Thursday, September 17, 2020

Eusebius, EH.9.9: Constantine Defeats the Tyrant Maxentius


This is an occasional series of readings from and brief notes and commentary upon Eusebius of Caesarea’s The Ecclesiastical HistoryBook 9, chapter 9.

Notes and Commentary:

This chapter describes the beginning of the dissolution of the Roman Tetrarchy with the rise of Constantine and Licinius against the tyrants, Maxentius (in the West) and Maximin (in the East), a process which would eventually result in Constantine’s consolidation of power as sole emperor and his tolerance and favor extended to Christians.

Eusebius suggests that Constantine and Licinius, “both honored for their understanding and piety”, were driven by divine providence to oppose the tyrants, noting that Licanius would also eventually “become mad.”

He describes how Constantine came with full force through Italy to liberate the city of Rome from tyranny. Maxentius and his forces met Constantine at a bridge made by the joining of boats (The Battle of Milvian Bridge, October 28, 312). The bridge collapsed and Maxentius and his men were drowned and defeated. Eusebius is quick to draw a parallel to Moses’s victory over the Egyptians at the Red Sea: “the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea” (Exod 15:1).

Constantine then entered Rome in triumph. He ordered a statue be set up with him holding a cross (“a memorial of the Savior’s passion”) in his right hand, bearing, in part, the inscription, “By this salutary sign, the true proof of bravery, I saved and delivered your city from the yoke of the tyrant….”

Note: Though not mentioned here, in his Life of Constantine, Eusebius says that before the battle Constantine had a vision of the cross in heaven with the inscription, “In this sign conquer” (Vita Constantini, 1.28).

After this victory, Constantine and Licinius issued “a most perfect law in the fullest terms on behalf of the Christians.”

Maximin, the tyrant of the East, still standing and seeing the shifting of circumstances, issued an epistle, quoted by Eusebius, attempting to spin himself as having been tolerant of the Christians, despite his previous edicts against them.

According to Eusebius, reading this epistle, no one saw Maximin as truthful or trustworthy. The Christians did not yet dare to assemble in public, sensing that Maximin, a “monster of iniquity,” was resolved not to offer them toleration.


Eusebius presents the rise of Constantine as the beginning of the end of persecution against the Christians. One tyrant (Maxentius) was disposed and one more remained to be disposed (Maximin). Hope is on the horizon.


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