Constantine the Great

Roman emperor from AD 306 to 337 / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Constantine I[lower-alpha 7] (27 February c.272  22 May 337), also known as Constantine the Great, was Roman emperor from AD 306 to 337. He was the first emperor to convert to Christianity.[lower-alpha 8] Born in Naissus, Dacia Mediterranea (now Niš, Serbia), he was the son of Flavius Constantius, a Roman army officer of Illyrian origin who had been one of the four rulers of the Tetrarchy. His mother, Helena, was a Greek woman of low birth and a Christian. Later canonized as a saint, she is traditionally attributed with the conversion of her son. Constantine served with distinction under the Roman emperors Diocletian and Galerius. He began his career by campaigning in the eastern provinces (against the Persians) before being recalled in the west (in AD 305) to fight alongside his father in the province of Britannia. After his father's death in 306, Constantine was acclaimed as augustus (emperor) by his army at Eboracum (York, England). He eventually emerged victorious in the civil wars against emperors Maxentius and Licinius to become the sole ruler of the Roman Empire by 324.

Quick facts: Constantine the Great, Roman Emperor, Reign, ...
Constantine the Great
Head statue of Constantine the Great
Roman Emperor
Reign25 July 306 – 22 May 337
PredecessorConstantius I (in the West)
See list
BornFlavius Constantinus
27 February c.272[1]
Naissus, Moesia, Roman Empire[2]
Died22 May 337 (aged 65)
Achyron, Nicomedia, Bithynia, Roman Empire
Originally the Church of the Holy Apostles, Constantinople, but Constantius II, his son, had it moved
Flavius Valerius Constantinus
Regnal name
Imperator Caesar Flavius Valerius Constantinus Augustus
FatherConstantius Chlorus

Upon his ascension, Constantine enacted numerous reforms to strengthen the empire. He restructured the government, separating civil and military authorities. To combat inflation, he introduced the solidus, a new gold coin that became the standard for Byzantine and European currencies for more than a thousand years. The Roman army was reorganised to consist of mobile units (comitatenses), often around the Emperor, to serve on campaigns against external enemies or Roman rebels, and frontier - garrison troops (limitanei) which were capable of countering barbarian raids, but less and less capable, over time, of countering full scale barbarian invasions. Constantine pursued successful campaigns against the tribes on the Roman frontiers—such as the Franks, the Alemanni, the Goths, and the Sarmatians—and resettled territories abandoned by his predecessors during the Crisis of the Third Century with citizens of Roman culture.

Although Constantine lived much of his life as a pagan and later as a catechumen, he began to favour Christianity beginning in 312, finally becoming a Christian and being baptized by either Eusebius of Nicomedia, an Arian bishop, or by Pope Sylvester I, which is maintained by the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church. He played an influential role in the proclamation of the Edict of Milan in 313, which declared tolerance for Christianity in the Roman Empire. He convoked the First Council of Nicaea in 325 which produced the statement of Christian belief known as the Nicene Creed. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built on his orders at the purported site of Jesus' tomb in Jerusalem and was deemed the holiest place in all of Christendom. The papal claim to temporal power in the High Middle Ages was based on the fabricated Donation of Constantine. He has historically been referred to as the "First Christian Emperor," but while he did favour the Christian Church, some modern scholars debate his beliefs and even his comprehension of Christianity.[lower-alpha 9] Nevertheless, he is venerated as a saint in Eastern Christianity, and he did much for pushing Christianity towards the mainstream of Roman culture.

The age of Constantine marked a distinct epoch in the history of the Roman Empire and a pivotal moment in the transition from classical antiquity to the Middle Ages. He built a new imperial residence at the city of Byzantium and renamed it New Rome, later adopting the name Constantinople after himself, where it was located in modern Istanbul. It subsequently became the capital of the empire for more than a thousand years, the later Eastern Roman Empire often being referred to in English as the Byzantine Empire, a term never used by the Empire, invented by German historian Hieronymus Wolf. His more immediate political legacy was that he replaced Diocletian's Tetrarchy with the de facto principle of dynastic succession by leaving the empire to his sons and other members of the Constantinian dynasty. His reputation flourished during the lifetime of his children and for centuries after his reign. The medieval church held him up as a paragon of virtue, while secular rulers invoked him as a prototype, a point of reference, and the symbol of imperial legitimacy and identity. Beginning with the Renaissance, there were more critical appraisals of his reign with the rediscovery of anti-Constantinian sources. Trends in modern and recent scholarship have attempted to balance the extremes of previous scholarship.

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