On this day in 306 AD: Constantine the Great is proclaimed emperor of the Roman empire.
The rule of Constantine is given a particular significance in world history. This is largely because he was the first Christian (or, at least pro-Christian) emperor of Rome and the empire.
Not born or raised Christian, it was before the battle of the Milvian Bridge against Maxentius in 312 AD that Constantine experienced his famous vision. According to this account, after calling upon the highest God for help, Constantine is said to have seen a cross in the sky rising from the sun. Following this, the monogram for Christ (chi rho) was placed on the shields of his men going into battle. Constantine attributed the resulting victorious battle to the God of the Christians.
The question of whether of not Constantine was Christian, or how sincere his proclamation was, remains a matter of debate. Evidently his conversion did not entirely result in a changed morality, Constantine had his wife and son murdered. He was baptized a Christian shortly before his death, which was not an uncommon decision to make in this period. In Constantine’s instance, being emperor, he was still obligated to order executions and fight battles, which is why the cleansing of his sin through baptism was postponed to not long before his death. I would suggest that the importance Constantine placed on his baptism in preparation for his death reflects at least a degree of genuine belief.
The matter of his personal faith aside, few other Roman emperors have left such a lasting impact on the course of world history. With his conversion, construction of Christian Rome, foundation of a new senate and capital, the way to a new epoch of world history was opened.
The artefact shown is the head of Constantine’s colossal statue, courtesy of & currently located at the Capitoline Museums. Photo taken by Jean-Christophe Benoist, via the Wiki Commons.
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