Constantine the Great

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Roman Daily Life

Constantine the Great was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity. He ruled from 306 C.E. until his death in 337 C.E. Constantine the Great was responsible for giving new life to the city of Byzantium, which is present-day Istanbul, Turkey.

During his reign known as New Rome, Constantine the Great renamed the city to Constantinople and made the city the new capital of the Roman Empire.

Early childhood

Constantine the Great was born Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus during 272 C.E. in the city of Naissus in present-day Serbia. His father was named Flavius Valerius Constantius. He was an important person when Roman Emperor Diocletian ruled the Roman Empire. His father became second in command to the emperor in 293 C.E. Constantine’s mother was named Helena from Greece.

Constantine the Great was raised within the court of Diocletian. Many historians believe the Roman Emperor Diocletian held Constantine hostage at a young age to ensure his father’s loyalty to the emperor.

Constantine was well educated as a child. He learned how to read and write in Latin and Greek. He studied everything like mythology, theater, and Greek philosophy.

Military career

Constantine joined the Roman army in the east at a young age. He rose through the ranks of the army quickly. Constantine the Great received many tributes for his services in the Roman army.

Constantine the Great marched against the barbarians along the Danube in 296 C.E. then the Persian in Syria with Diocletian at the lead. In 305 C.E., Constantine had risen to highest position known as tribune of the first order.

Emperor Diocletian had split the Roman Empire into the East and West during his reign. In 305, C.E. Diocletian gave the eastern empire to Galerius and the western empire to Constantius. Constantine’s father was made Caesar of the west.

Galerius remained in the east, where Constantine was stationed. Galerius had viewed Constantine and his father as threats. After gaining control of the east, Galerius tried several times to kill Constantine. Eventually, Constantine was able to join his father in the west around 306 C.E.

Once in Britannia with his father, Constantine joined his father on campaign north of Hadrian’s Wall. His father became ill and made Constantine the Caesar of the west before he died. Because of his military experience, the forces commanded by his father in Gaul and Britannia accepted Constantine. But the troops in Hispania did not. Galerius was not happy with Constantine’s appointment but would eventually declare Constantine Augustus of the west.

Early reign

Constantine ruled over Britain, Hispania, and Gaul during his early days. He had a large army stationed along the frontier of the Rhine River. He started to repair roads and military outposts in the region.

Constantine conquered many new territories that enlarged his portion of the Roman Empire in the west. Another thing Constantine did was to stop the persecution of Christians.

In 311, C.E. Galerius passed away. Civil war broke out in the Roman Empire. Maxentius, who lived in Rome, made himself the new Roman Emperor. This upset Constantine, and he marched with troops on Maxentius.

Constantine was near Rome in 312 C.E., ready to fight against Maxentius. His army was half the size of Maxentius’ army. The night before the battle, Constantine had a dream about across.

He made his troops paint the Christian Cross on their shields before the battle. Constantine was then victorious at the Battle of Milvian Bridge.

After he entered Rome, Constantine sought peace with Licinius, who ruled the Eastern Roman Empire. They agreed that Constantine would rule the west, and Licinius ruled the east. In 313 C.E., the two emperors signed the Edict of Milan, which made the persecution of Christians illegal within the Roman Empire.

During 320, C.E. Licinius started to persecute Christians in the east again. This angered Constantine. He marched on Licinius and would defeat him in 324 C.E.

Now Constantine was the sole ruler of the Roman Empire. On his return to Rome, he constructed the Arch of Constantine to commemorate the victory.

Ruler of the Roman Empire

While Constantine was the sole Roman Emperor, he was a fair leader. He constructed numerous buildings in Rome, improved infrastructure of the empire, and he constructed the Circus Maximus and a large basilica inside the Forum. Constantine also made Christianity the main religion of the Roman Empire.

Another thing Constantine did as emperor was to move the capital from Rome to Constantinople. In 330 C.E., he converted the city of Byzantium to the capital and renamed the city to Constantinople. The city would later become the capital of the Byzantine Empire.

Death of Constantine the Great

Constantine the Great died in 337 C.E. Upon his death bed; he converted to Christianity. His body was laid to rest inside the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople.

Important facts about Constantine the Great

  • His real name is Flavius Valerius Constantinus. He was born in 272 C.E. in present-day Serbia. His father was a powerful man for Roman Emperor Diocletian. His mother was Greek.
  • Constantine was well educated as a child within the imperial court of Diocletian. He learned how to read and write in Latin and Greek.
  • Constantine rose to power through the Roman army. He was a good commander. He fought alongside Diocletian. His father was made Caesar of the Western Roman Empire by Diocletian.
  • He joined his father in Britannia and helped fight against barbarians north of Hadrian’s Wall. Upon the death of his father, Constantine was made Caesar of the west.
  • He fought a civil war against Maxentius when Galerius died. Constantine had a dream about the Christian Cross and had his soldiers paint the cross on their shields before the battle. He was victorious at the Battle of Milvian Bridge.
  • Constantine became the sole emperor of Rome with the defeat of Licinius in 324 C.E.
  • Constantine stopped the persecution of Christians in Rome. He made Christianity the main religion of the Roman Empire.
  • He moved the capital from Rome to a new city named Constantinople in 330 C.E.

Questions

Who was the Roman Emperor that split the Roman Empire into the west and east?
Diocletian

What position did Constantine’s father hold under Diocletian?
Caesar of the west

What sign did Constantine have his soldiers paint on their shield before the Battle of Milvian Bridge?
Christian Cross

What document did Licinius and Constantine sign to stop the persecution of Christians?
Edict of Milan

When did Constantine convert to Christianity?
On his death bed