Constantine the Great was the first Christian emperor of Rome, and the first Christian ruler of note in the world. His sons Constantius II, Constantine the II, and Constans were the first Roman emperors born as Christians.
From 313 to 361, Constantine and his sons spurred the most rapid spread of the Christian faith in history. When all was said and done, a substantial portion of the inhabitants of western Europe and the Middle East were openly Christian.
Each order will feature an authentic Roman bronze coin minted by one of these champions of Early Christianity. Each coin comes in a protective presentation folder, including the history of the founder of this famous family.
With the literally hundreds of different designs between the four emperors, building a collection of historical bronze coins from the Constantinian Dynasty can be an affordable and interesting long-term hobby!
Constantine’s Impact on Early Christianity
While Constantine openly credited his victory over the usurper Maxentius in 312 to the intervention of the God of the Christians, he had been exposed to Christianity as child by his pious Christian mother Helena. It may also have been Helena that convinced her husband (and Constantine’s father) Constantius Chlorus to ignore the orders of the Emperor Diocletian to ruthlessly persecute Christians.
Constantine’s championship of Christianity led to his adoration as “Constantine, Equal to the Apostles” by the early Church. As part of his stated goal of spreading Christianity throughout the Roman Empire, he joined with emperor of the Roman East Licinius in 313 to issue the Edict of Milan, which decriminalized Christianity, and introduced freedom of religion in all Roman territory.
Constantine make a point of building new churches and cathedrals across his domains. His new city of Constantinople, on the shores of the Straits of Bosphorus, became the capital of Christianity as well as the new capital of the Roman Empire. The Hagia Sophia, Hagia Irene, and Church of the Apostles were just some of the basilicas he ordered built there. He built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, believed to be the place where Jesus was laid to rest after His crucifixion, and from which He rose on the third day. The also built the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
This is not to say that he abandoned Rome, and its place in early Christendom. He ordered the construction of the original St Peter’s Basilica, St Paul’s Basilica, and St John’s Basilica, making Rome the central point of Christianity in the West Roman Empire. He also gave the Lateran Palace to the Bishop of Rome, to use as his residence.
Constantine as Christian Powerbroker
Constantine also played a substantial role in the development of a standardized Christian canon. His goal was to bring together the different sects into a unified religion, to match his unification of the Roman Empire. He reserved for himself the power to appoint and dismiss bishops, in the belief that the emperor was both the ultimate secular and ecclesiastical authority of the Empire. Constantine convened the Council in Nicaea in 325, with the goal of establishing a “catholic” set of rules regarding the nature of Christ and other religious points of contention.The state paid travel and lodging expenses for all attendees. Constantine appointed himself as bishop of Constantinople, and played a large part in the final resolution adopted by the Council of Nicaea. This resolution, called the Nicene Creed, became the foundation for both Orthodox and Catholic, and later Protestant, Christianity. To spread these resolutions, he ordered Bibles to be written and distributed to churches throughout the empire.
Constantine II was the oldest son of Constantine and his second wife, Fausta. He ruled over Britain, Gaul, Germania, and Hispana after the death of his father. A Christian who followed the Nicene Creed as set forth in the Council of Nicaea, this put him at odds with his brother Constantius II, who was an ardent adherent to Arianism. Constantine II continued the spread of Christianity in Western Europe. He survived his famous father by a mere three years. Jealous of the territory held by the youngest brother Constans, Constantine II invaded Italy. He was killed in an ambush by Constans’ troops in the year 340.
The youngest son of Constantine the Great, Constans was a Nicene Christian like his father and older brother. Ruling over Italy, North Africa, and the Balkans, he held the middle of the Empire. After Constantine II was killed in his treacherous attack on Constans in 340, the younger brother added all of the Western Roman empire to his domain. Constans was far more active in religious affairs than Constantine II. In 341, he declared that all State-owned pagan temples in the West would be closed and turned into museums, and all State-sponsored sacrifices halted. Privately-owned temples to non-Christian gods were not affected. Both he and his only surviving brother Constantius II realized that the seizure and destruction of pagan temples would cause a civil war, as Christianity was still not the major religion. Constans called an ecclesiastical Council in Serdica in 343 to find a common ground between Nicene Christianity and Arianism. Though some progress was made, the rival sects remained antagonistic towards each other.
Constans was overthrown and killed in a rebellion by his general Magnentius in 350.
Constantius II was the middle of the three surviving sons of Constantine the Great. After his father’s death, he ruled over the eastern third of the empire. This included Constantinople, Greece, the Balkans east of Thrace, Asia Minor east to Mesopotamia, the Middle East, and Egypt (which was still the breadbasket of the Empire as a whole).Unlike his brothers, Constantius spent most of his rule at war with Rome’s ancient enemy, the Persians.
When Constans was murdered by Magnentius, Constantius immediately marched west. He destroyed Magnentius’ army in 353, and became the sole ruler of a united Roman Empire. The marked a major shift in the Christian hierarchy of two-thirds of the Empire, as Constantius II was a fervent believer in Arian Christianity, which held that Jesus was begotten by God, instead of an aspect of God that had existed for eternity. His ascension to sole rule of the empire led to the replacement of senior Nicene bishops with Arian leaders.
In an attempt to find a middle ground that both Arians and Nicenes could agree on, Constantius II called several Councils and Synods during his reign. Despite his efforts, the schism remained when he died on November 3, 361.
He took a hard line against non-Christian religions, persecuting pagans as fervently as the Christians had been persecuted by Diocletian. This led to the pagans supporting the emperor Julian “the Apostate” brief reign as successor to Constantius II.