Category Archives: Roman Commanders

Gaius Marcius Coriolanus: Legendary General or Man of Myth

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

With so much to discuss about Ancient Rome, sometimes we ask ourselves were to begin or what to share today? We all know that events abound during this historical period from the Founding of Rome through the Decline of the Byzantine Empire, and that numerous people stood out as well.

Having recently watched the move Coriolanus, starring Ralph Fiennes and Gerard Butler, we were curious if this was the imagination of William Shakespeare or if this was truth. In any case, the story was awesome (check out our take on the film here – Ralph Fiennes Presents William Shakespeare’s ‘Coriolanus’) and the search for the truth would be worth it.

Join us today as we hunt for the real Gaius Marcius Coriolanus!

Gaius Marcius Coriolanus

Gaius Marcius (Caius Martius) Coriolanus was a Roman General who is said to have lived in the 5th Century BC. In later ancient times, it was generally accepted by historians that Coriolanus was a real historical individual, and a consensus narrative story of his life appeared, retold by leading historians such as LivyPlutarch, and Dionysius of Halicarnassus.

Map of Coriolanus’ Campaigns

Coriolanus came to fame as a young man serving in the Army of the Consul Postumus Cominius Auruncus in 493 BC during the siege of the Volscian town of Corioli. While the Romans were focused on the siege, another Volscian force arrived from Antium (modern Anzio and Nettuno) and attacked the Romans.

It was at this moment that the besieged soldiers of Corioli also launched a counter-attack against the Romans. Marcius, who held watch at the time of the Volscian attack, quickly gathered a small force of Roman soldiers to fight against the rallying Volscians from Corioli.

Not only did Marcius repel the enemy, but he also charged through the town gates and began setting fire to some of the houses bordering the town wall. The citizens of Corioli cried out, and the whole Volscian force was dispirited and was ultimately defeated by the Romans.

Land of the Volsci

The town was captured by the Romans, at least in part due to Marcius. He received the toponymic cognomen “Coriolanus” because of his exceptional valor in the siege of said Volscian city.

In 491 BC, just 2 years after the victory over the Volscians, Rome was recovering from a grain shortage. A significant quantity of grain was imported from Sicily, and the Senatus Romanus (Roman Senate) debated the manner in which it should be distributed to the Plebis (Common People).

Coriolanus advocated that the provision of grain should be dependent upon the reversal of the pro-Plebeian political reforms arising from the First Secessio Plebis (494 BC). The Senate thought Coriolanus’ proposal was too harsh.

The populace were infuriated at Coriolanus’ proposal, and the Tribuni (Tribunes) subsequently put him on trial. The Senators argued for the acquittal of Coriolanus, or at the least a merciful sentence.

Tom Hiddleston as Caius Martius Coriolanus

Coriolanus refused to attend on the day of his trial, and he was convicted. He was subsequently exiled from Rome.

Oddly enough, Coriolanus fled to the Volsci in exile. He was received and treated kindly, and resided with the Volscian leader Attius Tullus Aufidius.

Plutarch’s account of his defection tells that Coriolanus donned a disguise and entered the home of Aufidius as a supplicant. It was almost as if Coriolanus was hoping this would be made into a movie or play one day.

Coriolanus and Aufidius then persuaded the Volscians to break their truce with Rome and raise an army to then invade Rome itself. Livy recounts that Aufidius tricked the Senatus Romanus into expelling the Volsci from Rome during the celebration of the Ludi Romani (Great Games), thereby stirring up ill-will among the Volsci.

Ralph Fiennes (front left) as Coriolanus with Gerard Butler (front right) as Attius Tullus Aufidius.

Coriolanus and Aufidius led the Volscian army against Roman towns, coloniae (colonies) and allies. Following this Volscian victory, Roman colonists were then expelled from Circeii.

The pair then campaigned and retook the formerly Volscian towns of SatricumLongulaPollusca, and Corioli. The Volscian army followed this by taking Lavinium, CorbioVitelliaTrebiaLavici, and finally Pedum.

From there the Volsci marched on Rome and besieged it. The Volscians initially camped at the Fossae Cluiliae (Cluilian Trench), 5 miles outside Rome, and ravaged the countryside. Coriolanus directed the Volsci to target plebeian properties and to spare the patricians’.

Coriolanus at the Walls of Rome.

The Consuls, now Spurius Nautius Rutilus and Sextus Furius Medullinus Fusus, readied the defenses of Rome. But the Plebeians implored them to sue for peace.

The Senate was convened, and it was agreed to send petitioners to the enemy. Initially ambassadors were sent, but Coriolanus sent back a negative response.

The ambassadors were sent back to the Volsci, but were refused entry to the enemy camp. Next priests adorned in their regalia were sent by the Romans, but achieved nothing more than had the ambassadors.

Veturia at the Feet of Coriolanus by Gaspare Landi.

Then Coriolanus’ mother Veturia (known as Volumnia in Shakespeare’s play) and his wife Volumnia (known as Virgilia in Shakespeare’s play) and his 2 sons, together with the matrons of Rome, went out to the Volscian camp and implored Coriolanus to cease his attack on Rome. Coriolanus was overcome by their pleas, and moved the Volscian camp back from the city, ending the siege.

Rome honored the service of these women by the erection of a temple dedicated to Fortuna (a female deity). Coriolanus’ fate after this point is unclear, but it seems he took no further part in the war.

One version says that Coriolanus retired to Aufidius’ home city of Antium. Coriolanus had committed acts of disloyalty to both Rome and the Volsci, and Aufidius raised support to have Coriolanus first put on trial by the Volscians, and then assassinated before the trial had ended.

Plutarch’s tale of Coriolanus’ appeal to Aufidius is quite similar to a tale from the life of Themistocles, a leader of the Athenian democracy who was a contemporary of Coriolanus. During Themistocles’ exile from Athens, he travelled to the home of Admetus, King of the Molossians, a man who was his personal enemy.

Themistocles

Themistocles came to Admetus in disguise and appealed to him as a fugitive, just as Coriolanus appealed to Aufidius. Themistocles, however, never attempted military retaliation against Athens.

More recent scholarship has cast doubt on the historicity of Coriolanus. Some portray Coriolanus as either a wholly legendary figure, or at least disputing the accuracy of the conventional story of his life or the timing of the events.

According to Plutarch, his ancestors included prominent patricians such as Censorinus and even an early Rex Romae (King of Rome).

Other modern scholars question parts of the story of Coriolanus. It is notable that accounts of Coriolanus’ life are initially found in works from the 3rd Century BC, some 200 years after Coriolanus’ life. There are few authoritative historical records prior to the Gallic sack of Rome in 390 BC.

Whether or not Coriolanus himself is a historical figure, the saga preserves a genuine popular memory of the dark, unhappy decades of the early 5th Century BC when the Volscians overran Latium and threatened the very existence of Rome. The story is the basis for The Tragedy of Coriolanus, written by William Shakespeare, and a number of other works, including Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture (based not on Shakespeare but on the play Coriolan by Heinrich Joseph von Collin).

Shakespeare’s Coriolanus is the last of his “Roman plays”. Its portrayal of the hero has led to a long tradition of political interpretation of Coriolanus as an anti-populist, or even proto-fascist leader.

President Coriolanus Snow in the film The Hunger Games.

Bertolt Brecht‘s version of Coriolanus (1951) is one of those that stresses this anti-populist view. Suzanne Collins also references the anti-populist interpretation in The Hunger Games trilogy with her character President Coriolanus Snow, a totalitarian dictator who preserves order in the degenerate society of the books, though this character has little in common with the figure Coriolanus.

Heinrich Joseph von Collin‘s 1804 play Coriolan portrayed him in the context of German romantic ideas of the tragic hero. Beethoven’s 1807 Coriolan Overture was written for a production of the von Collin play.

T. S. Eliot wrote a sequence of poems in 1931 entitled Coriolan. Shakespeare’s play also forms the basis of the 2011 motion picture Coriolanus, starring and directed by Ralph Fiennes, in which Coriolanus is the protagonist.

This is the front cover art for the book Roma: The Novel of Ancient Rome written by Steven Saylor.

Steven Saylor‘s 2007 novel Roma presents Coriolanus as a Plebeian, the child of a Patricius (Patrician) mother and Plebeian father. His attitudes toward the changes occurring in Rome during his lifetime are reflective of what has been described.

He achieves Senatorial status thanks to his military valor and connections. When he calls for the abolition of the office of Tribune, he becomes a target of the Plebeians and their representatives.

Coriolanus flees before the trial which would ruin him and his family socially and financially, and seeks the alliance with the Volsci described above. His military campaign against Rome is successful and his forces are approaching the walls of the city until the appeal of the Roman women, including his Patrician mother and his wife. When he orders his troops to withdraw, he is killed by them.

The front cover art for the book The 48 Laws of Power written by Robert Greene.

The 48 Laws of Power uses Coriolanus as an example of violating Law #4: “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” citing his constant insulting of the plebeians as the reason for his exile.

We appreciate you joining us on the adventure to find the truth about Coriolanus. Since it seems inconclusive, we hope that you will make an informed decision on your own.

Thanks again for stopping by. Please make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Lendering, Jona. “Gnaeus Marcius Coriolanus”.

LivyAb Urbe Condita.

Vittucci, Paola Brandizzi. Antium: Anzio e Nettuno in epoca romana. Bardi, 2000 ISBN 88-85699-83-9.

Willett, John. The Theatre of Bertolt Brecht: A Study from Eight Aspects. Methuen, 1959.

The Life of Coriolanus – Full text of 17th-century English translation by John Dryden (HTML)

The Life of Coriolanus – Full text of 19th-century English translation by Aubrey Stewart and George Long (multiple formats for download)

Coriolanus – Full text of Shakespeare’s play based on Plutarch (HTML)

Mark Antony’s Speech in “Julius Caesar” by William Shakespeare

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

So much we get caught up with the people that made history, that we forget the messages that made these folks famous. Apparently we’ve fallen for the adage of actions speaking louder than words.

Today that is not going to be the case as we take a quick glimpse into Mark Antony‘s funeral speech for Julius Caesar in William Shakespeare‘s play Julius Caesar.

So Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears!

In the turmoil surrounding the assassination, Antony escaped Rome dressed as a slave, fearing Caesar’s death would be the start of a bloodbath among his supporters. When this did not occur, he soon returned to Rome.

The conspirators, who styled themselves the Liberatores (The Liberators), had barricaded themselves on the Capitoline Hill for their own safety. Though they believed Caesar’s death would restore the Res Publica Romana (Roman Republic), Caesar had been immensely popular with the Roman middle and lower classes, who became enraged upon learning a small group of aristocrats had killed their champion.

Antony has been allowed by Brutus and the other conspirators to make a funeral oration for Caesar on condition that he not blame them for Caesar’s death. However, while Antony’s speech outwardly begins by justifying the actions of Brutus and the assassins (“I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him”), Antony uses rhetoric and genuine reminders to ultimately portray Caesar in such a positive light that the crowd are enraged against the conspirators.

Throughout his speech, Antony calls the conspirators “honourable men” with his implied sarcasm becoming increasingly obvious. Antony begins by carefully rebutting the notion that his friend, Caesar deserved to die because he was ambitious, instead claiming that his actions were for the good of the Roman people, whom he cared for deeply.

When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept: Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.

Mark Antony giving Caesar’s funeral speech in the Forum.

Antony then teases the crowd with Caesar’s will, which they beg him to read, but he refuses. Antony tells the crowd to “have patience” and expresses his feeling that he will “wrong the honourable men whose daggers have stabbed Caesar” if he is to read the will.

The crowd, increasingly agitated, calls the conspirators “traitors” and demands that Antony read out the will. After that Antony deals his final blow by revealing to the crowd Caesar’s will, in which it states:

To every Roman citizen he gives, To every several man seventy-five drachmas as well as land.

He ends his speech at which point the crowd begin to riot and search out the assassins with the intention of killing them. Pleased, Antony knows the course that will be played out.

If you have not yet seen, nor read, the Shakespeare play Julius Caesar we highly suggest you do so ASAP. We hope you enjoyed today’s journey and look forward to having you back again soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

The Story of Cleopatra – An Animated Movie (Great for Kids)

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

It’s been a busy time with our little boy growing up and running around everywhere, along with my studying for my teacher’s certification. It feels as if there’s no time for anything else.

Because there’s no time, and this got me thinking about any of our friends out there who may have younger children, we thought today we’d share a video geared towards any youngsters.

Today we present to you an animated story of Cleopatra!

We hope you enjoyed this animated presentation and look forward to having more time to provide new, exciting content in the future. Thanks for understanding.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Caesar in Gaul: Makin’ Waves (56 BC)

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

If you are new to RAE, then welcome to the show. If you’ve been around before, then you probably have realized our fascination with the one and only Gaius Julius Caesar.

When we came across a way to share more about the man who was without a doubt so impactful on the Res Publica Romana (Roman Republic), and what would become the Imperium Rōmānum (Roman Empire) after his assassination, there was no way to pass it up.

So, without further ado, we bring to you Caesar’s Gallic Wars!

Vercingetorix Throws Down His Arms at the Feet of Julius Caesar, by Lionel Noel Royer (1899).

 

In case you missed our previous posts from Caesar’s invasions of Britain, you can check out Part I and Part II.

The Gallic Wars were a series of military campaigns waged by the Roman Proconsul Julius Caesar against several Gallic tribes. Rome’s war against the Gallic tribes lasted from 58 BC to 50 BC and culminated in the decisive Battle of Alesia in 52 BC, in which a complete Roman victory resulted in the expansion of the Roman Republic over the whole of Gaul (mainly present-day France and Belgium).

Although Caesar portrayed this invasion as being a preemptive and defensive action, most historians agree that the wars were fought primarily to boost Caesar’s political career and to pay off his massive debts. The Gallic Wars are described by Julius Caesar in his book Commentarii de Bello Gallico, which remains the most important historical source regarding the conflict.

We hope you enjoyed all the video presentations about Caesar. Be sure to check back with us soon for we never know who, or where, we’ll journey.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Caesar in Britain II – There and Back Again (54 BC)

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

If you are new to RAE, then welcome to the show. If you’ve been around before, then you probably have realized our fascination with the one and only Gaius Julius Caesar.

When we came across a way to share more about the man who was without a doubt so impactful on the Res Publica Romana (Roman Republic), and what would become the Imperium Rōmānum (Roman Empire) after his assassination, there was no way to pass it up.

So, without further ado, we bring to you Caesar in Britain – Part 2!

Caesar’s 2nd Invasion of Britain on the beachhead

 

In case you missed Part I, feel free to take a quick look back here.

During the course of his Gallic Wars, Julius Caesar invaded Britain twice. The original invasion, in late summer of 55 BC, would be considered unsuccessful, gaining the Romans little else besides a beachhead on the coast of Kent.

The next invasion did achieve more. The Romans installed a king, Mandubracius, who was friendly to Rome, and they forced the submission of Mandubracius’s rival, Cassivellaunus.

The bottom line was that no territory was conquered and held for Rome. Instead, all Roman-occupied territory was restored to the allied Trinovantes, along with the promised tribute of the other tribes in what is now eastern England.

As we all know, however, that would not be the end of Julius Caesar. He would go on to campaign in Gallia (Gaul), which we will share with you soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Caesar in Britain (55 BC)

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

If you are new to RAE, then welcome to the show. If you’ve been around before, then you probably have realized our fascination with the one and only Gaius Julius Caesar.

When we came across a way to share more about the man who was without a doubt so impactful on the Res Publica Romana (Roman Republic), and what would become the Imperium Rōmānum (Roman Empire) after his assassination, there was no way to pass it up.

So, without further ado, we bring to you Caesar in Britain!

Edward Armitage’s reconstruction of the Caesar’s 1st Invasion

 

In the course of his Gallic Wars, Julius Caesar invaded Britain twice. The original invasion, in late summer of 55 BC, would be considered unsuccessful, gaining the Romans little else besides a beachhead on the coast of Kent.

This wouldn’t be the last Britannia saw of Julius Caesar, however. He’d be back for more, and we’ll be there to bring it to you.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Marcus Fulvius Nobilior: Consul 189 BC

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Within history, there are those that make an impact that is so large that many volumes are written about his or her life. Then, there are those people who are still impactful yet little has been preserved over the course of time.

Today we uncover the life of one of those important people that little is known about as we explore the life of Marcus Fulvius Nobilior!

Marcus Fulvius Nobilior was a Roman General and a member of one of the most important Patrician families, the Fulvius gens. He started his political career as Curule Aedile in 195 BC.

Nobilior was grandson of Servius Fulvius Paetinus Nobilior (Consul in 255 BC), and was named for his father. He had 2 sons, both of whom obtained the Consulship: Marcus Fulvius Nobilior (in 159 BC) and Quintus Fulvius Nobilior (in 153 BC).

 

As Praetor (193 BC) he served with distinction in Hispania, and as Consul in 189 BC he completely broke the power of the Aetolian League. On his return to Rome, Nobilior celebrated a Triumphus remarkable for the magnificence of the spoils exhibited (of which full details are given by Livy).

On his Aetolian campaign, Nobilior was accompanied by the poet Ennius. Said poet made the capture of Ambracia, at which he was present, the subject of one of his plays.

For this Nobilior was bitterly attacked by Cato the Censor because he had compromised his dignity as a Roman General. In 179 BC, Nobilior was appointed Censor together with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus.

He restored the Temple of Hercules and the Muses in the Circus Flaminius, placed in it a list of Fasti drawn up by himself, and endeavored to make the Roman Calendar more generally known. He was a great enthusiast for Greek art and culture, and introduced many of its masterpieces into Rome, amongst them the picture of the Muses by Zeuxis from Ambracia.

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey and look forward to having you back again soon.  Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for special additions.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Macrobius. Saturnalia. 1.12.16

Marcus Fulvius Nobilior.  Theodora.com

Richard Jackson King. Desiring Rome: Male Subjectivity and Reading Ovid’s Fasti. Ohio State University Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0-8142-1020-8.

THE ROMAN EMPIRE – THE AGE OF AUGUSTUS

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

If there’s something to do with Rome (City / Kingdom / Republic / Empire or otherwise) we are interested. People, places and events that impacted this history are also on our radar.

That is why today we journey through The Roman Empire – The Age of Augustus!

Augustus (full name in Latin: Imperātor Caesar Dīvī Fīlius Augustus) lived from 23 September 63 BC – 19 August 14 AD. He was the founder of the Roman Empire and its original Emperor, ruling from 27 BC until his death in AD 14.

He was born Gaius Octavius into an old and wealthy equestrian branch of the plebeian Octavii family. His maternal great-uncle Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, and Octavius was named in Caesar’s will as his adopted son and heir, then known as Octavianus (Anglicized as Octavian).

The reign of Augustus initiated an era of relative peace known as the Pax Romana (The Roman Peace). The Roman world was largely free from large-scale conflict for more than two centuries, despite continuous wars of imperial expansion on the Empire’s frontiers and one year-long civil war over the imperial succession.

Augustus dramatically enlarged the Empire, annexing Egypt, Dalmatia, Pannonia, Noricum, and Raetia. He also expanded possessions in AfricaGermania, and completed the conquest of Hispania.

When all is said and done, Augustus was a man who made things happen. Rome was a city built of brick and dirt, but he left it one of marble!

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey and look forward to having you back again soon. If you haven’t done so already, please be sure to check us out on Facebook and Twitter for extra content.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

ROME – RISE OF THE REPUBLIC

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

If there’s something we love, it’s a good visual presentation about Roman history. Whether fictional or not, any television show or movie connecting us with Ancient Rome is a win.

That is why today we are taking a visual exploration of the Roman Republic!

The Res Publica Romana was the period of Ancient Roman civilization beginning with the overthrow of the Roman Kingdom, traditionally dated to 509 BC, and ending in 27 BC with the establishment of the Roman Empire. It was during this period that Rome’s control expanded from the city’s immediate surroundings to hegemony over the entire Mediterranean world.

During the initial 2 centuries of its existence, the Roman Republic expanded through a combination of conquest and alliance, from central Italy to the entire Italian peninsula. By the following century, it included North Africa, Spain, and what is now southern France.

Two centuries after that, towards the end of the 1st Century BC, it included the rest of modern France, Greece, and much of the eastern Mediterranean. By this time, internal tensions led to a series of civil wars, culminating with the assassination of Julius Caesar, which led to the transition from Republic to Empire.

 

We hope you enjoyed today’s adventure and look forward to having you back again for more. Please check us out on Facebook and Twitter, and tell your friends about us.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Constantine the Great and Christianity

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Of the reasons the Roman Empire endured as long as it did, there are 2 things that stand out. The Romans knew relied heavily upon tradition and history, but they were also able to adapt and incorporate new ideas or concepts into their lives.

The idea of tradition and incorporating something new into said tradition in a single moment can be shown with Roman Emperor Constantine the Great and Christianity.Constantine at York

While Emperor Constantine reigned (306–337 AD), Christianity began to transition to the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. Historians remain uncertain about Constantine’s reasons for favoring Christianity, but theologians and historians have argued about which form of Early Christianity he subscribed to.

There is no consensus among scholars as to whether he adopted his mother Helena‘s Christianity in his youth, or (as claimed by Eusebius of Caesarea) encouraged her to convert to the faith himself. Some scholars question the extent to which he should be considered a Christian Emperor.

“Constantine saw himself as an ‘Emperor of the Christian people’. If this made him a Christian is the subject of … debate.”, although he allegedly received a baptism shortly before his death.

Galerius_Edict_Sofia_PlaqueConstantine’s decision to cease the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire was a turning point for Early Christianity, sometimes referred to as the Triumph of the Church, the Peace of the Church or the Constantinian Shift. In AD 313, Constantine and Licinius issued the Edict of Milan decriminalizing Christian worship.

The Emperor became a great patron of the Church and set a precedent for the position of the Christian Emperor within the Church and the notion of orthodoxyChristendomecumenical councils and the state church of the Roman Empire declared in AD 380 by the Edict of Thessalonica. He is revered as a Saint and Aequalis Apostolis in the Eastern Orthodox Church and Oriental Orthodox Church for his example as a “Christian monarch”.

The first recorded official persecution of Christians on behalf of the Roman Empire was in AD 64, when, as reported by the Roman historian Tacitus, Emperor Nero attempted to blame Christians for the Great Fire of Rome. According to Church tradition, it was during the reign of Nero that Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome.The Martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul

Modern historians have debated whether the Roman government distinguished between Christians and Jews prior to Nerva‘s modification of the Fiscus Judaicus in AD 96. It was at this point which practicing Jews paid the tax and Christians did not.

Christians suffered from sporadic and localized persecutions over a period of 250 years. Their refusal to participate in Imperial Cult was considered an act of treason and was thus punishable by execution.

The most widespread official persecution was carried out by Diocletian. During the Great Persecution (AD 303–311), the Emperor ordered Christian buildings and the homes of Christians torn down and their sacred books collected and burned.The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer

Christians were arrested, tortured, mutilated, burned, starved, and condemned to gladiatorial contests to amuse spectators. The Great Persecution officially ended in April 311 AD, when Galerius, Senior Emperor of the Tetrarchy, issued an Edict of Toleration granting Christians the right to practice their religion, though it did not restore any property to them.

Constantine, Caesar in the Western Empire and Licinius, Caesar in the East, also were signatories to the Edict of Toleration. It has been speculated that Galerius’ reversal of his long-standing policy of Christian persecution has been attributable to one or both of these co-Caesares.

No matter if Constantine’s mother, Helena, exposed him to Christianity or not, he only declared himself a Christian after issuing the Edict of Milan. Writing to Christians, Constantine made clear that he believed that he owed his successes the protection of that High God alone.

Eusebius of Caesarea and other Christian sources record that Constantine experienced a constantines-visiondramatic event in AD 312 at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, after which Constantine claimed the emperorship in the West. According to these sources, Constantine looked up to the sun before the battle and saw a cross of light above it, and with it the Greek words Ἐν Τούτῳ Νίκα (In this sign, conquer!), often rendered in a Latin version, In hoc signo vinces (In this sign, you will conquer).

chi_rhoConstantine commanded his troops to adorn their shields with a Christian symbol (the Chi-Rho) to distinguish them from the Roman soldiers of Maxentius. Thereafter, Constantine’s soldiers with the sign of God were victorious.

Following the battle, the new Emperor ignored the altars to the gods prepared on the Capitoline Hill and did not carry out the customary sacrifices to celebrate a General’s victorious entry into Rome. Constantine instead headed directly to the imperial palace to give thanks there.

Most influential people in the Empire had not been converted to Christianity and still participated in the traditional religions of Rome, so his actions were looked upon with hesitation. Constantine’s rule exhibited at least a willingness to appease these factions.

The Roman coins minted up to 8 years after the battle still bore the images of Roman gods. The monuments first commissioned by Constantine, such as the Arch of Constantine, contained no reference to Christianity.arch-of-constantine

In AD 313, Constantine and Licinius announced “that it was proper that the Christians and all others should have liberty to follow that mode of religion which to each of them appeared best”. A tolerance was thereby granted to all religions, including Christianity.

The Edict of Milan went a step further than the earlier Edict of Toleration by Galerius in AD 311, returning property which had been confiscated back to the Church. This edict made the Empire officially neutral with regard to religious worship.

constantine_the_great edict of milanFor the first time in Rome’s history neither the traditional religions nor Christianity were the state religion, there was simply religious tolerance. The Edict of Milan did, however, raise the stock of Christianity within the Empire and it reaffirmed the importance of religious worship to the welfare of the state.

The accession of Constantine was a turning point for Early Christianity. After his victory, Constantine took over the role of patron of the Christian faith.

He supported the Church financially, had an extraordinary number of basilicas built, granted privileges (e.g., exemption from certain taxes) to clergy, promoted Christians to high-ranking offices, returned property confiscated during the Great Persecution of Diocletian, and endowed the Church with land and other wealth.Basilica of Maxentius and Constantine

Between AD 324 and 330, Constantine built a new imperial capital at Byzantium on the Bosporos, which would be named Constantinople for him. Unlike “old” Rome, the city began to employ overtly Christian architecture, contained churches within the city walls and had no pre-existing temples from other religions.

In doing this, however, Constantine required those who had not converted to Christianity to pay for the new city. Christian chroniclers tell that it appeared necessary to Constantine “to teach his subjects to give up their rites (…) and to accustom them to despise their temples and the images contained therein.”

This led to the closure of temples because of a lack of support, their wealth flowing to the imperial treasure. Constantine did not need to use force to implement this action however.

Constantine-the-Great-christianityMany times imperial favor was granted to Christianity by the Edict. New avenues were opened to Christians, including the right to compete with other Romans in the traditional Cursus Honorum for high government positions, and greater acceptance into general civil society.

Constantine respected cultivated persons, and his court was composed of older, respected, and honored men. Although denied positions of power, men from leading Roman families who declined to convert to Christianity still received appointments and held 2/3 of the top cabinet positions.

Constantine’s laws enforced and reflected his Christian attitudes. Crucifixion was abolished for reasons of Christian piety, but was replaced with hanging, to demonstrate the preservation of Roman supremacy.

On 7 March 321 AD, Sunday, already sacred to Christians and to the Roman Sun God Sol Invictus, was declared an official day of rest. On that day markets were banned and public offices were closed, except for the purpose of freeing slaves.

There were, however, no restrictions on performing farming work on Sundays. This was the work of the great majority of the population anyhow, so it did not sense to cease this work.

Some laws made during the reign of Constantine were even humane in the modern sense, possibly inspired by his Christianity. For example, a prisoner was no longer to be kept in total darkness but must be given the outdoors and daylight; and a condemned man was allowed to die in the arena, but he could not be branded on his “heavenly beautified” face, since God was supposed to have made man in his image, but only on the feet.emperor

In AD 331, Constantine commissioned Eusebius to deliver 50 Bibles for the Church of ConstantinopleAthanasius recorded around AD 340 Alexandrian scribes preparing Bibles for Constans.

It has been speculated that this may have provided motivation for canon lists, and that Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus are examples of these Bibles. Together with the Peshitta and Codex Alexandrinus, these are the earliest extant Christian Bibles.

The reign of Constantine established a precedent for the position of the Christian Emperor in the Church. Emperors considered

themselves responsible to the gods for the spiritual health of their subjects, and after Constantine they had a duty to help the Church define orthodoxy and maintain orthodoxy.

The Church generally regarded the definition of doctrine as the responsibility of the Bishops, along with what proper worship (orthodoxy), doctrines and dogma consisted of. It was the Emperor’s role to enforce doctrine, root out heresy, uphold ecclesiastical unity, and ensure that God was properly worshiped in his Empire.

Constantine had become a worshiper of the Christian God, but he found that there were many opinions on that worship and indeed on who and what that God was. In AD 316, Constantine was asked to adjudicate in a North African dispute between the Donatist sect.

Council of NicaeaMore significantly, in AD 325 he summoned the First Council of Nicaea. This was the foremost Ecumenical Council, unless the Council of Jerusalem is so classified.

The Council of Nicaea is the first major attempt by Christians to define orthodoxy for the whole Church. Until Nicaea, all previous Church Councils had been local or regional synods affecting only portions of the Church.

Nicaea dealt primarily with the Arian controversy. Constantine himself was torn between the Arian and Trinitarian camps.

After the Nicene council, and against its conclusions, Constantine eventually recalled Arius from exile. He then subsequently banished Athanasius of Alexandria to Trier.

Just before his death in May 337 AD, Constantine was baptized into Christianity. Up until this time he had been a Catechumen for most of his adult life.

He believed that if he waited to get baptized on his death bed he was in less danger of polluting his soul with sin and not getting to heaven. He was baptized by an Arian sympathizer, but this was a result of attempting to create reconciliation in the Church, not acceptance of Arianism.

He was baptized by his distant relative Arian Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia. During Eusebius of Nicomedia’s time in the Imperial court, the Eastern court and the major positions in the Eastern Church were held by Arians or Arian sympathizers.

With the exception of a short period of eclipse, Eusebius enjoyed the complete confidence both of Constantine and Constantius II and was the tutor of Emperor Julian the Apostate. After Constantine’s death, his son and successor Constantius II was an Arian, as was Emperor Valens.

Constantine’s position on the religions traditionally practiced in Rome evolved during his reign. At first Constantine encouraged the construction of new temples and tolerated traditional sacrifices, but by the end of his reign he had begun to order the plundering and tearing down of Roman temples.

Beyond the limes, east of the Euphrates, the Sassanid rulers of the Persian Empireperennially at war with Rome, had usually tolerated Christianity. Constantine is said to have written to Shapur II in AD 324 and urged him to protect Christians under his rule.

With the establishment of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire, Christians in Persia would be regarded as allies of Persia’s ancient enemy. According to an anonymous Christian account, Shapur II wrote to his generals:

You will arrest Simon, chief of the Christians. You will keep him until he signs this document and consents to collect for us a double tax and double tribute from the Christians … for Our Godhead have all the trials of war and they have nothing but repose and pleasure. They inhabit our territory and agree with Caesar, our enemy.

— Shapur II, A History of Christianity in Asia: Beginnings to 1500

The “Great Persecution” of the Persian Christian churches occurred between AD 340-363, after the Persian Wars that reopened upon Constantine’s death.

Constantinian Shift is a term used by Anabaptist and Post-Christendom theologians to describe the political and theological aspects of Constantine’s legalization of Christianity in the 4th Century. The term was popularized by the Mennonite theologian John H. Yoder.Baptism of Constantine by Raphael

Previously we have shared more on the life of Constantine, but you can see here that religion was a huge impact on his life. That the religion of Constantine was Christianity was simply another way in establishing this new religion for centuries to come.

We hope you enjoyed today’s journey and look forward to having you back again. Remember to stop on by soon to see what else we have in store for you.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

 

References:

Brown, Peter. The Rise of Christendom 2nd edition. Blackwell Publishing, 2003.

Carson, Don A. From Sabbath to Lord’s Day. Wipf & Stock Publishers/Zondervan.

Curran, J.R. Pagan City and Christian Capital: Rome in the Fourth Century. Oxford, 2000.

Drake, H. A. Constantine and the Bishops: The Politics of Intolerance. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

Eusebius. Life of Constantine.

Galerius. “Edict of Toleration,” in Documents of the Christian Church (trans. and ed. Henry Bettenson). Oxford University Press, 1963.

MacMullen, Ramsay. Christianizing The Roman Empire A.D. 100-400. Yale University Press, 1984. ISBN 0-300-03642-6.

Miles, Margaret Ruth. The Word Made Flesh: A History of Christian Thought. Blackwell Publishing, 2004. ISBN 1-4051-0846-0.

Moffett, Samuel H. A History of Christianity in Asia: Beginnings to 1500. Orbis Books, 1992.

Norwich, John Julius. A Short History of Byzantium. Alfred A. Knopf, 1997. ISBN 0-679-77269-3.