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CONSTANTINE AND THE CHURCH ASCENDANT

Seneca saepe noster. [Seneca is often one of us.]
—TERTULLIAN

The tetrarchy deserved to survive a good deal longer than it did. There was, however, a rich historical irony in the way it collapsed, since Diocletian had gotten the idea from Roman history itself.

Longing for the stability of those golden years before the Roman juggernaut began to wobble, Diocletian had resurrected the adoptive system, but he should have known better than to pick two men with grown sons. Maximian and Constantius the Pale’s sons, Maxentius and Constantine, considered the throne their birthright and eagerly expected a share of imperial power. But when Maximian reluctantly followed Diocletian into retirement, both boys were left with nothing. Once the sons of living gods, Constantine and Maxentius were left as nothing more than private citizens, feeling bitterly betrayed.

Determined not to let events pass him by, Constantine joined his father’s campaign in Britain against the Picts. Easily subduing the barbarians, they both retired to York, where it became apparent that Constantius was pale because he was dying of leukemia. He’d been the most modest of the tetrarchs, largely ignoring the religious persecution of his more zealous eastern colleagues, and was wildly popular with the army, whose ranks included many Christians and sun worshippers. When he died on July 25, 306, an ambassador informed his heartbroken men that a distant Caesar named Severus would take his place. But the soldiers in the field had no intention of listening to some court bureaucrat. Most of them had never heard of Severus and didn’t care to find out who he was. They had a younger, more vibrant version of their beloved leader much closer at hand. Raising Constantine up on their shields, the army hailed him as Augustus, and plunged the Roman world into war.

The island of Britain had not often intruded itself on the imperial consciousness, but Constantine’s elevation was a shout heard in the empire’s remotest corners, undoing at a stroke everything that Diocletian had been trying to establish about the succession. Encouraged by the way he had claimed power, others started to push against the limits forced upon them by Diocletian, eager to seize by force what was denied by law. Maxentius, still smarting from being passed over, seized Rome, tempting his father out of retirement to bolster his credibility, and successfully fought off every attempt to oust him. To the bewilderment of contemporaries and the annoyance of students studying the period ever since, there were soon six men claiming to be Augustus.

Mercifully, the confusion didn’t last for long. As vast as the empire was, it wasn’t large enough for six rulers, and the multiplying emperors helpfully started to kill one another off. By 312, there were only four of them left, and Constantine decided that the moment was right to strike. He had largely held his peace while the empire imploded, and now the tetrarchy was in hopeless shambles, both emperors in the West had seized power illegally, and the East was distracted with its own affairs. There was little possibility of outside interference, and only Maxentius was standing between him and complete control of the West. Carrying the standards of his patron god Sol Invictus (“unconquerable sun”) before him, Constantine assembled forty thousand men, crossed the Alps, and descended on Italy.

As usual with great men, Constantine had both impeccable timing and remarkable luck. Maxentius’s popularity was at an all-time low. Claiming that he was seriously short of money, he had ruthlessly taxed the Roman population, but then had used the funds to build a massive basilica in the Forum complete with a monumental statue of himself, provoking the exasperated citizens to revolt.* Order was finally restored by the slaughter of several thousand civilians, but Max-entius’s popularity never recovered. When he heard of Constantine’s approach, the frightened emperor was no longer sure of the city’s loyalty, so he left the safety of Rome’s walls and crossed the Tiber River by the old Milvian Bridge. Setting up camp a few miles away from the city, Maxentius consulted his soothsayers to see what the omens were and was assured that they were favorable. The next day would be his dies imperii—the six-year anniversary of his assumption of power. There could be no more auspicious time to attack.

Across the plain, Constantine, waiting with his army, also searched for signs of divine favor. The soothsayers and magicians thronging around Maxentius’s camp unnerved him, and he was uncertain of how he should negate their influence. Priests representing every god in the pantheon had stared at the entrails of animals or the flights of birds and assured him that he would receive the blessings of divine favor, but surely his enemy was hearing the same lofty promises.

There in the dust of an army camp, with the bustle of military life swirling around him, Constantine knelt down and said a prayer that would change the course of history. As he himself would tell the story years later, he looked up at the sky and begged that a true God would reveal himself. Before his astonished eyes, a great cross of light appeared, superimposed over the sun that he had previously worshipped, bearing the inscription IN HOC SIGNO VINCES—“conquer by this sign.” Stunned by this vision, the emperor wasn’t quite sure of how to proceed, but when night fell, it was all helpfully explained in a dream. Christ himself appeared, showing the same sign, and instructed the emperor to carry it before him as divine protection. When he woke up, Constantine dutifully created new banners, replacing the traditional pagan standards with ones displaying a cross, topped with a wreath and the first two letters of Christ’s name. Carrying them confidently before them, his outnumbered troops smashed their way to a complete victory. Maxentius’s army fled back to Rome, but most of them drowned while trying to cross the old Milvian Bridge. Somewhere in the chaos, Maxentius, weighed down with armor, met a similar fate, falling into a river already choked with the dead and dying. His corpse was found the next day washed up on the shore, and Constantine proudly entered the city carrying his rival’s head on a spear. Hailed by the Senate when he entered the Forum, the emperor conspicuously refused to offer the traditional sacrifice to the pagan god of victory. The tyrant was dead, he proclaimed, and a new age had begun.

The boast was more sagacious than Constantine realized. Though it would only become apparent later, the battle of the Milvian Bridge was a major turning point in history. By wielding the cross and sword, Constantine had done more than defeat a rival—he had fused the church and the state together. It would be both a blessing and a curse to both institutions, and neither the Christian church nor the Roman Empire would ever be the same again.

Oddly enough, despite the tremendous impact he would have on Christendom, Constantine never really made a convincing Christian. He certainly never really understood his adopted religion, and it seemed at first as if he had merely admitted Christ into the pantheon of Roman gods. The images of Sol Invictus and the war god Mars Convervator continued to appear on his coins for years, and he never gave up his title of Ponttfex Maximus—chief priest of the old pagan religion. Gallons of scholarly ink have been spilled debating whether his conversion was genuine, but such speculation is beside the point. The genius of Constantine was that he saw Christianity not as the threat that Diocletian did, but rather as a means to unify, and the result of his vision that fateful day—whether genuine conversion or political opportunism—was a great sea change for the empire and the church. Christianity’s great persecution was over. From now on, the once-oppressed faith would be in the ascendancy.

The pagan Senate didn’t quite know what to make of their new conqueror. He was clearly a monotheist, but which kind was not exactly certain, so, like politicians of any era, they decided to play it safe and erect him a victory arch complete with an inscription vaguely referring to “divinity” aiding him in his just war. Perfectly pleased with this ambiguity, Constantine issued an edict of toleration in 313, legalizing Christianity, but stopping short of making it the exclusive religion of the empire. Though Christianity was an easy fit for him—his mother, Helena, was a Christian, and his own worship of the sun reserved Sunday as a holy day—he had no interest in being a missionary. The majority of his subjects were still pagan, and the last thing he wanted to do was to alienate them by forcing a strange new religion on them. Instead, he wanted to use Christianity to support his regime the way that Diocletian had used paganism. The main goal was to unite the empire under his benevolent leadership, and he wasn’t about to jeopardize that for the sake of religious zeal.

There was, however, an even more compelling reason to portray himself as a model of religious toleration. While he had been busy conquering Rome, the emperor Licinius had emerged victorious in the East, and was now nervously watching his predatory neighbor. He had good reason to be afraid. Not only were Licinius’s eastern territories richer and more populous than their western counterparts, but Christianity had been born there, providing a natural base of support for the man who had so famously converted. For eleven years, there was a tenuous peace, but Licinius was terrified of the ravenous appetite of Constantine, and his paranoia betrayed him. Accusing the Christians in his territory of acting as a fifth column for his rival, Licinius tried to suppress the religion, executing bishops, burning churches, and restarting Diocletian’s persecutions.

The foolish eastern emperor had played right into his enemy’s hands. Constantine had been hoping for just such an opportunity, and he pounced immediately. Sweeping into the East, he pushed Licinius’s larger army over the Hellespont, destroying the trapped navy that the scrambling emperor left behind. After weeks of further maneuvering, the two armies met on September 18, 324, just across the Bosporus from the Greek colony of Byzantium, and in the shadow of that ancient city Constantine won a complete and shattering victory.

At fifty-two years of age, he was now the sole ruler of the Roman Empire, and to commemorate his success he gave himself a new title. After his victory at the Milvian Bridge, he had added “the Greatest” to his impressive string of names, and now he included “the Victor” as well. Humility had clearly never been one of the emperor’s virtues, but Constantine was a master of propaganda and never missed an opportunity to promote himself. These instincts had served him well, allowing him to mask his thirst for power behind a disarming veneer of tolerance and kill off his rivals while retaining the guise of the people’s champion. He had come to the rescue of his Christian subjects without persecuting his pagan ones, always maintaining a careful neutrality. Now that there were no more pagan enemies to fight, however, he could reveal a more open patronage of Christianity. His mother, Helena, was sent on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land—the first such trip in history—founding hostels and hospitals along the way to assist the generations to follow. In Bethlehem, she built the Church of the Nativity over the site of Christ’s birth, and at Golgotha, in Jerusalem, she miraculously discovered the True Cross upon which he had been crucified. Leveling the temple of Venus that had been built by the emperor Hadrian on the site, she raised the Church of the Holy Sepulchre over the empty tomb.

While his mother was busy becoming the first pilgrim, Constantine carried out several reforms that would have far-reaching consequences. The confusion of civil war had disrupted markets and farms as the working classes fled for the comparative safety of the cities, and the emperor tried to stabilize the situation by forcing the peasant farmers to stay on their land. Going even further, he locked members of guilds—from bakers to hog merchants—in their occupations, forcing sons to follow their fathers. In the East, which had always been more stable and prosperous, this legislation was rarely enforced and had little effect, but in the chaotic, turbulent West, it was heavily pushed, and the result was the feudal system, which would take deep root and not be overthrown for a thousand years.

In the short term, however, a comforting stability returned to the shaken empire. Fields were harvested, markets resumed their operations, and commerce began to flourish.

Constantine was interested in more than just the material well-being of his subjects, and as the finances of his empire improved, he began to cautiously nurture his new faith. Pagan sacrifices were banned, sacred prostitution and ritual orgies were outlawed, and temple treasuries were confiscated to build churches. Crucifixion was abolished, and even gladiatorial contests were suppressed in favor of the less-violent chariot races. He had united the empire under his sole rule, and now Christianity would be united under him as well.

Just as the empire came together politically, however, a new and deadly heresy threatened to permanently rip it apart. It started in Egypt when a young priest named Arius started teaching that Christ was not fully divine and was therefore inferior to God the Father. Such a teaching struck at the heart of the Christian faith, denying its main tenet, which held that Christ was the incarnate word of God, but Arius was a brilliant speaker, and people began to flock to hear him speak. The church was caught completely off guard and threatened to splinter into fragments. Sporadically persecuted and until recently driven underground, the church was decentralized, a loose confederation of local congregations scattered throughout the empire. As the successor of Saint Peter, the bishop of Rome was given a special respect, but he had no practical control, and as the New Testament writings of Paul attest, the different churches had a strong tendency to go in their own directions. With no real hierarchy and little organization, the church had no means of definitively responding to Arius’s teachings, and the controversy soon raged out of control.

It’s typical of Constantine’s soldier mentality that he thought he could simply order the warring factions to stop fighting. Completely misjudging the depth of feeling involved, he wrote to the bishops in Egypt with a painful naïveté, telling them that their differences were “insignificant” and asking them to just work them out and live in harmony. When it became apparent that they could do no such thing, he decided on a radical solution. The problem with Christianity, he thought, was that it suffered from a distinct lack of leadership. The bishops were like the old senators of Republican Rome—always arguing but never coming to a consensus unless threatened. Thankfully, Augustus had solved that problem for the empire, allowing the senators to continue to talk but dominating them by his presence when things needed to get done. Now it was Constantine’s job to rescue the church. Under his watchful gaze, the church would speak with one voice, and he would make sure the world listened.

Announcing a great council, Constantine invited every bishop in the empire to attend, personally covering the cost of transportation and housing. When several hundred clerics had arrived at the Asian city of Nicaea, the emperor packed them into the main cathedral and on May 20, 325, opened the proceedings with a dramatic plea for unity. Constantine wasn’t particularly concerned with which side of the argument prevailed as long as there was a clear victor, and he was determined to swing his support behind whichever side seemed to be in the majority. The council started off with minor matters, discussing the validity of baptisms by heretics and setting the official manner to calculate the date of Easter, before turning to the burning question of the relationship between the Son and the Father. At first all went smoothly, but when it came time to write up a statement of belief, neither side seemed inclined to compromise, and the proceedings threatened to break down.

The main problem was that the proposed word used to describe Christ in Greek was homoiusios—meaning “of like substance” with the Father. This was, of course, the Arian position that the two members of the trinity were similar not equal, and the other bishops objected to it strenuously. Seeing that the Arians were clearly in the minority, Constantine turned against them and proposed a solution. Dropping an “i,” he changed the word to homousios—meaning “of one substance” with the Father. The Arians were upset with this ringing condemnation of their view, but with the emperor (and his soldiers) standing right there, they could hardly show their displeasure. The Arian bishops started to waver, and when Constantine assured them that equality with the Father could be interpreted in its “divine and mystical” sense, they bowed to the inevitable. The emperor had given them a way out—to interpret homousios however they wanted to—and the Arians left the council to return to their homes with their dignity intact. Arius was condemned, his books were burned, and Christian unity was restored.

The Nicene Creed that Constantine had overseen was more than a simple statement of faith. It became the official definition of what it meant to be a Christian, and defined what the true (orthodox) and universal (catholic) church believed. Even today, it can be heard in all Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic churches, a dim reflection of a time when Christianity was unified. In the East, where the Byzantine Empire survived, the Council of Nicaea defined the relationship between secular and religious leaders: The bishops alone could decide on church matters, and the emperor’s role was that of an enforcer. Constantine was the sword arm of the church, rooting out heresy and guarding the faith from schism. His successors would try to manipulate unity to varying degrees, but the underlying principle remained unchanged. The emperor’s duty was to listen to the voice of the whole church; what that voice said was for the bishops to decide.

Now that Constantine’s enemies—both theological and military—lay vanquished at his feet, he decided to build a suitable monument to his glory. He had already embellished Rome, adding the finishing touches to a massive basilica and seating a gigantic forty-foot-high statue of himself inside it. Now he added several churches and donated a palace on the Lateran Hill as a church for the pope. Rome, however, was filled with too many pagan ghosts to be the splendid center of his reign, and they couldn’t be overcome with a thin Christian facade. Besides, Rome wasn’t the city it had been, and the empire no longer rotated around it.

Far away from the empire’s frontiers, Rome had long since ceased to be a practical capital, and had only been sporadically visited by the short-lived emperors of the third century. In the interests of military efficiency, Diocletian had insisted that his court travel with him, declaring that the capital of the empire wasn’t in a particular city, but rather wherever the emperor happened to be. He was only saying out loud what had long been the uncomfortable truth. Unable to base themselves miles away from the troubled frontiers, emperors had gone their separate ways, and power had followed in the imperial wake. Diocletian himself, busy in his eastern court of Nicomedia, only set foot in the eternal city once, and his reforms reduced it to a symbolically important backwater.

Constantine was determined to give the drifting empire new roots and began looking for a fresh start. He would later claim (as usual) that he was led by a divine voice to the ancient city of Byzantium, but surely no prophetic voice was needed to pick the site. Nearly a thousand years old, the Greek colony was perfectly situated halfway between the eastern and western frontiers. Possessing a superb deep-water harbor, the city could control the lucrative trade routes between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean that brought amber and wood from the far north and oil, grain, and spices from the east. Surrounded on three sides by water, its natural defenses were so obvious that the founding fathers of a nearby colony were ridiculed as blind for having failed to recognize the superiority of its splendid acropolis. Most important to Constantine, however, the gentle slopes of Byzantium had witnessed his final victory over Licinius, where he had achieved his life’s dream.* There could be no better spot to build an edifice to his greatness.

Trailed by all the courtiers who regularly cling to those in power, Constantine climbed one of Byzantium’s hills and cast his eyes over the simple Greek colony that he would transform into the capital of the world. This was to be more than just another imperial city; it was to be the center of Christ’s government here on earth, the beating heart of Christendom. He had chosen a site with seven hills to mimic the famous seven hills of Rome, and on this site, unfettered by a pagan past, he would build Nova Roma—New Rome—that would refound the empire on a Christian, eastern axis.

There was more than a touch of arrogance to this desire to establish a city in a single lifetime. Rome, after all, wasn’t built in a day. But Romulus didn’t have the resources of Constantine. The emperor was the master of the civilized world, and he was determined to move heaven and earth to finish his masterpiece. Artisans and resources from the length and breadth of the empire were marshaled for the project, and the city seemed to spring up almost overnight. Slopes once covered by grass soon sported baths and columns, universities and forums, even a magnificent palace and a vast hippodrome. Senators wanting to remain close to the halls of power were tempted east by the excitement of new opportunities, and were loaded with honors and installed in an expansive new Senate House. More than just the rich came, however. Constantinople was a new city as yet unclogged by centuries of tradition and blue blood, and therefore tremendous social mobility was possible. Public grants were made available to the poor who flocked to the Bosporus, and enough free grain was provided to feed more than two hundred thousand inhabitants. Water was provided by public cisterns, multiple harbors supplied fresh fish, and wide avenues led through squares dotted with beautiful sculptures culled from all over the empire.

The energy of the city was palpable, but despite its flash and youth, New Rome was born old. The famous serpent column commissioned to celebrate the Greek victory over the Persians in BC 479 was brought from Delphi, an Egyptian obelisk from Karnak was set up in the Hippodrome, and the forum was packed with statues of famous figures from Alexander the Great to Romulus and Remus. They gave the city a feeling of gravitas, rooting it in the familiar traditions of antiquity and (Constantine hoped) providing an unsurpassed prestige. The speed of its completion took the watching world’s breath away. Only six years after construction began, the new capital was ready for dedication.

The emperor had already given the people of his new city bread, and now he made sure they would have their circuses as well. Official factions were appointed to oversee the festivities, sponsoring lavish chariot races in the Hippodrome while handing out clothing and money to the spectators.* The assembled populace was treated to an array of events, each more astounding than the last. Graceful gymnasts leaped over wild animals or astonished the crowd by walking along wires suspended high above the ground, bears were goaded into fighting each other, and painted actors delighted with lively pantomimes or bawdy songs. After the displays, the cheering senators and assembled dignitaries who filled the marble seats closest to the track could join citizens from all strata of society in a grand new bathhouse that the emperor unveiled in the central square of the city. The wealthiest, of course, had private baths in their mansions sprawling between the triumphal arches that lined the Mese—the central thoroughfare of the city—but even they couldn’t fail to be impressed with the sheer opulence of Constantine’s new public buildings.

The city that would become an empire was officially dedicated on May 11, 330, and though Constantine had named it Nova Roma, it was always known as Constantinople in his honor.* The celebrations were lavish on a scale only the master of the known world could bestow and they culminated with a strange mix of pagan and Christian services. Accompanied by priests and astrologers, the man who had set himself up as the defender of Christianity processed to the center of his forum, stopping before the great column that he had erected in his own honor. The tall structure was surmounted fittingly enough with a golden statue taken from the temple of Apollo and recarved to look like Constantine. Crowned with a halo of seven rays (which, according to rumor, contained the nails used in the Crucifixion), the impressive figure gazed confidently toward the rising sun, dreaming of the glorious future that awaited. At the base of the column, the emperor presided over a solemn ceremony, dedicating the city to God while the most sacred items he could find from both the pagan and Christian past were buried below it. At a moment chosen by his astrologers, the relics were interred in great porphyry drums brought from the Egyptian desert and sunk below the column. There the sacred cloak of Athena, the ax that Noah had used to make the ark, and the baskets from the feeding of the five thousand would lie incongruously together through the centuries. As far as his soul was concerned, Constantine clearly preferred to hedge his bets.

For the rest of his reign, the emperor tried hard to maintain a political and religious harmony. Under his firm hand, a measure of prosperity returned, but at times his ruthlessness bordered on petulance. Annoyed that his oldest son, Crispus, was wildly popular, Constantine accused him of trying to seduce his stepmother, Fausta. Not bothering to give his son a chance to protest his innocence, the emperor had him executed, then decided to kill Fausta by scalding her to death in her bath. He had spilled too much blood to unify the empire under his rule to brook any rivals—especially within his own family.

When it came to his dealings with the church, however, this decisiveness was nowhere to be found. Bored by theological speculation, he cared only that Christians were united behind him, and this led to an irritating habit of backing whichever side he thought was in the ascendancy.

The main problem was that a council—even one as prestigious as Nicaea—could establish doctrine, but it couldn’t change the minds of the common men and women who made up the body of the church. Arius may have been branded a heretic by a group of bishops, but that did nothing to diminish his effectiveness as a speaker, and he found warm support throughout the East, where people continued to convert to his cause. His Egyptian congregation had been given a new bishop—Athanasius, the fiery champion of the mainstream position—but they continued to prefer Arius’s sermons. If Constantine had stood firmly by the decisions of his own Council of Nicaea, all would have been well. With strong leadership from the top, the Arian heresy would have withered away soon enough, but Constantine decided that public opinion had swung behind Arius, so he reversed his position and condemned Athanasius. When the accused man came to Constantinople to plead his case, the emperor was so impressed by his oratory that he reversed the ruling again and condemned Arius. By this time the citizens of Alexandria must have been suffering whiplash from wondering which of the two men was their bishop.

Things only got worse. Arius, doing his level best to ignore the fact that he had been deposed, started his own church, and an embarrassingly large number of Alexandrians soon supported him. Constantine responded by trying to tax them into obedience, announcing that any professed Arian would have much higher rates. This didn’t seem to have much effect, and before long the Arian faction at court talked the vacillating emperor into reversing himself once again. Athanasius, in what by now must have been a familiar drill, was deposed and sent into exile. Thanks to Constantine’s wavering, the situation was now hopelessly confused and continued to deteriorate even after Arius’s rather lurid death.*

Constantine had no patience for the confusing religious problems, and before long his mind started to wander to thoughts of military glory. In his younger days, Christians had flocked to his banner when threatened by Licinius, and perhaps another military campaign would bring the church back into line. Casting about for a suitable opponent, his eye caught Persia, the favorite enemy of Rome. The Persian king Shapur II had just invaded Armenia, and a campaign to conquer and Christianize the fire-worshipping Persians would serve perfectly.

There was no love lost between the two empires, and Shapur II had much to answer for. The dyed skin of a Roman emperor still hung in a Persian temple and captured Roman standards still decorated its walls. The time had come to avenge these insults. Gathering his army, Constantine set out just after Easter in 337, but only made it as far as Helenopolis (modern-day Hersek), the city named after his mother, before he felt too sick to continue. The waters of a nearby thermal spa failed to improve his condition, and by the time he reached the suburbs of Nicomedia, he knew he was dying.

The emperor had always played it safe with religion, postponing his baptism in the belief that a last-minute consecration, with its cleansing of sin, would give him a better chance of entering paradise with a clean slate. Now, feeling his last breath approaching, he threw off the imperial regalia and donned the white robes of a new Christian. Vacillating between the sides of Nicaea to the end, he chose the city’s Arian bishop, Eusebius, to perform the baptism. A few days later, on May 22, the first Christian emperor expired.

Even in death, he managed to trumpet his self-importance. He had taken to calling himself the “equal of the apostles”—though he certainly considered himself superior to them—and his burial left no doubt about how he saw himself. In a departure from the usual Roman tradition of cremation, he was laid in a magnificent sarcophagus in the sumptuous Church of the Holy Apostles that he had built in Constantinople. Arrayed around him were twelve empty caskets—one for each disciple—with himself as the Christ figure at the center. It was one last bit of propaganda worthy of the man who had couched his brutal and opportunistic maneuvering as a divinely inspired mission. Despite having murdered his wife and eldest son, he was venerated as a saint—quite an impressive feat for a man who was both deified as a pagan god and baptized by a heretic.

Aside from the unpleasantness of his character, few rulers in history have had such an impact on history. He had found an empire and a religion fractured and hopelessly divided, and bestowed on both an order that would serve them well. His limited understanding of Christianity made the divisions within it much worse, but his adoption of the faith set off a cultural earthquake that began a sweeping and permanent social transformation. In the West, he laid the feudal foundations of medieval Europe by making peasant jobs hereditary, and in the East, the faith he professed would become the binding force of his empire for the next thousand years. In time, the city that he founded would grow to become the great bulwark of Christendom, protecting an underdeveloped Europe from countless Asiatic invasions.

By the time of Constantine’s death, the transformation that had started with Diocletian had come to its final fruition, and the old Roman Empire began to pass away. The capital on the Bosporus was founded on a Latin model, its bureaucracy and planning echoing that of Rome, but transplanted on an eastern shore, this New Rome had already begun to change. The Greek, Christian culture around it was beginning to take hold.

*It’s still there, although today it’s known as Constantine’s basilica. After he entered Rome, the victorious Constantine replaced Maxentius’s statue with one of himself put some finishing touches on the building, and claimed it for his own.

*Constantine’s association with the city actually went back to 292, when he had been kept there with his mother, Helena, as a hostage of the eastern emperor, Galerius.

*This was the origin of the famous Blue and Green Circus Factions that would soon dominate the Hippodrome and play such a large role in Justinian’s reign.

*From 323 until the empire was destroyed more than a thousand years later, the citizens of Constantinople would meet in the Hippodrome every May 11 to commemorate the city’s birth.

Where presumably they still are. In time, the column itself came to be seen as a sort of relic, and each New Year’s Day (September 1) the citizens would gather at the base of it and sing hymns.

*While walking in the Forum of Constantinople, Arius was suddenly seized with a desire to relieve himself. Squatting down in the dust behind a column, his intestines spilled out, along with his liver and kidneys, killing him almost instantly.

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