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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > January 2019 > Constantine the Great

Constantine the Great

Constantine I wasn’t only the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity, but also a ruler who unified and hugely strengthened the empire. Philip Matyszak evaluates the achievements of the man seen as the first modern European
Once he gained control of the entire Roman Empire, Constantine set about an ambitious programme of reform
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Only one Roman emperor is called ‘the Great’, and that emperor is Constantine. Today we mostly associate Constantine with the Christianisation of his empire, yet even if he had remained steadfastly pagan, Constantine would still deserve his title. Few men have had such a dramatic and lasting effect upon the destiny of an entire continent.

Constantine came to power when the fate of Rome hung in the balance. The efforts of his predecessors had pulled Rome out of the desperate struggle for survival, which today we call the Tird Century Crisis. However, if the worst was over, the battle was far from won. It would fall to Constantine to stabilise the new world order that became known as Late Antiquity

Although the deeds of Constantine were exhaustively documented by contemporary historians, the man himself remains an enigma. Few of Constantine’s biographers have been unbiased. Early Christian writers portrayed Constantine as wise and benevolent. Tere was a backlash against this in the early modern era, when Constantine was depicted as a vicious, backstabbing political opportunist who slaughtered allies and family alike in a ruthless struggle for power. Tese historians even saw a cynical political ploy in Constantine’s embrace of Christianity – a religion he took to late and imperfectly understood.

Although this Rubens painting depicts Constantius appointing his son as his successor, this wasn’t how Constantine was named as Caesar
One of the earliest-known representations of the Chi-Rho, or Christogram
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About History Revealed

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