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Constantine wins control of Roman Empire

This Day in World History

October 28, 312 CE

Constantine wins control of Roman Empire

Control of the Roman Empire was in the balance when the armies of Constantine and his brother-in-law Maxentius clashed near the Milvian Bridge, north of Rome. Despite having a smaller army, Constantine triumphed—a victory made secure when Maxentius drowned in the Tiber River while trying to escape. Constantine’s victory left him in command of the western half of the Roman Empire—but it also had more significant consequences.

After the battle, Constantine claimed that his success was due to his decision to embrace Christianity.  Histories composed a few years later promoted the story that before the battle the emperor received an omen in which he beheld a vision of the Christian cross with the encouraging words, ‘Conquer in this sign”. While those accounts are not necessarily reliable and scholars still debate Constantine’s religious beliefs, the triumphal arch that Constantine built in Rome three years after the battle shows him holding a cross in the air and bears the inscription, “By this saving sign I have delivered your city from the tyrant and restored liberty”—evidence that Constantine committed himself to the Christian cause (even if he did not become baptized until just before his death). In 313 CE, he and the Eastern emperor, Licinius, issued a proclamation from Milan that proclaimed toleration of all religions. Some earlier emperors had promised to refrain from persecuting Christians, but Constantine’s long reign—he remained emperor until 337, ruling alone after his defeat of Licinius in 324 CE—firmly entrenched this new of policy of toleration across the empire.

Constantine. Colossal head of Constantine, about five times life size. The upward gaze is characteristic of all his portraits and may suggest Christian piety or perhaps Constantine’s aloofness from mundane affairs. Source: Art Resource

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Recent Comments

  1. jthauthor

    Constantine embraced not so much Christianity but the comingling of a fresh new religion with imperial authority. Via the Nicene Creed, we have the wedding of church and state. And the silencing of dissenting voices pursuant to the apostolic, catholic authority of a single monolithic church – emerging to rule with full force of imperial law for over a millennium. In the process, Christianity lost the driving, diverse, heterodox force of its first three centuries. For more on this view, see: http://www.jesustheheresy.com/ncreed.html

  2. Cheryl Herringshaw

    I am interested in learning more about Jesus the Heresy.

    I am writing a book entitled Behind the Mask.

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