Note: This is a continuation of the series “Notes on Daniel“. To see preceding notes go to the “Sermons” button above, click and locate “Notes on Daniel“.
In 303 AD (the year the Edict Against the Christians was issued), after visiting Rome, the health of Diocletian broke down. He could not continue ruling. On 1st May, 305 AD he stepped down from power. He retired to his large spacious home in Dalmatia. He encouraged his deputy to also step down to let their two caesares rise to the rank of augustus. The joint abdication thus led to Constantius and Galerius becoming augusti for the western and eastern parts of the empire respectively. At this time it seemed obvious that Constantine, the son of Constantius who had been a right-hand man of Galerius and for which it had become certain that he was being groomed for rulership, would be appointed caesar. However, the unexpected happened: Galerius considered Constantine to be too ambitious and so bypassed him to appoint his nephew, Maximinus, as the new caesar in the eastern empire. Galerius went further to influence the outcome of who would become caesar in the west. He conspired to install a man called Severus instead of Maxentius, the son of Maximian the former augustus.
The maneuvers of Galerius were a dangerous plot which soon turned disastrous. The following year, in 306 AD, Constantius died and a power struggle ensued: the army proclaimed Constantine as their new augustus but Galerius promoted Caesar Severus of the West to the rank of augustus.
Down in the south Maxentius was declared emperor. This Maxentius also had North Africa under his control. It is important to note that these regions under the control of Maxentius supplied the Roman Empire with grain, a staple food, and thus the usurper controlled a region which was crucial for the food security of the empire.
Emperor Severus marched with the army to go and fight Maxentius. This army had previously been led by Maximian, Maxentius’ father. Maxentius managed to win the hearts of the commanders and soldiers and turned them against emperor Severus who got arrested and was forced to abdicate.
In 308 AD Diocletian and Maximian called for an emergency meeting at Carnuntum, a Roman fortress on River Danube, during which it was decided that Licinius be appointed as the new augustus of the West and Constantine be recognized as his caesar. Galerius remained as augustus and Maximinus as his caesar in the east. Maxentius was deemed an illegitimate ruler.
The council at Carnuntum did not produce the desired results: Constantine and Maximinus could not accept Licinius as their senior. The following year, in 309 AD, both Constantine and Maximinus had to be recognized as augusti. The empire now had four augusti!
Power struggles and civil wars continued in the coming years. However, with time, Constantine was rising to take over the whole empire. In 312 AD Constantine invaded Italy. The first battle was fought at Turin and Constantine had a resounding win against Maxentius’ forces. Another victory followed at Verona. The crucial struggle would occur on the Milvian Bridge over River Tiber.
The battle of the Milvian Bridge
This was not an ordinary battle; it changed the course of world history! According to Eusebius of Caesarea, an eye-witness historian of the 4th century, On 27th October, 312 AD, the day before the battle Constantine saw a vision of a cross in the sky and underneath it the words, “in hoc signo vinces” which means “in this sign, prevail”. Awaking from the vision Constantine needed no further explanation. The next morning he ordered the painting of the cross on the soldiers’ shields, to march into the war as Christian soldiers.
Maxentius and his army sabotaged the Milvian bridge to hinder their foes from crossing over. In case of defeat, they made a temporal bridge of boats which they could use to run over and retreat to Rome. However, in the heat of the battle which ensued, Maxentius and his army fled over the temporary bridge but which collapsed causing many, including Maxentius, to drown! The body of Maxentius was retrieved from the river and beheaded.
After the battle of the Milvian Bridge Constantine committed himself to giving liberty to the Christians. He met with Emperor Licinius to confirm important political arrangements.
Artistic portrayal of the Battle of Milvian Bridge (Image created in 1666)
He believed that the Christian God had caused his victory. Britannica Encyclopedia notes:
Shortly after the defeat of Maxentius, Constantine met Licinius at Mediolanum (modern Milan) to confirm a number of political and dynastic arrangements. A product of this meeting has become known as the Edict of Milan, which extended toleration to the Christians and restored any personal and corporate property that had been confiscated during the persecution (Matthews and Nicol, 2019).
Constantine went further to do more than what was in the Edict of Milan. He became so devout to the cause of the Christian religion that he built Christians many structures and raised bishops to positions of power in society.
By 313 he had already donated to the bishop of Rome the imperial property of the Lateran, where a new cathedral, the Basilica Constantiniana (now San Giovanni in Laterano), soon rose. The church of St. Sebastian was also probably begun at this time, and it was in these early years of his reign that Constantine began issuing laws conveying upon the church and its clergy fiscal and legal privileges and immunities from civic burdens. As he said in a letter of 313 to the proconsul of Africa, the Christian clergy should not be distracted by secular offices from their religious duties “…for when they are free to render supreme service to the Divinity, it is evident that they confer great benefit upon the affairs of state” (ibid).
This was a big turn in history! By the year 313 AD the tetrarchy system was no more as there were only two rulers in the empire – Augustus Constantine in the West and Augustus Licinius in the East. In 324 AD a war broke out between the two halves of the empire in which Constantine emerged victorious. Constantine reunited the empire and established himself as the sole ruler.
Next: Rise of Papal Rome
Matthews, J.F. and Nicol, D.M. ( 2019). Constantine I. Britannica Encylopedia [Online]. Available from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Constantine-I-Roman-emperor#ref22045 [Accessed May 6, 2019].