Constantine was one of the best known of the Roman emperors. Some important events of his reign include the Edict of Milan, which ended the persecution of Christians and made their worship legal, the battle of the Milvian Bridge, and the completion of the political and economic reforms that begun under Diocletian. Constantine was born in Naissus in Serbia. The date of his birth is not certain, being giving as early as 274 and as late as 288. His father Constantius was a member of an important Roman family. His mother, Helena, was the daughter of an innkeeper. When his father had become Casear of Gaul and Britain, he sent his son to the Eastern Emperor Galerius as a hostage. There he was kept at the court of Galerius. But Constantine returned soon after that to his dying father’s side in Britain. Soon after his father’s death, Constantine was immediately proclaimed Caesar by his troops. For five years Constantine was content with ruling Gaul and Britain.
On of the famous stories about Constantine is of his vision from God on the night before the battle of the Milvian Bridge. Maxentius, the Roman emperor in Italy, had gathered a great number of legions against Constantine. Galerius had decided to tax the citizens of Italy, who had been exempt from taxes ever since Republican days. The Italian citizens resented this and proclaimed Maxentius emperor in an effort to get the taxes removed. According to the legend, Constantine saw the symbol of Jesus Christ’s power in the clouds and a message written in Latin, that read ?In this sign thou shalt conquer.? Immediately, Constantine ordered artisans to place the sign of Christ on his soldier’s shields. Constantine won that day with a great victory. Maxentius, was thrown from the Milvian Bridge into the Tiber River, making Constantine sole emperor of the Western half of the empire. After his victory he gave gratitude to the God of the Christians. About a year later, he announced the end to the persecution of Christians. From Milan, he granted ?both to the Christians and to all men freedom to follow the religion that they choose.? By this famous Edict of Milan, Christianity became a religion approved by the emperor and in 395 Theodosious made Christianity the empire’s official religion.
Eventually Constantine became sole emperor of the entire empire. He was also the president over the Council of Nicaea. His role at the Council of Nicaea, were important points in the early catholic church where the Holy Trinity was worked out. He also increased the role of the Catholic Bishops in high political office. In 325, Bishops from all over the Roman world gathered together to have Constantine help them decide on the nature of God. They worked out a doctrine of the Holy Trinity, in which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost were found to be equal persons in one God. The Arian heresy was denounced at the Council of Nicaea. The Arians believed that Jesus Christ was somehow of lesser importance, and had been created by, God the Father.
The personalities for the most power of Constantine and Licinius caused trouble between the two. War broke out soon between the two over an incident in which Licinius chased some raiding barbarians into territory ruled by Constantine. Constantine defeated Licinius in two battles at Hadrianopolis and Chrysopolis.
Next, Constantine moved the capital from Rome to the Greek city of Byzantium in what is now Turkey. He enlarged and enriched the city at enormous expense. They built massive walls and stately buildings to protect their new capital. Six years later the new city was finished and it was called Constantinople or city of Constantine. Coins that have Constantine with a helmet on were made for the new city.
Two years later, tragedy struck the house of Constantine. Constantine’s wife, Fausta, had accused Constantine’s eldest son, Crispus of adultery with her and plotting to seize the throne. Without checking the truth of these accusations, Constantine had his son murdered. When Constantine discovered Fausta lied to him, he had her suffocated or boiled alive in her bath by slowing running up the temperature of the water.
Constantine died at Nicomedia in 337 on his way to fight the Persians. Constantine was baptized on his deathbed, and was the 1st Roman Emperor to receive the Christian Faith.