Constantine the Great

A History of Constantine

Map illustrating the rise of Constantine the Great
the map came from this site

      Constantine (Flavius Valerius Constantinus) was the son of Constantius Chlorus and Helena. He was born on the 27th of February circa 272 A.D. in Naissus in Upper Moesia. Constantine(who was serving under Galerius) grudgingly received permission from Galerius to go and be with his father in Britain.Constantine served with his father on many campaigns and rose quickly in the army. In 306 Constantius Chlorus fell ill in York after a campaign against the Picts.

       Constantius Chlorus died. On his deathbed, he supposedly appointed his son as his successor. Constantine was proclaimed Augustus by the Gallic and British legions. Galerius had appointed Severus as Augustus and only recognized Constantine as Caesar. Constantine did retain all the territories of his father:Britain, Gaul, Spain and part of north-western Africa.  On 27 Oct., Maxentius rebelled against Severus and assumed the title of Augustus in Rome.

       Maxentius persuaded his father, Maximian, to resume the purple. Severus marched against Rome, but was defeated by Maxentius.. He fled to Ravenna, but surrendered and was eventually executed.Constantine was acknowledged as Augustus by Maxentius and Maximian. He married the daughter of Maximian,Fausta (his former wife,Minervina who was the mother of Crispus, had died). Galerius then gave Licinius the title of Augustus. Galerius also had to recognize the claims of his nephew Maximinus Daza,made Caesar in 306, after the abdication of Diocletian. He also had to recognize the claims of Constantine. He made the title Fili Augusti (son of Augustus) for them, but had to recognize both as emperors in 308. Maxentius rebuilt the temple of Roma in Rome and issued coins in the name of Constantine.

The East
The West
Licinius I
Constantine I

       There were six emperors in 308. This would not last for long- there can be only one (line from the movie Highlander!). The army in Africa rejected Maxentius and proclaimed Alexander as Augustus. This made Alexander an ally of Constantine, at least as far as they both had a common enemy- Maxentius. (Alexander was defeated and killed circa 311).

    Maximian quarreled with his son Maxentius and was driven out of Italy. Constantine headed to Gaul to deal with his father-in-law,Maximian, and had his first heavenly vision at the shrine of Apollo. He was promised thirty years of rule and he struck many coins in honor of Sol. Constantine laid siege to Maximian. Maximian committed suicide. A coin was issued which may commemorate this victory, but possibly only marks a visit by Constantine to London.

      Galerius died and his territory was divided between Licinius (Europe) and Maximinus Daza (Asiatic part). Shortly before his death, Galerius issued an edict that Christians did not have to sacrifice to the emperor. Constantine became determined to stop what he called the tyranny of Maxentius.


      Constantine prayed and saw a sign in the heavens, a trophy of a cross of light bearing the inscription, BY THIS CONQUER. Constantine made a standard with the sign (the letter P marked diagonally with X at the center).Constantine advanced against Maxentius and defeated him on the 28th of October. Maxentius drowned in the Tiber River while trying to escape across the Milvian bridge. After Constantine entered Rome, he drew up an edict (in conjunction with Licinius) in favor of Christians; and he sent it to Maximin, ruler in the East. Maximin, who feared rejecting it, approved; and the Roman people received Constantine as their savior. The senate passed a decree assigning Constantine first rank among the three Augusti.


       Constantine and Licinius were at Milan, where Licinius married Constantia, the half sister of Constantine. Both men issued a second edict (The Edict of Milan) giving liberty to Christians in particular, and to all men in general, the freedom to worship any deity. Constantine issued a coin that commemorated his victory over Maxentius at the battle of Milvian bridge and only out of mints he had just won - Rome and Ostia (then Arles after the transfer of the mint). Maximin took advantage of the marriage festivities and marched from Syria into Bythnia and then into Thrace. Licinius pursued him and defeated him at Adrianople. Maximin fled to Heraclea and committed suicide. Licinius became the sole ruler of the East. Delmatius was born.


     Licinius went to Nicomedia and gave thanks to God for his victory and repeated the edict from Milan in favor of Christians.


       It is likely that the title of Maximus and the diadem were officially decreed to Constantine by the Senate. Constantine celebrated his decennalia (tenth anniversary) in Rome. Hanniballus was born.


       The friendship between Constantine and Licinius did not last, though. Open war broke out in 316. Two battles were fought, one at Cibalae in Pannonia, where Licinius was defeated. The second was at Campus Ardiensis in Thrace, where Licinius asked for peace. Constantine added Illyricum and Greece to his territories, but left Thrace to Licinius. Constantine II was born.

        The First Civil War ended with a treaty at Sirmium.Crispus and Constantine II, sons of Constantine, and Licinius II, son of Licinius, were made Caesars. Crispus was made commander of the Roman forces in Gaul. Constantius II was born this year.


     Crispus defeated the Franks. Constantine celebrated his quindecennalia (15 year anniversary) in Rome.


       Constantine asked all his subjects in the Roman Empire to observe the "Lord's Day" and passed an edict for the solemn observance of Sunday, which he called dies Solis (literally day of the sun). Even though coins were issued which assured "blessed calm", Constantine had many troubles along the frontiers with Germanic tribes. Licinius issued a series of radiate coinage from 321-4.These were issued as part of a coin reform by Licinius in his territories (mints of Heraclea, Nicomedia, Cyzicus, Antioch, and Alexandria) and were reduced in value (from 25 to 12 and a half). He struck these in the names of all the rulers but this reduction was not recognized outside his territories.


      Constantine defeated the Sarmatians. This victory was a big reason for the upcoming civil war with Licinius, since the territory fought in was under the control of Licinius.


Constans was born circa 323.


       A second war broke out. A battle fought at Adrianople was lost by Licinius on July 3. Licinius fled to Byzantium. Crispus attacked the fleet of Licinius and he had a brilliant victory.(this victory would be alluded to on later coinage) The armies of the two emperors met again at Chrysopolis. Licinius was utterly defeated and surrendered. Licinius was confined at Thessalonica.With this victory, Constantine became the sole master of the Roman Empire.


    Licinius was executed. Constantine summoned the Council of Nicaea. Constantine celebrated his vicennalia (twenty year celebration). Constantine issued an edict to abolish gladiators (they continued until the reign of Honorius circa 455 A.D.). Constantius Gallus was born. The Langtoft II hoard is believed to have been deposited circa 325 A.D.


       Constantine celebrated his vicennalia in Rome (it was his last visit to Rome). Constantine began to create a new capitol city in Byzantium. On November 4, Constantine traced the city limits (it would soon be known as Constantinople). Constantine ordered the death of Crispus.Constantine ordered the death of Fausta. Constantine issued an edict against heretics. A series of anepigraphic coins was issued ten mints (Antioch, Nicomedia, Cyzicus, Constantinople, Heraclea, Thessalonica, Siscia, Rome, Ticinum and Trier), probably in reference to imperial visits after Constantine defeated Licinius.


       The mint at Constantinople opened and began minting coins commemorating the victory over Licinius and Dafne coinage is struck possibly as early as mid 327.


       A bridge across the Danube was completed, marking the start of a Gothic campaign. Construction on the Dafne fortress began. Helena, the mother of Constantine, died at the age of 80.


      Constantinople was dedicated on May 11. Idolatry was abolished in Constantinople and Constantine built many churches.In 330 A.D., the nummus was reduced in weight and struck at 132 to the pound.


       Constantine II fought a war against the Goths. Julian II was born in Constantinople.


       Constans was made Caesar.


        Constantine celebrated his tricennalia (30 year celebration). Council of Tyre and Jerusalem were held. Delmatius was made Caesar and Hanniballus was made a King. Delmatius ruled Eastern Illyricum, Greece and Thrace; Hanniballus ruled Pontus, Lesser Armenia and Cappadocia. Constantine I and his son, Constantius II, administered the remaining provinces of the Eastern Empire. The Western Empire was divided between Constantine II and Constans. Constantine II took the old lands of his grandfather, Constantius Chlorus,- Britain, Gaul, Spain, and Mauretania Tingitana. Constans was given control of Italy, Africa, Rhaetia, and Western Illyricum.In 335 A.D., the number of nummus to a pound was raised to 192. The reverse of the GLORIA EXERCITVS coins now only have one banner since they are smaller.


        Constantius II was married.


        Constantine I began to feel signs of his failing health. He went to Nicomedia and was baptized by the bishop Eusebius. Constantine died at noon on the Feast of Pentecost (May 22, 337). Murder of Delmatius, Hanniballus and other members of the Imperial family (maybe ordered by Constantius II). Constantine II, Constantius II, and Constans were declared Augusti.


This history is compiled from several sources, but mainly Christian Emblems on the Coins of Constantine I. the Great, His Family, and His Successors by Frederic Madden.

last modified on 31 July 2007

Constantine the Great