History of the Macedonian People - Constantine I and the Triumph of Christianity

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History of the Macedonian People from Ancient times to the Present

Part 14 - Constantine I and the Triumph of Christianity

by Risto Stefov rstefov@hotmail.com

During the year 313 AD, from the great imperial city of Milan, Emperor Constantine, together with his co-Emperor Licinius, dispatched a series of letters informing all provincial governors to stop persecuting the Christians, thus revoking all previous anti-Christian decrees. All properties, including Christian places of worship, seized from them in the past were to be restored. This so called "Edict of Milan", by which the Roman Empire reversed its policy of hostility towards Christians, was one of the most decisive events in human history.

What brought on this sudden reversal?

Rational thinkers believed that Constantine had the foresight to realize that Christianity was a growing power and could be harnessed to work for the good of the empire. Christianity was a result of changing times and harnessing its power was of far greater benefit than following the current policy of attempting to destroy it.

Christianity at that time was disorganized and existed in cult form in sporadic pockets spread throughout the empire. Yet Constantine still had the foresight to see potential in it.

Christianity was a peripheral issue in Constantine's mind when he and his co-Emperor Licinius were about to face Maxentius and Maximin Daita in the greatest battle of their careers. It was at this decisive moment that Constantine experienced a vision which, not only changed his life but, was the turning point for Christianity.

In 312 AD, on the eve of the great battle, Constantine had an experience which swayed him towards Christianity. "A little after noon, as the sun began to decline...[Constantine] declared that he saw with his own eyes in the sky beneath the sun a trophy in the shape of a cross made of light with the inscriptions 'by this conquer.' He was astounded by the spectacle, as were the soldiers who accompanied him on the march and saw the miraculous phenomenon...But when he fell asleep God's Christ appeared to him with the sign which he had seen in the sky and instructed him to fashion a likeness of the sign and use it as a protection in the encounters of war." (Page 167, D. Fishwick, The Foundations of the West, Clark, Irwin & Company, Toronto, 1963).

I want to mention at this point that even though Constantine was swayed towards Christianity, he himself was personally devoted to Mars, the god of war, and Apollo, the god of the sun.

Whatever vision Constantine may have experienced, he attributed his victory to the power of "the God of the Christians" and committed himself to the Christian faith from that day forward.

Shortly after becoming involved with the Christians, Constantine discovered that there were many problems and a basic lack of unity within the Christian Church. Within the Christian realm there were those who took strict positions towards the behaviour of others because they had shown a lack of faith during the Christian persecutions. Yet others, like the Gnostics, had taken Jesus' message totally out of context. To work out these problems Constantine organized and chaired two synods, one in Rome in 313 AD and one in Arles, southern Gaul, in 314 AD. Even though much was accomplished there were still unresolved problems. Constantine could not get all parties to agree on a common Christian policy. Differences of opinion drove some factions to leave the main church and start separatist churches. One of these was the church of North Africa which possessed considerable power and resisted assimilation for over two centuries.

The Christian Church was not Constantine's only problem. There were difficulties with sharing power with his brother in law Licinius. The agreement of 313 AD, which had been born out of necessity not mutual good will, was beginning to unravel. Hostilities between the two emperors continued to build and erupted in 316 AD, in what later came to be known as the first war. Two battles were fought, the first at Cibalae in Pannonia and the second on the campus Ardiensis in Thrace. During the first battle Licinius's army suffered heavy losses. In the second battle neither side won a clear victory. A settlement was eventually reached which allowed Licinius to remain Augustus but required him to cede all of his European provinces, except for Thrace, to Constantine.

As part of the agreement with Licinius, Constantine announced the appointment of three Caesars on March 1st, 317 AD in Serdica (modern Sofia). Among the appointees were Constantine's two sons, twelve year old Crispus and seven month old Constantine. Licinius's twenty month old son Licinius was also named Caesar. Unfortunately the new agreement was fragile and tensions between the emperors were again surfacing. This was partly due to Constantine and Licinius not being able to agree on a common policy regarding the Christian religion and partly due to the suspicious nature of the two men. Licinius was growing uneasy with Constantine's relationship with the Christian power base. He saw Christians being promoted above their pagan counterparts and Christian soldiers getting the day off on Sunday. Furthermore a growing list of favours, powers and immunities were being granted to Christians, with which Licinius did not agree.

War erupted again in 324 AD and this time Constantine defeated Licinius twice, first at Adrianople in Thrace and then at Chrysopolis on the Bosporus near the ancient city of Byzantium. Licinius was captured but not executed because Constantine's sister, Constantia, pleaded with him to spare her husband's life. Some months later however, still suspicious of Licinius, Constantine ordered his execution. Not too long afterwards, the younger Licinius too fell victim to Constantine's suspicions and was also executed. Constantine was now the sole and undisputed master of the Roman Empire.

Immediately after his victory over Licinius in 324 AD, Constantine began the construction of his new capital, the "City of Constantine". This would be a Christian city fit for Kings that would not only rival, but would surpass the glory of Rome.

Power was where the Emperor was, and the Emperor was now in his own city in the hub of activity just at the edge of Greece.It was a purely a Greek city, it had the elements of Greek culture and tradition. It was a very un-Roman city in language and culture and not only imitated the Greek cities of Alexandria and Antioch but with time surpassed their cultural and academic achievements. Constantinople was going to be the power base of a new empire, a revival of Alexander the Great's Greek empire with a Christian twist. "This 'Eastern' or Byzantine empire is generally spoken of as if it were a continuation of the Roman tradition. It is really far more like a resumption of Alexander's Hellenic empire." (Page 478, H.G. Wells, The Outline of History, Garden City Books, New York, 1961).[1]

While Constantine was building his new city, his mother Helena undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and was instrumental in the building of the Churches of the Nativity at Bethlehem and Eleona on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives.

On November 8th, 324 AD Constantine formally laid out the boundaries of his new city, roughly quadrupling the territory of old Byzantium. While his architects were designing his new city, Constantine and his army, numbering about 120,000 troops, were established in Thessaloniki. Even before moving to Thessaloniki in 324 AD, Constantine had the old Thessaloniki harbour renovated and expanded to fit his fleet of 200 triakondores galleons and about 2,000 merchant ships.

By 328 AD the walls of Constantinopel were completed and the new city was formally ready for dedication in May 330 AD. Soon after the city was opened, Constantine ordered the construction of two major churches, Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) and Hagia Eirena (Holy Peace) and began laying the foundation of a third church, the Church of the Holy Apostles.

Unlike Rome, which was filled with pagan monuments and institutions, Constantinople was essentially a Christian city with Christian churches and institutions. While Constantinople was shaping to be a Christian city, the prevailing character of Constantine's government was one of conservatism. His adoption of Christianity did not lead to a radical reordering of society or to a systematic revision of the legal system. Generally refraining from sweeping innovations, he retained and completed most of what Diocletian had set out to do, especially in provincial administration and army organization.

While implementing currency reforms, Constantine instituted a new type of coin, the gold solidus, which won wide acceptance and remained the standard currency for centuries to come. Some of Constantine's measures show a genuine concern for the welfare and morality of his subjects, even for the condition of slaves. By entrusting some government functions to the Christian clergy he actually made the church an agency of the imperial government. Constantine also showed great concern for the security of his empire, especially at the frontiers. Even though he made Constantinople his capital, Thessaloniki still remained a pole around which his empire was defended. Because of its secure harbour, Thessaloniki flourished economically and experienced much cultural growth.

Constantine campaigned successfully from 306 to 308 AD and again from 314 to 315 AD. He experienced action on the German frontier in 332 AD against the Goths and again in 334 AD against the Sarmatians. He even fought near his homeland in 336 AD on the Danube frontier. As he was getting of age, Constantine made arrangements for his succession and appointed to the position of Caesars, his three sons Constantine II, Constantius II and Constans, 317 AD, 324 AD, and 333 AD respectively. He then appointed his nephew Flavius Dalmatius, son of Constantius I and Theodora, Caesar in 335 AD. Unfortunately he never made it clear which of his successors was intended to take the leading role upon his death.

Between the years 325 and 337 AD, Constantine continued to support the Christian Church by donating generous gifts of money and by passing helpful legislation. His kindness to the Christians was not restricted to the city of Constantinople alone. He also founded the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and the Golden Octagon in Antioch. Even with all his kindness Constantine was not spared misfortune and shortly after Easter on April 3rd, 337 AD Constantine began to feel ill. He traveled to Drepanum, later named Helenopolis in honour of his mother, and prayed at the tomb of his mother's favourite saint, the martyr Lucian. From there he went to the suburbs of Nicomedia where he was baptized by the Arian bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia. A few weeks later on May 22nd, the day of Pentecost, Constantine died. His body was escorted to Constantinople and lay in state in the imperial palace. His sarcophagus was then placed in the Church of the Holy Apostles, as he himself had instructed in his will. His sarcophagus was surrounded by the memorial steles of the Twelve Apostles, symbolically making him the thirteenth Apostle.

Constantine's failure to specifically appoint his successor sparked a conflict among the Caesars in the palace. After eliminating Flavius Dalmatius and other rivals in a bloody coup, Constantine II, Constantius II and Constans each assumed the rank of Augustus. Constantine's army, faithful from the day they crowned him until his death, vowed they would have no other but his sons to rule them. The army, in a violent bloodbath, killed everyone who did not qualify, including two of Constantine's half brothers. The only ones to escape were two of his nephews, Gallus and Julian.

At this point I would like to take a short diversion and examine what was happening throughout the empire.

As I mentioned earlier, while the Roman Empire was decaying, Germanic tribes were growing in strength and pressing from the north. Around 236 AD the Franks were descending upon the lower Rhine and the Alamanni were overrunning Alsace in France. Earlier I mentioned the Goths from southern Russia were overrunning the Black Sea pouring into the Aegean and attacking the province of Ducia.

By late third century most barbarian invasions were repealed but not entirely destroyed. During 321 AD the Goths were again plundering what is now Serbia and Bulgaria but were soon driven back by Constantine I. Then in 337 AD, pressed by the Goths, the Vandals were permitted to cross the Danube and enter Pannonia, part of modern day Hungary (west of the Danube). By the mid-fourth century the Hunnish people to the east were again building up forces and pressing on the Visigoths. The Visigoths, following the Vandal example, also entered Roman territory. But before any agreements could be reached they attacked Andrianople and killed the Emperor Valens. In spite of their violent ways the Visigoths were allowed to settle in what is now Bulgaria. Their settlement was conditional however, requiring their armies to submit to Roman rule. Each army was allowed to remain in the command of its own chief.

The major players in the barbarian armies of the time were Alaric of the Visigoths, Stilicho of the Pannonian Vandals and a Frank who commanded the legions of Gaul. Emperor Theodosius, a Spaniard, was in command of the Gothic auxiliaries. The true power, however, was in the hands of Alaric and Stilicho the two barbarian competitors who wasted no time in splitting the empire between themselves. Alaric took control of the eastern Greek speaking half and Stilicho took the western Latin speaking half.

At about the same time the empire was being split in two, the Huns appeared on the scene and began to enlist in Stilicho's army. Frequent clashes between east and west began to weaken the empire and opened the door for more barbarian invasions. Fresh Vandals, more Goths, Alans and Suevi all began to penetrate the frontiers of the empire. In 410 AD, amidst the confusion, Alaric marched down Italy capturing Rome after a short siege. By 425 AD the Vandals, of present day East Germany, and the Alani, of present day southeast Russia, overran Gaul and the Pyrenees and had settled in the southern regions of modern day Spain. The Huns were in possession of Pannonia and the Goths of Dalmatia. Around 451 AD the Czechs settled in Moravia and Bohemia. The Visigoths and Suevi, in the meantime, pressed their way westwards and ended up north of the Vandals in present day Portugal. Gaul meanwhile was divided between the Visigoths, Franks and Burgundians.

By 449 AD present day Britain was invaded by the Jutes, a Germanic tribe, the Angles and the Saxons who in turn were pushing out the Keltic British to what is now modern Brittany in France. The Vandals from south of Spain had crossed over into North Africa by 429 AD, occupied Carthage by 439 AD, and invaded, raided and pillaged Rome by 455 AD. After ransacking Italy they crossed into Sicily and set up a Vandal kingdom which lasted up to 534 AD. At its peak, which was around 477 AD, the Vandal kingdom occupied North Africa, Corsica, Sardinia, and the Balearic Isles. The Vandal kingdom was ruled by a handful of Vandals whose Vandal population numbered no more than eighty thousand men, women and children. The rest of the population consisted of passive non-Vandals who, under the Vandal occupation, found relief from the Roman burden of slavery and taxation. The Vandals had in effect exterminated the great landowners, wiped clean all debts to Roman moneylenders and abolished military service.

While the Vandals ruled the western Mediterranean, a great leader Attila was consolidating his power among the Huns east of the Danube. At its peak, Attila's empire of Hunnish and Germanic tribes stretched from the Rhine to central Asia. Attila was said to be the first westerner to negotiate on equal terms with the Chinese emperor.

For ten years, while he was passionately in love with Emperor Theodosius II's granddaughter Honoria, Attila bullied Ravenna and Constantinople. During his rule, Attila destroyed seventy cities, some of them in Macedonia, and came upon the walls of Constantinople forcing an uneasy peace on the emperor. The peace treaty however, in spite of her disappointment, did not include Honoria. Even though Honoria voluntarily offered to marry Attila, the emperor would not allow it. Attila was not disappointed.

In 451 AD Attila declared war on the Western Empire and invaded Gaul sacking most of the French cities down to south of Orleans. Just as Attila was ravaging Gaul, the Frank, Visigoth and imperial armies joined forces for a counter offensive. Before the year was over Attila's army was cut off at Troyes and the Mongolian overlord was forced out of France. Beaten but not destroyed Attila turned his attention southward, overrunning northern Italy, burning Aquileia and Padua, and looting Milan. Attila died in 453 AD and subsequently the Huns dissolved into the surrounding population and disappeared from history.

In 493 AD, after seventeen years without an emperor, Theodoric, a Goth, became King of Rome thus putting an end to the rule of god-Caesars and rich men. The Roman imperial system of western Europe and north Africa collapsed and ceased to exist. The Roman had come and gone but what remained was no longer Roman. The west, for almost five hundred years after its fall, experienced a period of decline, which later became known as the Dark Ages.

Out of the ashes of the Roman Empire rose a new empire known as the "Eastern" or "Byzantine" Empire. Many would agree that this was the revival or re-birth of Alexander the Great's old Hellenic empire. Some even called it the "stump" of Alexander the Great's empire.

Along with the re-birth of the Hellenic Empire, the Koine Greek language resurfaced and took its rightful place not only as the language of the intellectuals but also as the language of administration. The Latin language had neither the intellectual vigour nor the literature or science necessary to captivate intelligent men and women. Ever since its humble beginning the new empire was Greek speaking, a continuation of the Greek-Macedonian tradition.(pages 519,520,522, H.G. Wells, The Outline of History, Garden City Books, New York, 1961)[2] [3] [4]It seems that Latin even lost its way in the west only to be replaced by the languages of the barbarians. While the Roman social and political structure was being smashed in the west, the east was embracing a renewed Greek tradition. Some say Constantine the Great may have been a Greek (page 450, H.G. Wells, The Outline of History, Garden City Books, New York, 1961)[5] but it is more appropriate to say that he was half Illyrian half Greek, building a new Hellenic empire and following in the footsteps of his ancestors.

As I mentioned earlier, after Constantine's death his three sons inherited the rule of the empire. The west was to be shared between the eldest and youngest sons, Constantine II and Constans, while the middle son Constantius was to rule the east. Unhappy with the arrangement, a conflict broke out in 340 AD between Constantine II and Constans, resulting in Constantine II's death. After that Constans assumed sole rule of the west until he was deposed and executed by his own troops in 350 AD.

After Constans's death the army recognized one of its own officers. But in 351 AD the usurper's authority was challenged in battle and he was defeated. After that Constantius remained the sole ruler of the entire empire.

While Constantius set out west to personally deal with the usurper, he appointed his young cousin, Gallus, guardian of the east. Gallus unfortunately turned out to be a terrible ruler and quickly fell out of favour. After three years of rule Constantius had him executed.

In 355 AD, before embarking on an eastern campaign, Constantius recalled his last surviving cousin Julian and appointed him guardian of the west to defend the western frontier against the Franks and Alamans. Before sending him off, however, he had him married off to his sister Helena.

Unlike his brother Gallus, Julian was good at his job and in his five years of service he cleansed the western provinces of intruders and improved the western economy. Unfortunately, Julian was exceeding expectations and made Constantius uneasy. To alleviate his concerns, Constantius made an attempt to remove Julian but his effort failed. Julian was a great leader and the army in Gaul refused to give him up. In February 360 AD, with total disregard for Constantius's orders, the army in Gaul proclaimed Julian, Augustus. After some hesitation Julian accepted the position. Fortunately Constantius died before he attempted to remove him.

Having no capable heir to replace himself with, on his deathbed in 361 AD, Constantius appointed Julian his successor. Julian accepted the position and reigned as sole Augustus until June 363 AD.

Constantius was anti-pagan and introduced policies to exterminate pagan cults. Julian, on the other hand, was tolerant of all religions, especially Mithraism and encouraged all sorts of religious practices. In 356 AD, when Constantius was sole ruler of the empire, he decreed the death penalty for all those found sacrificing or worshiping idols. Julian, on the other hand, not only repealed the discriminatory decree but also removed Christians from office and discontinued the provision of subsidies for Christian projects including those for welfare. He even took a step further and proclaimed open and all-inclusive tolerance of all religions in the empire. Julian may have been a visionary but unfortunately he was ahead of his time. His policies of tolerance not only didn't work but conflicts between the various religions began to erupt.

One of Julian's accomplishments during his rule was the reformation of the Empire's educational system. He was responsible for widening the scope of subjects taught, made requirements that all teachers be licensed and forbade Christians to teach in state schools. Unfortunately for Julian, Christianity by now was so well rooted in his empire that many of his reforms were ignored. On the positive side, however, Julian initiated a number of great construction projects, including the massive fortification of the walls of Solun.

Julian died on June 26th, 363 AD from a spear wound during a campaign against the Persians in Asia. Julian was the last male of the house of Constantine. Due to his sudden death he had made no provisions for a successor. It was now up to the senior officers of his army to select the new ruler.

The man who accepted the call to duty was a young officer named Jovian, a Nicaean Christian. Flavius Jovianus (Jovian) was born in 331 AD at Singidunum, near modern day Belgrade. Jovian's first priority was to return Christianity to the empire, thus ending paganism and the religious rivalries introduced by Julian's reforms.

Nicaea was located in Bithynia in modern day northwestern Turkey and was an important city for Christianity. It was in Nicaea that Constantine I, in 325 AD, gathered a council to settle disputes caused by the "Arian views" of the Trinity.

Arius was an Alexandrian priest who believed that Christ was not of the same essence as God. After some deliberation the council disagreed with Arius's views. Instead they adopted what came to be known as the "Nicene Creed" which declared that "Christ and God were of the same essence". Among other things, the Nicaean council also decided when Easter was to be celebrated and summarized a number of important articles regarding the Christian faith.

Even under the powerful defense of the Constantine dynasty, which lasted approximately 70 years from 293 AD to 363 AD, the eastern empire was not immune to attacks. Earlier in this document I gave a preview of what happened in the western part of the empire, now let us turn our attention to the east.

Long before the Constantine dynasty came to power, while the Roman Empire was experiencing decay, the Persian Empire began to experience a revival. Iran became the Parthian center of culture, first under the Arsacids and later under the Sassanids. Around 241 AD Sassanian forces, under the leadership of Shapur, defeated the Kushan Empire. After a number of campaigns an Iranian dynasty once again came to rule the lands as far east as Indus. Not long after seizing Iran, Shapur's armies crossed into the Caucasus and seized Armenia, Georgia and Albania (north of modern day Azerbaijan).

After his successes in Asia, Shapur turned his attention westward and attacked Antioch. The city defenses turned out to be more formidable than expected and a stalemate was reached. To end the stalemate, Shapur, in 244 AD, was bribed by the Romans to stop the siege. The prize for Shapur's withdrawal was accession of Armenia and Mesopotamia.

Dissatisfied with what he considered "small gains", Shapur tried again in 256 AD and this time snatched Antioch from the Romans. The city was taken by surprise and ransacked by Sassanian troops. Captives were carried off and resettled in various parts of Iran. Soon after the sacking, Emperor Valerian paid a visit to Antioch only to find the beautiful city in ruins, occupied by Iranian troops. The city was retaken by the Romans but before they had a chance to rebuild it, Shapur struck and took it again in 260 AD. In the process he shattered the Roman army of seventy thousand troops and captured Valerian. Luckily, Valerian had allies in Palmyra who came to his rescue. Even though they came too late to save Valerian, the Syrian and Arab troops attacked the Sassanian army inflicting on them considerable damage. After their defeat the Sassanians were kept in check by the Romans in the west and by the Palmyrans in the east.

While the Sassanians were kept down, the Romans slowly re-took Armenia through appointments of pro-Roman rulers to the Armenian throne. But that did not last long. After Shapur's death, his son Shapur II ceded the Sassanian throne and a new round of hostilities commenced that would last from 338 to 363 AD.

Trouble started when Shapur II, dethroned the Roman installed king of Armenia. Unhappy about the incident, Constantine reacted by making threatening statements about the power of his new Christian God, which provoked Shapur to take revenge on Christians in the Sassanian Empire.

Jovian finally brought the hostilities to an end after Julian's death. Unfortunately the price for peace was costly. Jovian had to give back the trans-Tigrine provinces which Diocletian seized earlier. He also had to concede a large portion of northern Mesopotamia, including the fortress of Nisibis, and the Roman claim to Armenia back to Shapur. If that was not enough, the cities of Singara and Nisibis were also surrendered to Shapur. For all these concessions all Shapur had to do was allow safe passage for the fleeing inhabitants of the cities and guarantee the neutrality of the pro-Roman king of Armenia.

Jovian died at the age of thirty-two on February 17th, 364 AD at Dadastana on the boundary between Bithynia and Galatia. His death was most probably due to natural causes. Some attributed it to overeating.

Was Jovian another Greek, or should I say Byzantine? Although official history does not record him as one, considering his name and where he was born, he could have easily been one.

At this point I would like to take another short diversion and present a famous figure of this era that is not only popular in Greece, but is famous worldwide.

To the Christians he is known by several names including Saint Nicholas, Sinter Klaus and Santa Claus. No one is certain when he was born but it was sometime in the middle of the fourth century. St. Nicholas was probably a native of Patara in Lycia, Asia Minor. There are far more legends about his miraculous good deeds than there are clear details about his life.

Nicholas, during his early career, was a monk in the monastery of Holy Zion near Myra and was eventually made Abbot by the founding Archbishop. When the See of Myra, the capital of Lycia, fell vacant Nicholas was appointed Archbishop. It is said that he suffered for his Christian Faith under Emperor Diocletian and was present at the Council of Nicaea as an opponent of Aryanism.

St. Nicholas is celebrated on December 6th the day he died and his soul entered Heaven. But most western countries today combine St. Nicholas's day with that of gift giving and celebrate both days together at Christmas.

The most famous story told about St. Nicholas has to do with three young sisters who were very poor. Their parents were so poor that they did not have enough money to provide for marriages. In those days, every young girl needed money for a dowry, to pay for her wedding and to set up house. Nicholas heard of this poor family and wanted to help but he did not want his involvement known. There are several versions to this story, but in one version, Nicholas climbed up the roof three nights in a row and threw gold coins down the chimney hoping that they would land in the girls' stockings, which had been hung by the fire to dry. As a result of the mysterious donations appearing in the stockings two nights in a row, two of the three girls had enough money to get married. Curious as to who the benefactor was, the next night the girls' father hid behind the chimney in wait. To his surprise, along came Bishop Nicholas with another bag of money. Nicholas did not want to be identified and begged the father not to tell anyone. But the father was so grateful for the good deeds that he could not hold back and told everyone what a good and generous man Bishop Nicholas was. This is how the story and later the tradition of gift giving and the stuffing of stockings started.

Nicholas, as a young man, studied in Alexandria, Egypt. While on one of his voyages during a storm, he saved the life of a sailor who fell from the ship's rigging. His actions earned him the title Patron Saint of Sailors. During another encounter he miraculously rescued some young boys from a vat of brine, thereby becoming the patron of schoolboys. The characteristic virtue of St. Nicholas, however, appears to have been for his love and charity to the poor. Because of this and the many legends surrounding his work, St. Nicholas is regarded as the special patron of seafarers, scholars, bankers, pawnbrokers, jurists, brewers, coopers, travelers, perfumers, unmarried girls, brides, and robbers. But most of all he is the very special saint of children.

Around 540 AD, Emperor Justinian built a church at Constantinople in the suburb of Blacharnae in St. Nicholas's honor. History and legend are intertwined in the story of Nicholas's life and he has been widely honoured as a saint since the sixth century. No less than 21 "miracles" have been attributed to him. Nicholas died at Myra in 342 AD.

After Jovian's sudden death in 364 AD a number of leading Imperial officials met in Nicaea to select a new emperor. After some deliberation a forty-three-year-old officer of the Imperial bodyguard named Valentinian was chosen. Valentinian, whose full name was Flavius Valentinianus, was a devout Christian born in 321 AD at Cibalis (modern Vinkovci) in southern Pannonia (perhaps another Greek?). Valentinian was not of noble blood and had risen through the ranks to become a great general. He had no great education but did have a bad temper and contempt for those with education. During his reign he was a competent soldier who took some interest in the administration but was overly trusting of his subordinates.

As soon as Valentinian was proclaimed emperor the army demanded that he select a co-emperor. By now it had become apparent that the empire could not be ruled by a single man. To help him rule his huge empire Valentinian appointed his younger brother Valens, emperor of the east. Although this was not the first time that co-emperors reigned over the empire, this would be the beginning of a permanent separation. Three decades later East and West would briefly be reunited under the leadership of Emperor Theodosius. Upon Theodosius's death, in 395 AD, the empire would again be divided between his sons Arcadius and Honorius. From this time forward the division would be permanent and East and West would be ruled separately.

In 367 AD Valentinian suffered a serious illness. After his recovery he learned that discussions had been taking place as to who might succeed him. To be safe Valentinian had his eight year-old son, Gratian, proclaimed Augustus.

Valentinian spent 365 to 375 AD in Trier where he conducted a number of campaigns against the Alamanni. In November 375 AD, enraged by offensive remarks made by some barbarian envoys, Valentinian died of a stroke. His associates, fearing mistreatment at the hands of Gratian's advisors, proclaimed Valentinian's four-year-old younger son Valentinian II, Augustus. Even though Gratian and Valens had no desire to see Valentinian II made Augustus, they agreed to allow him to rule Italy, Africa and Illyricum.

While Valens was occupied in Syria throughout the early 370s AD, keeping an eye on the Persians, a crisis was developing in the northern frontiers and war erupted. The Goths crossed the Danube in 376 AD, which I mentioned earlier, attacked Adrianople and killed Emperor Valens.

After Valens' disastrous defeat in 378 AD, Gratian appointed Theodosius emperor in the east. Theodosius' father was executed for having fallen out of favour with Valentinian I. In spite of that, Theodosius graciously accepted the job and immediately began to put his military talents to good use strengthening the East. Theodosius chose Solun as his base from which to wage war against the Goths.

On the western front in 383 AD, British troops, led by Magnus Maximus, rebelled and invaded Gaul. Unprepared to meet this threat Gratian's soldiers deserted him. Gratian was not very popular with his troops because he preferred to hunt and participate in sports over leading his men into battle. Unable to escape, Gratian was caught by Maximus in Lugdunum (Lyons) on August 25th, 383 AD and was murdered by Maximus's troops.

After Gratian's death, Valentinian II (Gratian's half brother) should have inherited the entire western half of the empire. Unfortunately, he was no more than a nominal ruler and allowed Magnus Maximus to exist. Italy was all he had and even there the real power was held by his mother Justina.

In 387 AD Maximus invaded Italy, forcing Justina and Valentinian to flee. Mother and son sought refuge in Solun with Theodosius where a counter force was put together which attached and defeated Maximus. Unfortunately Maximus's defeat cost Justina her life.

Valentinian II returned to Italy but quickly fell under the influence of his Frankish General, Arbogastes. Arbogastes was a treacherous man who slowly replaced all of Valentinian's important officers and government officials with his own loyal men. When Valentinian attempted to oust him, Arbogastes had him assassinated.

After Valentinian's death, Arbogastes placed Eugenius, a popular pagan philosopher, on the throne. His actions unfortunately did not sit well with Theodosius who, in 394 AD, sent his army to deal with Arbogastes. The two armies met in the passes of the Julian Alps near the river Frigidus. Theodosius decimated the army and captured and killed Eugenius. A few days later Arbogastes committed suicide.

With the removal of Eugenius and Arbogastes, Theodosius assumed control of the entire empire. Flavius Theodosius was born in Cauca, Spain in about 346 AD. As I mentioned earlier, Gratian appointed him emperor of the east in 378 AD.

Theodosius left his legacy in Macedonia in 390 AD when he massacred seven thousand Solunian civilians. As the story goes, while in Solun the local garrison, consisting mainly of Goths, was in bad favour with the Solunian citizens and during a riot a number of Goth officers were murdered and their bodies abused. Unhappy about the situation, Theodosius retaliated by sending yet another Gothic garrison to the city. During one of the chariot races the hippodrome gates were suddenly shut so no one could escape and the Goth soldiers took their revenge, murdering the spectators in cold blood.

When Ambrose, one of the high ranking bishops, found out about the massacre he was outraged and excommunicated the emperor, denying him access to the church for some months. Such a spectacle was unprecedented and for the first time an Emperor was under the control of a Bishop. After that Theodosius was totally under the thrall of Ambrose and ordered a full-scale assault on pagan practices. In 391AD the law banned all sacrifices, public and private, and all pagan temples were officially closed. Then in 392 AD all forms of pagan religious worship were formally prohibited everywhere in the empire.

Theodosius died on January 17, 395 AD leaving the empire to his two sons. The older son Arcadius was left in charge of the east and the younger, Honorius, was left in charge of the west. Unlike previous divisions where power was shared, this division was decisive and permanent. The accession of Arcadius and Honorius is widely viewed as the final division of the empire into two completely separate parts. Thus 395 AD was the official birth of what later came to be known as the 'Byzantine Empire' or as the Byzantines came to call it, the 'Roman Empire' (Romaiki Aftokratoria).

When Arcadius was made Emperor he was too young to rule alone so Flavius Rufinus his guardian, a praetorian prefect of the east, held the reins of power. Similarly, at his accession Honorius was only twelve years old so Theodosius had appointed Stilicho, as guardian to watch over matters of state for him. While Rufinus was the strong man in the east and Stilicho effectively controlled the west, both men were highly ambitious and unscrupulous.

Rivalries between the two men began to surface when Stilicho made claims that he too was asked by the late Theodosius to guard, at least in part, over Arcadius's affairs. The conflicting claims most certainly implied that the possibility for cooperation between the two rivals was diminishing and the two powers behind the thrones were headed on a collision course.

The inevitable happened when the Visigoths, who were settled along the Danube under the leadership of Alaric, rebelled. The barbarians smashed their way through the Balkans into Macedonia devastating all that was in their path. Stilicho, under the pretext of wanting to help the eastern empire, intervened and marched his troops into Macedonia. He did back off and withdrew when ordered by Rufinus, but not before leaving him a present.

During his withdrawal Stilicho left behind a few legions, commanded by a Gothic general named Gainas, with orders to deliver the troops to the Eastern Empire. As the troops marched into Constantinople Rufinus came out to greet them. Instead of extending their hands, the soldiers extended their swords and stabbed Rufinus to death. This was a gift from Stilicho to Rufinus for meddling in Stilicho's affairs. Unfortunately, this incident did irreparable damage to the relations between east and west.

With Rufinus dead and the Visigoths still rampaging Macedonia, Constantinople formally requested assistance from Stilicho. But in 397 AD when Stilicho was making his way into Macedonia, Alaric and his Visigoths disappeared. Stilicho's failure to remove the troublesome Goths forced Constantinople to negotiate directly with the barbarians. Alaric agreed to stop his aggressions and for his cooperation was made 'Master of Soldiers' in Macedonia and the Balkans.

It was unclear whether Alaric evaded Stilicho or Stilicho intentionally allowed Alaric to escape but Stilicho's failure to capture him cast suspicions that would have future consequences.

The real champion of the east turned out to be a woman named Eudoxia (Arcadius's wife) who mustered enough strength and repelled the Visigoth hostilities away from Constantinople . After her success, the strong-minded Eudoxia appointed herself to the rank of Augusta and ruled until she died of a miscarriage in 404 AD. Before dying she made sure her one-year old son Theodosius II was elevated to the rank of Augustus.

Four years later in 408 AD Arcadius died of natural causes leaving his empire to his son Theodosius II.

Stilicho was accused of plotting with Alaric to depose Honorius and for elevating his own son, Eucherius, to emperor of the west. A staged mutiny by his troops in 408 AD forced Stilicho to surrender and Honorius had him executed.

With Stilicho out of the way, Alaric marched on Rome and on August 24th, 410 AD he and his Visigoths sacked the city for three days until there was nothing left. Alaric died at Consentia in 410 AD.

It is my intention from here on to focus only on events that are relevant to the Eastern Empire and to Macedonia.

Even though Theodosius II succeeded his father without any violence, he was still an infant and the regency of Constantinople fell to a praetorian prefect named Anthemius. Anthemius was a competent leader and not only averted a food crisis in Constantinople but also established good relations with the west, repelled the Hun invasions from the north and confirmed peace with the Persians and with the cities along the Danube. Anthemius also made sure Macedonia and the Balkans were given enough aid to help them recover from the Goth devastations.

The sacking of Rome by the barbarians was a wakeup call for Anthemius who took extensive measures to make sure the same did not happen to Constantinople . So in 413 AD a major project was undertaken to build what was appropriately named the great 'Wall of Theodosius', which encircled the city beyond the original Wall of Constantine.

In 414 AD Theodosius II claimed his regency from Anthemius and proclaimed his fifteen-year-old sister Aelia Pulcheria, Augusta. Then in 416 AD when Theodosius II was fifteen years old, in his own right, he was declared ruler of Constantinople . Pulcheria continued to play a part in Theodosius's government but only as an administrator. Theodosius II was Augustus for forty-nine years and ruled the Byzantine Empire for forty-two years. This was the longest reign in the history of the empire. Theodosius II died in 450 AD from a spinal injury after falling off his horse while riding near the river Lycus.

The most memorable accomplishment in Theodosius's career was the 'Theodosian Code' which was published in 438 AD. The Code, made up of sixteen books which took eight years to put together, was a compilation of imperial edicts stretching back to over a century. After the Code's publication, a university was founded in Constantinople to teach philosophy, law and theology from a Christian perspective.

In 447 and 448 AD Constantinople experienced a number of earthquakes which destroyed most of the city, including large parts of the city walls and coastal defenses. Through the great efforts of its citizens repairs to the walls were made in haste and soon afterwards new walls with ninety-two towers were added between the repaired wall and the moat. The result was the famous 'triple defense' which repelled invaders and kept the city safe for another millennium.

After Theodosius II's death, the imperial succession was again thrown open to question for the first time in over sixty years. Theodosius left no heir except for his daughter Licinia Eodoxia who had married his cousin Valentinian III. There were, however, rumours that at his deathbed Theodosius willed Marcian, one of his aids, to be his heir. Some believe this story was a product of after the fact propaganda. Whatever the case, Aspar, a high ranking general, engineered Marcian's appointment with the help of Theodosius's sister, Pulcheria Augusta.

In any case, on August 25th, 450 AD Pulcheria was the one who gave Marcian the imperial diadem.

An Illyrian by birth, Marcian was born in 392 AD. He served as a tribune in 421 AD and fought against the Persians but due to illness he never took part in any actual battles. After this assignment, he served for fifteen years as a personal assistant to general Aspar.

Marcian's reign almost immediately began with a change in policy toward Attila and the Huns. In his last years, as I mentioned earlier, Theodosius II had given up fighting the Huns. To appease them and stop their attacks he had resorted to paying them huge indemnities. Shortly after his coronation, however, the new emperor refused to pay the Huns. Not surprisingly, Marcian's decision was supported by the city's aristocracy, which had been strongly opposed to paying indemnities. At the same time, Attila was too absorbed in imperial politics to deal with Marcian and before he could refocus his attention on the east, he died. Soon after his death his empire disintegrated. Marcian then quickly formed alliances with those peoples previously under Hun domination, including the Ostrogoths, and thwarted the Hun re-emergence. The remaining Huns were allowed to settle in Pannonia, Thrace and Illyricum and over time assimilated in the local populations.

Marcian, the last emperor of the House of Theodosius, died of gangrene in his feet in January 457 AD at age 65. He was buried in the Church of the Apostles next to his wife Pulcheria. He left no heirs to succeed him.

After Marcian's death, his son-in-law Anthemius was the most likely candidate for the throne, however, he did not have support from general Aspar. Aspar decreed that emperors should be chosen by the army, in the Roman tradition, and recommended Leo as the next candidate. Aspar's commanders dared not reject his choice and Leo was crowned emperor by the patriarch of Constantinople, Anatolius. Leo, born in 401 AD, was a Thracian by birth.

Even though Leo was emperor, the real power remained in the hands of Aspar, at least for the next six or seven years. Emperor Leo fond of his grandson, Leo, by his daughter Ariadne, had him raised to the rank of Augustus in October of 473 AD. Shortly afterwards Emperor Leo fell ill and died. He was succeeded by his six year old Grandson Leo II in January 474 AD. Leo II's father Zeno was regent at the time but about a month after Leo's death, Zeno raised himself to the rank of co-emperor. Then within a span of less than a year, young Leo II died. There were rumours that Zeno murdered his son to take away the throne.

Zeno was a Rosoumbladian from the province of Isauria in southeastern Asia Minor. Not long after his son's death, Zeno's misdeeds caught up with him. When he was investigated as a suspect in the murder of his son, other misdeeds surfaced. He was implicated in the executions of general Aspar and Aspar's son.

To avoid being prosecuted, Zeno fled Constantinople and went back to Isauria. In Zeno's absence, the senate chose a new emperor by the name of Basiliscus. Basiliscus was Emperor Leo's brother-in-law. Basiliscus, as it turned out, was even less popular than Zeno especially since he elevated his wife Aelia Zenonis to Augusta, his older son Marcus to Caesar and co-emperor, and his younger sons Leo and Zeno to Caesars. Another reason for his deep unpopularity was his open favouritism towards the Christian Monophysite creed. To the people of Constantinople this was heresy.

Basiliscus also fell out of favour with the powerful 'Master of Soldiers', Theodoric Strabo. Against Strabo's advice, Basiliscus promoted a notorious playboy named Armatus to the rank of Master of Soldier. Apparently Armatus was the empress's lover. As a result, one of his more powerful Isaurian generals named Illus, who had originally been party to the plot against Zeno, tired of Basiliscus's blunders left Constantinople to rejoin Zeno. Without the army's support, Basiliscus was virtually finished. At about the same time, Zeno felt the moment was right to leave exile and on August 476 AD marched on Constantinople unopposed. His first order of business was to exile Basiliscus, his wife and sons to Cucusus in Cappadocia, where they starved to death.

Zeno's reign lasted until 491 AD. During his rule, among other things, Constantinople experienced a four year Ostrogoth siege. The Balkans, including Macedonia, were ravaged repeatedly and depopulated by onslaughts of war upon war. Zeno left no obvious heir but Ariadne, Zeno's wife, recommended the position be given to Anastasius. Anastasius was an experienced official of the highest character and a credible man universally respected in the empire. He did his best to calm the theological animosities between the orthodox and the monophysite Christians. He built a great defensive wall fifty miles long along the Danube frontier to hold barbarian incursions in check. He also disbanded and sent home the troublesome Isaurian troops, who had made themselves very unpopular in his capital.

Anastasius died in 518 AD, well respected and with a full treasury. Anastasius did not leave an heir to the throne so once again it was up to the military to make the next choice. Being in the right place at the right time and having a lot of friends was all that Justin needed to get into politics. In spite of the fact that he was illiterate and probably more than 80 years old, Justin was elected emperor in 518 AD. Justin's reign is significant for the founding of a dynasty that included his eminent nephew Justinian I.

Justin was born in 435 AD, the son of an Illyrian farmer. Justin joined the army to escape poverty. Because of his military abilities he rose through the ranks to become a general and commander of the palace guard under the emperor Anastasius I. During Justin's later years, the empire came under attack from the Ostrogoths and the Persians. Unable to cope with the pressures of politics, Justin's health began to decline and on April 1st, 527 AD he formally named Justinian his co-emperor and successor. Justin died on August 1st, 527 AD and was succeeded by Justinian.

To be continued...

And now I leave you with this...

Western and Slav authors have done more to discredit the Hellenic contribution for this period (313 to 527 AD) than they have done to support it. Many authors agree that the Byzantine Empire was a re-emergence and continuation of Alexander the Great's old empire but at the same time they hardly hesitate to call it Roman.

What was Roman about it?

The Emperors were not Roman, the language was not Latin, the culture was not Italian and even the style of Christianity practiced was far from western.

So, what was Roman about it?

Let's look at it from another perspective. The Byzantine Empire, known to the Byzantiness as the Roman Empire (Romaiki Aftokratoriaria) had more Greek emperors than Roman, spoke the Greek language not Latin and smack in the middle of it was Greece not Italy.

Thessaloniki, not Rome, was the Byzantine Empire's second capital and cultural center. Greece, not Italy, was the center, heart and soul of the Byzantine Empire.

Unlike Rome which fell to the barbarians, Thessaloniki was never defeated or sacked by anyone and remained a Greek city in character and culture from the time it was founded by king Cassander, to well into the second millennium AD. Thessaloniki was a Greek city with its culture and tradition well intact and preserved. That is precisely why a Greek and not a Roman civilization re-emerged from Thessaloniki, flourished and reached its zenith around the 8th, 9th and 10th centuries AD.

Thessaloniki was the cradle of Hellenism. This is where the revival of the Hellenic language and culture began and spread throughout eastern Europe. That is precisely why more than six hundred million people today study the ancient Greek language, not Slavonic or Latin. Outside of the Roman and Slav propagandists, no one believes that the Byzantine Empire was anything but Greek, a continuation of Alexander the Greats' old Hellenic Empire.


Peter Brown, The World of Late Antiquity AD 150-750, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 1989

A History of the Macedonian People, Institute of National History, Macedonian Review, 1979, Skopje.

Alexandar Donski, The Descendants of Alexander the Great of Macedon The Arguments and Evidence that Today's Greek Macedonians are Descendants of the Ancient Macedonians (Part One - Folklore Elements), Shtip/Sydney - 2004.

Apostolos Papagiannopoulos, Monuments of Thessaloniki, John Rekos & Co., Thessaloniki, 1980

F.E. Peters, The Harvest of Hellenism A History of the Near East from Alexander the Great to the Triumph of Christianity, Simon and Schuster, 1970.

Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity, Atheneum New York, 1976

Vasil Bogov, Macedonian Revelation, Historical Documents Rock and Shatter Modern Political Ideology, Western Australia, 1998

H.G. Wells, The Outline of History, Garden City Books, New York, 1961

You can contact the author at rstefov@hotmail.com