Political Masterclass: Constantine and Christianity, I
So. The Emperor Constantine. In the early 4th century AD, he brought a close to a massive civil war that had raged between the Eastern and Western Roman Empire through a crushing military victory at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, slaying his opponent and slaughtering a great many of his supporters. Christian chroniclers of the time painted evocative verbal imagery of hosts of angels leading the charge of Constantine’s troops to destroy the heathens, because Constantine was their saviour, the first Christian Emperor, a true adherent of the true faith to save them from the pagans.
Or was he?
There is ample evidence to suggest that Constantine’s conversion was cunning political intrigue rather than genuine religious faith. In this series, we will be examining the potential motives behind Constantine’s conversion and promotion of Christianity, his plans, and the consequences both short- and long-term of his actions. This was actually the subject of a paper I wrote in university, and I will be drawing heavily from it to produce this series, with appropriate editing to liven up the dry and academic tone and hopefully make it more accessible to those who have not spent years of their life studying history. As with the previous series, a list of source material and further reading will be available following the conclusion.
Of course, my interpretation of events is not the be-all and end-all of the situation. There’s no way to know what Constantine truly thought or believed; as in all historical matters, it is up to the historian to collate and analyze what evidence is available and use that knowledge to re-construct events as best they can. My research has led me to conclude that Constantine’s conversion was far more in the realm of cynical political calculation than genuine religious zealotry, and the reasoning behind that conclusion will become clear in the coming weeks. I look forward to you joining me.