Ms. Bergen/Mrs. Downer
English 10-7/Latin II-4
10 November 2011
Constantine The Great
The Emperor Constantine was the first Christian Emperor and was also the first to begin to influence the Christian religion among the Roman people. Constantine was able to do this by developing polices for the empire which had a huge impact on society and then by changing the location of the capital. The Emperor Constantine promoted Christianity throughout the Roman Empire which had a tremendous effect on Roman people during his reign.
Constantine continuously centralized the government over his long reign. Through the series of civil wars he eliminated the other three emperors and became the sole emperor of the Roman Empire. To manage this enormous empire Constantine made several policy changes, which had an immense impact on the lives of Roman people. One of his most recognized policy changes took place when “Constantine and Licinius issued in their joint names the famous Edict of Milan, which proclaimed for the first time in its absolute entirety the noble principle of complete religious toleration” (Firth 107). This edict was declared to finally end the persecution of Christians. The Edict of Milan allowed Christians and pagans in the Roman Empire to become equals. It had a remarkable effect on Christians’ lives because they could no longer have compulsion employed against them or even be troubled or annoyed by others (109). The freedom of religion granted all Christians the right to practice their religion without having any consequences which was unprecedented before the edict was released. The disagreeing Christians and pagans can be compared to the religious conflicts in today’s world. It is significant that Constantine, being of such high power, realized the importance of societal unity. Instead of forcing his chosen religion upon people, he was able to compromise and find balance by creating a policy that would be fair to the Roman society as a whole. Another emperor, when having so much control, may not have understood the importance of finding peace between Christians and pagans. He did this in order to receive respect from his people and to maintain a strong empire. The Edict of Milan was one of the main policy changes Constantine issued to advance Christianity and sustain a united empire.
Besides creating the Edict of Milan, Constantine changed many other polices in the Roman Empire. Constantine decided to lower the taxes which had an outstanding effect on society because it made taxes equitable for all Roman citizens. It especially affected the populations of the countryside who were the worst victims of the previous high taxation (Grant 90). Constantine understood that he needed to bring piece within society by lowering taxes to avoid the possibility of people uprising against him. Constantine also separated the military commands from civil careers (Elliot 266). He did this to lessen their powers in order to give him higher command and to centralize his empire. Constantine gave himself more power which allowed him to achieve his main goal—to spread Christianity. The new policies provided him the means to promote Christianity throughout the Roman Empire.
Besides having impacted people’s lives during his own reign, Constantine also influenced the later Christian Emperors. Along with having been the first emperor to have proclaimed himself as a Christian, he was the first to define the role of a Christian Emperor to rule in the name of God (Eusebius, chapter 24). He believed in the “heathen idea of oneness of religion being necessary to the oneness of the state, or if there were differences that they should be held peaceably and buried under the church (Faulkner 52). All subsequent Christian Emperors also chose to follow this major policy and continued to govern in his example. One could see how significant this role was because it shaped the role of new Christian Emperors. The Emperor Constantine was so powerful that he not only affected how average citizens viewed Christianity but also how some of the most important people would rule in later society.
Another one of Constantine’s important policy changes was in the year 321 when he officially proclaimed Sunday as a day of rest throughout Roman society. On this day, Christians would worship God and pagans would worship their gods. He declared Sunday as “a legal holiday and forbade all business and manufacturing on that day, while allowing necessary agricultural work because of its dependence on the weather” (Elliot 110). Having allowed this change shows how serious he was about promoting Christianity while still having included both religions in spending Sunday as a rest day. Society became more united from this new rule because everyone would worship on the same day. He included the pagans by naming the rest day Sunday after the sun god who they worshipped (143). This change affected Christians and pagans equally, and it also gave them some way to be similar even though their beliefs were so different. Once more, one could notice how Constantine understood that it was necessary to accommodate everyone in the Roman society to have a strong, centralized empire. By making Sunday a rest day, all of society was affected because none of the Roman people worked on this day. The formation of these new policies in the Roman Empire brought peace and unity towards the disparate religions.
In addition to establishing new laws, Constantine changed a major societal landmark in the Roman Empire. In the year 330, Constantine rebuilt the city Byzantium located in the eastern part of the empire renaming it Constantinople and made it the new capital. The city was filled with Christian influences. He spent an immense amount of money on secular and religious buildings in Constantinople (Grant 120). He was smart to build the new capital in a very convenient location that was on the sea. The great new town was accessible to grain which was required in order to feed the large population (121). From the great aspects of this city, Constantine made the city a place where people would want to move. This allowed the east to finally integrate with the west to unify the empire. Before, when the capital was in Rome, it was difficult to effectively rule such a vast territory. The power of the Senate as well as the average citizen was affected from the capital change. The Senate of Constantinople had less power than the previous Senates in the Roman Empire because it now consisted of craftsmen while it used to be filled with landowners (121). The author Van Dam described the event of “the expansion of Christianity in the eastern empire should hence be interpreted as an aspect of a larger cultural phenomenon, and not as simply a religious transformation” (215). Constantine recognized the importance of no longer keeping the west and the east separate and united them by creating Constantinople as the “New Rome.” Constantine was clever to gradually increase the influence of Christianity instead of shocking society with an abrupt change or forcing others to convert to Christianity. Constantinople became the new capital of the Roman Empire which was filled with Christian influences and had a strategic location making it a new religious and cultural center among the Roman society.
Constantine influenced Christianity throughout the Roman Empire by developing new polices and by changing the setting of the capital. The rules that Constantine enforced affected the way Christians were treated, how Roman citizens spent their everyday lives, and the new key area of his enormous empire altered the power of the Senate and unified the empire. The Emperor Constantine greatly influenced Christianity throughout the Roman Empire which impacted the lives of the Roman people.
Elliot, T.G. The Christianity of Constantine The Great. Bronx, New York: University of Scranton Press, 1996. Print.
Eusebius of Caesarea. The Life of the Blessed Emperor Constantine. Trans. Bagster. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Fordham University, 1997. Web.
Faulkner, John. “The First Great Christian Creed.” The American Journal of Theology Vol, 14, No. 1 (1910): n. pag. Web. 10 October 2011.
Firth, John. Constantine The Great. New York: Books For Libraries Press, 1904. Print.
Grant, Michael. Constantine The Great. New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1993. Print.
Van Dam, Raymond. The Roman Revolution of Constantine. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print.