The Reign of Constantine

Lecture on transitions in the Roman empire under the rule of Constantine's.

The Reign of Constantine, 312-337

A coin depicting the emperor Constantine. Photo by Barbara McManus, 2001.  Rights for non-commercial use with attribution to vroma.org. Accessed from http://www.vroma.org/images/mcmanus_images/constantinesenatecoin.jpg on 6/25/10.

Photo by Barbara McManus.  Image courtesy of http://www.vroma.org

The Primary Sources for Reign of Constantine

Lactantius:  The "Christian Cicero" (250-325).

  1. He was a professor of rhetoric in Cathage
  2. He converted to Christianity
  3. He tutored Constantine's son
  4. He wrote De Mortibus Persecutorum

Eusebius: CE 260-340

  1. He was the bishop of Caesarea in Palestine
  2. He wrote ecclesiastical history, earning him the title "The Father of Church History"
  3. He was the biographer of Constantine

Zosimus:

  1. A late 5th - early 6th century Greek historian who hated Constantine
  2. He was convinced Constantine was pagan
  3. Blamed Rome's downfall on barbarians in Roman territory and in the army

Roman Empire of Diocletian and Constantine

This map was prepared to accompany the The Romans from Village to Empire by Mary T. Boatwright, Daniel Gargola and Richard J.A. Talbert, Oxford University Press, 2004.
Copyright 2004, Ancient World Mapping Center:
This item may be reproduced and redistributed freely for non-profit, personal or educational use only. For all other uses, you must obtain prior, written permission from the copyright holder(s). The authorship, copyright and redistribution notices may not be removed from the map or altered

Constantine as Conqueror

  1. The tetrarchy was a recipe for civil war
    1. Diocletian retired to a cabbage farm in his native Dalmatia with Maximian
    2. Unfortunately, his succession scheme, the tetrarchy, does not work smoothly
  2. Constantius, Constantine's father, died, but his Caesar does not succeed him
    1. Rather, his soldiers declare Constantine emperor, hoping to gain his favor
    2. Meanwhile, other contenders emerge.  By 308 there are seven rivals for power.

Constantine vs. Maxentius

  1. Constantine, in 312, marched on Rome, which Maxentius, son of Maximian, was defending
  2. Battle of the Milvian Bridge, which still spans the Tiber, ensues.
  3. Famously, Constantine reported a vision which told him to put the sign of the cross on his shields
  4. In 315, Constantine would have the Arch of Constantine built in commemoration of this victory.
    1. It was the last of the existing Triumphal arches in Rome
    2. It sits between the Colosseum and the Palatine Hill

The Arch of Constantine

Arch of Constantine

Arch of Constantine, photo by Picasa user Michael. Some rights reserved.

Constantine vs. Licinius

  1. Constantine had married his sister, Constantinia, to Licinius to forge and alliance wtih him
  2. Constantine had been Augustus of the West, but he and Licinius quarreled over borders
  3. Licinius deposed 324, making Constantine sole Augustus until his death

Constantine and Christianity

  1. He really straddled the fence religiously, seemingly as polytheistic as the next Roman
  2. The Arch of Constantine associates him with pagan divinities only
  3. Constantine particularly favors the Sun god, which was popular with the Balkan troops
  4. Sol Invictus - the unconquered Sun.  Up until 321 Constantine issues coins with images of Sol Invictus
  5. Early Christian art sometimes depicts Christ in the the image of the sun god, perhaps because this made the sun god more attractive to Constantine.
  6. Constantine was not baptized until shortly before his death (but this was a more common practice then)

Edict of Milan, 313

  1. Announced the official toleration of Christianity as a religion, along with all religions
  2. May have been aimed more at keeping the peace than anything else

Council of Nicaea, 325

  1. Called by Constantine to deal with the issue of Arianism

  2. It declared Jesus was consubstantial, or of one substance with God the Father

  3. It was held close enough to Constantinople that Constantine could attend.

  4. Constantine also relieved the clergy of their duty to serve in city councils and pay taxes

  5. He gave land for building large churches, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

Constantinople: The New Rome

    Byzantine Constaninople

    This map was compiled and produced by Carolyn Connor and Tom Elliott.

    Copyright 2003, Ancient World Mapping Center:
    This item may be reproduced and redistributed freely for non-profit, personal or educational use only. For all other uses, you must obtain prior, written permission from the copyright holder(s). The authorship, copyright and redistribution notices may not be removed from the map or altered.

    1. Constantine built the city from 324-330, christening it Nova Roma or New Rome
    2. He built it to better manage affairs in the east after becoming sole Augustus
    3. It was built on the site of Byzantium, a very strategically positioned city founded around 665 BCE

    Constantine's heirs

    1. He had three sons, who divided up the empire among themselves
    2. They quarreled over territory
    3. Constantius was the only to survive, and he reigned by himself until 361 CE.

    Questions:

    The period of Roman history beginning with the reign of Diocletian in the late 3rd century is often called the "Late Roman Empire."

    1. Why make a division between "early" and "late" at this particular point?
    2. Are there other dates, both before and after 285, that could be equally persuasive as turning points?
    Citation: Mazurek, E. (2008, May 23). The Reign of Constantine. Retrieved September 17, 2014, from Notre Dame OpenCourseWare Web site: http://ocw.nd.edu/classics/history-of-ancient-rome/lectures-1/the-reign-of-constantine.
    Copyright 2007, by the Contributing Authors. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Creative Commons License