Constantine the Great

Constantine the Great - found in York, on display in the Yorkshire Museum

Constantine came to Britain with his father, the emperor Constantius, in 305.  Constantius died in July the following year in York.

The system of succession at the time demanded that another Caesar should become emperor but the soldiers in York immediately proclaimed Constantine their leader.  It proved to be a pivotal moment in history.  He is known as Constantine the Great for very good reasons.

After nearly 80 years, and three generations of political fragmentation, Constantine united the whole of the Roman Empire under one ruler.  By 324 he had extended his power and was sole emperor, restoring stability and security to the Roman world.

Constantine also abandoned Rome as the most important city in the empire, building a new capital modestly named Constantinople (now Istanbul).  In the next two centuries, Rome and Italy became vulnerable to barbarian invasions.  The much more easily defensible Constantinople lasted for another thousand years.

Finally, and perhaps most famously, Constantine’s strong support for Christianity had an incalculable impact on European history.  He is said to have been converted to the faith in AD 312, although this has not been corroborated.

At the time only around ten per cent of the Roman empire’s population was Christian.  The majority of the ruling elite worshipped the old gods of RomeConstantine was the first emperor to allow Christians to worship freely, helping to unite and promote the faith.  He went on to instigate the celebration of the birth of Christ we call Christmas.

In 314, a year after Constantine’s edict on religious tolerance, Eboracum had its first Bishop.  Along with the Bishop’s of Londinium (London) and Lindum (Lincoln), he attended the Christian Council at Arles.

Constantine didn’t stay long in York, establishing Trier as his base for his campaigns against the Germans perhaps a year after his succession.  However his place in York's history was already very firmly sealed.

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