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The Story of the Romans by  H. A. Guerber


 

 

THE FIRST CHRISTIAN EMPEROR

THE vow which Constantine had made was duly kept, to the great satisfaction of his mother Helena, who was a very devout Christian. Constantine ordered that the Christians should have full liberty to worship as they pleased; and after a time he himself was baptized. He also forbade that criminals should be put to death on a cross, as it had been sanctified by Christ; and he put an end to all gladiatorial shows.

Constantine at first shared the power with Licinius, but he and his colleague quarreled on matters of religion. They soon came to arms, and we are told that when they stood opposed to each other they loudly called upon their gods.

As Constantine won the victory, he declared that his God was the most worthy of honor; and he established the Christian Church so securely that nothing has ever been able to overthrow it since then. By his order, all the [270] learned Christians came together at Nicæa to talk about their religion, and to find out exactly what people should believe and teach. Here they said that Arius, a religious teacher, had been preaching heresy; and they banished him and his followers to a remote part of the empire.

Constantine soon changed the seat of the government to Byzantium, which was rebuilt by his order, and received the name of Constantinople, or city of Constantine. Because he accomplished so much during his reign, this emperor has been surnamed the Great, although he was not a very good man.

During the latter part of his reign, there were sundry invasions of the barbarians; and Constantine, who was a brave warrior, is said to have driven them back and treated them with much cruelty. He died of ague at Nicomedia, leaving his empire to his three sons; and his remains were carried to Constantinople, so that he might rest in the city which bore his name.

Soon after the death of Constantine, who is known in Roman history as the first Christian emperor, his three sons began to quarrel among themselves. The result was a long series of civil wars, in which two of the brothers were killed, leaving the whole empire to the third—Constantius II.

The new emperor, needing help, gave his cousin Julian the title of Cæsar, and placed him in charge of Gaul. As Julian belonged to the family of Constantine, he was of course a Christian. He was a very clever youth, and had been sent to Athens to study philosophy.

While there, he learned to admire the Greek philosophers so much that he gave up Christianity, and became a [271] pagan. On account of this change in religion, he is generally known by the surname of the Apostate. We are told, also, that he spent much time in studying magic and alchemy, a science which was supposed to teach people how to change all metals into gold.

Julian the Apostate gave up his studies with regret, to share the cares of government. While in Gaul, he learned to be an excellent general, and drove back the barbarians several times. He lived for a while in Lutetia, the present city of Paris, and here he built Roman baths whose ruins can still be seen.


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