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1700 years ago a battle at Rome’s Milvian Bridge changed the course of European history

1700 years ago a battle at Rome’s Milvian Bridge changed the course of European history

The year 312 ad marks the start of the end for paganism in Europe and a new epoch for Christianity.

 1700 years ago, on Ocotber 28, two self declared Roman emperors, Constantine and Maxentius, fought for leadership in Rome.

Constantine won, proclaimed religious freedom in the Roman Empire and paved the way for the expansion of the Christian faith all over Europe and the Mediterranean.

His rival Maxentius, the 58th emperor of Rome, was the son of a Syrian woman and a Serbian man, also an emperor, Maximian, with whom he fought for absolute power. Maxentius was not loved by Romans and other Italian citizens in general for the taxes he levied to fund his army and an extraordinary building program in Rome. He needed majestic symbolic and military achievements to shore up his image and legitimacy and that’s why he had one of the most impressive and advanced edifices of ancient times, the Basilica of Maxentius, constructed in the Roman Forum. He also decided to build a temple in the Roman forum devoted to his son Romulus, a round building with a green bronze door and dark red marble columns that you can’t miss while walking in the heart of ancient Rome. And erected a magnificent Villa along the Appian way, a gigantic compound featuring a circus and a mausoleum.

The battle of the Milvian bridge with Constantine represented the end of a 6 year conflict with his enemy and was one of the many battles among self-proclaimed emperors and military gangs throughout the Roman empire in the 3rd and 4th centuries that spelled the doom of ancient Rome. Maxentius died drowning in the river Tiber, his head was put on top of a stick and shown in Rome and Northern Africa.  

At the time Milvian bridge was out of the city. It’s now one of the trendiest nightlife districts of Rome. Few travelers venture there, as public transport connections from downtown are poor, but this place is also famous for the love padlocks inspired by Federico Moccia’s novel “Tre metri sopra il cielo.”

The battle was a watershed because it turned the Serbia-born Costantine into the undisputed ruler of the Roman empire. The new emperor understood that Christians would underpin his realm and helped their church to gain a foothold. Christianity became the official religion of the Roman empire in a few decades, under the rule of another emperor, but the path was already clear after the 312 battle: the Christian religion would become the driving force of an area that was marred by political instability and economic decline. The battle marked the start of the transition from classical, pagan, antiquity to a Christian Middle age.

And how was Rome under Costantine? Well, I guess everyone in Rome will have noticed the fine arch situated between the Colosseum and the Palatine hill, that’s the Arch of Constantine, the biggest triumphal arch of Rome, to commemorate his victory versus Maxentius at Milvian bridge. But Constantine didn’t really love Rome as much as his predecessor did – and that’s also why he founded Constantinople, then renamed Byzantium and currently Istanbul. He mostly finished the building projects started by Maxentius. But he wanted to increase Christian facilities and possessions in Rome. The most glaring example of this initiative is the Vatican’s first seat, the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran, the benchmark of all future Christian basilicas, that he wanted to replace the barracks hosting his private guard corp.

A Constantine itinerary will take you to two of the best archeology collections of Rome, the Capitoline museums [1] and the Roman civilization museum [2]. The former hosts the most famous portraits of the emperor: a colossal bronze head and a gigantic marble head, a hand and other parts of the body in the courtyard of the Conservatori Palace; outside the Museums, on the balustrade of the Campidoglio square, you can also see a giant statue of Constantine and his son Constantine II.

The Museo della Civiltà Romana, instead, offers you the breath-taking view of Rome at the time of Constantine through a huge scale model, the largest in Rome and of ancient Rome.

Some interesting guided tours of the places where Maxentius and Constantine left their marks in Rome are taking place in these weeks, but they are all held in Italian [3].

[1] http://en.museicapitolini.org/

[2]http://www.museociviltaromana.it/

[3] http://en.museiincomuneroma.it/didattica/didattica_per_tutti/c_come_costantino

 

1 comment

  • Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

    Reply

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