The Battle of Milvian Bridge by Romano (+1546AD)
Tomorrow is the 1,700th Anniversary of the Battle of Milvian Bridge, fought just north of Rome, on 28 October 312AD. It was at this battle that the army of Constantine I "the Great," fighting with the Christian emblem of the Chi Rho on the shields of his troops, defeated the army of Maxentius and the Pretorian Guard. This victory allowed Constantine to consolidate power, and pave the way for the Edict of Milan promulgated the next year with the Emperor Licinius in the East, which legalized Christianity.
An engraving of the Battle of Milvian Bridge after the painting by Charles Le Brun (+1690)
Some background then:
· Diocletian, convinced by his Caesar, Galerius, opened a savage persecution of the Church in 303AD. As St. Justin Martyr put it some time earlier: “The world suffers nothing from Christians but hates them because they reject its pleasures.” The historian Henri Daniel-Rops describes the time this way: “A whole society became drunk with sadism and torture.” Romans faced a choice: Sacrifice to Roman gods or die. One such martyr was the protomartyr of England, St. Alban, killed in 303. Diocletian, himself, withdrew from public in 304, actually retiring as Emperor on 305. This meant that Maximian was to retire in the West, too, and the two Caesars would become the new Augusti, and that there would be two new Caesars – supposed to be Severus in the West and Maximin Daia in the East. [Diocletion had introduced a system, the Tetrarchy, whereby the Eastern and Western portions of the Empire each had an Augustus and assistant Caesar. With the death or retirement of an Augustus, the Caesars were supposed to step up into that office and appoint new Caesars.]
· When Constantius Chlorus died in 306 his armies declared Constantine, his son, the new Augustus of the West from York in England. Galerius recognized him as a Caesar, at least, and considered Severus the new Augustus. Maximian’s son, Maxentius actually seized control of Italy in 307 and proclaimed himself one of the Emperors by making promises to neglected Rome; he did this with the support of his father. Severus, however, campaigned against him, only to be captured and killed. As a result, Galerius presented Licinius as the new Augustus (though he would have to defeat Maxentius to have any real power)! By 310AD, Galerius was dying of a venereal disease, and Diocletian of despair. As Galerius died with his decomposing ulcers, he offered toleration to Christians, in 311. So, in 311 Licinius has established himself in the Balkans, Greece and Thrace; Maxentius in Italy and North Africa, Constantine in Britain and Gaul, and Maximin Daia in the East, who continued the savage persecution – St. Anthony even comes out of the desert to strengthen the martyrs in Egypt.
· Battle of Milvian Bridge. 312 In hoc signo vinces – Constantine invaded Italy to attack Maxentius – Maxentius, who had already defeated Severus & beat off Galerius. Before the battle Constantine has the vision of the Chi Rho in the sky, and has his men put this emblem on their shields. In the battle of 28 October the Praetorian Guard was broken, the bridge over the Tiber collapsed, and Maxentius plunged to his death. Constantine entered Rome in triumph on 29 October. The Senate approved Constantine, and an arch was erected, and the monuments of the persecutors were torn down. Daia in the East is commanded to stop persecutions, he complies.
· Edict of Milan. 313 began with Constantine’s sister marrying Licinius, and in February 313 (June in East), the Edict of Milan was ratified by Constantine and Licinius, giving Christianity freedom of religion in the Empire. In 313, with the barbarian attack along the Rhine, Daia, fearing an alliance of these two, attacked Licinius in Thrace – he was beaten by Licinius at near Adrianople (Tzirallum) on April – and by September Daia is dead and Constantine victorious along the Rhine. Two Emperors now, Constantine in the West and Licinius in the East.
For your reference, here is the full text of the Edict of Milan of 313AD:
The "Edict of
" (313 A. D.) Milan
When I, Constantine Augustus, as well as I Licinius Augustus d fortunately met near Mediolanurn (Milan), and were considering everything that pertained to the public welfare and security, we thought -, among other things which we saw would be for the good of many, those regulations pertaining to the reverence of the Divinity ought certainly to be made first, so that we might grant to the Christians and others full authority to observe that religion which each preferred; whence any Divinity whatsoever in the seat of the heavens may be propitious and kindly disposed to us and all who are placed under our rule And thus by this wholesome counsel and most upright provision we thought to arrange that no one whatsoever should be denied the opportunity to give his heart to the observance of the Christian religion, of that religion which he should think best for himself, so that the Supreme Deity, to whose worship we freely yield our hearts) may show in all things His usual favor and benevolence. Therefore, your Worship should know that it has pleased us to remove all conditions whatsoever, which were in the rescripts formerly given to you officially, concerning the Christians and now any one of these who wishes to observe Christian religion may do so freely and openly, without molestation. We thought it fit to commend these things most fully to your care that you may know that we have given to those Christians free and unrestricted opportunity of religious worship. When you see that this has been granted to them by us, your Worship will know that we have also conceded to other religions the right of open and free observance of their worship for the sake of the peace of our times, that each one may have the free opportunity to worship as he pleases ; this regulation is made we that we may not seem to detract from any dignity or any religion.
Moreover, in the case of the Christians especially we esteemed it best to order that if it happems anyone heretofore has bought from our treasury from anyone whatsoever, those places where they were previously accustomed to assemble, concerning which a certain decree had been made and a letter sent to you officially, the same shall be restored to the Christians without payment or any claim of recompense and without any kind of fraud or deception, Those, moreover, who have obtained the same by gift, are likewise to return them at once to the Christians. Besides, both those who have purchased and those who have secured them by gift, are to appeal to the vicar if they seek any recompense from our bounty, that they may be cared for through our clemency,. All this property ought to be delivered at once to the community of the Christians through your intercession, and without delay. And since these Christians are known to have possessed not only those places in which they were accustomed to assemble, but also other property, namely the churches, belonging to them as a corporation and not as individuals, all these things which we have included under the above law, you will order to be restored, without any hesitation or controversy at all, to these Christians, that is to say to the corporations and their conventicles: providing, of course, that the above arrangements be followed so that those who return the same without payment, as we have said, may hope for an indemnity from our bounty. In all these circumstances you ought to tender your most efficacious intervention to the community of the Christians, that our command may be carried into effect as quickly as possible, whereby, moreover, through our clemency, public order may be secured. Let this be done so that, as we have said above, Divine favor towards us, which, under the most important circumstances we have already experienced, may, for all time, preserve and prosper our successes together with the good of the state. Moreover, in order that the statement of this decree of our good will may come to the notice of all, this rescript, published by your decree, shall be announced everywhere and brought to the knowledge of all, so that the decree of this, our benevolence, cannot be concealed.