Constantine the Great

Constantine the Great
Colossal head of Constantine (4th century), Capitoline museum, Rome
Emperor of the Roman Empire
  • 25 July 306 AD – 29 October 312 AD (Caesar in the west; self-proclaimed augustus from 309; recognized as such in the east in April 310. Ruled in competition with Flavius Severus 306–307, Maximian 306–308 and 310, Maxentius 306–312, and Licinius 308–313)
  • 29 October 312 – 19 September 324 (undisputed augustus in the west, senior augustus in the empire)
PredecessorConstantius I (with Galerius in the East)
Reign19 September 324 – 22 May 337 (emperor of whole empire)
  • Himself (in the West)
  • Licinius (in the East)
Born27 February c. 272[1]
Naissus, Moesia Superior, Roman Empire
Died22 May 337(337-05-22) (aged 65)
Nicomedia, Bithynia, Roman Empire
Full name
Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus
Regnal name
Imperator Caesar Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus
GreekΚωνσταντίνος Α΄
DynastyConstantinian dynasty
FatherConstantius Chlorus
Saint Constantine the Great
Byzantinischer Mosaizist um 1000 002.jpg
Mosaics in the Hagia Sophia, section: Maria as patron saint of Istanbul, detail: Emperor Constantine I with a model of the city
Emperor, Confessor and Equal to the Apostles
Venerated in
Major shrineChurch of the Holy Apostles, Constantinople modern day Istanbul, Turkey
Feast21 May

Constantine the Great (Latin: Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus; Ancient Greek: Κωνσταντῖνος ὁ Μέγας, romanizedKōnstantînos ho Mégas; 27 February c. 272 AD[1] – 22 May 337 AD), also known as Constantine I, was a Roman Emperor who ruled between 306 and 337 AD. Born in Naissus, in Dacia Ripensis, city now known as Niš (Serbian Cyrillic: Ниш, located in Serbia), he was the son of Flavius Valerius Constantius, a Roman Army officer of Illyrian origins. His mother Helena was Greek. His father became Caesar, the deputy emperor in the west, in 293 AD. Constantine was sent east, where he rose through the ranks to become a military tribune under Emperors Diocletian and Galerius. In 305, Constantius was raised to the rank of Augustus, senior western emperor, and Constantine was recalled west to campaign under his father in Britannia (Britain). Constantine was acclaimed as emperor by the army at Eboracum (modern-day York) after his father's death in 306 AD. He emerged victorious in a series of civil wars against Emperors Maxentius and Licinius to become sole ruler of both west and east by 324 AD.

As emperor, Constantine enacted administrative, financial, social, and military reforms to strengthen the empire. He restructured the government, separating civil and military authorities. To combat inflation he introduced the solidus, a new gold coin that became the standard for Byzantine and European currencies for more than a thousand years. The Roman army was reorganised to consist of mobile field units and garrison soldiers capable of countering internal threats and barbarian invasions. Constantine pursued successful campaigns against the tribes on the Roman frontiers—the Franks, the Alamanni, the Goths, and the Sarmatians—even resettling territories abandoned by his predecessors during the Crisis of the Third Century.

Constantine was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity.[notes 1] Although he lived much of his life as a pagan, and later as a catechumen, he joined the Christian faith on his deathbed, being baptised by Eusebius of Nicomedia. He played an influential role in the proclamation of the Edict of Milan in 313, which declared religious tolerance for Christianity in the Roman empire. He called the First Council of Nicaea in 325, which produced the statement of Christian belief known as the Nicene Creed.[4] The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built on his orders at the purported site of Jesus' tomb in Jerusalem and became the holiest place in Christendom. The Papal claim to temporal power in the High Middle Ages was based on the forged Donation of Constantine. He has historically been referred to as the "First Christian Emperor", and he did heavily promote the Christian Church. Some modern scholars, however, debate his beliefs and even his comprehension of the Christian faith itself.[notes 2]

The age of Constantine marked a distinct epoch in the history of the Roman Empire.[7] He built a new imperial residence at Byzantium and renamed the city Constantinople (now Istanbul) after himself (the laudatory epithet of "New Rome" came later, and was never an official title). It became the capital of the Empire for more than a thousand years, with the later eastern Roman Empire, now being referred to as the Byzantine Empire by historians. His more immediate political legacy was that he replaced Diocletian's tetrarchy with the principle of dynastic succession by leaving the empire to his sons. His reputation flourished during the lifetime of his children and for centuries after his reign. The medieval church upheld him as a paragon of virtue, while secular rulers invoked him as a prototype, a point of reference, and the symbol of imperial legitimacy and identity.[8] Beginning with the Renaissance, there were more critical appraisals of his reign, due to the rediscovery of anti-Constantinian sources. Trends in modern and recent scholarship have attempted to balance the extremes of previous scholarship.


Constantine was a ruler of major importance, and he has always been a controversial figure.[9] The fluctuations in his reputation reflect the nature of the ancient sources for his reign. These are abundant and detailed,[10] but they have been strongly influenced by the official propaganda of the period[11] and are often one-sided;[12] no contemporaneous histories or biographies dealing with his life and rule have survived.[13] The nearest replacement is Eusebius's Vita Constantini—a mixture of eulogy and hagiography[14] written between 335 AD and circa 339 AD[15]—that extols Constantine's moral and religious virtues.[16] The Vita creates a contentiously positive image of Constantine,[17] and modern historians have frequently challenged its reliability.[18] The fullest secular life of Constantine is the anonymous Origo Constantini,[19] a work of uncertain date,[20] which focuses on military and political events to the neglect of cultural and religious matters.[21]

Lactantius' De Mortibus Persecutorum, a political Christian pamphlet on the reigns of Diocletian and the Tetrarchy, provides valuable but tendentious detail on Constantine's predecessors and early life.[22] The ecclesiastical histories of Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret describe the ecclesiastic disputes of Constantine's later reign.[23] Written during the reign of Theodosius II (408–450 AD), a century after Constantine's reign, these ecclesiastical historians obscure the events and theologies of the Constantinian period through misdirection, misrepresentation, and deliberate obscurity.[24] The contemporary writings of the orthodox Christian Athanasius and the ecclesiastical history of the Arian Philostorgius also survive, though their biases are no less firm.[25]

The epitomes of Aurelius Victor (De Caesaribus), Eutropius (Breviarium), Festus (Breviarium), and the anonymous author of the Epitome de Caesaribus offer compressed secular political and military histories of the period. Although not Christian, the epitomes paint a favourable image of Constantine but omit reference to Constantine's religious policies.[26] The Panegyrici Latini, a collection of panegyrics from the late third and early fourth centuries, provide valuable information on the politics and ideology of the tetrarchic period and the early life of Constantine.[27] Contemporary architecture, such as the Arch of Constantine in Rome and palaces in Gamzigrad and Córdoba,[28] epigraphic remains, and the coinage of the era complement the literary sources.[29]

Other Languages
አማርኛ: ቆስጠንጢኖስ
aragonés: Constantín I
asturianu: Constantín I
azərbaycanca: I Konstantin
Bân-lâm-gú: Constantinus 1-sè
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Канстантын I Вялікі
български: Константин I
Cymraeg: Cystennin I
español: Constantino I
客家語/Hak-kâ-ngî: Constantinus 1-sṳ
Արեւմտահայերէն: Կոստանդիանոս Ա. Մեծ
Bahasa Indonesia: Konstantinus Agung
interlingua: Constantino I
italiano: Costantino I
Kiswahili: Konstantino Mkuu
latviešu: Konstantīns I
Lëtzebuergesch: Konstantin de Groussen
lietuvių: Konstantinas I
Lingua Franca Nova: Constantino la Grande
lumbaart: Costantin I
македонски: Константин Велики
Malagasy: Konstantino I
Bahasa Melayu: Constantine I
Mirandés: Custantino I
norsk nynorsk: Konstantin den store
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Konstantin I
پنجابی: قسطنطین I
Piemontèis: Costantin
Plattdüütsch: Konstantin de Grote
português: Constantino
Runa Simi: Constantinus I
русиньскый: Конштантін I
संस्कृतम्: कान्स्टण्टैन १
sardu: Costantinu
sicilianu: Custantinu I
Simple English: Constantine the Great
slovenščina: Konstantin I. Veliki
српски / srpski: Константин Велики
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Konstantin Veliki
татарча/tatarça: Бөек Константин
Türkçe: I. Konstantin
Yorùbá: Constantine 1k
žemaitėška: Kuonstantėns I