Constantine the Great
Emperor Constantine the Great Facts
Emperor Constantine was born at a time when the Roman Empire was in great political turmoil. The rise of Rome, which started with Augustus, was over. The emperors were deposed one after another, and the new ruler could not remain in power for more than a few years.
The period of chaos ended with Diocletian‘s ascension to the throne. Diocletian made economic, social and military reforms to stop the decline in the Roman Empire.
Diocletian’s reforms introduced a new system of government called Tetrarchy. According to this system, there would be two senior (Augustus) and two junior emperors (Caesar) in the empire. High-level emperors were to direct politics, while lower-level emperors would conduct military operations.
The map above shows the emperors of the west, Maximian Augustus and Constantius Caesar. In the east, Diocletian Augustus and Galerius Caesar.
Constantine’s Father Becomes Augustus
According to this new system, in which Diocletian set the rules, the emperors would retire after 20 years. At the end of 20 years, Diocletian retreated to his palace in Split, Croatia, and forced his co-emperor, Maximian, to retire. Thus Constantine’s father, Constantius, was promoted.
Constantius, the junior emperor (caesar) in Western Rome, was entitled to become a senior emperor with the title “Augustus”. Constantius, known as the conqueror of Britain, was raised on the shields of his soldiers and became the ruler of Europe.
However, Constantius’ reign lasted only a year. When Constantius, the leader of the western army of Rome, died unexpectedly, the legions named his son Constantine as emperor.
Constantine Becomes “Caesar” in Tetrarchy
Galerius, Diocletian’s successor, was the most senior emperor of the time. Galerius refused to accept the fait accompli of the Western army and declared that he would only recognize Constantine as Caesar. Thus Constantine became the junior emperor of the west. Severus II, a friend of Galerius, was appointed senior.
The system of tetrarchy was actually against human nature. Nobody intended to divide power into equal parts and live in peace. The fifty-year period of chaos in Rome had paused with the prosperity of Diocletian, but after his retirement the clashes resumed.
Constantine was the youngest and junior leader among the four emperors, but over time seized power alone. Alliances and conflicts during the period of tetrarchy are quite complicated. If you want more detailed information about it, you can read another article I wrote, called The Roman Tetrarchy.
In This Sign, You Will Conquer
Constantine had to wage many wars to end the tetrarchy and to become the leader alone. The most famous of these battles was the Battle of Milvian Bridge. Constantine fought for the domination of Italy against a usurper named Maxentius. The night before the war, Jesus appears to Constantine in his dream and tells him that if he signs a cross on the shields of his soldiers, he will win the war.
According to the first narrative, Jesus told Constantine “In This Sign, You Will Conquer”. Then Constantine did as he was told and won the war with this talisman. According to the second narrative, a cross appeared in the sky during the war and the battle was won by divine intervention.
If Constantine, who had a tendency to Christianity, lost this war, the course of history would have changed. Because Maxentius, like many Roman emperors in the past, was pagan. The persecution of Christians for hundreds of years would probably continue. This war changed the course of history. However it was not enough to make Constantine the sole ruler of Rome. There were still other steps to be taken.
Emperor Constantine the Great Facts
Edict of Milan by Emperor Constantine
Constantine, who won the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, had dominated much of Europe. In 313, he issued the Edict of Milan, bringing freedom of worship to Christians. He made an alliance with Licinius and led to the destruction of their common enemies, Maximinus Daia.
Battle of Chrysopolis
After the collapse of the Tetrarchy, only two emperors remained. Constantine fought with his rival Licinius within the borders of today’s Istanbul. Licinius, who defended in the ancient Greek city of Byzantium, then moved to the Asian side and fought Constantine in Chrysopolis (Uskudar). Battle of Chrysopolis is considered one of the 10 most important battles in the history of the Roman Empire.
Byzantium Becomes The New Capital
One of the most important consequences of the Battle of Chrysopolis was that Emperor Constantine discovered the importance of Byzantium. Byzantium, founded as a Greek colony in 660 BC, was conquered by the Emperor Septimus Severus in the 2nd century AD.
Constantine, who had won the civil wars of the Tetrarchy, decided to move the capital to the East. He chose Byzantium as the new capital, which had a natural defense system against barbarian attacks.
Constantine’s dozens of architects and engineers sent the Byzantium to rebuild the city in six years. Byzantium was opened in 330 with the name of New Rome. The iconic structures of the city during the Constantine period were the Great Palace, the Church of the Holy Apostles and the Forum of Constantine.
New Rome was later called Constantinople in honor of its founder. Constantine, who lived the rest of his life in today’s Istanbul, was buried in the Church of the Holy Apostles when he died.
Constantine the Great Facts
Constantine’s moving the capital to the East extended the life of the Roman Empire, which would collapse with barbarian attacks, for another thousand years. The eastern half of Rome, which carries an ancient Greek heritage, survived until 1453.
The Eastern Roman Empire inherited the military, political and architectural heritage of ancient Rome. Eastern Rome is defined as the Byzantine Empire in modern history.
Interesting Facts about Emperor Constantine
- How Constantine escaped from the palace of Galerius?
The emperors in the Tetrarchy system entrusted their children to each other. They gave their daughters to the family of the other emperor or entrusted their son until he grew up.
Constantine was the son of Constantius, the Western emperor. However, he spent his childhood at the palace of the Eastern emperor Galerius in Nicomedia.
One day when Galerius was drunk, Constantine convinced him to leave the palace and joined his father’s army in Britain. He feared that Galerius would change his mind when he escaped the palace. He perished the horses of the palace guards so no one could come after him.
- Did Constantine really become a Christian?
Whether Constantine was truly a Christian is one of the most controversial issues in history. According to some historians, Constantine recognized Christianity for political purposes. But the actions of Constantine after moving from Rome to Byzantium prove that he was a Christian.
- What did Constantine do for Christianity?
Constantine expanded Hagia Eirene Church, which was the episcopacy center in Istanbul. Then he built the Church of the Holy Apostles.
Constantine supported his mother Helena on her pilgrimage to Jerusalem. As a result of this journey, the sacred relics of Christianity were brought to the new capital Constantinople. He placed some of these sacred relics on the basis of the column he erected in the Forum of Constantine.
Byzantine History Tours in Istanbul
It is, of course, controversial whether Constantine buried the sacred relics at the base of the column. However, it is one of the beautiful legends that form the basis of the Byzantine History Tours I organize in Istanbul.