CONSTANTINE SPEAKS ABOUT THE BATTLE OF SAXA RUBRA MILVIAN BRIDGE, HIS REIGN AS EMPEROR AND THE PARALLELS OF ANCIENT ROME TO TODAY'S SOCIETY
Head from the colossal statue of Constantine that once stood in the apse of the Basilica of Maxentius and which now resides in the Courtyard of the Palazzo dei Conservatori on the Capitoline Hill in Rome. The Basilica of Maxentius, on the north boundary of the Roman Forum, was begun in 307AD and was completed by Constantine after his defeat of Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge in 312. The statue was subsequently recarved to represent Constantine, of which only the head, hand, arm, legs and feet survive. See them Here
Ave et Salutatio . . . Hello and Greetings
I am Emperor Constantine the First. Some have labeled me as Constantine the Great. I was born on February 27, 272 AD; as Caius Flavius Valarius Aurelius Constantius, the son of Helena and the then Emperor Flavius Valerius Constantius, in the Roman Province of Nicomedea-Serbia, in what is now northwestern Turkey. My father, was a respected and decorated officer in the Roman Army, and I therefore, chose to follow in his footsteps by choosing a military career as my lifes work. I received much training and benefited from a good education. In recognition of my supposed valor and success in commanding troops, I was appointed a military tribune when I was but 20 years of age and later succeeded my father as the Governor of Spain, Gaul and Britain in 306 AD. Later I was proclaimed as one of Romes four Emperors. I co-ruled the western Provinces with Maxentius; while the Eastern Provinces were ruled by Licinius and Maxaminus Giah.
At that time, the people of Rome, with the exception of a small group of Christians, were of pagan belief. My co-ruler, Maxentius, was a dissolute despot and debauched tyrant. Christians and other supposed enemies of Rome were frequently subjected to cruel gladiatorial combat and gruesome punishment in the arena, all for the entertainment of our drunken ruler and to provide enjoyment and satisfy the morbid curiosity of thousands of spectators.
This situation of decadence and persecution throughout the Empire became so intolerable that there were uprisings in Egypt and Italy and a great descent arose among the members of the Roman Senate. I was appealed to, and accepted the responsibility of leading the revolting forces. I was given the command of eight Army Legions composed of 40,000 well-trained and disciplined legionaries, which were stationed in the northern Roman provinces. A Legion or "Legio" contained about 4800 men and was comprised of 10 Cohorts or "Cohors", made up of 6 Centuries or "Centuriae", containing about 80 solders in 10 ranks of 8 men each; similar in structure to your modern day army divisions, battalions and companies. Auxiliary and support units attached to the Cohors and\or Centuries could increase the complement of a Legion to well over 5000 legionaries.
Contrary to my advisors and by means of a forced march, our forces crossed the Alps at the pass of Mt. Cenis and reached the city of Turin in Northern Italy in October 312. In the meantime the Army of Maxentius, composed of 170,000 infantry and 80,000 cavalry, moved northward and our two armies met and engaged in battle on the Plains of Turin. Unable to match the military skill of my smaller but better trained army, Maxentius conceded defeat and retreated back toward Rome, closely pursued by our victorious legions. Realizing he could not avoid another encounter, Maxentius turned and again prepared for battle at Saxa Rubra, latin for "Red Stones", a few miles north of Rome.
In the early evening hours preceding the day of the final encounter, and being deeply concerned in re-engaging the superior numbers of Maxentius's army; my staff and I were standing outside my tent reviewing our battle plans and observing the clouds in the evening sky. Suddenly there appeared in the heavens a great beam of light in the shape of the a "P" superimposed on the letter "X"; which are the first letters of the word Xpiotos",(OD4FJ`H), which is Greek for "Christ". The four arms of the glowing "X" bore the letters "I H S V".
We were all amazed at what we had seen, but were unable to fathom the meaning. That night, as I slept, Christ appeared to me in a dream and said unto me . . . "Meus Pace est cum Vos . . . "In Hoc Signo Vinces "; "My Peace be with You . . . Under This Sign Conquer" and directed me to have a banner made bearing the sign I had seen in the heavenly vision and to always have it carried before my army in all future engagements. The next morning I had the banner made-up and all my legionaries were directed to place the sign of the cross on their shields.
The cavalry of Maxentius, both men and horses were well armored, but the armor did not protect the bellies of their horses. Being aware of this vulnerability, I had my men crouch low and then disembowel the horses as they charged our lines causing the horses to go down with their riders. Maxentius's army became panic-stricken and fled in disorder toward Rome and the battle of Saxa Rubra was won. Maxentius's army, in their flight and wearing heavy armor, attempted to cross the Tiber River over the Milvian Bridge. The pontoon bridge structure became overloaded and foundered into the river, with most of his army, including Maxentius himself, being drowned. Hence the Battle of Saxa Rubra is also termed by some of your historians as the Battle of Milvian Bridge.
At the head of my triumphant army, I entered the city of Rome amid the shouts of the people and assumed the throne as Rome's new emperor. I had my goldsmiths and artificers make a banner of victory composed of a spear covered with gold with a wooden cross-piece attached to it, thus forming a cross. From the cross was suspended a square banner of purple cloth, on the center of which was embroidered a representation of the golden cross of the "vision", encrusted with jewels and bearing the letters I H S V. On top of the spear was a crown of gold bearing the monogram of Christ. This device was termed the "Labrum" which would become there-after the Imperial Standard of the Roman Empire. Fifty young knights of proven valor and intelligence were chosen to guard the Labrum. I titled this guard unit as Knights of the Red Cross of Constantine, which became the earliest Military Order of Knighthood in history. The banner was carried in the forefront of my Legions in war and was housed in the Royal Palace during peace, under the guard of the Knights of the Red Cross of Constantine. Command of the new Military Order was delegated to Eusebius, the Bishop of Nicomedia, who then became my Viceroy.
The latin phrase . . . INITIUM SAPIENTIAE AMOR DOMINI, "The Love of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom" was adopted by these honored legionaries and alluded to the founding of the that Ancient and Knightly Order.
Upon becoming emperor, I instituted many reforms. Persecution of the Christians eased. My Edict of Milan established freedom of religious worship and declared Christianity as an excepted and legal religion. Another decree called for religious observance of the Sabbath, prayers in the army, abolishment of gladiatorial combat and the discontinuance of execution by crucifixion. Under my rule, the Empire became tranquil and prospered. In 323, I overcame Licinius, the Emperor of the East and thereby reunited the Eastern and Western domains of the Roman Empire. I then had many Christian churches erected throughout the reunited Empire. Two of the grandest being the original St. Peters church in Rome and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
Despite having declared Christianity as a legal and accepted Religion, paganism continued to flourish. In an effort to subvert these religious factions, I chose the popular holiday of December 25th, then celebrated as the feast of the pagan god Mithras, the Persian god of Good versus Evil, and declared it to be the birth date of Jesus. Mithras was also a favorite god of the Roman Legions and also a chief rival of Christianity. Mithras is now long gone, but December 25th continues to be celebrated as the traditional date of your Christian Festival of Christmas.
For some time as well, the City of Rome had been losing power and influence within the Empire, but it still continued to be a stronghold of paganism to which a great majority of the Senate and people clung with a fervent devotion. Not wanting to engage in open violence to this sentiment, I resolved in 326 to move the Seat of the re-united Empire from Rome, east to Byzantium, which was then becoming a strategic cross-roads and commercial center for the eastern Roman World, and I had its name changed to Constantinople. For after all, as the Emperor I had my privileges. In retrospect, this move led to a another division of the Empire into pagan versus Christian; that would subsequently weaken the already flawed roman domination of our outer provinces. This weakness was not unknown to our enemies, who were all to eager to exploit it and my decision to move to Byzantium would ultimately be one of the many causes of the Fall of the once mighty Roman Empire.
The Arch of Constantine, erected in 315 by the "Senate and People of Rome" to commemorate the victory of Constantine over rival Emperor Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge in 312. It stands just west of the Coloseum (visible on the right) near the eastern end of the Roman Forum complex. It is the largest of the arches erected in ancient Rome and is modeled on the earlier Arch of Sepimius Severus erected in 203 in the western part of the Forum, on the tenth anniversary of the Emperor's ascent to the throne.
On a visit to the city of Rome you may see the great Arch of Constantine, erected by the Senate many centuries ago, in my honor; and in the Vatican, view the magnificent life-size painting depicting the vision of the cross at Saxa Rubra. A replica painting of this vision, only slightly smaller than the original, is displayed in the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria, VA. Alexandria . . . named for that great Macedonian general, from whom I received much inspiration for my own conquests in the name of Rome.
In many ways, your United States history has paralleled that of the Roman Republic. Both were founded by colonists and ordinary people. Both came to greatness thru military power and political influence. And just like your Country, Ancient Rome suffered thru civil wars and political unrest. The Year 69 AD was particularly severe, when no less than four Emperors came to power thru conspiracy and assassination. Like your Civil War of the 1860's, the civil war of 69 AD saw fathers, fighting sons and brothers, as army legions fought one another in contests of changing loyalty to those who coveted the emperor's throne.
Another parallel I have observed is in the similarity of our gladiatorial contests to the organized sports of your time. The first gladiatorial combat took place in Rome in 264 BC as part of a funeral celebration. By the time of Julius Caesar, any connection of these brutal contests with funerals and religious festivals was long gone and they had become public spectacles similar to your football games and wrestling matches. Gladiators or "sword men" got their name from the "gladius" or short sword carried by roman solders and also used by these fighters in the arena. Many gladiators became popular and wealthy with their flamboyant personalities and fighting prowess in the arena; much like the wrestlers, boxers and sports stars of today. The culture that produced the gladiators also created the atmosphere that eventually led to their extinction in the early 4th century AD.
After my conversion to Christianity and coming to power as Emperor in 312 AD; I issued an edict abolishing gladiatorial combat in 323; but was unable to completely suppress the games. In AD 404 a tragic event finally put an end to the gladiators. A Christian monk named Telemachus jumped into an arena in Rome and tried to separate two combatants. The crowd went berserk, climbed over the walls into the arena, and tore the monk limb from limb. In response to this ugly incident, the Emperor Honorius permanently banned all gladiator contests. Unlike myself, he enforced the ban. The era of the gladiator was over. Although I had decreed Christianity as an accepted and legal religion of the Roman Empire, in 312, it would be 92 years before gladiators were finally abolished. The creed of Christianity was primarily responsible for bringing an end to gladiatorial combats. Violence and cruelty have continued to be all too common in world history, but never again have amphitheaters been filled with people gathered to watch men who were expected kill each other for sport and entertainment.
The Coloseum, with the Arch of Constantine beyond. The entrance to the Roman Forum is at the upper right.
While it has been 1600 years since the last gladiator walked into an arena, many elements of their games are alive and well. I can readily recognize the elements of our gladiatorial games in the football, hockey, western rodeo, bull-fights, boxing and wrestling matches conducted today; where the participants don armor, employ game weapons, assume colorful names and titles and in many instances, gain great popularity and wealth. Modern horse and auto racing events are not much different from what I witnessed in the Circus-Maximus in Rome, where, with the same speed and excitement, horses were raced and chariots collided for the enjoyment of the cheering crowds. Almost every modern circus act was perfected in Rome, 2000 years before P.T.Barnum and the Ringling Brothers were born. It surely is true that history repeats itself.
Like all great empires, Rome reached the height of its power, and then over a long period of time, began to collapse. It became increasingly expensive to maintain the large armies needed to protect ours borders from invasion. After Emperor Trajan called a halt to further expansion of the Empire in 117 AD, the Roman Legions became armies of occupation and by the late Second Century AD, they had not fought a major conflict in over one hundred years, and therefore, had lost their fighting edge and prowess . The legions had also become increasingly staffed by foreign born solders and mercenaries, drawn from conquered provinces. By 400 AD, less than 5% of Romes soldiers were Italian, compared to 70% at the time of Christ. This lead to decreased nationalism and allegiance to Rome. Our commerce and trade, at home and abroad, became complacent and stagnant. The vast numbers of people and the many cultures ruled by the Empire became unmanageable, and the bureaucracy required to keep the government running became bloated and corrupt. As a result, the so-called barbarians beyond our borders began to encroach and ultimately invade our weakening Empire, both militarily and commercially.
Does any of this sound familiar to You here in the 20th Century ?
To the average Roman citizen, life was hard, war was a constant threat and slaves were just another piece of property. And in spite of our sophistication in government, business and the arts, Romans had a crude taste for violence and cruelty. For almost a thousand years, Roman society represented, both the best and the worst of human civilization. Following the death of Emperor Justinian in 565 the glories of Imperial Rome faded away. Gone were the triumphal processions and gladiatorial games. With the subsequent collapse of the Roman Empire in the West; the great "Pax Romana" or Roman Peace of Imperial Rome is said to have come to an end.
Europe and the surrounding regions of what had been the Western Roman Empire; then embarked into an era of some 800 years when religion would literally rule and govern Western Europe . . . now known to you as the Dark Ages !
However, the territories of the Eastern Empire did not die, but continued to evolve and thrive for another 800 years as the Empire of Byzantium. So in actuality the Roman Empire did not really come to an end until the fall of Constantinople to the Moslems and Ottoman Turks in 1453. The heritage of Ancient Rome permeates the world today. Roman Art and Architecture can be found throughout the world. Roman Literature, Law and Language have been studied and adopted by many cultures around the globe. Everywhere the spirit of my beloved Rome lives on. For me, there was no place like Rome.
It has been my honor to return and address you about myself and the heritage of Rome, which for nearly 1700 years set the standards for future civilizations to come. I thank you for your attention and listening to what I had to say.
Gratias and as always, I remain;
Vestrum in Vinculi Imperi Romani
Yours in the Bonds of the Empire of Rome.
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Constantine died in April 337 AD after a grave illness. He was finally baptized a Christian shortly before his death and was buried in the Church of the Twelve Apostles, at Constantinople, where on his epitaph, he proclaimed himself to be the 13th Apostle.
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June 5, 1999
Emperor Constantine Thanks You for this
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