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  1. Constantine I (27 February c. 272 – 22 May 337), also known as Constantine the Great, was a Roman emperor from AD 306 to 337 and the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity.

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    • Overview
    • Career and conversion

    Constantine reigned during the 4th century CE and is known for attempting to Christianize the Roman Empire. He made the persecution of Christians illegal by signing the Edict of Milan in 313 and helped spread the religion by bankrolling church-building projects, commissioning new copies of the Bible, and summoning councils of theologians to hammer out the religion’s doctrinal kinks. Constantine was also responsible for a series of important secular reforms that ranged from reorganizing the Roman Empire’s currency system to restructuring Rome’s armed forces. His crowning achievement was his dedication of Constantinople as his new imperial capital in 330.

    Read more below: Legacy

    Edict of Milan

    Read more about the Edict of Milan.

    What was Constantine’s relationship with Christianity?

    Some have argued that Constantine’s conversion to Christianity was politically motivated. At least openly, Constantine ascribed much of his political success to the grace of a Christian God, even claiming to have won a battle because of a divinely sourced vision he had received beforehand. He played a major role in spreading Christianity by legalizing its practice and fiscally supporting the church’s activities. He made one of his largest contributions to the faith by summoning the Councils of Arles (314) and Nicaea (325), which guided church doctrine for centuries afterward. He wasn’t baptized until right before his death in 337.

    Constantine’s experience as a member of the imperial court—a Latin-speaking institution—in the Eastern provinces left a lasting imprint on him. Educated to less than the highest literary standards of the day, he was always more at home in Latin than in Greek: later in life he had the habit of delivering edifying sermons, which he would compose in Latin and pronounce in Greek from professional translations. Christianity he encountered in court circles as well as in the cities of the East; and from 303, during the great persecution of the Christians that began at the court of Diocletian at Nicomedia and was enforced with particular intensity in the eastern parts of the empire, Christianity was a major issue of public policy. It is even possible that members of Constantine’s family were Christians.

    In 305 the two emperors, Diocletian and Maximian, abdicated, to be succeeded by their respective deputy emperors, Galerius and Constantius. The latter were replaced by Galerius Valerius Maximinus in the East and Flavius Valerius Severus in the West, Constantine being passed over. Constantius requested his son’s presence from Galerius, and Constantine made his way through the territories of the hostile Severus to join his father at Gesoriacum (modern Boulogne, France). They crossed together to Britain and fought a campaign in the north before Constantius’s death at Eboracum (modern York) in 306. Immediately acclaimed emperor by the army, Constantine then threw himself into a complex series of civil wars in which Maxentius, the son of Maximian, rebelled at Rome; with his father’s help, Maxentius suppressed Severus, who had been proclaimed Western emperor by Galerius and who was then replaced by Licinius. When Maximian was rejected by his son, he joined Constantine in Gaul, only to betray Constantine and to be murdered or forced to commit suicide (310). Constantine, who in 307 had married Maximian’s daughter Fausta as his second wife, invaded Italy in 312 and after a lightning campaign defeated his brother-in-law Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge near Rome. He then confirmed an alliance that he had already entered into with Licinius (Galerius having died in 311): Constantine became Western emperor and Licinius shared the East with his rival Maximinus. Licinius defeated Maximinus and became the sole Eastern emperor but lost territory in the Balkans to Constantine in 316. After a further period of tension, Constantine attacked Licinius in 324, routing him at Adrianople and Chrysopolis (respectively, modern Edirne and Üsküdar, Turkey) and becoming sole emperor of East and West.

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    Throughout his life, Constantine ascribed his success to his conversion to Christianity and the support of the Christian God. The triumphal arch erected in his honour at Rome after the defeat of Maxentius ascribed the victory to the “inspiration of the Divinity” as well as to Constantine’s own genius. A statue set up at the same time showed Constantine himself holding aloft a cross and the legend “By this saving sign I have delivered your city from the tyrant and restored liberty to the Senate and people of Rome.” After his victory over Licinius in 324, Constantine wrote that he had come from the farthest shores of Britain as God’s chosen instrument for the suppression of impiety, and in a letter to the Persian king Shāpūr II he proclaimed that, aided by the divine power of God, he had come to bring peace and prosperity to all lands.

    Constantine’s adherence to Christianity was closely associated with his rise to power. He fought the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in the name of the Christian God, having received instructions in a dream to paint the Christian monogram () on his troops’ shields. This is the account given by the Christian apologist Lactantius. A somewhat different version, offered by Eusebius, tells of a vision seen by Constantine during the campaign against Maxentius, in which the Christian sign appeared in the sky with the legend “In this sign, conquer.” Despite the emperor’s own authority for the account, given late in life to Eusebius, it is in general more problematic than the other, but a religious experience on the march from Gaul is suggested also by a pagan orator, who in a speech of 310 referred to a vision of Apollo received by Constantine at a shrine in Gaul.

  3. Apr 19, 2013 · Constantine I, aka Constantine the Great, was Roman emperor from 306 to 337 CE. Realizing that the Roman Empire was too large for one man to adequately rule, Emperor Diocletian (284-305 CE) split the empire into two, creating a tetrachy or rule of four.

    • Donald L. Wasson
  4. Apr 2, 2014 · Constantine I was a Roman emperor who ruled early in the 4th century. He was the first Christian emperor and saw the empire begin to become a Christian state.

  5. During the reign of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great (306–337 AD), Christianity began to transition to the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. Historians remain uncertain about Constantine's reasons for favoring Christianity, and theologians and historians have often argued about which form of early Christianity he subscribed to.

  6. Dec 7, 2022 · Constantine the Great was one of the most important Roman emperors whose policies and choices reshaped not only the Roman Empire but also our world.

  7. Constantine became the first Christian Roman Emperor and founder of Constantinople, which brought about the beginning of the East Roman Empire known today as Byzantium. Constantine's exposure to imperial life began early when he was taken to the court of Diocletian.

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