Constantine the Great
“I wanna be his Valentine!”
“So you say 3 equals 1? What sort of maths class did you go to?”
Constantine I (Latin: Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus; c. 27 February 272 – 22 May 337), often called Constantine the Great (by Christians) and Constantine teh Ghey!! (by 12-year-old pagans editing Wikipedia), was a winner on the hit show Augustus Idol in 312 AD which, back then, was a competition involving wars between many legions across the whole of the Roman Empire and no Simon Cowell. He was the first follower of Christianity to attain this rank, and is often considered to be a solidifying factor in the fledgling religion's rise to dominance. To be honest, he also probably had help from Jesus himself, who would have utilized his many magic powers.
Constantine the Great was born Constantine the Baby in what is now Serbia in around 270 A.D. His father Constantius (surnamed the Colourless for his washed out facial expression) was a cabbage farmer and his mother Helena, a brawling barmaid with arms wider than a rugby player's thighs and language to match. Helena later became a Christian saint, a calling encouraged after suffering for years innumerable bad agricultural jokes by her husband. Constantius eventually gave up his horticultural yearnings to enlist in the Roman army. It was clever career move because within a few years Constantius was promoted to general, thanks perhaps to his own skills but more likely that his sister had married Maximian, one of the Co-emperors of the Roman Empire. Constantius was also favoured by Maximian's imperial colleague Diocletian who had developed an interest in growing prize winning cabbages. Constantius agreed to humour his boss and would speed weekends with Diocletian talking about spinach and why no one could find any potatoes in Europe.
With these favourable family (and gardening) connections, Constantine was the flash young blade in the red chariot. Like so many rich Roman citizens, Constantine took on the full busy schedule of whoring, drinking, taking drugs and beating his slaves if they colour-clashed with his wardrobe. Eventually these activities became tiresome so Constantine decided to enter the the massive Augustus Idol competition. It was in theory a free-for-all for anyone who fancied to be the next Roman Emperor, though the disclaimer on all the entry forms reminded contestants that they would also need rich friends, bribe money and an army if they wanted to succeed. The game was the brainchild of Diocletian who had wanted regulate the Roman laws of imperial succession after the chaos of the previous century. But really Diocletian was bored with being a supreme leader with the power of life or death over everyone. He now fancied to retire to his greenhouse and grow marrows.
Constantine happened to be York when he got the news that the contest to become the next emperor had started its new season. His father Constantius was their with his legions, taking a rest after duffing up a rampaging mob of pisshead Picts. When Constantine turned up, Constantius had thought the worst and claimed he had lost his credit cards and wallet to the Picts thinking that his son was there to bum some gold off him. Constantine protested he was only there to see his old dad so when Constantius realised he had just insulted his son, he died of acute embarrassment
Being a glamorous sort, Constantine had his troops proclaim him an imperial contestant amid the imported glitz of Old York in Britannia and expected the whole thing to be a bit of a laugh. Well it was to start with, no one dared to challenge him in Britannia so Constantine crossed the Channel to fight tougher rivals.
No Tries and One Conversion
Though it had been a crowded field to start with, the number of wannabe Roman emperors diminished every time a contestant lost 'the crowd' and were beaten to death on stage. One of Constantine's rivals Galerius said he would defeat him and then torture 'the pretty boy' until his intestines spilled out like fresh sausages. So when Galerius in turn died and his guts exploded, Constantine chalked that one down to luck or paying a pizza delivery boy to mix battery acid in a red hot pepperoni.
Constantine ignored all the other contestants and marched his army in the direction of Rome. He now identified Maxentius 'Mad Max' as his greatest rival and wanted to win the competition before everyone got bored and tried a new show out. However what Constantine wasn't to know was that his campaign to become number one was about to get a huge boost. God now wanted to intervene and had decided Constantine was 'a bit of a Jesus' and would pull out all His divine stops to make this happen.
As Constantine's army made its way towards Rome, the young pretender relaxed by picking wild mushrooms and having them baked into pies to help him concentrate. The story now goes that the evening before his decisive encounter with Maxentius, Constantine had a vision of angel appearing suddenly inside his tent. He was impressed by the angel's luxurious beard and unsettled by its googly eyes and psychedelic trousers. But before Constantine could rise his hand in welcome and offer it some cherry pie, the angel showed him a symbol which he recognised as the Christian cross and in a deep, booming voice it bellowed "WITH THIS, PWN!!" Then the angel vanished in a puff of purple smoke. Constantine pondered what this meant for a while but decided to 'sleep on it' and went to bed. He didn't finish his pie but did puzzle who could have crept into his bed and 'tied a knot with it' as the more bashful chroniclers of the time called it.
Later that week, Constantine found himself in battle against Maxentius who also happened to be his brother-in-law Maxentius was also challenging for the ultimate prize after dropping his father Emperor Maximian from the double act with a bowl of poisoned Coco Pop's It. He had lost a father but improved his act.
The two armies agreed to fight on the Milvian Bridge, just outside Rome as it would make a more exciting spectacle for prime time viewers seated in the stand opposite. Constantine was worried about the battle since he'd lost many troops during the competition and he felt that this might well be the decisive battle. His knees went all a-knocky and he had to go to the toilet several times. It was during a particularly noisesome session on the other kind of throne that he found himself thinking about mushroom pies and this reminded Constantine of his vision. Could the angel have been referring to the forthcoming battle? To be honest, there weren't many other pwnings he was planning. Constantine decided to order his troops to paint the cross on their shields and the Crown of Thorns on their bottoms in case the battle went bad. But first Constantine needed to empty out his bowels. That took a load off his mind (and bottom). Now Constantine was ready to party!
Having made himself a little lighter (and advised his generals to "leave it four score minutes and ten") Constantine mounted his horse and prepared his troops on what they had to do to make him happy.
The battle itself was quite a slog. There was a lot of blood and disembowelings and corpses landing in the river and it wasn't very pretty at all. Constantine was sick several times during the fighting because it was so nasty. But that wasn't all - the metal bashing wasn't going so great for him and he wondered what he was going to do. Suddenly, whilst he was watching arcs of gore spray up from a battle involving his cavalrymen and Maxentius's legionaries, the clouds parted and a bearded googly-eyed face appeared between the cheeks of a dark raincloud. Constantine recognised the face as that of the angel he had seem whilst masticating his pie!
"BEHOLD!" said the Angel in a deep and booming voice that shook the ground "I AM HE, THE BLESSED BRIAN, AND I AM MOST PLEASED THAT SOME OF YOU HAVE THE SIGN OF THE CROSS ON YE SHIELDS. HOWEVER, I AM MOST DISPLEASED THAT SOME OF YOU MERELY HAVE SOME PONCY GREEKS ON HORSEBACK ON YOURS. AND YOU KNOW WHAT I'M GOING TO DO ABOUT THAT?!" Suddenly, the sky was full of lightning and thunder and with a juicy splurge the bodies of the army of Maxentius exploded messily whilst the angel laughed heartily. In the pitter patter of legionary bits landing about him, Constantine looked into the sky and said 'Nice One Jesus'.
Seeing that perhaps Constantine was packing some extra Divine punch in his act, Maxentius made a run for it. However as everyone in his army were trying to cross back over the Milvian Bridge, Maxentius was pushed into the river and sank to the bottom in his designer curved armour. To make sure his enemy was dead, Constantine had Maxentius's corpse dragged out of the river to be chopped up and fed to the dogs. Constantine was pretty much uncontested Emperor now, well at least in Western half of the Roman Empire. Now he wanted to get his paws on the Eastern half too.
Edict of Toleration
Constantine's victory now meant it was pay back time for the Christians. They demanded to be allowed to come out from the catacombs where they had been hiding from Diocletian for refusing to eat their greens. Now the Christians wanted to build churches without planning permission and vandalise the temples and synagogues of the Pagans and Jews. Constantine agreed with the demands and was told by Pope Sylvester that Constantine had a 'a good chance of blagging [his] way into Heaven'. The emperor was so pleased that it was alleged he mortgaged the entire Roman Empire to the church and went off to the East to build a new capital city. This was called later the Donation of Constantine, a document the Papacy later waved in front of Pepin the Short, King of the Franking Envelopes to get their white gloves on Rome and all of Europe as theirs. The Papacy used this letter of divine authority to run Catholic Europe for the next 1200 years.
Constantine, having been showered with prizes and powers by the Roman senate in Rome arrived in Byzantium on the Bosphorus to take on his last major rival for the prize, his brother-in-law. 'Lucky' Licinius. It was a close run contest but Constantine got the title of Augustus Idol which came with a delightful diadem and sceptre.
Since Constantine had no intention of launching a new series of Augustan Idol anytime soon, he had Licinius executed for coming second. Next he arranged for his eldest son Ricus Crispus Cremus to choke to death at breakfast for turning into a fat, wheezy kid with spots and a lisp. The emperor's final and brutal act was to become a single man again by killing his wife Fulvia. Their marriage had been on the rocks for sometime despite her efficient baby breeding a nursery full of future emperors and empresses. Showing some ingenuity with How To Kill People and Get Away With It, Constantine tricked Fulvia into meeting him in the sauna for 'some intimate reconciliation' - only to keep her waiting and then bolting the door shut so that she boiled to death in the heat. These family tragedies were later explained away by Constantine's biographer Eusbius as 'unfortunate but necessary accidents' without further explanation.
Constantine was rather taken by Byzantium during the time he stayed there and nominated it as a new capital city for the empire as part of a re-jig of the rather old-fashioned and stick-in-the-mud Roman state. When Byzantium was subsequently chosen by unanimous Senatorial vote amidst much applauding and shouts of "how in tune with our own thinking our emperor happens to be!", Constantine pretended he wanted the city to be called Nova Roma but was entirely unsurprised and pleased when the Roman Senate decided to call it Constantinople in his honour instead.
Despite having its original name struck from the records the Roman Empire ruled from this new capital still somehow became known as the Byzantine Empire. Those Roman bureaucrats just weren't thorough enough!
Constantine was obsessed with the idea of creating Constantinople as a brand-new, Christian city and went nuts for the building of churches with great big domes and loads of pillars. He also ordered the construction of an underground cistern so he could swim down there during the day "without any birds taking a shit on me" and a massive hippodrome "because I bloody love watching Michaelus Schumacherius forcing other charioteers into the wall!". Naturally, this new capital required a new senate and so Constantine had a new senate house built and invited many senators from Rome to up sticks and move to the "fantastic new capital on the Bosphorus full of hot chicks and boys". When they got there, though, he slapped a large "weight tax" on the portly aristocrats and watched them propose the first vote in the new Senate praising the lightening of their pocket which passed unanimously whilst the emperor rubbed his hands with glee.
The emperor's ruthless approach to his own family relations didn't bother the Christian leaders. They were invited to a dinner and dance in Nicaea (no wives allowed) and told them to hammer out an agreed policy on whether Jesus was God, God was Jesus and if the Holy Spirit slept on the couch when it stayed there at weekends. The bishops at the First Council of Nicaea eventually came up with something that no one could actually understand but it looked good on paper. Constantine had the agreement posted all around the empire as the Nicene Creed and then cleared off to his new city of Constantinople to make sure it was being built according to his divine plans. Constantine became known for setting up an all girls Catholic school in Rome and said that if he wasn't emperor, he would have happily retired there to coach the soccer team.
In the meantime Constantine's mother Helena was travelling around Palestine trying to corner the market in holy relics. During her holiday there she collected various mangers, cribs, holy grails, old sandals, loincloths and crucifixes which all came with tags authenticating their connection to Jesus. Helena accumulated so many that she asked her son to build a basilica in Jerusalem to house all her souvenirs. This building is now known as the Church of the Holy Tat, otherwise known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Perhaps exhausted by her frantic suitcase stuffing, Helena died on her way back to Rome. Constantine was sad to see her go and now wrote letters to his other aunties to see if they wanted to provide cleaning services for him.
Constantine was still a believer in the Sun God and liked to top up his tan when ever he could. However, the Church leaders kept nagging Constantine that if he didn't get baptised,he would be in for a permanent toasting down below. The emperor finally agreed and climbed into the shower with Pope Sylvester for a power spray conversion. Thinking perhaps he was now truly divine, Constantine didn't towel himself down properly and went down with double pneumonia.
Now finally 'one of them Christians', Constantine drew up a will and left the Roman Empire to his surviving sons by Fulvia: Constantine Junior, Constantius and Constans. His daughters Constantina and Back-Up Constantina were left with nothing but directions to the nearest nunnery - an early sign that Constantine had absorbed some good old Christian misogyny .
In 337 the old perma-tanned emperor's toes turned in his purple buskins. He was buried in his new capital city of Constantinople in the Church of the Holy Apostles along side with 12 other coffins that apparently contained some spare bones/relics of the 12 apostles. Constantine was given the ticket number 13, unaware it was unlucky and had once belonged to Judas Iscariot. Perhaps Constantine failed to see the joke there but he was a bit thick when it came to Church history.
So what had Constantine done and why had he done it? For Christians, this was of course a stupid question. Had it all been part of God's, slow burning plan to bring the mighty Roman empire to Christ?? Constantine never said why he really decided to go with Christians and turn his backside on the ancient pagan religion. It got him a sainthood from the Orthodox Christians but not from the Catholics, an odd omission considering some of the European monarchs who were later to get the golden halo.
- This contest was started by the Greeks of Byzantium to supplement the endless wars over who was Emperor by making it more appealing to the common Roman citizen so that citizens could choose a favourite to root for/fancy and the senate could offer advice or acidic put-downs. It was mostly-followed by gay men and teenage girls.
- Although the Overseer of the competition was noted for wearing a tight toga worn rather high
- Constantine found his father's money and credit cards stuffed up the hollow arse of a statue.
- York was at the time one of the most wealthy and, frankly, tacky cities in the Roman Empire. The historian Pompei Oafius wrote a book about it whose title translates as Why I Hate York, That City Of Glitter And Catamites.
- Maxentius's sister Fulvia had met Constantine in a broom cupboard back stage at earlier round of Augustus Idol.
- Constantine had secured 'losers' rights on his own army, pre-selling advertising space on arses in case his men ran off the battlefield.
- Yes, another family falling out. Constantine's family had already proved that anything but family blood was thicker than water when it came to bumping off relatives and in-laws. A tradition carried on by his sons which explains why the dynasty died out by the third generation.
- Constantine's ability to kill his own children if need be and then go out to dinner with friends afterwards without remorse always surprised historic contemporaries.
Diocletian , Maximian and Constantius I
Constantine II, Constantius II and Constans I