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Roman Empire: Rule of Constantine

Gaius Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus – or as he is better known, Constantine I or Constantine the Great – ruled the Roman Empire from 306 B.C.E. to his death in 337. Constantine’s inherited rule spanned Britain, Gaul, the Germanic provinces and modern Spain; however, by the year 324, he had become the lone emperor of the entire Roman Empire.

His greateset legacy was his role in crowning Christianity as the official religion of the Empire. However, the historicity of Constantine’s own religious convictions remain shrouded in doubt, as many believe that he continued to practice his pre-Christian beliefs even after his supposed conversion. According to popular belief, he was a Christian, although the only documented account of such a proclomation on his behalf came on his death bed – an account which itself has not been verified.

In fact, Constantine’s laws embodied an implicit sympathy towards Roman polytheism. For example, he passed laws granting rights to flamens, priests and duumvirs. Historians have argued that he only banned mysticism due to an underlying fear that some might use such powers to overthrow him.

Constantine and Christianity

The fact that Christianity would move from being a small sect of Judaism to the official religion of one of the most powerful Empires of modern history is a phenomenon many historians find fascinating. Some have speculated that the Romans incorporated Christianity as a way of curbing its growth and competing influence on the Roman population.

Indeed, rather than embrace Christianity in all its forms, including those groups with more Judeo-Christian influences, Constantine immediately saught to cleanse the Christian population and make it as homogeneous as possible – thus facilitating his control over it. The principle of “Christology” was soon developed to denote the degree of one’s devotion to Christian orthodoxy. Among those persectued by Constantine were the Gnostics, as well as other “dualistic” religions.

After establishing a criteria to determine what makes an individual a Christian, Constantine immediately began instiutionalizing the religion by constructing elaborate architectural feats, including basilicas and other representations of the Church.

What cemented this establishment of Christianity was the famous Council of Nicea in 325 B.C.E. The council came as a response to the Church’s growing concern over the teachings of a certain priest in Alexandria. This priest was supposedly teaching his followers that Jesus was not the equivalent of God, although he did conseed that he had supernatural tendencies. Constantine who had up until then been unaware of the internal disputes within the church, called the council so as to develop a religious uniformity that would preempt it from becoming a contending force to his rule.

The council ruled in favor of Jesus’ full divinity, although that wouldn’t stop the issue from being a contentious one, even centuries later.

Jesus of Nazareth Mary Magdalene: Mariamne Early Christianity
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