Constantine the First, also now commonly referred to as Constantine the Great, may not have the fame of Julius Caesar, Augustus, or even Nero, but nonetheless he was an incredibly important Roman Emperor whose actions would not only affect Rome but would set standards for religion, government, and the role of civil service in the Western world for many centuries to follow. In fact, some of the widely accepted precepts that Western governments and societies follow today can still be traced back to many of the decisions that Constantine made.
Born to Flavius Valerius Constantius, a high-ranking officer in the Roman Army, Constantine would follow in his father’s footsteps as an impressive military officer who served well under his father and was coming up in service during an interesting time when Rome was split into an Eastern and Western Empire, each with its own Caesar who focused on running things in their half to make the empire more manageable.
He excelled in practical matters of administration as an officer as well as a military strategist. His family line was high enough to allow for alliance level marriages with the top families in the Empire, but this would also eventually lead to others attempting to betray him, particularly during a military campaign in Gaul to the west.
After the death of the emperor a brief Civil War broke out and it was with stunning strategy and quick acting that Constantine would come out ahead. Not only did he survive attempts at his life, but he would eventually defeat his brother in law to become the Western Emperor of Rome while his ally Licinius would share power in the West with his rival. Licinius would eventually defeat his rival but then challenge Constantine, which ended in A.D. 324 with Constantine’s victory, leaving him as sole emperor of both the East and the West and putting him in control of all of Rome.
Emperor Of A United Rome
With full unchallenged power thanks to his military victories, Constantine set out with a series of important reformations. This started with re-organizing the military by separating military authority and civil authority completely, so bureaucrats were not playing general and generals were not struggling to run cities and settlements. Units were changed and re-organized to be mobile, responsive, and able to counter the specific internal threats and barbarian threats they were most likely to face in their area, strengthening security within the empire.
Once that was done restructuring on the civil side was done through various important reforms in government, administration, finances, and social policies that often hacked away at corruption and inefficiency to provide a basic safety net while combating the issues of unfettered influence, inflation, and corruption. These reforms would set new standards around efficiency and not create positions inherited by authority or the change of coin. He even minted a new gold coin (the solidus) which was introduced to be a standard currency that would combat inflation and stabilize currency values within the empire.
Brought Christianity To The West
Nothing was more influential than Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, his praise of the Christian God for his military victories, and his heavy influence in not only decreed a tolerance of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire (Edict of Milan AD 313) but would also lead to the calling of the First Council of Nicaea in 325 which would create the Nicene Creed and establish a Western version of Christianity that is the basis for most denominations that exist today. Constantine was the emperor that made Christianity the Western religion and his cultural impact can not be understated!