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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The empire from Constantine the Great to Justinian

The Conversion of Constantine


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Historians and theologians have been primarily interested in the causes of Constantine's conversion. Why did Constantine favor Christianity? Should his attitude be viewed only as an indication of his political wisdom? Did he see in Christianity merely a means of gaining his political aims? Or did he adopt Christianity because of his own inner conviction? Or, finally, was this conversion influenced by both political motives and a spiritual leaning toward Christianity?  

The main difficulty in solving this problem lies in the contradictory information found in the sources. Constantine as depicted by the Christian bishop Eusebius does not in the least resemble Constantine created by the pen of the pagan writer Zosimus. Historians have found ample opportunity for answering this entangled question according to their own preconceived opinions. The French historian Boissier wrote in his Fall of Paganism:  

Unfortunately, when we deal with great people who play a leading part in history and try to study their lives and account for their actions, we are seldom satisfied with the most natural explanations. Since these men have the reputation of unusual people, we never want to believe that they acted just like other ordinary people. We search for hidden reasons behind their simplest actions; we attribute to them subtle considerations, depth of thought and perfidies of which they never dreamed. All this is true in the case of Constantine. A preconceived conviction became current, that this skilful politician wanted to fool us; the more fervently he devoted himself to religious affairs and declared himself a true believer, the more definite were our attempts to prove that he was indifferent to these matters, that he was a skeptic, who in reality was not concerned about any religion and preferred that religion which could benefit him most.  

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