1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Constantine (emperors)

Constantine, the name of several Roman and Later Roman emperors.

Constantine I., known as “The Great” (288 ?–337), Roman emperor—Flavius Valerius Constantinus,[1]—was born on the 27th of February, probably in A.D. 288,[2] at Naissus (the modern Nish) in Upper Moesia (Servia). He was the illegitimate son of Constantius I. and Flavia Helena (described by St Ambrose as an innkeeper). His father, already a distinguished officer, soon afterwards became praefectus praetorio, and in 293 was raised to the rank of Caesar and placed in command of the western provinces. While still a boy, Constantine was sent—practically as a hostage—to the Eastern court. He accompanied Diocletian to the East in 302, was invested with the rank of tribunus primi ordinis and served under Galerius on the Danube. In 305 Diocletian and Maximianus abdicated, and Constantius and Galerius became Augusti, while Severus and Maximinus Daia attained the rank of Caesares. Constantius now demanded from Galerius the restoration of his son, which was unwillingly granted; indeed, we are told that Constantine only escaped from the court of Galerius by flight, and evaded pursuit by carrying off all the post-horses ! He traversed Europe with the greatest possible speed and found his father at Bononia (Boulogne), on the point of crossing to Britain to repel an invasion of Picts and Scots. After gaining a victory, Constantius died at Eboracum (York), and on the 25th of July 306, the army acclaimed his son as Augustus. Constantine, however, displayed that union of determination and prudence which the occasion required. He accepted the nomination of the army with feigned reluctance and wrote a carefully-worded letter to Galerius, disclaiming responsibility for the action of the troops, but requesting recognition as Caesar—a position to which he might naturally aspire on the elevation of Severus to the rank of Augustus. Galerius was not in a position to refuse the request, in view of the temper of the western army, and for a year Constantine bore the title of Caesar not only in his own provinces, but in those of the East as well. He fought with success against the Franks and Alamanni, and reorganized the defences of the Rhine, building a bridge at Colonia Agrippina (Cologne). The rising of Maxentius (q.v.) at Rome (Oct. 28), supported by his father Maximianus (q.v.), led to the defeat and capture of the western Augustus, Severus (q.v.). Maximianus thereupon recognized Constantine as Augustus (A.D. 307); their alliance was confirmed by the marriage of Constantine with Fausta, the daughter of Maximianus, and the father and son-in-law held the consulship, which, however, was not recognized in the East. Galerius now invaded Italy, but was forced by a mutiny of his troops to retire from the gates of Rome. Maximianus urged Constantine to fall upon the flank of his retreating army, but he once more showed his determination to tread the strict path of legitimacy. Maximianus, after the failure of his attempt to depose his son Maxentius, was forced to seek refuge with Constantine, and became a quantité négligeable. In 308 Diocletian and Galerius held a conference at Carnuntum and determined to annul the actions of the Western rulers. Maximianus was set aside, Licinius invested with the purple as Augustus of the West (Nov. 11), while the title filius Augustorum was conferred upon Constantine and Maximinus Daia, and the former was destined for a first consulship (that of 307 being passed over) for 309. Constantine, with his customary union of prudence and decision, tacitly ignored this arrangement; he continued to bear the title of Augustus, and in 309, when he himself was proclaimed consul (with Licinius) in the East, no consuls were recognized in his dominions. In 310, while Constantine was engaged in repelling an inroad of the Franks, Maximianus endeavoured to resume the purple at Arelate (Arles). Constantine returned in haste from the Rhine, and pursued Maximianus to Massilia, where he was captured and put to death.[3] Since Constantine’s legal title to the Empire of the West rested on his recognition by Maximianus, he had now to seek for a new ground of legitimacy, and found it in the assertion of his descent from Claudius Gothicus (q.v.), who was represented as the father of Constantius Chlorus.[4]

Constantine’s patience was soon rewarded. In 311 Galerius died, and Maximinus Daia (who had assumed the style of Augustus in 310) at once marched to the shores of the Bosporus and at the same time entered into negotiations with Maxentius. This threw Licinius into the arms of Constantine, who entered into alliance with him and betrothed his half-sister Constantia to him. In the spring of 312 Constantine crossed the Alps, before Maxentius, who had been obliged to suppress the rebellion of Domitius Alexander in Africa, had completed his preparations. The force he commanded was of uncertain strength; according to his Panegyrist (who may have underrated it) it consisted of about 25,000, according to Zonaras of nearly 100,000 men. He stormed Susa, defeated Maxentius’s generals at Turin and Verona, and marched straight for Rome. This bold and almost desperate move, which contrasted strongly with Constantine’s usual caution, and seemed to court the failure which had befallen Severus and Galerius, was, it would seem, the result of an event which, as told in Eusebius’s Life of Constantine, takes the form of a conspicuous miracle—the Vision of the Flaming Cross which appeared in the sky at noonday with the legend Έν τούτῳ νίκα (“By this conquer”), and led to Constantine’s conversion to Christianity. Eusebius professes to have heard the story from the lips of Constantine; but he wrote after the emperor’s death, and it was evidently unknown to him in the shape given above when he wrote the Ecclesiastical History. The author of the De mortibus persecutorum, whether Lactantius or another, was a well-informed contemporary, and he tells us that the sign was seen by Constantine in a dream; and even Eusebius supplements the vision by day with a dream in the following night. In any case, Constantine, who may have been impressed by the misfortunes which had befallen the more strenuous opponents of Christianity, adopted the monogram as his device[5] and staked his all on the issue.

Maxentius, trusting in superiority of numbers,—he is said to have had 170,000 infantry and 18,000 cavalry at his disposal, but this total probably includes the forces defeated by Constantine in Northern Italy—marched out of Rome and prepared to dispute the passage of the Tiber at the Pons Mulvius (Ponte Molle), beside which a bridge of boats was constructed. Our authorities give no satisfactory account of the battle which followed, and Aurelius Victor places it at Saxa Rubra, a statement accepted by Moltke and other modern authorities. It is more probable, as Seeck has shown, that while the head of Maxentius’s column may have reached Saxa Rubra (which is some miles to the north of the Mulvian Bridge on the Via Flaminia), Constantine, by a rapid turning movement, reached the Via Cassia and attacked Maxentius’s rearguard at the bridge,[6] forcing him to fight in the narrow space between the hills and the Tiber. The army which Constantine had been training for six years at once proved its superiority. The Gallic cavalry swept the left wing of the enemy into the Tiber, swollen with autumn rains, and with it perished Maxentius, owing, as was said, to the collapse of the bridge of boats (Oct. 28). The remainder of his troops surrendered at discretion and were incorporated by Constantine in the ranks of his army, with the exception of the praetorian guard, which was finally disbanded.

Thus Constantine became undisputed master of Rome and the West, and Christianity, although not as yet adopted as the official religion, secured by the edict of Milan toleration throughout the Empire. This edict was the result of a conference between Constantine and Licinius in 313 at Milan, where the marriage of the latter with Constantia took place. Constantine was forced to recognize Licinius’s natural son as his heir. In the course of the same year Licinius defeated Maximinus Daia, who perished at Tarsus by his own hand. In 314 war broke out between the two Augusti, owing, as we are told, to the treachery of Bassianus, the husband of Constantine’s sister Anastasia, for whom he had claimed the rank of Caesar. After two hardwon victories Constantine made peace, Illyricum and Greece being added to his dominions. Constantine and Licinius held the consulship in 315, in which year the former celebrated his decennalia, and on the 1st of March 317 Constantine’s two sons and Licinius’s bastard were proclaimed Caesars. Peace was preserved for nearly nine years, during which the wise government of Constantine strengthened his position, while Licinius (who resumed the persecution of the Christians in 321) steadily lost ground through his indolence and cruelty. Great armaments, both military and naval, were called into being by both emperors, and in the spring of 324[7] Licinius (whose forces are said to have been superior in numbers) declared war. He was twice defeated, first at Adrianople (July 1) and afterwards at Chrysopolis (Sept. 18), when endeavouring to raise the siege of Byzantium, and was finally captured at Nicomedia. His life was spared on the intercession of Constantia and he was interned at Thessalonica, where he was executed in the following year on the charge of treasonable correspondence with the barbarians.

Constantine now reigned as sole emperor in East and West. He presided at the council of Nicaea (see under Nicaea and Council) in 325; in the same year he celebrated his Vicennalia in the East, and in 326 repeated the celebration in Rome. Whilst he was in Rome his eldest son, Crispus, was banished to Pola and there put to death on a charge brought against him by Fausta. Shortly afterwards, as it would seem, Constantine became convinced of his innocence, and ordered Fausta to be executed. The precise nature of the circumstances remains a mystery.

In 326 Constantine determined to remove the seat of empire from Rome to the East, and before the close of the year the foundation-stone of Constantinople was laid. At least two other sites—Sardica and Troy—were considered before the emperor’s choice fell on Byzantium. It is very probable that this step was connected with Constantine’s decision to make Christianity the official religion of the empire. Rome was naturally the stronghold of paganism, to which the great majority of the senate clung with fervent devotion. Constantine did not wish to do open violence to this sentiment, and therefore resolved to found a new capital for the new empire of his creation. He announced that the site had been revealed to him in a dream; the ceremony of inauguration was performed by Christian ecclesiastics on the 11th of May 330, when the city was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.

In 332 Constantine was called in to aid the Sarmatians against the Goths over whom his son gained a great victory on the 20th of April. Two years later there was again fighting on the Danube, when 300,000 Sarmatians were settled in Roman territory. In 335 a rebellion in Cyprus gave Constantine an excuse for executing the younger Licinius. In the same year he carried out a partition of the empire between his three sons and his two nephews, Delmatius and Hannibalianus. The last named received the vassal-kingdom of Pontus with the title of rex regum, while the others ruled as Caesars in their several provinces. Constantine, however, retained the supreme government, and in 335 celebrated his tricennalia. Finally, in 337, Shapur (Sapor) II. of Persia asserted his claim to the provinces conquered by Diocletian, and war broke out. Constantine was preparing to lead his army in person, when he was taken ill, and after a vain trial of the baths at Helenopolis, died at Ancyrona, a suburb of Nicomedia, on the 22nd of May, having received Christian baptism shortly before at the hands of Eusebius. He was buried in the church of the Apostles at Constantinople.

It has been said by Stanley that Constantine was entitled to be called “Great” in virtue rather of what he did than of what he was; and it is true that neither his intellectual nor his moral qualities were such as to earn the title. His claim to greatness rests mainly on the fact that he divined the future which lay before Christianity, and determined to enlist it in the service of his empire, and also on his achievement in completing the work begun by Aurelian and Diocletian, by which the quasi-constitutional monarchy or “Principate” of Augustus was transformed into the naked absolutism sometimes called the “Dominate.” There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, although we may not attribute to him the fervent piety which Eusebius ascribes to him, nor accept as genuine the discourses which pass under his name. The moral precepts of the new religion were not without influence upon his life, and he caused his sons to receive a Christian education. Motives of political expediency, however, caused him to delay the full recognition of Christianity as the religion of the state until he became sole ruler of the empire, although he not merely secured toleration for it immediately after his victory over Maxentius, but intervened in the Donatist controversy as early as 313, and presided at the council of Arles in the following year. By a series of enactments immunities and privileges of various kinds were conferred on the Catholic Church and clergy—heretics being specifically excluded—and the emperor’s attitude towards paganism gradually revealed itself as one of contemptuous toleration. From being the established religion of the state it sank into a mere superstitio. At the same time its rites were allowed to subsist except where they were held to be subversive of morality, and even in the closing years of Constantine’s reign we find legislation in favour of the municipal flamines and collegia. In 333, or later, a cult of the Gens Flavia, as the Imperial family was called, was established at Hispellum (Spello); the offering of sacrifices in the new temple was, however, strictly prohibited. Nor was it until after Constantine’s final triumph over Licinius that pagan symbols disappeared from the coinage and the Christian monogram (which had already been used as a mint mark) became a prominent device. From this time forward the Arian controversy demanded the emperor’s constant attention, and by his action in presiding at the council of Nicaea and afterwards pronouncing sentence of banishment against Athanasius he not only identified himself more openly than ever with Christianity, but showed a determination to assert his supremacy in ecclesiastical affairs, holding no doubt that, as the office of pontifex maximus gave him the supreme control of religious matters throughout the empire, the regulation of Christianity fell within his province. In this matter his discernment failed him. It had been comparatively easy to apply coercion to the Donatists, whose resistance to the temporal power was not wholly due to spiritual considerations,[8] but was largely the result of less pure motives; but the Arian controversy raised fundamental issues, which to the mind of Constantine appeared capable of compromise, but in reality, as Athanasius rightly discerned, disclosed vital differences of doctrine. The result foreshadowed the process by which the church which Constantine hoped to mould into an instrument of absolutism became its most determined opponent. It is unnecessary to give more than a passing mention to the legend according to which Constantine, smitten with leprosy after the execution of Crispus and Fausta, received absolution and baptism from Silvester I. and by his Donation to the bishop of Rome laid the foundation of the temporal power of the papacy (see Donation of Constantine).

The political system of Constantine was the final result of a process which, though it had lasted as long as the empire, had assumed a marked form under Aurelian. It was Aurelian who surrounded the imperial person with oriental pomp, wearing the diadem and the jewelled robe, and assuming the style of dominus and even deus, who assimilated Italy to the condition of the provinces and gave official furtherance to the economic process by which a régime of status replaced a régime of contract. Diocletian endeavoured to secure the new despotism against military usurpation by an elaborate system of co-regency with two lines of succession, bearing the names of Jovii and Herculii, but maintained by adoption and not by hereditary succession. This artificial system was destroyed by Constantine, who established dynastic absolutism in favour of his own family, the gens Flavia, evidence of whose cult is found both in Italy and in Africa. To form a court he created a new official aristocracy to replace the senatorial order, which the military emperors of the 3rd century A.D. had reduced to practical insignificance. Upon this aristocracy he showered titles and distinctions, such as the revised patriciate, which carried with them the coveted immunity from fiscal burdens.[9] As the senate was now a quantité négligeable, Constantine could afford to readmit its members freely to the career of provincial administration, which had been almost closed to them since the reign of Gallienus, and to accord to it certain empty privileges such as the free election of quaestors and praetors, while on the other hand the right of the senator to be tried by his peers was taken away and he was placed under the jurisdiction of the provincial governor. In the administration of the empire Constantine completed the work of Diocletian by effecting the separation of civil from military functions. Under him the praefecti praetorio cease entirely to perform military duties and become the heads of the civil administration, more especially in the matter of jurisdiction: in 331 their decisions were made final and no appeal to the emperor was permitted. The civil governors of the provinces (vicarii and praesides) had no control of the military forces, which were commanded by duces; and not content with the security against usurpation which was afforded by this division of power, Constantine employed the comites who formed a large element in the official aristocracy to supervise and report upon their conduct of affairs (see Count), as well as an army of so-called agentes in rebus who, under colour of inspecting the Imperial posting service, carried on a wholesale system of espionage. In the organization of the army the creation of a field force (comitatenses) beside the permanent frontier-garrisons (limitanei) was probably the work of Diocletian; to Constantine is due the creation of the great commands under the magistri peditum and equitum. He also introduced the practice, afterwards increasingly common, of placing barbarians, especially Germans, in posts of high responsibility.

The organization of society in strictly hereditary corporations or professions was no doubt partly completed before the accession of Constantine; but his legislation contributed to rivet the fetters which bound each individual to the caste from which he sprang. Such originales are mentioned in Constantine’s earliest laws, and in 332 the hereditary status of the agricultural colonus was recognized and enforced. Above all, the municipal decuriones on whom the responsibility for raising taxation rested saw every avenue of escape closed against them. In 326 they were forbidden to acquire immunity by joining the ranks of the Christian clergy. It was the interest of the government by such means to secure the regular payment of the heavy fiscal burdens both in money and in kind which had been laid on the subjects of the empire by Diocletian and were certainly not diminished by Constantine. One of our ancient authorities speaks of him as having been for ten years an excellent ruler, for twelve a robber and for ten a spendthrift, and he was constantly forced to have recourse to fresh exactions in order to enrich his favourites and to carry out such extravagant projects as the building of a new capital. To him are due the taxes known as collatio glebalis, levied on the estates of senators, and collatio lustralis, levied on the profits of trade.

In general legislation the reign of Constantine was a time of feverish activity. Nearly three hundred of his enactments are preserved to us in the Codes, especially that of Theodosius. They display a genuine desire for reform and distinct traces of Christian influence, e.g. in their humane provisions as to the treatment of prisoners and slaves and the penalties imposed on offences against morality. Nevertheless they are in many instances singularly crude in conception as well as turgid in style, and were manifestly drafted by official rhetoricians rather than by trained legists. Like Diocletian, Constantine believed that the time had come for society to be remodelled by the fiat of despotic authority, and it is significant that from henceforth we meet with the undisguised assertion that the will of the emperor, in whatever form expressed, is the sole fountain of law. Constantine, in fact, embodies the spirit of absolute authority which, both in church and state, was to prevail for many centuries.

Authorities.—The principal ancient sources for the life of Constantine are the biography of Eusebius, which is, however, partial and untrustworthy owing to the ecclesiastical bias of its author (whose Ecclesiastical History is also of importance), the tract de mortibus persecutorum ascribed to Lactantius, the orations of the Panegyrici, Nos. vi.-x., the second book of the history of Zosimus (which is written from the pagan standpoint), the so-called Excerpta Valesiana and the writings of Aurelius Victor and Eutropius. The laws of Constantine contained in the Codex Theodosianus have been treated chronologically by Otto K. Seeck, Zeitschrift der Savigny- Stiftung (Romanische Abteilung), x. p. i. ff. and 177 ff. Amongst modern books may be named J. C. F. Manso, Das Leben Constantins des Grossen (1817), Jacob Burckhardt, Die Zeit Constantins des Grossen (2nd ed., 1880), H. Schiller, Geschichte der römischen Kaiserzeit, ii. 2, 164 ff. (1887), and above all Seeck, Geschichte des Untergangs der antiken Welt, vol. i.(2nd ed., 1897). For a short account in English C. H. Firth’s Constantine the Great (1905) may be consulted.  (H. S. J.) 

Constantine II. (317–340), son of Constantine the Great, Roman emperor (337–340), was born at Arelate (Arles) in February 317. On the 1st of March in the same year he was created Caesar, and was consul in 320, 321, 324 and 329. The fifth anniversary of his Caesarship was celebrated by the panegyrist Nazarius (q.v.). He gained the credit of the victories of his generals over the Alamanni (331, for which he received the title Alamannicus), and over the Goths (332). From 335 he administered the Gallic portion of the empire as Caesar till his father’s death (22nd of May 337). On the 9th of September in the same year he assumed the title of Augustus, together with his brothers Constans and Constantius, and in 338 a meeting was held at Viminiacum, on the borders of Pannonia, to arrange the distribution of the empire. In accordance with the arrangements made by his father, Constantine received Britain, Spain and the Gauls; Pontus, Asia, the East, and Egypt fell to Constantius; Africa, Pannonia and the Italies to the youngest brother Constans, whose dominions were further increased by the addition of Macedonia, Dalmatia and Thrace, originally intended for Delmatius, a nephew of Constantine I. and one of the victims of the general massacre of that emperor’s kinsmen. By virtue of his seniority, Constantine claimed a kind of control over his brothers. Constans, an ambitious youth encouraged by intriguing advisers, declined to submit; and Constantine, jealous of his prerogatives and dissatisfied with his share in the empire, demanded from Constans the cession of Africa and equal authority in Italy. After protracted but unavailing negotiations, Constantine in 340 invaded Italy. He had advanced as far as Aquileia, when he fell into an ambuscade and lost his life. His body was thrown into the little river Alsa, but subsequently recovered and buried with royal honours.

See Zosimus ii. xii.; Aurelius Victor, Epit. 41; Eusebius, Vita Constantini, iv.; O. Seeck in Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyclopädie, iv. pt. 1 (1900); Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ch. 18.

Constantine III., son of the emperor Heraclius (d. 641) by his first wife Eudocia, succeeded his father as joint-emperor with Heracleonas, the son of Heraclius by his second wife Martina. Court intrigues nearly led to a civil war, which was prevented by the death of Constantine (May 641), after a brief reign of 103 days. He was supposed to have been poisoned by order of his step-mother Martina.

Constantine IV. Pogonatus (the “bearded”), son of Constans II., was emperor from 668 to 685. After his father’s death he set out for Sicily, where an Armenian named Mizizius had been declared emperor. Having defeated and put the usurper to death, he returned to the capital. For six years (672–677) the Arabs under the caliph Moawiya (see Caliphate) besieged Constantinople, but the ravages caused amongst them by the so-called “Greek fire,” heavy losses by land and sea, and the inroads of the Christian Mardaites (or Maronites, q.v.) of Mount Lebanon, obliged Moawiya to make peace and agree to pay tribute for thirty years. The attacks of the Slavs and Avars upon Thessalonica were heroically repulsed by the inhabitants. But Constantine, exhausted by the war with the Arabs, was unable to prevent the Bulgars, a tribe of Finno-Ugrian race, from crossing the Danube and settling in the district where their name still survives. The Bulgarian kingdom was established under its first king Isperich in 679. The tribute paid by the Arabs was used to purchase the good will of the new settlers. In order to restore peace in the church, Constantine summoned an ecumenical council (the sixth) at Constantinople, which held its sittings from the 7th of November 680 to the 16th of September 681. The result was the condemnation of the Monothelites and a recognition of the doctrine that two wills, neither opposed nor intermingled, were united in the person of Christ, in accordance with his twofold nature (see under Constantinople, Councils of).

Constantine V. Copronymus (Gr. κόπρος), son of Leo III. the iconoclast, was emperor 740–775, Immediately after his accession, while he was engaged in a campaign against the Arabs, his brother-in-law, an Armenian named Artavasdus, a supporter of the image-worshippers, had been proclaimed emperor, and it was not till the end of 743 that Constantine re-entered Constantinople. When he felt his position secure, he determined to settle the religious controversy once for all. In 754 he assembled at the palace of Hiereion 338 bishops, by whom the worship of images was forbidden as opposed to all Christian doctrine and a curse pronounced upon all those who upheld it. But in spite of the severity with which the resolution was enforced, the resistance to iconoclasm continued, chiefly owing to the attitude of the monks, who exercised great influence over the common people. A vigorous campaign against monasticism took place; the monasteries were closed, and many of them pulled down or converted into barracks; monks and nuns were compelled to marry, and exiled in large numbers to Cyprus; the literary and artistic treasures were sold for the benefit of the imperial treasury. One of the most important results of the struggle was the defection of the pope, who sought and obtained protection from Pippin, king of the Franks. All attempts to induce Pippin to throw over his new protégé failed, and from this time onward the nominal dependence of Rome and the papacy on emperors at Constantinople ceased. Constantine has been described by the orthodox historians of his time as a monster of iniquity; but, in spite of the harshness and occasional cruelty with which he treated his religious opponents, for which an excuse may be found in the obstinate fanaticism of the monks, it is now generally admitted that he was one of the most capable rulers who ever occupied the Byzantine throne. He restored the aqueduct built by Valens and destroyed by the barbarians in the reign of Heraclius, re-peopled Constantinople (after it had been devastated by a great plague) and some of the cities of Thrace, revived commercial prosperity, and carried on a number of wars, in which, on the whole, he was successful, against the Arabs, Slavs and Bulgarians. In the year of his death he set out on an expedition against the last-named, but a violent attack of fever obliged him to discontinue his journey. He died on board his fleet on his way home.

Constantine VI., grandson of Constantine V., was emperor 780–797. At ten years of age he succeeded his father, Leo IV., under the guardianship of his mother Irene (q.v.), who held the reins of government for ten years. In 782 the Arabs under Harun al-Rashid penetrated as far as the Bosporus, and exacted an annual tribute as the price of an inglorious peace (see Caliphate, § C, 3 ad fin.). Even when Constantine came of age, Irene practically retained the supreme power. At length Constantine had her arrested, but foolishly pardoned her shortly afterwards. Disastrous campaigns against the Bulgarians and Arabs afforded her an opportunity of rousing the contempt and hatred of the people against their ruler. On his return to Constantinople, Constantine managed to escape to the Asiatic coast, but being brought back practically by force he was seized and blinded. According to some, he died on the same day; according to others, he survived for several years. With Constantine VI. the Syrian (Isaurian) dynasty became extinct.

See Theophanes, and the biographies of the patriarch Tarasius and Theodore of Studium; also F. C. Schlosser, Geschichte der bilderstürmenden Kaiser des oströmischen Reichs (Frankfurt am Main, 1812); other works s.v. Irene.

Constantine VII. Porphyrogenitus (Gr. Porphyrogennētos, “born in the purple”) (905–959), East Roman emperor, author and patron of literature, was the son of Leo VI. the Wise. Though nominally emperor from 912–959, it was not until 945 that Constantine could really be called sole ruler. During this period he had been practically excluded from all real share in the government by ambitious relatives. Though wanting in strength of will, Constantine possessed intelligence and many other good qualities, and his reign on the whole was not unsatisfactory. He was poisoned by his son Romanus in 959. Constantine was a painter and a patron of art, a literary man and a patron of literature; and herein consists his real importance, since it is to works written by or directly inspired by him that we are indebted for our chief knowledge of his times. He was the author or inspirer of several works of considerable length. (1) De Thematibus, an account of the military districts (Themata) of the empire during the time of Justinian, chiefly borrowed from Hierocles and Stephanus of Byzantium. (2) De administrando imperio, an account of the condition of the empire, and an exposition of the author’s view of government, written for the use of his son Romanus; it also contains most valuable information as to the condition and history of various foreign nations with which the Byzantine empire had been brought into contact on the east, west and north. (3) De cerimoniis aulae Byzantinae, which describes the customs of the Eastern Church and court. (4) A life of Basilius I., his grandfather, based on the work of Genesius. (5) Two treatises on military subjects are attributed to him; one on tactics, which, as the title shows, was really written by his grandson Constantine VIII., the other a description of the different methods of fighting in fashion amongst different peoples. (6) A speech on the despatch of an image of Christ to Abgar, king of Edessa. Of works undertaken by his instructions the most important were the Encyclopaedic Excerpts from all available treatises on various branches of learning. (1) Historica, in 53 sections, each devoted to a special subject; of these the sections De legationibus, De virtutibus et vitiis, De sententiis, De insidiis, have been wholly or partly preserved. (2) Basilica, a compilation from the different parts of the Justinian Corpus Juris, subsequently the text-book for the study of law. (3) Geoponica, agricultural treatises, for which see Geoponici and Bassus, Cassianus. (4) Iatrica, a medical handbook compiled by one Theophanes Nonnus, chiefly from Oribasius. (5) Hippiatrica, on veterinary surgery, the connexion of which with Constantine is, however, disputed. (6) Historia animalium, a compilation from the epitome of Aristotle’s work on the subject by Aristophanes of Byzantium, with additions from other writers such as Aelian and Timotheus of Gaza.

On Constantine VII. generally the most important work is A. Rambaud, L’Empire grec au dixième siècle (1870); see also Gibbon, Decline and Fall, ch. 53, and G. Finlay, Hist. of Greece, ii. 294 (1877). Many of his works will be found in Migne, Patrologia Graeca, cix., cxii., cxiii.; for editions of the rest, C. Krumbacher, Geschichte der byzantinischen Literatur (1897), and the article by Cohn in Pauly-Wissowa’s Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft (1900) should be consulted. The former contains a valuable note on the “Gothic Christmas” described in detail in the De cerimoniis; see also Bury in Eng. Hist. Rev. xxii. (1907).

Constantine VIII. This title is given by Gibbon to the son of Romanus I. Lecapenus, one of the colleagues of Constantine VII. Porphyrogenitus, but it is now generally bestowed upon Constantine, the brother and colleague of Basil II. from 976–1025, sole ruler 1025–1028. An absolute contrast to his brother, he gave himself up to a life of pleasure and allowed the administration to fall into the hands of six eunuchs.

Constantine IX. Monomachus, emperor 1042–1054, owed his elevation to an old admirer, Zoë, the widow of Romanus III. Argyrus (1028–1034) and of Michael IV. the Paphlagonian (1034–1041), who, after the brief reign of Michael V. Calaphates (December 1041–April 1042), was proclaimed empress with her sister, Theodora. Quarrels broke out between the sisters, and, in order to secure her position, Zoë married Constantine, with whom she shared the throne till her death in 1050. In his old age Constantine, who had once been a famous warrior, utterly neglected the defences of the empire and reduced his army by disbanding 50,000 of his best troops; on the other hand, he spent extravagant sums on luxuries and the erection of magnificent buildings. Rebellions broke out at home and abroad; the Normans conquered Lombardy, which subsequently (1055) became the duchy of Apulia, and thus Italy was lost to the empire; the Petchenegs (Patzinaks) crossed the Danube and attacked Thrace and Macedonia; and the Seljuk Turks made their appearance on the Armenian frontier.

Constantine X. Ducas, emperor 1059–1067, succeeded Isaac I. Comnenus (q.v.). But the choice was not justified, for Constantine, who as the friend and minister of Isaac had shown himself a capable statesman and financier, proved incompetent as an emperor. He devoted himself to philosophical trifling, petty administrative and judicial details, while his craze for economy developed into avarice. He reduced the army, cut down the soldiers’ pay, failed to keep up the supply of war material, and neglected the frontier fortresses at a time when the Seljuk Turks were pressing hard upon the eastern portion of the empire. Alp Arslan, the successor of Toghrul Beg, overran Armenia in 1064, and destroyed its capital Ani. The Magyars occupied Belgrade, the Petchenegs (Patzinaks) continued their inroads, and in 1065 the Uzes (called by the Greeks Comani), a Turkish tribe from the shores of the Euxine, crossed the Danube in vast numbers, ravaged Thrace and Macedonia, and penetrated as far as Thessalonica. The empire was only saved by an outbreak of plague amongst the invaders and the bravery of the Bulgarian peasants. In the year before Constantine’s death the remnant of the Byzantine possessions in Italy was finally lost to the empire, and the chief town, Bari, taken by the Normans.

For the later Constantines references to general authorities will be found under Roman Empire, Later; see also Caliphate and Seljuks for the wars of the period.

  1. The praenomina Lucius, Marcus and Gaius are found in various inscriptions. In reality Constantine, like his father and successors, bore no praenomen.
  2. His age at death is variously stated at 62 (Aur. Vict.), 63 (Epit. de Caes), 64 (Euseb.), 65 (Zonaras and Socrates) and 66 (Eutrop.) years. Seeck has shown that these statements are false, and that Constantine was born in or about the year 288 A.D.
  3. The story told in the De mortibus persecutorum (cap. 30) of a later conspiracy of Maximianus, which failed owing to the fidelity of Fausta, is most probably a fiction.
  4. Such is the primary version of the story, implied in the Seventh Panegyric of Eunenius, delivered at Trier in A.D. 310. It would seem that when Christian sentiment was offended by the illegitimate origin ascribed to Constantius, the story was modified and Claudius became his uncle.
  5. The name labarum, given to the military standards bearing the monogram, is of unexplained origin. Lactantius says that the symbol was used on the shields of Constantine’s troops.
  6. That the battle was called after the Milvian bridge is indicated by a relief and inscription from Cherchel (C.I.L. viii. 9356).
  7. It has been disputed whether the final struggle between Constantine and Licinius took place in A.D. 323 or 324; but the formulae employed in the dating of Egyptian papyri seem to point to the latter year (see Comptes-rendus de l’académie des inscriptions, 1906, p. 231 ff.).
  8. The watchword Quid est imperatori cum ecclesia ? belongs to a later period.
  9. These titles were so freely bestowed that in A.D. 326 Constantine found it necessary in the interest of the treasury to enact that the fiscal immunity which they carried should no longer be hereditary.