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Constantine the Great(kŏn`stəntēn, –tīn), 288?–337, Roman emperor, b. Naissus (present-day Niš, Serbia). He was the son of Constantius IConstantius I
(Constantius Chlorus) , c.250–306, Roman emperor (305–6). A career general, he gave up Helena to marry Theodora, the daughter of Maximian. He was made caesar (subemperor) under Maximian in 293 and gained prestige when his forces defeated the rebel
..... Click the link for more information. and HelenaHelena, Saint
, c.248–328?, mother of Constantine I. She became a Christian in 313. According to tradition she found (327) the relic of the True Cross in Jerusalem and identified the location of the Holy Sepulcher. Feast: Aug. 18.
..... Click the link for more information. and was named in full Flavius Valerius Constantinus.
Rise to Power
When his father was made caesar (subemperor), Constantine was left at the court of the emperor DiocletianDiocletian
(Caius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus) , 245–313, Roman emperor (284–305), b. near Salona, Dalmatia (the modern Split, Croatia). Of humble birth, he obtained high military command under Probus and Aurelian and fought under Carus in Persia.
..... Click the link for more information. , where he was under the watchful eye of GaleriusGalerius
(Caius Galerius Valerius Maximinianus) , d. 310, Roman emperor (305–10). Diocletian appointed him caesar for the eastern part of the empire in 293 (Constantius I was caesar of the West). He had to conduct hard campaigns in Pannonia and Asia.
..... Click the link for more information. , who was caesar with Constantius. When Diocletian and MaximianMaximian
(Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus) , d. 310, Roman emperor, with Diocletian (286–305). An able commander, he was made caesar (subemperor) by Diocletian in 285 and augustus in 286.
..... Click the link for more information. resigned in 305, Constantius and Galerius became emperors.
Constantius requested that Constantine be sent to him in Britain, and Galerius reluctantly complied. Constantius died at York the next year. There, his soldiers proclaimed Constantine emperor, but much rivalry for the vacated office ensued. In Italy, MaxentiusMaxentius
(Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maxentius) , d. 312, Roman emperor (306–12), son of Maximian. After Diocletian and Maximian had retired, the successor to Maximian, Constantius, died.
..... Click the link for more information. , supported by the Romans and by his father Maximian, vied with SeverusSeverus
(Flavius Valerius Severus), d. 307, Roman emperor (306–7). He participated with Galerius in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow Maxentius. Surrendering to Maximian (father of Maxentius) at Ravenna on the condition that his life be spared, Severus was taken to Rome.
..... Click the link for more information. and Galerius. Constantine, accepting the lesser title of caesar from Galerius, remained aloof while Maxentius and Maximian defeated Severus and Galerius.
Constantine made an alliance with Maximian, marrying his daughter Fausta and recognizing Maxentius after a fashion. When Maximian, in dispute with his son, fled to Constantine, Constantine received and sheltered him until Maximian, in an attempt to regain the throne, undertook (310) a revolt against Constantine's rule in Gaul. Unsuccessful against Constantine, Maximian was forced to commit suicide.
Constantine, having already declared against Maxentius and ignoring the fact that Galerius had recognized LiciniusLicinius,
250–325, Roman emperor. He became coemperor with Galerius, being given the rule of Illyricum (308); after the death of Galerius he added Greece and Thrace to his territories.
..... Click the link for more information. in the East, now considered himself emperor. When Galerius died in 310, still another claimant to the imperial throne appeared in MaximinMaximin
(Galerius Valerius Maximinus), d. 313, Roman emperor (308–13); kinsman of Galerius. He is called Maximin Daia. He was made caesar in 305 and in 308 proclaimed himself augustus in opposition to Emperor Licinius.
..... Click the link for more information. (d. 313), who allied himself with Maxentius against the alliance of Licinius and Constantine. While Licinius attacked Maximin, Constantine moved into Italy against Maxentius. The rivals for Italy met (312) at the Milvian or Mulvian Bridge over the Tiber near Rome. Before the battle Constantine, who was already sympathetic toward Christianity, is said by Eusebius of CaesareaEusebius of Caesarea
or Eusebius Pamphili
, c.263–339?, Greek apologist and church historian, b. Palestine. He was bishop of Caesarea, Palestine (314?–339).
..... Click the link for more information. to have seen in the sky a flaming cross inscribed with the words, "In this sign thou shalt conquer." He adopted the cross and was victorious. Maxentius was routed and killed. The battle is regarded as a turning point for Christianity.
In 313 Constantine and his fellow emperor, Licinius, met at Milan and there issued the so-called Edict of Milan, confirming Galerius' edict of 309, which stated that Christianity would be tolerated throughout the empire. The edict in effect made Christianity a lawful religion, although it did not, as is sometimes believed, make Christianity the official state religion.
No longer having Maximin to contend with, Licinius challenged Constantine, and a brief struggle followed. Constantine, victorious, took (315) control over Greece and the Balkans, and the uneasy peace that followed lasted until 324, when Licinius again vied with Constantine. This time Licinius lost his throne and ultimately his life.
A Christian Empire
Constantine was now sole ruler of the empire, and in a reign of peace he set about rebuilding the strength of old Rome. Constantine continued to tolerate paganism and even to encourage the imperial cult. At the same time, however, he endeavored to unify and strengthen Christianity.
In 314 he convened a synod at Arles to regulate the Church in the West, and in 325 he convened and presided over a council at Nicaea to deal with the troubles over Arianism (see Nicaea, First Council ofNicaea, First Council of,
325, 1st ecumenical council, convened by Roman Emperor Constantine the Great to solve the problems raised by Arianism. It has been said that 318 persons attended, but a more likely number is 225, including every Eastern bishop of importance, four
..... Click the link for more information. ). Thus Constantine evolved the idea of the ecumenical councilcouncil, ecumenical
[Gr.,=universal], in Christendom, council of church leaders, the decisions of which are accepted by some segment of the church as authoritative, also called general council.
..... Click the link for more information. . In 330 he moved the capital to Byzantium, which was rebuilt as ConstantinopleConstantinople
, former capital of the Byzantine Empire and of the Ottoman Empire, since 1930 officially called İstanbul (for location and description, see İstanbul). It was founded (A.D.
..... Click the link for more information. , a city predominantly Christian and dedicated to the Virgin. He seems to have favored compromise with Arianism, and in 335, in defiance of the Council of Tyre, he exiled St. AthanasiusAthanasius, Saint
, c.297–373, patriarch of Alexandria (328–73), Doctor of the Church, great champion of orthodoxy during the Arian crisis of the 4th cent. (see Arianism).
..... Click the link for more information. .
As the founder of the Christian empire, Constantine began a new era. He was an absolute ruler, and his reign saw the culmination of the tendency toward despotic rule, centralized bureaucracy, and separation of military and civil powers evolved by Diocletian. Constantine's legal reforms were marked by great humanity, perhaps a result of Christian influence. Though he had done much to unify the empire, at his death Constantine divided it again, providing for his three surviving sons and also to some extent for the sons of his half-brother. These nephews were soon killed (though others, notably Julian the ApostateJulian the Apostate
(Flavius Claudius Julianus), 331?–363, Roman emperor (361–63), nephew of Constantine I; successor of Constantius II. He was given an education that combined Christian and Neoplatonic ideas. He and his half-brother Gallus were sent (c.
..... Click the link for more information. , survived), but complex contests ensued between Constans IConstans I
, b. 320 or 323, d. 350, Roman emperor, youngest son of Constantine I. At his father's death in 337 he received Italy and Africa as well as Pannonia and Dacia, while his brothers, Constantine II and Constantius II, received other portions of the empire.
..... Click the link for more information. , Constantine IIConstantine II,
316–40, Roman emperor, son of Constantine I. When the empire was divided at the death (337) of Constantine I, among the brothers Constantius II, Constans I, and Constantine II, Constantine II received Britain, Gaul, and Spain.
..... Click the link for more information. , and Constantius IIConstantius II,
317–61, Roman emperor, son of Constantine I. When the empire was divided (337) at the death of Constantine, Constantius II was given rule over Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt, while his brothers, Constans I and Constantine II, received other portions.
..... Click the link for more information. .
Historians differ greatly in their assessments of Constantine's motives and the depth of his Christian conviction. Early Christian writers portray him as a devout convert, although they have difficulty explaining his execution in 320 (on adultery charges) of Crispus, his son by his first wife, and FaustaFausta
(Flavia Maximiana Fausta) , d. c.326, Roman princess. She was the wife of Constantine I, the daughter of Maximian, and the mother of Constantine II, Constantius II, and Constans I.
..... Click the link for more information. , his wife. Some later historians see him as a political genius, expediently using Christianity to unify his empire. An intermediate interpretation pictures him as a pagan gradually converted to Christianity (he was baptized on his deathbed), using his new belief for personal ends much as earlier emperors had used the imperial cult.
The chief contemporary historians of Constantine's reign are Lactantius and Eusebius. See also biographies by N. H. Baynes (1931, repr. 1972), L. B. Holsapple (1942), A. H. M. Jones (rev. ed. 1962), J. H. Smith (1971), F. G. Slaughter (1972), M. Grant (1993), and D. Potter (2012); C. B. Coleman, Constantine the Great and Christianity (1914); G. P. Baker, Constantine the Great and the Christian Revolution (1930, repr. 1967); J. Bardill, Constantine, Divine Emperor of the Christian Golden Age (2011).
Constantine I,1868–1923, king of the Hellenes, eldest son of George IGeorge I,
1845–1913, king of the Hellenes (1863–1913), second son of Christian IX of Denmark. After the deposition (1862) of Otto I, he was elected to succeed on the throne of Greece.
..... Click the link for more information. , whom he succeeded in 1913. Married to Sophia, sister of the German emperor William IIWilliam II,
1859–1941, emperor of Germany and king of Prussia (1888–1918), son and successor of Frederick III and grandson of William I of Germany and of Queen Victoria of England.
..... Click the link for more information. , he opposed the pro-Allied policy of the Greek premier, Eleutherios VenizelosVenizelos, Eleutherios
, 1864–1936, Greek statesman, b. Crete. After studying at the Univ. of Athens, he returned to Crete and played a prominent part in the Cretan insurrection of 1896–97.
..... Click the link for more information. , and was forced to abdicate in 1917 under Allied military pressure. His second son, AlexanderAlexander,
1893–1920, king of the Hellenes (1917–20), second son of Constantine I. After his father's forced abdication, he succeeded to the Greek throne with the support of the Allies, who distrusted the sympathies of his elder brother George (later King George II).
..... Click the link for more information. , succeeded to the throne. Recalled (1920) on Alexander's death, he continued the war against Turkey, although the Allies withdrew their support from Greece. The Turkish victory at Izmir caused a military rebellion, and Constantine in 1922 was again deposed and exiled. His eldest son, George IIGeorge II,
1890–1947, king of the Hellenes (1922–23, 1935–47), successor and eldest son of King Constantine I. When Constantine I was forced by the Allies to abdicate in 1917, George, also suspected of being pro-German, was passed over in favor of his younger
..... Click the link for more information. , succeeded. Constantine is also known as Constantine XII.