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Constantine the Great: The First Christian Roman Emperor?

Afternoon Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, November 1, 2023 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1J0306
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Materials for this program

Constantine the Great, Byzantine mosaic ca. 1000

Few individuals have played such a dramatic role in history, or provoked as much controversy, as the Roman emperor Constantine (306-337). In October 312, after he triumphed against his rival Maxentius at the battle of Milvian Bridge, Constantine became the first Roman emperor to declare his support for Christianity. Over the next 25 years, he poured imperial patronage and resources into the church, transforming what had been a persecuted minority into the favored religion of the empire. His new city of Constantinople became the heart of eastern Christianity, and Constantine would be commemorated as a saint and the equal of the apostles.

Yet in more modern times, commentators have questioned Constantine’s motives and the sincerity of his faith. Did he support the church for spiritual reasons or to strengthen his rise to power? What exactly did Constantine believe, and how did he attempt to resolve Christian divisions while placating the pagan majority over whom he ruled? And why was he not baptized until May 337, just days before he died? David Gwynn, associate professor at Royal Holloway, University of London, explores the answers to these questions, focusing on the words of Constantine himself to understand the man and the emperor and offering a new evaluation of his legacy.

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