CONSTANTINE (272/273–337), known as Constantine the Great, Roman emperor and agent of the Christianization of the Roman Empire. Born at Naissus, the only son of Helena and Flavius Constantius, Constantine was assured a prominent role in Roman politics when Diocletian, the senior emperor in the Tetrarchy, appointed his father Caesar in 293. Educated in the imperial court at Nicomedia, and permitted to accompany the eastern emperors on provincial tours and military campaigns, he doubtless expected to succeed to his father's position when Diocletian and Maximian abdicated in 305. But Galerius, who may have contrived the abdication and as the new eastern emperor controlled the succession, ignored Constantine—and Maxentius, the son of Maximian—and instead nominated as Caesars his own nephew and the praetorian prefect Severus. Constantine could not challenge this decision immediately, but when his father died at York in July 306, he reasserted the claim, this time backed by the British and Gallic armies, and requested confirmation from the eastern emperor. Galerius resisted, preferring Severus as Constantius's successor, but to avoid a confrontation offered Constantine the lesser rank of Caesar. When Maxentius rebelled at Rome in October 306, however, he refused to grant a similar concession, and for the next seven years civil war disrupted the western half of the empire.
In the end it was Constantine who dislodged the resilient Maxentius from Rome, defeating his army at the Milvian Bridge on October 28, 312. For Lactantius and Eusebius of Caesarea, Christian observers who produced accounts of the event a few years later, this was more than a political triumph. On the eve of the battle, they insisted, Constantine had experienced the vision (or visions) that inspired his conversion to Christianity. Constantine's motives are beyond reconstruction, but it is clear that he believed the victory had been won with divine assistance. Even the inscription on the triumphal arch in Rome erected by the Senate in 315 to mark the event attributed his success to the "prompting of a deity." If the language is ambiguous, perhaps in deference to the sentiments of the pagan majority, Constantine's legislation and activities after 312 attest the evolution of his Christian sympathies.
Whether the "conversion" represented a dramatic break with the pagan past is more problematic. Constantine had never been a persecutor; indeed, in 306 he had ordered the restoration of property in Britain and Gaul that had been confiscated from Christians during the Great Persecution (303–305). Unlike Galerius, who had vigorously persecuted Christians in the East, Constantine was a tolerant pagan, content with the accumulation of heavenly patrons (Sol Invictus, Apollo). In 312 he may well have considered the God of the Christians simply another heavenly patron, demonstrably more powerful than others but not necessarily incompatible. Though he refused to participate after 312 in distinctly pagan ceremonies, Constantine retained the title pontifex maximus and evidently did not find the demands of government and religion irreconcilable. Exclusive commitment and a sense of mission, however, would develop over time. Early on he expressed his gratitude and allegiance through special exemptions and benefactions; after 324 he did not hesitate to use his office to condemn pagan beliefs and practices and to promote the christianization of the empire.
Politics accounts in large measure for Constantine's transformation from benefactor to advocate. The conversion did not alienate pagans, for religion had not been an issue in the civil war, and nothing indicates that Licinius, whom Galerius had chosen as co-emperor in 308, objected to Constantine's evident Christian sympathies in 312. At Milan the following year, in fact, the two survivors joined in the publication of Galerius's edict of toleration, drafted just before his death in 311, and ordered the restoration of Christian property in the East. As political rivalry developed over the next few years, however, the religious policies of the emperors diverged, especially after the inconclusive civil war of 316/7. Politics and religion became so entangled that Constantine, using attacks on Christians in the East as pretext, could declare his campaign against Licinius in 324 a crusade against paganism. His victory at Chrysopolis (September 18) simultaneously removed the last challenge to his authority and legitimized his emerging sense of mission.
Denunciations of pagan practices followed immediately, coupled with lavish grants for the construction of churches and preferential treatment of Christian candidates for administrative posts. Constantine also took the lead in efforts to restore order in an increasingly divided church. The Council of Nicaea (325), which three hundred bishops attended, was not his first attempt at ecclesiastical arbitration. A decade earlier he had summoned fractious North African bishops to a council at Arles (314) to decide a disputed election in Carthage and to rule on the orthodoxy of the Numidian bishop Donatus. The latter was condemned, but his partisans (Donatists) continued for the remainder of Constantine's reign to resist the council's decision. The prospects for settlement in 325 were bleaker still. The nature of Christ, not simply a disputed election or the propriety of rebaptism, was the question at issue. Arius, a presbyter of Alexandria in Egypt, had repeatedly argued that Christ was a created being, a view that seemed to deny his divinity. The bishops assembled in Nicaea (Bithynia), responding to the counterarguments of Alexander (bishop of Alexandria) and others, condemned Arianism and adopted a creed (the Nicene Creed) that declared the Father and Son to be of the same essence. This language satisfied the majority in attendance, but it did not silence Arians. By midcentury, in fact, the Arian position, not the Nicene, had been accepted by most of the eastern churches represented at Nicaea and by the successors of Constantine.
Pagans, of course, would not have found much to applaud in all this; their prosperity was determined by Constantine's handling of everyday affairs, not by his performance in church councils. Victories over the northern barbarians, reform of the coinage, rationalization of the bureaucracy—these were the issues that shaped their sense of well-being. That the emperor, especially during the last decade of his reign, was attentive to these concerns is clear, so much so that he can be credited with the refinement and implementation of the reforms introduced by his pagan predecessors. And yet, it is his Christianity that sets him apart. His reputation rests on his skillful manipulation of Christian symbols—the Milvian Bridge, the Council of Nicaea, the foundation of Constantinople (the "second Rome" that served as the principal capital after its dedication in 330). He was both the new Augustus and the thirteenth apostle, the pagan emperor who, after his encounter with the God of the Christians, adopted as his personal mission the Christianization of the empire. In pursuit of this objective, he had created by his death in 337 a Christian Roman empire that would endure for a thousand years.
Barnes, Timothy D. Constantine and Eusebius. Cambridge, Mass., 1981.
Barnes, Timothy D. The New Empire of Diocletian and Constantine. Cambridge, Mass., 1982.
Dörries, Hermann. Constantine the Great. Translated by Roland H. Bainton. New York, 1972.
Jones, A. H. M. Constantine and the Conversion of Europe. Rev. ed. New York, 1962.
Momigliano, Arnaldo, ed. The Conflict between Paganism and Christianity in the Fourth Century. Oxford, 1963.
John W. Eadie (1987)
286 c.e.–337 c.e.
Convert to Christianity
Constantine I's long reign brought about a profound change between the Roman state and the Christian church. From being a persecuted sect, Christianity became the privileged religion of the Roman Empire. Constantine was, at first, a pagan, and worshipped Sol Invictus, that is, the "Invincible Sun." His sudden conversion to Christianity on the eve of the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 c.e. does not seem to have resulted in a clean and immediate break with the Invincible Sun religion, but there can be no doubt that the conversion was genuine. He donated the Lateran Palace to the pope almost immediately after he made himself master of Rome. In 313 c.e. he met the eastern emperor, Licinius, in Milan and together they promulgated a decree ordering tolerance for all religions. Constantine soon made it clear, however, that paganism was out of favor. He probably banned pagan sacrifices; although a decree stating such that can be attributed to Constantine has not survived, one from his son, Constantius II, who banned sacrifices and referred to his ban as a repetition of his father's decree still exists. Sacrifice was at the heart of paganism, and by banning sacrifice Constantine struck the pagan cults a mortal blow.
In 324 c.e. Constantine united the eastern and western halves of the Roman Empire by overthrowing the eastern emperor, Licinius. He followed up his victory by founding a new capital at Byzantium on the Bosporus, the strait between the Sea of Marmora and the Black Sea. It was to be a New Rome, free from the pagan traditions and monuments of the old Rome on the Tiber River. It rapidly became known as the "City of Constantine," that is, "Constantinople." It would become the capital of the Byzantine Empire.
The Role of a Christian Emperor.
Emperors before Constantine had held the office of pontifex maximus, that is, high priest of Jupiter, Best and Greatest God, and they had also been gods themselves, receiving sacrifices in their temples. Constantine continued to hold the office of pontifex maximus, and he did not fully break with the custom of emperor worship; shortly after he conquered Italy he received a request from an Italian town to build a temple to him, and he consented, stipulating only that no sacrifices should be made to him. He eventually redefined the position of the emperor as the "friend" of the Logos of the Christian God, that is, the Divine Reason, rather than a god himself. He was God's vicar, that is, his representative on earth. Moreover, as God's vicar, the emperor was involved in defining orthodoxy and repressing heresy. In 325 c.e. he convened the first ecumenical council of the church at Nicaea to resolve the problem of the Arian heresy which held that Christ was a human being, and he was instrumental in formulating the Nicene Creed which set forth church dogma on the nature of Christ.
Baptism and Death.
In 337 c.e. Constantine died as he was planning a campaign against Persia. The end seems to have come quickly; there was no lengthy illness. He was baptized virtually on his deathbed. It has sometimes been argued that this deathbed baptism shows that Constantine's adherence to Christianity was never strong, but deathbed baptisms were normal at this time, for it was believed that baptism wiped away sin; hence baptisms late in life allowed a sinner to enter Heaven with a spotless record. All the emperors after Constantine were Christian, save one: Julian the Apostate (361–363 c.e.), and his attempt to restore paganism was a failure.
H. A. Drake, Constantine and the Bishops; The Politics of Intolerance (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000).
A. H. M. Jones, Constantine and the Conversion of Europe (Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 1978).
Ramsay MacMullen, Constantine (London, England: Croom Helm, 1987).
CONSTANTINE (ancient Cirta ), Algerian town. Constantine was named after Emperor Constantine in 313. Latin inscriptions give evidence of a Jewish colony there; its surroundings seem to have been inhabited by Judaized Berbers. The Arab conquest brought little change to Constantine. The Jews maintained their identity; their "elder" (zaken) led his followers to war like an Arab or Berber sheikh. According to the 15th-century rabbis of Algeria, Constantine was one of the most important Jewish communities in Muslim countries. Local scholars in the 15th century included Maimun Najjār, author of Kunteres Minhagot; Joseph b. Minir, called Ḥasid, whose tomb is venerated by Jews and Muslims to the present day and whose works, now lost, were quoted by Joseph *Caro; Joseph b. David; Isaac Kagig (also Kaçiç and Casès); and Samuel Atrani; in the 16th century, the poet Joseph Zimron and Moses Allouche; and in the 18th century, Masʿud Zerbib, author of Zera' Emet (Leghorn, 1715). In the 18th century the community built its quarter. In 1818 the Turks from Algiers attacked Constantine; they pillaged, massacred, and carried off 17 young Jewish girls whom they brought to their commander. The girls were subsequently released. There were then 5,000 Jews in Constantine. After its capture by the French in 1837, many Jews left the city, and two years later the community numbered only 3,436. By 1934 the community grew to 12,000. In that same year on August 3–5, the Muslim population, provoked by the propaganda of the French antisemites, assaulted them. Twenty-five were killed and dozens wounded. When the Jewish resistance was organized, the massacres stopped; but French forces had not intervened, despite the appeals of Muslim leaders. The Vichy government severely persecuted this community in 1940 despite its large number of heroes in the two world wars.
Traditional Jewish education prevailed in Constantine for hundreds of years. In 1849 the Consistory of Constantine was instituted coordinating Jewish community life. The 1870 *Crémieux decree that granted French citizenship to Algerian Jews further accelerated the incorporation of Jews into the French school system, placing the talmud torah under strict supervision. The *Alliance Israélite Universelle, which strove to combine French modernity with Jewish tradition, started operating educational institutions in Constantine in 1902. The influence of French culture led to a gradual decline in the use of the local Judeo-Arabic dialect in favor of French. An intensive effort to preserve traditional Jewish culture and the Judeo-Arabic language was conducted by Rabbi Joseph Renassia (1879–1962), who wrote and translated over a hundred volumes in Judeo-Arabic.
[Ofra Tirosh-Becker (2nd ed.)]
During the Algerian fln (Front de libération nationale) terrorist attacks in the late 1950s grenades were often thrown into the Jewish quarter. In 1962, when Algeria received its independence, there was a massive exodus of the Jewish community, which then numbered 15,000–20,000 – mostly to France and Israel. The local talmud torah with its 800 students closed down in July of that year. The synagogues were turned into the general headquarters of the fln. By the end of the 1960s only a few Jewish families remained in Constantine.
A. Chouraqui, Between East and West (1968), index; E. Mercier, Histoire de Constantine (1903); M. Eisenbeth, Judaïsme nord-africain … Constantine (1931); R. Brunschwig, Berbérie orientale sous les Hafṣides, 1 (1940), 384ff., 406ff., 418–9, 421ff.; M. Ansky, Juifs d'Algérie (1960), 67–70; A. Hershman, R. Isaac bar Sheshet Perfet and His Times (1943); Hirschberg, Afrikah, index; L'Arche, no. 66 (1962), 11. add. bibliography: M. Abitbol, From Crémieux to Pétain, Antisemitism in Colonial Algeria, 1870–1940 (1993), index (in Hebrew); S. Schwarzfuchs, Les Juifs d'Algérie et la France, 1830–1855 (1981), 243–60, index; S. Ettinger (ed.), Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Artzot ha-Islam, Vol. 1 (1981), 121–96, 329–30, Vol. 2 (1986), 301–468, 479–82; Y. Charvit, "Ha-Ḥinnukh ha-Yehudi be-Konstantin (Algeria) be-Idan shel Temurot (1837–1939)," in: Asufot 14 (2002), 315–57; idem, Elite Rabbinique d'Algérie et Modernisation (1995).
Alan Simon Esmonde Cleary
Constantine ★★½ 2005 (R)
Freelance exorcist and all-around surly loner John Constantine (Reeves) stalks the divide between good and evil, playing the forces of Heaven and Hell against themselves, all for his own benefit. When a policewoman, Angela (Weisz), seeks out the chain-smoking ghostbuster to help solve her twin sister's mysterious suicide, Constantine acts as her guide into LA's super natural underworld, revealing a plot involving the Spear of Destiny, rogue angels, and a scheme to unleash Hell on earth. Director Lawrence creates a nifty neo-noir atmosphere, but confusing exposition and an over-reliance on CGI scares hurts the final product. Based on DC's “Hellblazer” comic. 120m/C VHS, DVD, Bluray Disc, UMD, HD DVD . US Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Djimon Hounsou, Max Baker, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Tilda Swinton, Peter Stormare, Shia LaBeouf, Gavin Rossdale, Jose Zuniga, Larry Cedar; D: Francis Lawrence; W: Kevin Brodbin, Frank Cappello; C: Philippe Rousselot; M: Brian Tyler, Klaus Badelt.
Constantine (city, Algeria)
Constantine (kŏn´stəntēn), ancient Cirta, city (1998 pop. 462,187), capital of Constantine dept., NE Algeria, on the gorge of the Rhumel River. A major inland city, it is the railhead of a prosperous and diverse agricultural area. Constantine is also a center of the grain trade and has flour mills, a tractor factory, and industries producing textiles and leather goods. Products made by local artisans are economically important. Founded by Carthaginians (who called it Sarim Batim), Constantine became the capital and commercial center of Numidia and was named Cirta [the city]. Under Roman rule it was a major grain-shipping point and one of the wealthiest cities of Africa. Destroyed (AD 311) during the war preceding the accession of Constantine I, it was rebuilt by Constantine himself and renamed in his honor. The city was pillaged by the Vandals in the 5th cent. and later became an object of contention among various Muslim dynasties. The Turks captured it in the 16th cent. and made it a provincial capital. By the time of the French conquest in 1837 the district governor of Constantine had become virtually independent of the Ottoman Empire. Modern Constantine is the seat of a Roman Catholic bishop, a university, and a Muslim school of higher education.
One of Algeria's major cities.
Constantine is located about 330 miles (530 km) east of the capital, Algiers, near the coast, with a population of 909,700 (2002). While known as a trading center, Constantine is best known for its association with the so-called Constantine plan, an attempt announced by the French in 1958 to tie Algeria economically to the métropole (the French nation) through a number of rural and industrial development plans. After independence in 1964, Constantine became an important educational center with the country's only Islamic university.