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Constantine I

Constantine I, Flavius Valerius Aurelius, surnamed "the Great," was born in Moesia in 274, being the son of Constantius Chlorus and the low-born Helena. He spent his youth in the service of Diocletian, and won high military distinction in the East, whilst his father was acting as vice-emperor in the west. On the abdication of Diocletian and Maximian (305), he joined Constantius at Boulogne, went with him to Britain, and, on his death at York, in 306, accepted the nomination of the army to his father's vacant throne. Galerius, however, refused to recognise him as Augustus, but allowed him the title of Caesar. He married Fausta, the daughter of Maximian and sister of Maxentius (307), both of whom laid claim to the purple, as did also Galerius, Licinius, and Maximin. Maximian, having acted treacherously towards his son-in-law, was first dealt with, and, having been defeated at Marseilles (310), committed suicide. Constantine next invaded Italy, routed and killed Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge (312), and became master of Rome. It was in this expedition that the conqueror professed to have seen the cross in the sky with the inscription "In this conquer," and to have been converted to Christianity. Whether he was at any time a true believer is doubtful, but at all events in 313 he restored to Christians their rights, and secured for them toleration. For many years, indeed, until the Council of Nicaea in 325, he gave his support equally to Christianity and paganism, influenced, perhaps, by political considerations. It must be admitted, however, that all his reforms had a Christian tendency, though his personal conduct was far from being modelled on the lines of the Gospel. His adoption of the Labarum as his standard certainly dates from a later period. In 313 he engaged in hostilities with Maximin, who was crushed at Heraclea and destroyed himself. Galerius being dead, the empire was now divided between Constantine in the West and Licinius in the East. The latter married his colleague's sister, but in spite of this a war broke out in 314, and he was deprived of Illyrium, Pannonia, and Greece. For nine years there was peace, during which Constantine's wise policy strengthened and consolidated his dominions. Upon some obscure pretext Licinius was attacked and defeated at Adrianople in 323 ; Byzantium fell; the eastern empire was added to that of the west; and the victor assured his position by meanly slaying his vanquished rival. Though the remainder of his reign was exempt from war, it was stained by terrible bloodshed. His eldest son Crispus was put to death on a charge of treason and suspicion of incest. Fausta was killed for having falsely made the latter accusation, and the emperor's nephew, Licinius, perished in the same imbroglio (324). In 325 the Council of Nicaea was convoked, and Constantine henceforward showed more decided sympathy with the Church, though he looked on the dispute between Arians and Athanasians with the eye of a Gallio. The new capital was founded at Constantinople in 328, no pagan temple being permitted within its walls, and the city was dedicated to the Virgin in 330. Nothing worth record occurred in his later years. He was on the point of setting out to punish the rebellious king of Persia, when he died at Nicomedia in 337. He received the honour of apotheosis from his pagan subjects and of canonisation from the Church. His empire was divided between his three sons Constantine II., Constans, and Constantius.