Change. The Emperor Gaius Aurelius
Valerius Diocletianus (Diocletian; lived
ca 245 - 316 AD) was the product of merit and of the social mobility
possible in the late third century AD. He ruled the Roman world
for over twenty years. Neither mad nor debauched, as some biographers
portray, Diocletian (uniquely) retired from power and famously
boasted of growing cabbages "with his own hand"
in retirement. Diocletian had recognised, however, that the
Empire was too vast for one man's autocratic rule and had sensibly
divided absolute power between four monarchs. At the same time he
put in place a mechanism for orderly succession, with the junior
Caesars stepping up to the rank of Augustus and appointing
deputy Caesars in turn. Moreover, Diocletian had wisely chosen
his colleagues and successors based on their ability and loyalty,
not blood-ties. With the provinces grouped into a dozen Dioceses,
each ruled by a Vicar, the Imperial tetrarchy had provided orderly
succession for a generation
Constantine - the Early
Years. On the 27th of February 272 AD, Flavius Valerius
Aurelius Constantinus was born in the Moesian military
city of Naissus (Ni in Serbia). Constantine's father,
Flavius Constantius, an Illyrian from what would
later become Dacia Ripensis, was an officer in the Roman
army at the time of his sons birth, serving as an imperial
bodyguard to Emperor Aurelian in Syria. The position proved
favourable to Constantius' career: in 284/5 AD, the newly incumbent
Emperor Diocletian, another Illyrian who had also
served under Aurelian, appointed Constantius governor of
Dalmatia. Constantine's mother, Helena, was a
woman of humble origin: one source claims her to be a mere concubine
of Constantius, another calls her "extremely lowly",
and yet another that she had been a mere stable maid when she
met Constantius. More reliable sources generally agree that
she was Constantius' legitimate spouse, and that Constantine
was thus a legitimate heir.
As emperor, Diocletian effected a systematic and comprehensive
division of the Empire. Two emperors would rule the Empire, one
in the East and one in the West, in a system called the Tetrarchy.
Diocletian would rule the East from Nicomedia (Izmit),
and an old Illyrian colleague, Marcus Aurelius Valerius
Maximianus Herculius (Maximian; lived c. 250 -
July 310 AD), would rule the West from Mediolanum (Milan).
Each emperor would have his own court, his own military and administrative
faculties, and each would rule with a separate praetorian prefect
as chief lieutenant. In 288 AD, Maximian appointed Constantius
to serve as his praetorian prefect in Gaul. Constantius
divorced Helena, and married Maximian's stepdaughter
Flavia Maximiana Theodora ca. 28889 AD. Diocletian,
dissatisfied with his first division, divided the Empire again
in 293 AD, appointing two Caesars - junior emperors - to rule
over further subdivisions of East and West. Each Caesar would
be subordinate to their respective Augustus - senior co-Emperors
Maximian and Diocletian - but each would act with supreme
authority in their own assigned territories. Thus it was that
on the 1st of March 293 AD, Constantius was promoted to
the office, and given the task of suppressing the usurper Carausius'
rebellion in Britannia and Gaul.
At the Court of Diocletian.
Constantine, now a Caesar's son, became a potential candidate
for future appointment to the Tetrarchy. In the politics of the
day, however, Constantine was obliged to spend his youth
at Nicomedia as a hostage in the court of Diocletian;
the Augustus did not completely trust Constantius - none of the
tetrarchs fully trusted their colleagues - and would have wished
to have collateral to ensure good behavior. Regardless, young
Constantine benefited greatly receiving a formidable education,
gaining a skillful understanding of Latin literature, a capable
proficiency in Greek, and an aptitude for philosophy. Whether
hostage or not, he was a prominent member of the court, participating
fully in the political life of the Empire. Constantine
fought for Diocletian and Gaius Galerius Valerius
Maximianus (Galerius; lived c. 2505 May 311
AD) in Asia, serving in a variety of tribunates. He campaigned
against barbarians on the Danube in 296 CE, fought in the Persian
wars under Diocletian in Syria (297 AD) and Galerius in
Mesopotamia (29899 AD). He travelled to Babylon
in Mesopotamia and Memphis in Egypt. Returning
from his Egyptian voyage, he met the young Eusebius, his
later biographer, in Caesarea Maritima in Palestine. Constantine
impressed him with his intelligence, strength, and natural
On 23rd February 303 AD, Constantine probably
witnessed, firsthand, Diocletian's destruction of the newly-built
Christian church at Nicomedia. The event inaugurated what
Christian authors have named the "Great Persecution"
as many of the brethren were imprisoned, tortured, and killed
for acts of defiance against official religious policy (most escaped
punishment through silence). Constantine's silence on the
extent of his complicity while at Diocletian's court during
this period engendered a continuing distrust among the church
hierarchy for any participation on his part in church government.
In a late letter to Eastern provincials, Constantine described
himself as a child when the Great Persecution
began, when in fact, he was nearer to thirty; his later biographers
and panegyrists continued the trend, describing him as "the
young man" or "the youthful emperor".
Indeed, no contemporary Christian challenged him on any aspect
of his role in the persecutions. Nonetheless,
Constantine continued to assert that he had criticised the policy
when first introduced.
Constantine Flees to Britain.
When the ailing Diocletian had retired after twenty years
as Augustus, Constantine must have been dismayed that he
had been passed over for the position of Caesar. Frustrated, and
recognising the implicit danger in remaining at Galerius'
court, Constantines continued survival depended on being rescued
by his father in the West. Constantius, similarly aware of
the dangerous circumstances faced by his son, was quick to intervene.
In the late spring or early summer of 305 AD, Constantius
requested leave for his son for help in combat operations against
the Picts in Britannia. Constantius' request was granted by Galerius
during a long evening of drinking and before it could be revoked
in the morning, Constantine fled the court to join his father in
Gaul, at Bononia (Boulogne). Father and son made their way
to Eboracum (York) from where the pair spent a year fighting
Pictish raiders beyond Hadrian's Wall in the summer and autumn.
Constantius had become severely ill over the course of his
tenure, and died in Eboracum on 25th July 306 AD. Before
his death, however, Constantius had declared his support
for raising Constantine to the rank of full Augustus.
Led by the Alamannic king Chrocus, Constantine was
proclaimed Augustus by troops loyal to Constantius' memory.
Word spread of Constantine's acclamation, with the whole of Gaul
quickly pledging him its allegiance.
Constantine - the Pampered Prince. Enters
the Arena. Diocletian had become increasingly sick over
the winter of 304-5 AD, following the contraction of a minor illness
in the spring on the Danube. He had disappeared into his palace
after November 304 AD, and rumors of his imminent death circulated
for months afterwards. When he at last appeared in public on 1st
March 305 AD, he was emaciated and barely recognizable. His judgment
and will power were seriously impaired, and he was left prey to
the will of Galerius, who arrived in Nicomedia with
plans to reconstitute the tetrarchy according to his will, and
fill the imperial office with compliant candidates. Through coercion
and threats, he convinced Diocletian and Maximian
to comply with his plan. On 1st May 305 AD, Diocletian,
addressed an assembly of generals and his traditional companion
troops, and informed them of his will to resign. Constantius
was to succeed Maximian as Augustus of the West,
with Maximinus Daia and Severus II made eastern
and western Caesars respectively. Although two legitimate sons
of emperors were available (Constantine, as the son of
Constantius, and Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maxentius
(Maxentius; lived c. 278 - 28 October 312 AD),
as the son of Maximian), both were ignored in the transition
of power. This perceived slight served to create instability within
the Tetrarchy, and inspire jealousy in Constantine and
Maxentius. These feelings were intensified in the case
of Constantine by the fact that familial ties had helped to elevate
Maximinus Daia, as Galerius' nephew, but had not
helped Constantine himself at all. Galerius, recognizing
Constantine's discontent, sent him off to war presumably in the
hope of him being killed. Against expectations, Constantine succeeded
in leading his men to victory, and subsequently continued to rise
in rank, reaching the level of tribune of the first order by late
Legitimising the Claim.
Constantine's succession was clearly contrary to Diocletian's
original plans and his position was therefore somewhat insecure.
Nonetheless, with Constantius' support and the backing
of his armies, it mattered little. Constantine was now directly
sub-ordinate to Galerius, so he sent the latter an official
notice of Constantius' death and his own acclamation, including
with the notice a traditional portrait of himself robed in the
outfit of Augustus of the West wearing the imperial wreath.
Constantine duly requested recognition as heir to his father's
throne, while blaming his army for his unlawful ascension, claiming
they had "forced it upon him". Galerius was displeased
and it was with difficulty that his advisers convinced him of
the necessity of peace and the inherent dangers in challenging
a popular man. Galerius was compelled to compromise.
He sent Constantine a purple vestment - impressing on Constantine
that he, Galerius, remained the true source of power -
and granted Constantine the title of Caesar (while elevating
Flavius Valerius Severus (Severus; died 16
September 307 AD) instead to the office of Augustus). Constantine
accepted the decision, as it served to remove any possible doubts
regarding his legitimacy, and began appearing on imperial
coinage as Flavius Valerius Constantius the Noble Caesar.
In the meantime, however, the usurper Maxentius (son of
Diocletian's original colleague Maximian) had been
proclaimed Augustus in Rome by the Praetorian Guard.
In an unsuccessful attempt to remove the usurper, the newly appointed
Augustus, Severus, was killed thus opening the field to an
ambitious prince whose sights were on the bigger prize.
Conversion - My
Enemy's Enemy is My Friend. In the 4th century AD, the well
established eastern provinces were by far the richest and most
populous of the Roman world. Some of its cities, Pergamon,
Symrna, Antioch and so on, had existed for almost a millennium
and had accumulated vast wealth from international trade and as
venerated cult centres. Through the provinces numerous cities
passed Roman gold going East in exchange for imports from Persia,
India and Arabia. Flowing west with those exotic imports came
equally exotic 'mystery religions' to titillate and enthral Roman
appetites. In contrast, the western provinces, now ruled by Constantine,
were more recently colonised and less developed. Its cities were
small new towns, its hinterland still uncivilised
to Roman eyes. During the crisis decades of the 3rd century AD,
many provincial Romans in the West had been carried off into slavery
by Germanic raiders and their cities burned. The province
of Britannia and part of northern Gaul had actually seceded
from the Empire in the late 3rd century and had been ruled by
its own Emperors (Carausius and Allectus),
with the help of Frankish mercenaries (286-297 AD). Constantine
may have ruled the West, but he certainly did not have a power-base
in the East from which to mount a bid for the throne. He did have
a plan, however. Constantine had been at Nicomedia in 303
AD when Diocletian had decided to purge the Roman state
of a disloyal Christian element. Constantine had also served under
Galerius on the Danube and had witnessed first-hand
how the favoured Galerius, designated heir and rival, in
particular despised the fledgling cult of Christianity. The ambitious
and ruthless prince, from a base in Trier, immediately proclaimed
himself protector of the Christians. Yet it
was not the handful of worshippers in the West that Constantine
had in mind - there had not, after all, been any persecution in
the West - but the far more numerous congregation in the East.
While they constituted a tiny minority within the total population
(perhaps as few as 2%), the eastern Christians were an organised
force, holding important positions within the state administration
in many cities. Some even held posts within the imperial entourage.
By championing the cause of the Christians, Constantine had neatly
engineered for himself the leadership of a 'fifth column' in the
Eastern Empire - effectively a state within a state.
The Fabulous Sign. At
first, Constantine honoured the Tetrarchy that had stabilised
the Empire for a generation but when Galerius died in 311
AD, Constantine saw his opportunity. In the spring of 312 AD,
in the first of his civil wars, Constantine moved against the
ill-fated Maxentius to seize control of Italy and Africa
- in the process almost annihilating a Roman army near Turin,
and another outside of Rome. It is at this point that one
of the more enduring myths of Constantines divine
destiny makes its appearance - the writing above the sun
appearing before Constantines victory over Maxentius
army at Milvan Bridge. The legend has it that the words:
In this sign, you shall conquer and the sign
of the cross were visible to Constantine and his entire army.
Perhaps the words were the Latin In Hoc Signo Victor
Seris - a most bizarre cloud formation unique in the
annals of meteorological observation! More likely the words would
have been in Greek ('En Touto Nika'), but this would
have left them unintelligible to the bulk of the army.
Digging below the legend however,
one can discover that the vision was in fact a dream reported
some years later by Constantine to his secretary Lactantius.
The story was later embellished by Bishop Eusebius in his
Life of Constantine, and the sign of the cross
must have been an even later interpolation as the cross was not
a Christian symbol at the time of the battle at Milvan Bridge
- nor would be until late into the 5th century AD. Any good
luck emblem at this date would have been the rather
ambiguous chi-rho: the first two letters of the word christos
(in Greek meaning the anointed one), and
also Chronos, god of time and interestingly a popular embodiment
of Mithras! What is perhaps most significant about the
story is that, while Constantine had not converted to Christianity,
invoking its symbols was sufficient to apparently win divine patronage.
But did Constantine really use Christian symbols as his biographers
contest? Contemporary coins issued to celebrate the victory showed
only Sol Invictus. Moreover, Constantines triumphant
arch, still standing, refers only to the gods.
In truth, Constantine was not a particularly pious man. Famously,
he delayed his baptism until he was close to death for fear of
further sinning, perhaps with good reason: among his many murders
was that of his first wife Fausta (boiled alive) and eldest
son Crispus (strangled).
End of the Praetorians: New Germanic
Cavalry. One consequence of Constantine's victories in 312 AD was
the disbandment of the Praetorian Guard. The Praetorians
had the misfortune to have backed Maxentius and those who
had not fallen in the battle (many had drowned near the Milvan
Bridge) were demoted and posted to garrisons on distant frontiers.
Replacing the Praetorians was a special imperial guard, the Scholae
Palatinae, an elite cavalry regiment of 500 men, mainly Germans.
The creation of elite units was not new: Diocletian had pioneered
a new force of imperial guards (Ioviani and Herculiani),
but these had been crack infantry regiments. While Constantine's
fondness for Germanic troops may be construed as a barbarisation
of the army, the removal of the Praetorians had a far
more costly long-term consequence - it effectively left Rome defenceless
when the Visigoths arrived a century later.
Multiple Civil Wars. Having
added Italy and Africa to his realm, Constantine first secured
his position with the senior Augustus in the East (Flavius
Galerius Valerius Licinianus Licinius had succeeded to the
throne of Galerius) by a 'peace pact' and the gift of his
sister as a bride. Yet within a year, Constantine reneged on his
agreement with Licinius and plunged the Empire into a new
civil war. Two battles in the Balkans, Cibalae (October
314 AD) and Castra Jarba (November 314 AD), were stalemated
with massive casualties on both sides. In a display of astute
psychological warfare, it seems Constantine had unnerved the Christians
in Licinius' army by displaying Christian emblems in his
own legions. Licinius, an accommodating and benign Emperor, sued
for a peace in which he acknowledged Constantine as the senior
Augustus. Now titular monarch of the world, for the next
decade Constantine concentrated on wooing the senatorial class
in Rome, a process marked by a programme of public works in a
city already in decline.
The Fate of Rome. In
the embattled years of the late 3rd century, the fortunes of the
city of Rome began a downspin, at about the same time as Christianitys
star was rising. By Constantines day there were about two
dozen Christian meeting houses in the city but the imperial court
and its bureaucracy had moved north, first to Milan and
Trier, and later, to Ravenna and Arles. Affected
both by civil conflict and the recurring epidemics arriving in
its wake, the citys population began to fall. Worse yet,
at the very moment that the Christian succeeded in converting
the pagan city (albeit by happily assimilating pagan beliefs and
ritual) through the consecration of the Lateran Basilica,
Constantine was already well ahead with plans for a new capital,
eight hundred miles to the East - the future Constantinople. After
326 AD, Constantine never again stepped foot in Rome leaving it
instead to the Bishops, who picked up the mantle of falling grandeur
and set the city on a new path to power as the centre of Christian
built support within the old imperial capital, but with his ambitions
still not satisfied, Constantine provoked yet another civil war
with Licinius in 324 AD. Constantine gathered an army of
125,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry, and a fleet of 200 vessels.
To meet the threat, Licinius stripped troops from the vulnerable
Persian frontier to assemble a force of 150,000 infantry, 15,000
cavalry and a fleet of no fewer than 350 ships. Battle was joined
at Adrianople on 3 July and Byzantium was blockaded.
The fleets met in the Bosphorus, but Licinius's
navy was overwhelmed by a storm, drowning 5,000 men in the process.
Licinius surrendered on the promise of personal safety;
six months later, he was strangled by order of Constantine. The
tough and ruthless pampered prince had at last
reached the summit of his ambition to be sole ruler of the Empire.
Yet in his climb to mastery of the Roman world, 'the first
Christian Emperor' had wrought the destruction of the Roman
military machine. The huge loss of manpower could be made good
only through the expedient of ever greater recruitment of barbarian
detachments, hired as mercenaries to fight Rome's wars.
Fatal Reorganisation of the Army.
At the height of its power, Rome's vast empire
had been successfully defended by legions stationed in fortresses
on the frontiers. Its military machine had thoroughly mastered
the arts of military support and logistics. Some 30 legions had
been sufficient to vanquish barbarians in forest, desert, mountain
or marsh. But the legions had increasingly become the makers of
emperors. In the interlude of the tetrarchy, Constantine's father
had been chosen by Diocletian for his ability. But Constantine
himself had used the Gallic army to stake his own claim for power
and he was wary of the legions. Having triumphed by force, Constantine
was determined to close the door for any future usurpers.
At the heart of Constantine's new structure for
the army was a more mobile force of 100,000 troops, initially
withdrawn from the frontier garrisons and divided into several
smaller field armies. The comitatenses were stationed well
within the provinces in a marked contrast to the armys deployment
during the Principate, which was used primarily to protect
the Empires frontiers. The old system had meant that if
an enemy successfully penetrated the frontier zone, it took considerable
time to redeploy forces to defeat the threat. Moreover, withdrawing
forces from one area could weaken its defence leading to further
problems. Importantly, the comitatenses were at the immediate
disposal of the Emperor and had greater freedom of manoeuvre to
counter hostile incursions or, from the experiences of the civil
wars, to protect the Emperor from the internal threat of usurpers.
With the new army came a new command structure, based upon personal
loyalty to the Emperor. At its head were two 'field marshals'
for infantry and cavalry (magister peditum and magister equitum,
respectively), both of whom were under Constantine's watchful
eye. Senators were removed entirely from military command.
Increased mobility would seemingly place
greater emphasis on cavalry, ...yet in the crucial battles
that the legions fought against Goths and Huns it was the clash
of foot soldiers - not cavalry - that decided the Empire's fate."
The Greek historian Zosimus, in the early 6th century AD
noted other consequences of Constantine's reforms: "[He]
abolished security by removing the greater part of the soldiery
from the frontiers to the cities that needed no auxiliary forces.
He thus deprived of help the people who were harassed by the barbarians
and burdened tranquil cities with the pest of the military, so
that several straightway were deserted. Moreover, he softened
the soldiers, who treated themselves to shows and luxuries. Indeed
(to speak plainly) he personally planted the first seeds of our
present devastated state of affairs.".
The troops remaining on the frontiers (limitanei and ripenses
- the 'border' and 'river' guards, respectively) were re-grouped
into small units of 1,000 men, with limited cavalry support under
the command of a dux. Contrary to the popular image,
the limitanei were regular units of trained troops, who
differed only in status from the comitatenses. The limitanei undertook
the day-to-day patrolling and garrison duties on most frontiers,
as well as some areas with internal disorder. The
available evidence suggests these duties were performed well,
yet some commentators have claimed the limitanei avoided any engagement
with an enemy they were not expected to defeat. It is far more
likely that their numbers were insufficient to single-handedly
stop a major raid or incursion. Indeed, the limitanei were
able to cope with small scale warfare and units were occasionally
attached to, and operated effectively, with the larger field armies.
In some cases the attachments became permanent with the units
Even though the overall army was larger than in the earlier Principate,
Rome's effective combatant manpower was drastically reduced, was
too expensive and was never mobile enough. The larger army required
a vastly enlarged bureaucracy of rapacious tax-collectors and
it had to levy the cities annually for manpower. The result was
to send many cities into a downward spiral as the citizenry seeped
away. Constantine responded to the crisis by introducing a law
requiring sons of veterans to serve in the army. Military service,
like tax collecting and other trades, became hereditary. Not only
did the resulting lack of social mobility undermined esprit de
corps in the army, but Constantine had laid one of the foundation
stones of the later form of slavery we recognise as serfdom. So,
with the demise of the old army structure, a common soldier could
no longer be promoted through the ranks to eventually enter the
imperial entourage and, if inclined, reach for the throne itself.
Constantine reforms had set the stage for 'lords' on horseback
commanding poorly equipped conscripts.
Divine, Dynastic Monarch! The
wily Diocletian had begun a process (adapted from the Oriental
theocracies) that Constantine refined and set as a model for all
future monarchs - surrounding the imperial dignity with a halo
of sacredness and ceremonial. A large court-retinue, elaborate
court-ceremonials, and ostentatious court-costume made access
to the Emperor almost impossible. When he eventually reached God's
agent on Earth, a suppliant prostrated
himself before the Emperor as if before a divinity (contrast this
with Augustus, who had always stood to greet a senator!)
Henceforth, emperors allowed themselves to be venerated as divine,
and everything connected with them was no longer imperial
but sacred. Constantine, not content with concentrating
absolute (and divine) power into his own hands,
went on to reduce the authority of provincial governors and generals
(Duces and Comes). Some
of this authority fell into the hands of the nouveau riche bishops,
at whose head stood Constantine himself. Constantine hoped thus
to prevent any rebellion arising in the provinces, but in so doing,
he also weakened the ability of the provinces to resist invasion.
The Birth of the State Church.
Constantine had exploited Christianity to achieve power and now
his desire for complete control saw him impose that same religion
on the whole Empire. It was not as a fervent believer that Constantine
was to patronize Christianity, but as means to firmly bond submission
to the one God with loyalty to the one Emperor.
In the century before the alliance of one particular faction with
the imperium, many versions of Christianity had contended. Before
Constantine, Christ had, for most Christians, been the good
shepherd, just like Mithras and Apollo,
not a celestial monarch or an imperial judge, and nor did the sects
dwell on the crucifixion. But with Constantine's absolute monarchy,
Christianity acquired its panoply of imperial triumphs. The leading
bishop, Eusebius, hailed the Emperor as a new Moses, a new Abraham.
Constantine appeared to see himself, more modestly, as the thirteenth
apostle, a saint-in-waiting! At the time, perhaps 5% of the Empires
population was nominally Christian. With imperial
encouragement, support, funds and force the Church set about the
task of gathering its flock. In a number of provinces, a serious
breach had opened within the Christian churches between those who
had renounced their faith (apostatised) during Diocletian's
brief persecution and those who had suffered penalties for their
beliefs. Some churches already had a nationalistic
bent, serving as a focus for opposition to the Emperor. Constantine,
vexed by all such discord, called for an inclusive universal
or catholic faith. Of course, all factions regarded themselves as
that universal orthodox faith and manoeuvred for preferment.
It was inevitable that an autocrat like Constantine would identify
with and adopt a church which modelled its organisation not merely
upon the Roman State but upon its most authoritarian aspect: the
Imperial Army. In the Constantinian church, bishops would preside
over districts corresponding with military dioceses, would control
appointments and impose discipline. Lesser clerics would report
through a chain of command up to the local pontiff. Staff
officers, in the guise of deacons and presbyters, would
control funds and allocations. In fact, it was this very same paramilitary
organisation that had aided the spread of Christianity (from virtual
obscurity during the Pax Romana) and had first attracted
Constantine to champion the Christian cause in his bid for the throne.
Spoils of Victory: Pillaging
the Pagans. It is not unfair to say that the early Church at
this period was highly intolerant of any competition. This is hardly
surprising as, throughout recorded history, new religions have always
struggled, zealously, to establish themselves as the true
faith, radical and different from all previous versions. The Universal
Church had eyed with envy the pagan temples and shrines
which, through centuries, had amassed fortunes. In favouring Christianity,
Constantine sanctioned intolerant zealots to make a concerted effort
to crush all opposition. As his propagandists,
influential Christian leaders had the ear of Constantine and successfully
urged him to confiscate temple treasures throughout the Empire,
much of it redirected to the One True Faith.
The assault upon the values that had sustained the Empire for a
thousand years was merciless and relentless. It began with Constantine's
denial of state funds to the ancient pagan shrines, which had always
depended on state sponsorship. Never having had full-time fund raisers
like the Christian churches, the pagan cults immediately went into
decline. Yet having given the Christians the world, Constantine
had failed to anticipate the ferocity of Christian discord, which
was to dog his reign and the reign of his successors.
The Christian community itself
had changed as a consequence of the Constantinian revolution.
Official recognition of Christianity, the tax exemptions it gave
devotees and state patronage made the Christian faith considerably
more appealing to opportunistic pagans. Episcopal posts became
highly sought after when, in 319 AD, the clergy were exempted
from public obligations and, in 321 AD, priests were exempted
from imperial and local taxation. Clerics were even placed outside
the jurisdiction of normal courts. Consequently, a flood of new
converts, many with little or no religious motivation, swamped
the Church. Fierce rivalries within it multiplied, weakened its
power and exposed vulnerabilities in both its doctrine and organisation.
Post-Constantine: Lurch into Religious
Tyranny. Constantine had successfully
established the dynastic principle, but it had become a bitter
fruit. His feeble sons, born to rule, murdered each
other in an all-consuming power struggle (the survivor died falling
from his horse). Worse yet, Constantines nephew, Julian,
though raised as a Christian, detested the doctrine and, on assuming
the throne, reversed many of Constantines policies. To the
alarm of the new Christian establishment, the
pagan world seemingly not die quietly. Fortunately, within three
years, the Emperor Julian had been assassinated on the
Persian front and with the prize once again unexpectedly within
their grasp, the Christian Church was fearful of losing it. Thereafter,
the Church embraced a ruthlessness hitherto unknown in the world
that, in the centuries ahead, would wreak unimaginable horror.
In the closing years of the 4th century AD, draconian laws prohibiting
non-Christian beliefs were enacted by the new (Christian) Emperor
Theodosius. Heresy became equated with treason and was
thus a capital offence. Theodosius the Great
presided over the destruction of temples and icons, the burning
of books and libraries, and a murderous rampage of pagan priests,
scholars and philosophers. The prologue to the Dark Age in Europe
had been written through the sacrifice of the wisdom and finesse
of an entire civilisation on the altar of new belief.
1. Eutropius 10.8; Jerome, Chronicon s.a. 337;
and Socrates 1.39.1.
2. Aurelius Victor, 41.16.
3. Lenski, "Reign", 59. Barnes opts for a date "soon
after...270", preferring 272 or 273 (Constantine and Eusebius,
3). Elliott, too, chooses 272 or 273 (Christianity, 17). Odahl suggests
273 (Odahl, 16). Dates in the 280s have been recently refuted (Pohlsander,
4. Timothy D. Barnes, The New Empire of Diocletian and Constantine
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (1982), 3942; T. G.
Elliott, "Constantine's Conversion: Do We Really Need It?"
Phoenix 41 (Winter 1987), 4256; T. G. Elliott, "Eusebian
Frauds in the "Vita Constantini"". Phoenix 45 (Summer
1991), 163; Elliott, Christianity, 17; Barbara Saylor Rodgers, "The
Metamorphosis of Constantine". The Classical Quarterly 39 (1989),
238; David H. Wright, "The True Face of Constantine the Great".
Dumbarton Oaks Papers 41 (1987), 495, 507.
5. A.H.M. Jones, Constantine and the Conversion of Europe. London:
The English Universities Press (1948), 12.
6. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, 3; Lenski, "Reign",
5960; Odahl, 1617.
7. Ancient sources: Ambrose De Obit. Theod. 42; Jerome, Chronicon
306; Origo Constantini 2. Modern commentary: Barnes, 3; Lenski,
8. Odahl, 16.
9. Simon Corcoran, "Before Constantine". The Cambridge
Companion to the Age of Constantine. Ed. Noel Lenski. New York:
Cambridge University Press (2006), 4154; Odahl, 4650;
Warren Treadgold, A History of Byzantine State and Society. Stanford:
Stanford University Press (1997), 1415.
10. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, 3; Lenski, "Reign",
5960; Odahl, 47, 299; Pohlsander, Constantine, 14. The date
of Constantius' remarriage is a contentious issue. Pohlsander and
Odahl favor a remarriage in 293, as the Origo Constantini links
the two events explicitly, while Barnes and Lenski favor a 288 or
289 date, based on a reading of the Panegyrici Latini dated 21 April
289 that seems to suggest that Constantius was already married to
Theodora at the time.
11. Corcoran, 401; Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, 3, 8;
Odahl, 467; Pohlsander, Constantine, 89, 14; Treadgold,
12. Lenski, "Reign", 60; Odahl, 7273.
13. Eusebius, Vita Constantini 1.19; Odahl, 7273.
14. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, 2225; Odahl, 6769.
15. H. A. Drake, "Lambs into Lions: Explaining Early Christian
Intolerance". Past and Present 153 (November 1996), 15, 345;
16. H. A. Drake, "The Impact of Constantine on Christianity".
The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine. Ed. Noel Lenski.
New York: Cambridge University Press (2006), 126.
17. Elliott, "Conversion", 425.
18. Odahl, 15.
19. H. A. Drake, "Impact", 126.
20. Odahl, 73.
21. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, 2527; Odahl, 6972.
22. Lenski, "Reign", 6061; Odahl, 7274; Pohlsander,
23. Odahl, 7576.
24. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, 27; Lenski, "Reign",
61; Odahl, 77.
25. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, 2728; Lenski, "Reign",
6162; Odahl, 7879.
26. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, 2829; Lenski, "Reign",
62; Odahl, 7980.
27. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, 29.
28. Odahl, 80; Pohlsander, Constantine, 1415; Treadgold, 28.
29. S. Angus, The Mystery Religions, p.236.
30. Lactantius, On the Death of the Persecutors, chapter XLIV; ANF.
31. Eusebius, Vita Constantini (1.xxvi-xxxi).
32. Ferrill, A. (1986), The Fall of the Roman Empire: The Military
Explanation, Thames & Hudson.
33. Zosimus, Historia Nova, II.34.
34. Goldsworthy, A. (2003), The Complete Roman Army, Thames &
Most historians assert 272 AD as Constantines birth year
following a number of ancient sources, but another equally
reliable contemporary source suggests a birthdate of 276 AD,
and modern historians have argued for dates as late as 288 AD.
In later years, Constantine would often lie about his age for
political gain, further confusing the issue. In any case, Constantine
was born in an age in which births were not regularly registered;
it is likely that Constantine himself did not know exactly when
he was born.