The emperor Constantine has been called the most important emperor of the late antiquity. The many great events of his reign laid foundations that would affect the future of Europe and Western Civilization for centuries to come. His recognition and support of Christianity was one of the most important moments in world history. Moving the government of the Roman Empire to Constantinople and founding “New Rome” was one of the most significant decisions ever made by a Roman ruler. Ten emperors who reigned after Constantine took his name. This is just one more indication of his importance in history and the honor in which he was held by his people.
The one known as the emperor Constantine was born Flavius Valerius Constantinus in Naissus, a town in Serbia, on February 27 probably sometime in the 270’s CE. His mother was a woman of humble background named Helena who would later become a Christian. Because of her good works, she was made a Christian saint after her death. Constantine’s father was a career military officer named Constantius. Constantine was married at least twice and had four sons: Crispus, Constantine II, Constantius, Constans.
Constantius, his father, was in charge of the Roman Province of Britannia. When Constantius died at York in 306 CE, Constantine, who was at his side, was immediately proclaimed emperor by the army. However, it took many years of political struggle and actual civil war before he could consolidate his power. Constantine finally became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire in 323 CE when he defeated the eastern Emperor Licinius.
Of Constantine’s major accomplishments, the most important was his recognition of the Christianity. In 311 CE, he ordered the end of the persecution of Christians. On October 28, 312 CE, Constantine faced one of his greatest battles as he tried to consolidate his power. He was greatly outnumbered by the forces of Maxentius, who also wanted to be emperor. In a dream the night before the battle, Constantine saw the initials for the name of Christ as well as the cross and was told, “By this sign you will conquer.” The next morning, he had the initials painted on his helmet and ordered them to be painted on the shields of all his soldiers. Constantine’s forces won the day and he credited the Christian God with the victory. He was closer to his goal of absolute power as sole emperor of Rome was now, for all practical purposes, a Christian.
In 313 CE, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan which allowed full freedom for Christians to practice their faith. The edict made Christianity equal to the religion of the Roman Empire. The Edict of Milan also ordered the return of all church and personal property that had been taken during past persecutions of Christians. Constantine now gave imperial property to the church including the Lateran in Rome. On this site, one of the great cathedrals of Rome, St. John Lateran, still stands today.
Constantine not only recognized Christianity but made many contributions and enacted laws that helped it spread. He also became involved in Christianity. He felt that, as emperor, he had a responsibility to help and protect the faith. He also believed that all Christians should have the same beliefs. These concerns led to another of Constantine’s great accomplishments, the Council of Nicea in 325 CE. The Council produced a statement of Christian faith known as the Nicene Creed. The creed defined the beliefs about Jesus for all Christians. It said that Jesus was not created by God but actually was God. There were some who did not accept these beliefs about Jesus. This disagreement was the beginning of what eventually would becomde a split in Christianity between the western church and the eastern or Orthodox church.
Constantine’s most important political accomplishment was moving the permanent capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Byzantium. He claimed that God had told him to move the capital which he renamed in his own honor as Constantinople. He also ordered the city to be rebuilt so it would be a worthy capital for the empire. The new city, which was dedicated in May of 330 CE, provided Constantine with a better location