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Constantine: Victory at Verona

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The battle of the Milvian Bridge in October 312 has attained legendary status as the moment when the Emperor Constantine secured the future of Christianity in Europe. But the real turning point, argues Michael Mulryan, took place a few months earlier.

Relief showing the battle of Verona on Constantine's arch in Rome. AKG Images/Bildarchiv SteffensIn history it is often events on the battlefield that mark decisive turning points. Kings and emperors die or establish or destabilise their regimes to the detriment or betterment of those living under them. More recently, in the last century, social change was a consequence of the two most destructive wars ever fought. Today we see civil war in the Arab world threatening the status quo. Such a paradigm was never more evident than at the beginning of the fourth century ad when an increasingly popular new eastern religion achieved respectability and an emperor’s patronage. With the benefit of hindsight the year 312 marked the turning point for Christianity and world history. The battle associated with this decisive moment has always been that of the Milvian Bridge, when Constantine (c. 272-337) and Maxentius (c. 278-312) fought for the imperial throne on and around the crossing of the River Tiber a few miles north of Rome. Its 1,700th anniversary is marked on October 28th. Yet the decisive encounter in Constantine’s campaign, the point at which Christianity was set on the path to becoming a world religion, took place a few months earlier, 250 miles further north, on the banks of the river Adige and the city of Verona. A great number of Maxentius’ soldiers and his finest general were defeated here, after which the rest of the Italian peninsula, save Rome, was open to Constantine. The battle of the Milvian Bridge was a desperate last stand, not a decisive moment.

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