Cains Flavins Valerius Aurelius Claudius Constantine I., surnamed the Great, emperor of Rome, born, according to the best authorities, at Na-issus (now Nissa) in Upper Mcesia, in February, 272, died near Nicomedia, May 22, 337. His father, Constantius Chlorus, was in 292 appointed Caesar or lieutenant emperor of the western portion of the empire, which at that time was divided between the two Augusti, or emperors, Maximian and Diocletian. Constantine was sent to serve under Diocletian as a hostage for his father's loyalty. In several campaigns in Egypt and Persia he rose to the rank of tribune. When in 30.5 Diocletian and Maximian retired into private life, Constantine, who had everything to fear from the jealousy of the new eastern emperor Galerius, took refuge with his father, who had succeeded Maximian as emperor of the West. He followed him to England, where Constantius died in 306. The army immediately proclaimed Constantine emperor, but Galerius disapproved of the choice, and, recognizing Constantine as lieutenant emperor, appointed Severus emperor of the West. While Constantine protected Gaul and the Rhenish frontier against the invasions of the Germans, violent struggles arose at Rome between Severus and Maximian's son Maxentius, who had been elected emperor by the people and army.
Maximian himself, having become tired of private life, once more laid claim to the imperial purple. He had Severus assassinated, but was overcome by his own son and compelled to seek refuge with his son-in-law Constantine, whose aid he endeavored to obtain by promising him-the succession. Constantine, while preparing to comply with Maximian's request, became aware that he himself was secretly conspired against by his treacherous ally, whom he now in 310 compelled to commit suicide. Maxentius, in order to avenge his father's death, was about to set out for Gaul, when suddenly Constantine led his legions to Italy, and triumphantly entered Rome. There he was greeted as emperor by the senate, Maxentius having been accidentally drowned. During this campaign Constantine is said to have seen in the sky a flaming cross, bearing the inscription: ' " In this conquer".
From that time the symbol of Christianity appeared on the shields of the soldiers and the banners of the Roman army. In the mean time Galerius, who still assumed supreme authority, had appointed Licinius emperor of the West, but Constantine made common cause with him. Galerius died in 311; his successor Maximin was defeated by Licinius, and thus in 313 the empire was once more divided between two rulers, Constantine for the West and Licinius for the East. The next year Constantine attempted to overthrow Licinius, but could only wrest from him Illyricum, Pannonia, and Greece. A peace of nine years followed, during which Constantine consolidated his power by reforms in the civil, military, and judicial administration. At last, in 323, he was ready to realize his desire to reunite the whole empire. He took the field against Licinius, defeated him in two battles at Adrianople and Chalcedon, compelled him to surrender, and, in spite of a solemn promise to spare his life, condemned him to an ignominious death. It is in vain that zealous writers have tried to relieve Constantine's reputation from the crimes committed to satisfy his ambition.
His father-in-law, his brother-in-law Licinius, his own son Crispus, his nephew the son of Licinius, a boy of 11 years, and lastly his wife Fausta, were successively his victims. As a statesman and politician, Constantine favored and protected Christianity, though he was baptized only on his deathbed. He conceived that the vast structure of a centralized empire, comprising almost the whole civilized world, was not to be built upon the decaying remnants of paganism. A new and vigorous principle, which, by inculcating obedience to existing authorities, seemed admirably adapted to the wants of absolute monarchism, was to instil new life into the Roman empire. This may have been Constantine's idea. As early as 312 he granted absolute toleration to the Christians, and restored to them the property confiscated by his predecessors, and every attempt to restrain the religious liberty of Christians was severely punished. By convening and attending the general council at Nice (325), Constantine openly declared the Christian to be the official religion of the empire. The removal of the seat of government from Rome to Byzantium (330) was another great measure by which he intended to strengthen the empire.
New Rome was to be the name of the new capital, but the name of Constantinople (the city of Constantine) prevailed. All vestiges of republican forms were extinguished by him; while in the administration of affairs he brought order out of chaos, and constructed a powerful machinery of government by separating the civil from the military administration, but uniting both in the hands of the sovereign. He made his court outshine in splendor and magnificence even those of the oriental princes, and created a hierarchy of officials which to this day has remained the model of European monarchical courts. A standing army of 300,-000 men and 29 naval squadrons supported the imperial authority. Heavy impositions upon the people were necessary to cover the enormous expenses, but the introduction of a regular financial system, and a just distribution of the taxes, made them appear less onerous than they would otherwise have been. With the exception of a brief war in 332 against the Goths, occupying the present Danubian principalities, the reign of Constantine after the reunion of the empire was a peaceful one.
He was preparing for war against Persia when he suddenly fell ill, and died on the day of Pentecost, after having been baptized by the bishop of Nicomedia. He was buried in the church of the apostles at Constantinople.
Coin of Constantine.