Constantine the Great

Constantine the Great

Constantine the Great was an emperor in Ancient Rome. He lived at a time when the Roman Empire was slowly ending and the eastern part of it became the Byzantine Empire. He made the city of Byzantium in the east of the empire the new capital and named it after himself: Constantinople. Today we know it as Istanbul. Constantine is important above all because he helped Christianity to break through.

His real Roman name was Flavius Valerius Constantinus. He was born around the year 280 AD, the exact year is not known. Like his father, Constantine was successful in the army. He also received a good education.

At that time, the Roman Empire had four emperors. This was to prevent any one ruler from gaining too much power. Constantine's father was one of the four. When he died, his soldiers found: Constantine's son should now be emperor, and for the whole empire. Constantine succeeded in defeating the other emperors.

Before such a battle, Constantine supposedly ordered his soldiers to paint a certain sign on their shields. This is the Labarum or Chi-Rho symbol. It stands for Jesus. After the victory, Constantine is said to have believed that the victory was due to the Christ symbol.

Constantine and the other emperor, who existed for a short time, announced in 312 AD: Religions in the empire should be free. This meant that Christians should no longer be persecuted. So Constantine did not yet make Christianity the sole religion of the empire; that happened much later. But Constantine himself was baptised, shortly before his death in 337 AD. The change in religion that he initiated is called the "Constantinian Turn".

His mother Helena also became a Christian. While still an old woman, she is said to have made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. There, according to legend, she found the tomb and even the cross of Jesus. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem dates from this time. Helena is considered a saint by Catholics and Orthodox.

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