Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Life of Constantine with Orations of Constantine and Eusebius.: Section 1
I.—Constantine the Great.
§1. Early Years
The Emperor Flavius Valerius Constantinus, surnamed the Great, 2992 born February 27, 272 or 274, 2993 at Naïssus, 2994 was son of Constantius Chlorus, afterwards Emperor, 2995 and Helena his wife. 2996 He was brought up at Drepanum, his mothers home, 2997 where he remained until his father became p. 412 Cæsar (a.d. 292 acc. to Clinton) and divorced Helena (Anon. Vales. p. 471). He was then sent to the court of Diocletian, nominally to be educated (Praxagoras, in Müller, Fragm. 4 (1868); Zonar. 13. 1, &c.), but really as hostage, 2998 and remained with Diocletian, or Galerius, until the year 306. 2999 During this time he took part in various campaigns, including the famous Egyptian expedition of Diocletian in 296 (Euseb. V. C. 1. 19; Anon. Metroph., Theoph. p. 10). 3000 Shortly after joining the emperor he contracted (296 or 297) his alliance with Minervina, 3001 by whom he had a son, Crispus. 3002 He was at Nicomedia when Diocletians palace was struck by lightning (Const. Orat. 35), and was present at the abdication of Diocletian and Maximinus in 305 (Lact. De M. P. c. 18 sq.). This last event proved a crisis for Constantine. He had grown to be a man of fine physique (Lact. c. 18; Euseb. V. C. 1. 19), of proved courage and military skill (cf. remarks on physical characteristics under Character), and a general favorite (Lact. l.c.). He had already “long before” (Lact. c. 18) been created Tribune of the first order. It was both natural and fitting that at this time he should become Cæsar in the place of his father, who became Augustus. Every one supposed he would be chosen (c. 19), and Diocletian urged it (c. 18), but the princely youth was too able and illustrious to please Galerius, and Constantine was set aside for obscure and incompetent men (cf. Lact.). His position was far from easy before. His brilliant parts naturally aroused the jealousy and suspicions of the emperors. They, or at least Galerius, even sought his death, it is said, by tempting him to fight wild beasts (a lion, Praxag. p. 3; cf. Zonaras 2, p. 623), or exposing him to special danger in battle (cf. Philistog. 1. 6; Lact. c. 24; Anon. Vales. p. 471; Theophanes p. 10–12, &c.). The situation, hard enough before, now became, we may well believe, intolerable. He was humiliated, handicapped, and even in danger of his life. He was practically a prisoner. The problem was, how to get away. Several times Constantius asked that his son might be allowed to join him, but in vain (Lact. c. 24; Anon. Vales. p. 471). Finally, however, Constantine gained a grudging permission to go. It was given at night, and the emperor intended to take it back in the morning (Lact. c. 24). But in the morning it was too late. Constantine had left at once to join his father. He lost no time either in starting or making the journey. Each relay of post horses which he left was maimed to baffle pursuit (Anon. Vales., Vict. Epit. p. 49; cf. Lact. c. 24, Praxag. p. 3). The rage of the emperor when he learned of the flight was great but vain. Constantine was already out of reach, and soon joined his father at Bononia (Boulogne, Anon. Vales.; cf. Eumen. Paneg. (310), c. 7), 3003 just in time to accompany him on his final expeditions to Britain (Eumen. Paneg. (310) c. 7; cf. Anon. Vales. l.c.). Constantius died shortly after at York (Anon. Vales. p. 471; Eutrop. 10. 1), having named Constantine as his successor (Euseb. V. C. 1. 21; Eumen. Paneg. (310) c. 7.; Lact. c. 24).
This sketch of the life of Constantine is intended to give the thread of events, and briefly to supplement, especially for the earlier part of his reign, the life by Eusebius, which is distinctly confined to his religious acts and life.411:2992
“Imperator Cæsar Augustus Consul Proconsul Pontifex Maximus, Magnus, Maximus, Pius, Felix, Fidelis, Mansuetus, Benificus, Clementissimus, Victor, Invictus, Triumphator, Salus Reip. Beticus, Alemanicus, Gothicus, Sarmarticus, Germanicus, Britannicus, Hunnicus, Gallicanus,” is a portion of his title, as gathered from coins, inscriptions, and various documents.411:2993
Calendarium Rom. in Petavius Uranal. p. 113. The date varies by a year or two, according to way of reckoning, but 274 is the date usually given. (Cf. Burckhardt, Manso, Keim, De Broglie, Wordsworth, etc.) Eutropius and Hieronymus say he died in his sixty-sixth year, Theophanes says he was sixty-five years old, and Socrates and Sozomen say substantially the same, while Victor, Epit. has sixty-three, and Victor, Cæs. sixty-two. Eusebius says he lived twice the length of his reign, i.e. 63 +.
Manso chose 274, because it agreed best with the representations of the two Victors as over against the “later church historians.” But the two Victors say, one that he lived sixty-two years and reigned thirty-two, and the other that he lived sixty-three and reigned thirty; while Eutropius, secretary to Constantine, gives length of reign correctly, and so establishes a slight presumption in favor of his other statement. Moreover, it is supported by Hieronymus, whose testimony is not of the highest quality, to be sure, and is quite likely taken from Eutropius, and Theophanes, who puts the same fact in another form, and who certainly chose that figure for a reason. The statement of Eusebius is a very elastic generalization, and is the only support of Victor, Epit. Socrates, who, according to Wordsworth, says he was in his sixty-fifth year, uses the idiom “mounting upon” (ἐπιβ€ς) sixty-five years, which at the least must mean nearly sixty-five years old, and unless there is some well-established usage to the contrary, seems to mean having lived already sixty-five years. In the interpretation of Sozomen (also given in translation “in his sixty-fifth year”) he was “about” sixty-five years old. Now if he died in May, his following birthday would not have been as “about,” and he must have been a little over sixty-five. This would make a strong consensus against Victor, against whom Eutropius alone would have a presumption of accuracy. On the whole it may be said that in the evidence, so far as cited by Manso, Wordsworth, Clinton, and the run of historians, there is no critical justification for the choice of the later date and the shorter life.411:2994
Anon. Vales. p. 471. Const. Porphyr. (De themat. 2. 9), Stephanus Byzant. art. Ναϊσσός (ed. 1502, H. iii.), “Firmicus 1. 4.” According to some it was Tarsus (“Julius Firmic. 1. 2”), or Drepanum (Niceph. Callist.), or in Britain (the English chroniclers, Voragine, and others, the mistake arising from one of the panegyrists (c. 4) speaking of his taking his origin thence), or Trèves (Voragine). Compare Vogt, who adds Rome (“Petr. de Natalibus”), or Roba (“Eutychius”), or Gaul (“Meursius”). Compare also monographs by Janus and by Schoepflin under Literature.411:2995
For characterization of Constantius compare V. C. 1. 13 sq.411:2996
It has been a much discussed question, whether Helena was legitimate wife or not. Some (Zosimus 2. 8; Niceph. Callist. 7. 18) have asserted that Helena was a woman “indifferent honest,” and the birth of Constantine illegitimate. This view is simply psychologically impossible regarding a woman of so much and such strength of character. That she stood in the relation of legitimate concubinage (cf. Smith and Cheetham, Dict. 1. 422) is not improbable, since many (Hieron. Orosius, Zosimus 2.8; Chron. Pasch. p. 516, and others) assert this lesser relationship. This would have been not unlike a modern morganatic marriage. The facts are: 1. That she is often spoken of as concubine (cf. above). 2. That she is distinctly called wife, and that by some of the most competent authorities (Eutrop. 10. 2; Anon. Vales. p. 471; Euseb. H. E. 8. 13; Ephraem p. 21, etc.), also in various inscriptions (compare collected inscriptions in Clinton 2. 81). 3. That she was divorced (Anon. Vales. p. 47). The weight of testimony is clearly in favor of the word “wife,” though with divorce so easy it seems to have been a name only. The view that she was married in the full legal sense, but only after the birth of Constantine, is plausible enough, and has a support more apparent than real, in the fact that he “first established that natural children should be made legitimate by the subsequent marriage of their parents” (Sandars Inst. Just. (1865) 113; cf. Cod. Just. V. xxvii. 1 and 5 ed. Krueger 2 (1877) 216).
Of course the story of her violation by and subsequent marriage to Constantius (Inc. auct. ed. Heydenreich) is purely legendary, and the same may be said of the somewhat circumstantial account of her relation as concubine, given by Nicephorus Callistus 7, 18. For farther account of Helena, compare the V. C. 3. 42 and notes.411:2997
Helena was born probably at Drepanum, afterwards called Helenopolis, in her honor, by Constantine (Procopius De ædif. V. 2, p. 311, Chron. Pasch. etc.).412:2998
This appears from the disregard of his fathers repeated requests that he be sent back to him (Lact., Anon. Vales. p. 471), and the whole story of his final flight. So also it is said by Anon. Vales. p. 471, and the two Victors (Cæs. p. 156, Epit. p. 49). Zonaras (12. 33, ed. Migne 1091), gives both reasons for sending, and is likely right. Nicephorus Callistus (7. 18) suggests that he was sent there for education, since Constantius could not take him himself on account of Theodora.412:2999
He was with Diocletian still in 305 (cf. Lact. and note, below), and was with his father early in 306.412:3000
Eusebius, who saw him on his way to Egypt in 296, gives the impression which he made on him at that time (l.c.). According to some he was also with Galerius in his Persian war, and this is possible (cf. Clinton 1. 338–40). Theophanes describes him as “already eminent in war” (p. 10), Anon. Vales. p. 471, as conducting himself “bravely.”412:3001
This was probably a morganatic marriage or concubinate (Victor, Epit. 41, Zosimus 2. 20; Zonaras 13. 2, &c.). “The improbability that Constantine should have marked out an illegitimate son as his successor” which Ramsay (Smith, Dict. 2. 1090) mentions as the only argument against, is reduced to a minimum in view of Constantines law for the legitimization of natural children by rescript (Cod. Just. V. xxvii. ed. Krueger 2 (1877), 216–17; cf. notes of Sandars in his Inst. Just. (1865) 113). It would be uncritical, as in the case before mentioned, to lay stress on this as positive evidence, but over against a simple “improbability” it has a certain suggestiveness at least. The panegyrical praises of Constantines continence hardly justify Clintons claim that she was lawful wife; for to have a regular concubine would not have been considered in any sense immoral, and it would not have been particularly pertinent in a wedding oration to have introduced even a former wife. For what little is known of Minervina, compare Ramsay, in Smith Dict. 2. 1090, “Tillemont, Hist. Emp. IV. iv. p. 84,” and Clinton, Fasti Rom. 2. (1850) 86, note k.412:3002
Crispus was “already a young man” when made Cæsar in 317 (Zos. 2. 30).412:3003
According to some (e.g. Victor, Cæs. p. 156; Victor, Epit. p. 51; Zos. 2. 8) his father was already in Britain.
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