Constantine I in Roman Biography
Con'stan-tine, [Lat. Constanti'nus ; Gr. Kuvaruvtwoc
; Fr. Constantin, k6N'st6.N'taN' ; Ger. Constantin,
kon-stan-teen'; It. Constantino, kon-stan-tee'no;
Dutch, Konstantijn, kon-stan-tin',] (Flavius Valerius
Aurelius,) surnamed the Great, the first Christian
emperor of Rome, born in 272 A.D., was the son of
the emperor Constantius Chlorus and his wife Helena.
Before his accession, his talents, courage, and martial services
had rendered him a favourite of the army, and an
object of jealousy to Galerius, one of the two emperors
then reigning. He was at York when his father died
there, in July, 306, and was proclaimed emperor by the
legions under his command. Galerius accorded to him
only the title of Caesar, and conferred the rank of Augustus
on his own son, Severus. At Rome, Maxentius
and his father Maximim, in the absence of Galerius,
raised a successful revolt, (307,) after which six emperors
and Caesars at one time ruled the provinces of Rome.
About 307 Constantine married Fausta, daughter of
Maximian ; but a war soon ensued between these emperors,
and Maximian, having been defeated, was put to
death in 309. Galerius died in 311, after which Licinius
and Maximin remained masters of the provinces east of
Italv. In 312, Constantine, who reigned in Gaul, marched
against Maxentius, who was defeated and killed near
Rome in that year. About this time, according to tradition,
he was converted to Christianity by a miraculous
vision, in which he saw in the heavens the sign of a cross,
with this inscription, "Thou shalt conquer by *.his sign,"
(" In hoc signo vinces.")
Having obtained undisputed supremacy over the West,
including Italy and Africa, he began to favour more
openly the Christians, and displayed wisdom in the
promotion of order and prosperity among his subjects.
In 314 he fought in Thrace an indecisive battle against
Licinius, his only remaining rival, and then made a
peace, which lasted nine years. During this period he
was employed in political reforms, and adopted a more
humane code of laws, by which Christianity was recognized
as the religion of the state, but the pagan worship
was still tolerated.
In 323 he gained a complete victory over Licinius
near Adrianople, and another opposite Byzantium, after
which he was the sole emperor. He assembled at Nicaea
in 325 the first general council, in which Arianism was
condemned and a famous Catholic creed was adopted.
In the next year he was guilty of an act which has left
a deep stain on his memory, the execution of his eldest
son, Crispus, falsely accused of a crime by Fausta, who
was his step-mother. About 328 he transferred his court
to Byzantium, which he enlarged, and the name of which
he changed to Constantinople,-"City of Constantine."
The duration of the Eastern Empire so many centuries
after the fall of the Western seems to approve the wisdom
of his policy in this affair. A few years before hi* death
he favoured the Arians, and recalled some banished
bishops of that party. He died at Nicomedia 111337 A.D.,
having divided the empire between his three sons, Constantine,
Constantius, and Constans. His character is
variously estimated ; but it is admitted that he had many
of the qualities of a great statesman and general. He
was far from being a saint, and in the opinion of Niebuhr
was not even a Christian, though he permitted himself
to be baptized just before his death.
See Gibbon, "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire ;" Euse-
BIUS, "Vita Constantini ;" Vogt, "Historia Constantini Magni,"
1720; Tii.i.k.mont, "Histoire des Empereurs ;" Joseph Fletcher,
"Life of Constantine the Great," 1S52 ; J. C. F. Manso,
Constantin's des Grossen," 1817; Jakob Burckhardt, "Die Zeit
Constantin's des Grossen," 1853.
Read More about Constantine I in Roman Biography