This article references content from Gregory Aldrete’s course: The Roman Empire: From Augustus to The Fall of Rome
Construction workers came across 1,300 pounds of Roman coins while working, BuzzNick reported. While digging a ditch, they unearthed 19 ancient Roman pots full of coins from the 3rd or 4th century A.D. Some coins depict an image of Constantine, an unlikely ruler.
According to BuzzNick, a team of construction workers in Spain found the pots, called amphoras, that were full of the bronze Roman coins. “The workers were digging a ditch to run electricity to a park when they came across these old-looking pots,” the article said. “[The coins inside] were made during the time when Rome ruled much of Europe. The coins feature emperors Maximian and Constantine and are worth at least several million euros.”
Constantine came into power in the early 4th century A.D., just as early Christianity was bubbling up in Italy.
Rise of First Christian Emperor
In ancient Rome, an “Augustus” was a senior emperor; a junior emperor was called a “Caesar.” A tetrarchy had formed in which the east and west halves of the empire each had one Augustus and one Caesar. By the dawn of the 4th century, resentments among them were ready to come to a head as each vied for power.
“The situation was further complicated by a fifth contender, Constantine, who was the son of [western Augustus] Constantius Chlorus, but who had been left out of this iteration of the tetrarchy scheme,” said Dr. Gregory S. Aldrete, Professor of Humanistic Studies and History at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. “More importantly, Constantine was both a good general and popular with the western troops. So when Constantius Chlorus died in 306 A.D., the soldiers in Britain spontaneously acclaimed Constantine as their emperor.”
According to Dr. Aldrete, civil wars followed, eventually culminating in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 A.D. Just before the battle, Constantine found a powerful ally.
“Constantine’s adviser, Lactantius, says that on the night before the battle, Constantine had a dream in which the Christian god appeared to him and instructed that he have his men bear a Christian logo on their shields in the next day’s battles,” Dr. Aldrete said. They settled on the Greek symbols chi and rho, the first two letters for “Christ” in Greek. “Constantine and his troops painted the chi–rho symbol on their shields and, with his soldiers inspired by the thought that they had a god actively aiding them, they soundly defeated [rival] Maxentius’s army.”
More from Gregory Aldrete: The Roman Empire: From Augustus to The Fall of Rome
After the Battle of the Milvian Bridge
Dr. Aldrete said that following the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, the empire was divided into three territories. Constantine ruled over most of the west, which included North Africa, Italy, and Gaul. Maximinus Daia, the former Caesar of the east, and ally to the fallen Maxentius, controlled the easternmost area of the empire. Licinius, who had replaced the previous Augustus in the east, presided over the lands between.
Constantine and Licinius found a mutual adversary in Maximinus Daia, due to the latter’s alliance with Maxentius. Realizing this, he launched an unsuccessful attack on them both and his army was crushed. Maximinus Daia committed suicide, shortly thereafter.
With Maximinus Daia out of the way, Constantine and Licinius divided Rome between them, but things turned sour, soon enough.
“The final showdown came in 323 A.D. when, under the pretext of repelling a Gothic incursion, Constantine marched into Licinius’s territory,” Dr. Aldrete said. “In the ensuing battles of Adrianople and Byzantium, Licinius was soundly defeated. In a show of clemency, Constantine initially allowed Licinius to go into exile at Thessalonica; but a few months later, he changed his mind, accused Licinius of treason, and executed both him and his son.”
Constantine was then the sole emperor of Rome, the first Christian emperor of Rome, and the subject of history books and culture, including 1,300 pounds of bronze coins later found in Spain.
Dr. Gregory S. Aldrete contributed to this article. Dr. Aldrete is Professor of Humanistic Studies and History at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where he has taught since 1995. He earned his B.A. from Princeton University and his master’s degree and Ph.D. in Ancient History from the University of Michigan.