Today on February 27, 280, the first Christian Emperor of Rome, Constantine the Great, was born.
Constantine I, known as Constantine the Great, was born in the city of Naissus (located in present-day Serbia). His father, Constantius Chlorus, was an army officer who was eventually promoted to the rank of Caesar. In 305, he adopted the name Constantius I, becoming one of four emperors of Rome. At this point in history, the empire had been divided into two administrative entities with the western capital of Rome and the eastern capital of Byzantium. Known as a Tetrarchy, this turbulent period was marked by conflict and rising tensions between the emperors. Constantius jointly ruled with Augustus Maximian in the western portion. As a young man, Constantine the Great served under his father as a military commander. He led several successful campaigns against the rebellious Celts in Britannia (present-day Britain).
Following the death of his father in 306, Constantine’s loyal soldiers proclaimed him emperor at the town of Eboracum (present-day York). This declaration sparked yet another civil war for control over the empire. On October 28, 312, he won a decisive victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge against his main rival, Emperor Maxentius. Before the battle, Constantine and his soldiers claimed to have witnessed the sign of the cross in the sky. The emperor interpreted this vision as a divine signal of God’s support for him. Over the next 12 years, Constantine the Great would emerge victorious over all of the remaining rival claimants. In 324, he formally became the sole ruler of a reunited east and western empire.
In 313, Constantine the Great played a critical role in establishing the Edict of Milan. The edict essentially enforced tolerance for the growing Christian population. The new Roman state became the foundation for western medieval society. Since its inception nearly a thousand years earlier, the republic had remained as a polytheist state. The ancient Romans, similar to the ancient Greeks, traditionally practiced paganism, worshiping many gods. But for over two centuries, Christianity had started to spread throughout Europe rapidly. Under previous emperors, the Christians were mercilessly persecuted. Acknowledging the failure of previous tactics, Constantine sought to incorporate the new religion within his boards. In many ways, he transitioned the vast Roman Empire into a Christian state — both from a religious and cultural perspective. Constantine the Great would later become the first emperor to convert to Christianity.
In 325, Constantine the Great summoned various Christian leaders to the Council of Nicaea. The council established the Nicene Creed, affirming that Jesus Christ was a divine being. He would also later reorganize and modernize the Roman legions. His new armies became much more effective at fighting against the expanding barbarian tribes such as the Visigoths. In 330, the eastern capital of Byzantium was renamed Constantinople (present-day Istanbul, Turkey) in his commemoration. The reign of Constantine the Great lasted more than 31 years — making him the second longest-serving emperor after Augustus.