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Constantine the Great was the first Christian emperor of Rome, and his reign had a profound effect on the subsequent development of the Roman, later Byzantine, world. By he had succeeded in reunifying the empire, having defeated the last of his former tetrarchic colleagues, the eastern emperor Licinius.


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He thereafter aimed to establish a new dynasty and to found a new capital, named Constantinople after himself. Although the court and administration no longer resided at Rome, Constantine was careful not to neglect the old imperial city and adorned it with many new secular and Christian buildings.

The most famous of these is the triumphal arch, the Arch of Constantine, which still stands near the Colosseum. Similarly, the fragments of a colossal statue that now adorn the courtyard of the Museo del Palazzo dei Conservatori in Rome, probably once stood in imposing grandeur in the main hall of the Basilica of Maxentius, a building that was completed by Constantine. The long face, neatly arranged hairstyle, and the clean-shaven appearance of this portrait head are a deliberate attempt to evoke memories of earlier rulers such as Trajan, who in the later third and fourth centuries was seen as an ideal example of a Roman emperor.

Certainly, by the time that the head was set up, as part of either a bust or, more probably, an over life-sized statue, Constantine had adopted an official image that was intended to set him apart from his immediate predecessors. Maxentius and his bodyguard were pitched into the river and swept away in its swift-flowing current.

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A Ruler Touched by the Divine

Constantine was a modern Moses. Maxentius failed like Pharaoh before him. To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.


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