Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Constantine I and Roman Art
Constantine I the Great (Flavius Valerius Constantinus) (272-337), proclaimed Augustus by his troops in 306; ruled parts of the Roman Empire from 307. Constantine is commonly accepted as one of the greatest Roman Emperors who also helped to shape the course of Western civilization. He was born at Naissus in Upper Dacia to Constantius 1 Chlorus and an innkeeper's daughter, Helena. Constantine was well educated and served at the court of Diocletian after the appointment of his father as one of the two Caesari, at that time a junior emperor, in the Tetrarchy in 293.
Constantine I rebuilt the ancient Greek city of Byzantium and renamed it Constantinople making it the capital of the empire. He legalized and strongly supported Christianity beginning around the time he became emperor, but he neither made paganism illegal nor made Christianity the state religion. Though the church prospered under Constantine's patronage, it also fell into the first of many public schisms. He himself called the First Council of Nicaea to settle the problem of Arianism, a dispute about the personhood and godhood of Jesus. He himself was not baptized and chrismated until close to his death. Ironically, Constantine may have favored the losing side of the Arian controversy, as he was baptized by an Arian bishop, Eusebius of Nicomedia.
Constantine's adoption of Christianity seems to have stemmed from both his family (Helena was probably born a Christian) and from a major battle he won in 312 near Rome, the Battle of Milvian Bridge. Constantine credited his victory to the Christian God and converted not long afterwards. That victory made him Western Augustus, or ruler of the entire western half of the empire. In 324, he became sole emperor after winning a power struggle with the eastern ruler, Licinius. Although he earned his honorific of "The Great" from Christian historians long after he had died, he could have claimed the title on his military achievements alone. In addition to reuniting the empire under one emperor, Constantine also won major victories over the Marcomanni and Alamanni (306-08), the Vandals and Marcomanni (314-15), the Visigoths in 332 and the Sarmatians two years later. In fact, by 336, Constantine had actually reoccupied most of the long-lost province of Dacia, which Aurelian had been forced to abandon in 273. At the time of his death, he was planning a great expedition to put an end to raids on the eastern provinces from Persia by conquering that nation--something no Emperor since Trajan had contemplated. He was succeeded by his three sons, Constantine II, Constantius II and Constans. The last member of his dynasty was his grandson, Julian, who attempted to restore paganism. [This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Constantine.]
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