his co-ruler, while giving him control of the western part of the empire, and keeping the east for himself. In 293, the Augustans chose their successors. One of them was Constantine's father, Constantius, who was then prefect of Gaul, and the other was replaced by Galerius, who later became one of the most severe persecutors of Christians. In 305, 20 years after the establishment of the tetrarchy, both Augustus resigned and Constantius I Chlorus and Galerius became full rulers of the empire (the first in the west, and the second in the east). By this time Constantius was already very weak in health and his co-ruler hoped for his early death. Sensing the approach of death, Constantius wished to see his son Constantine, who was at this moment, almost as a hostage, in the capital of eastern Augustus Nicomedia. Galerius did not want to let Constantine go to his father, because he was afraid that the soldiers would declare him Augustus, which was not part of the emperor's plans. He wanted to subjugate the entire empire by replacing Constantius with his henchman Flavius Severus. Galerius initially allowed him to go to his father, but quickly changed his mind and ordered to stop Constantine, but Constantine had already gone to Britain to visit his father. The army proclaimed Constantine emperor after the death of his father Constantius I in 306 near Eborac (modern York, Great Britain).

Willy-nilly, Galerius had to accept this, but under the pretext that Constantine was still too young, he recognized him only as Caesar. He appointed Severus Augustus. Formally, Constantine held the position of subordinate to Flavius Severus, but in reality this was not the case. In Gaul, where Constantine resided, there were legions personally devoted to him, and the people of the province, thanks to the gentle and just policy of his father, trusted him. Flavius Severus did not have such a solid foundation.

The Reign of Constantine

After becoming the absolute ruler of the empire, Constantine continued Diocletian's policy of securing free farmers for their land, while taxes were greatly increased, as the state needed funds to restore the empire after 20 years of civil wars. In addition, Konstantin developed a rapid construction activity, which also required additional costs. The state was divided by Constantine into 4 districts: the East, Illyria, Italy and Gaul, which were divided into smaller administrative units — dioceses. He also established the Imperial Council of State, the Consistory. Under Constantine, further barbarization of the army continued.

Also, Constantine in 314-324 carried out a monetary reform, which was an improvement on the monetary reform carried out in 296 by the Emperor Diocletian.

At the beginning of his reign, Constantine, like all previous emperors, was a pagan. On the question of the reasons for the adoption of Christianity, there are different versions:

According to the version of Eusebius of Caesarea, during the war with Maxentius, Constantine saw Christ in a dream, who ordered the Greek lettersΡΡ to be inscribed on the shields and banners of his army, and the next day Constantine saw a vision of a cross in the sky and heard a voice saying: "Thus win!". This banner led Constantine to victory at the battle of the Mulvian Bridge and converted him to a new faith.

According to the fifth-century Byzantine historian Zosimus, the anti-Christian author of the New History, the conversion to the new religion was caused by Constantine's desire to avoid the gods ' revenge for the murder of his wife and son. While still emperor, Constantine killed his young wife Fausta and his son Crispus from a previous marriage, suspecting them of having an affair. Tormented by his conscience, Constantine feared the vengeance of the gods of Olympus, similar to that which befell the mythical king Tantalus for such a crime. The pagan priests who were summoned to the council unanimously came to the conclusion that such a crime could not be atoned for. An exception was made by a follower of Christianity, who assured the emperor that the Christian God forgives even the most serious sins. According to Zosimus, this circumstance was the reason for the abolition of Diocletian's policy, which put an end to the persecution of Christians and the adoption of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire.

Constantine the Great brings the City as a gift to the Mother of God. Mosaic over the entrance to the Hagia Sophia

In any case, Constantine insisted on accepting religious freedom (see the Edict of Milan). Christianity began to acquire the status of a state religion: by an edict of 313 addressed to Anulinus, proconsul of Africa, he exempted from taxes and duties "the clergy of the Catholic Church in which Caecilian presides", in the same year 313, he called a council in Rome under the presidency of Pope Melchiades to resolve the dispute between the donatists and the bishop of Carthage Caecilian. The council decided against the Donatists, who appealed to Constantine; as a result, by his decree, the Donatist bishops were sentenced to exile, and their churches were confiscated.

The edict of 313 on exemption from taxes of the church of Caecilian was continued by the law of 319, by which he exempted churches and clergy from taxes and public duties. The Law of 321 established the right of churches to acquire and own real estate. Christian churches were built all over the empire, sometimes pagan temples were dismantled for their construction, and a number of famous pagan temples were destroyed at the behest of Constantine.

By granting Christianity a special status and supporting the church, Constantine actively intervened in church affairs, seeking the unity of the catholic (from Greek καθολικὴ — universal) church as a condition for the unity of the empire and acting as an arbitrator in inter-church disputes. When a trinitarian dispute broke out between the Alexandrian priest Arius and Bishop Alexander, which threatened to split the church, Constantine called the Council of Nicaea in 325, at which he supported Alexander's supporters against the Arians. At the same council, Constantine declared to the bishops, " You are bishops of the internal affairs of the church, and I am the bishop of external affairs appointed by God." των εϊσω της εκκλησίας и των εκτός). Arianism was condemned at the council, and Arius and a number of Arian bishops were exiled by the decrees of Constantine. Subsequently, Constantine supported Arianism, and Athanasius the Great was condemned by the Council of Tyre.

Around the year 332, Constantine issued an edict on the destruction of pagan temples, which, apparently, was not carried out.

Constantine was baptized before his death by the Arian bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia, but he himself deviated from the Arian teaching, after which looting of churches and ecclesiastical discord began.

By the fourth century, the city of Rome had ceased to be the seat of the emperors. In the face of the constant danger of external invasion, the ruler had to be closer to the borders of the empire. From this point of view, the location of the capital was inconvenient. Therefore, starting with Diocletian, the emperors located their residences in cities that were more suitable for the strategic purposes of state defense. Such places were Trier in Germany, Nicomedia in Asia Minor, Aquileia and Milan in Northern Italy. Constantine was no exception to this rule. He visited Rome for the first time after defeating Maxentius, but only twice afterwards. Constantine was inspired by the dream of creating a new capital that would symbolize the beginning of a new era in the history of Rome. The basis for the future of the city was the ancient Greek city of Byzantium, located on the European coast of the Bosphorus. The old city was expanded and surrounded by impregnable fortress walls. A hippodrome and many temples, both Christian and pagan, are being built in it. Works of art were brought to Byzantium from all over the empire: paintings and sculptures. Construction began in 324 and 6 years later, on May 11, 330, Constantine officially moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium and named it New Rome (Greek: New Rome). VέΑ ῬώΜη, Lat. Nova Roma), but this name was soon forgotten and already during the life of the emperor the city began to be called Constantinople.

In the early summer of 326, Constantine's son Crispus (Flavius Julius Crispus) was captured and executed by order of his father, the emperor, along with him, Constantine executed his nephew, the young Licinianus. The reasons for this are not known for certain. This was probably due to the lies of Crispus ' stepmother Fausta, who tried to clear the way for her sons to the throne.: she accused Crisp of trying to rape her, and bribed several senators to confirm it. But a month after the execution of his son, Konstantin, apparently revealing his wife's deception, ordered her to be locked up in a bathhouse, where she suffocated from the heat. According to Eutropius, Constantine executed many of his friends during this time.

Roman Empire under Constantine I

The last years of Constantine's reign

On July 5, 328, the emperor personally opens the "Constantine Bridge" over the Danube at Sucidava in Dacia, which was the longest river bridge of antiquity. Its total length was 2,437 meters, of which 1,137 meters passed over the Danube. The bridge was 5.7 meters wide and 10 meters high above the river level. Constantine's plans included the return of Dacia, which had been abandoned as early as 271 under the Emperor Aurelian.

In 332, Constantine waged a joint war with the Sarmatians against the Goths. The Visigoths, led by Ariaric, left Oium and advanced into Sarmatian territory in Dacia. The Sarmatians asked Constantine for help, and on April 20, 332, a Roman army led by his son Constantine II defeated the Barbarians, killing "starvation and cold" about 100,000 barbarians. In 334, the Sarmatians stage a coup against their leaders, and then Constantine starts a war with the Sarmatians. After defeating their forces, Constantine resettles some of the survivors in Illyria as peasants, and takes others to join his army. The barbarians who settled in certain lands, known as kolons, became the prototype of serfs, since they had no right to leave the land they cultivated. In 336, Constantine receives the title Dacicus maximus.

After his success in Dacia, Constantine plans to start a war with Sasanian Persia. In 338, the Treaty of Nisibis ended and both countries were preparing for war. Constantine writes a letter to Shikhinshah Shapur II, in which he speaks of his patronage of Persian Christians and demands an end to the oppression that began after Rome adopted Christianity as the official religion. Constantine planned to be baptized in the Jordan River before entering Persia, but he fell ill in the spring of 337.

Apparently aware of his imminent demise, Constantine secretly prepared a place for his burial in the Church of the Holy Apostles. But after Easter 337, he felt worse and went to Elenopolis to use the baths. At first he was treated in the baths of Nicomedia, then resorted to the hot springs of Drepan, after which he settled in his capital villa Ancyrona, where he called several Arian bishops, including Eusebius of Nicomedia, for baptism. Having gathered the bishops, he confessed that he had dreamed of being baptized in the waters of the Jordan, but by the will of God he accepts it here. But, feeling worse, Constantine ordered to be transported to Nicomedia, where he was baptized by Eusebius of Nicomedia on May 22, 337. After his death, Constantine the Great was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles.


Constantine can be called the first Christian emperor, during which there was a turning point in the life of Christians. Paganism faded into the background. Christian historians, who admired his deeds, call him Constantine the Great, but no matter how powerful the emperor was, he could not stop the decline of the empire. Further history of the Roman Empire is considered as "Christian". Under him, the capital was the city of Byzantium, later renamed Constantinople.

Related topics

The Roman Empire, The Emperors of Rome, Dominant, Diocletian