February 27 – Happy Birthday, Constantines

Posted on February 27, 2016

On this date in 272, Constantine was born. He became a Roman emperor and “the Great” was added to his name at some point...

About a millennium and a half later, on this date in 1711, Constantine Mavrocordatos was born. He later became a prince and ruler within the Ottoman Empire.

 Constantine the Great rose through the Roman military based on his own abilities, but his army-officer father became a “deputy emperor” – a sort of vice-emperor, or junior emperor, which confusingly was known as a “Caesar,” second in command to the senior emperor, known as an “Augustus.” At the time there were at four men with the power of leading the enormous Roman Empire: an Augustus and a Caesar in the West and an Augustus and a Caesar in the East.

Later, his father was raised up to being the Augustus of the West, and when his father died, Constantine was acclaimed as emperor (Augustus) by his army.

The transfer of power was not super peaceful. There was a series of civil wars and the various Caesars and Augusti fought among each other. Constantine led his army to victory after victory, and by the year 324, he became the one emperor of both the Western and Eastern Roman Empires.

Here are some things Constantine is famous for:

  • He built a new imperial fortress at Byzantium, in what is now Turkey, and then renamed the city after himself: Constantinople. (This city is now named Istanbul.) Constantinople became the capital of the Roman Empire for more than a thousand years (although we now call this empire the Eastern Roman Empire or the Byzantine Empire).

  • Even though Constantine rose to power largely
    "through the sword" - some see his power
    as coming "from the cross."
    He was the first Roman emperor to claim to be converted to Christianity, and he legalized the religion throughout the empire. He called the First Council of Nicaea, which is an important part of the history of Christianity—and some Christians still honor Constantine as a saint.

  • Constantine separated civil and military authority. That is a split that most modern democracies and republics use. For example, the elected president and governors and mayors rule civil life, and police and civil judges enforce civil laws – but admirals and four- and five-star generals rule the military, and there are separate military police and military courts for enforcing military laws.

  • Constantine not only ruled a unified Roman Empire, he also enlarged it. He attacked some of the tribes on the frontiers of the empire, including lands that had been considered a part of the Roman Empire but had been abandoned by earlier emperors – and he won pretty much every campaign. Constantine had reorganized his army into mobile field units and garrison soldiers; this reorganization probably accounts for some of Constantine's success.

  • Paragon of virtue and military hero? Or monstrous tyrant who ruled harshly? Different groups have portrayed Constantine differently. Modern historians generally take a middle ground.

Constantine Mavrocordatos was a Greek noble who was born in Constantinople and who ruled as Prince of Wallachia and as Prince of Moldavia. He didn't rule for one long period of time – I guess things were not so peaceful in the Ottoman Empire, in the 1700s. Instead, his reign over Wallachia went something like this:

  • 1730 (just part of the year)
  • 1731 – 1733
  • 1735 – 1741
  • 1744 – 1748
  • 1756 – 1758
  • 1761 – 1763

And his rule over Moldavia was during some of his “off” times:

  • 1733 – 1735
  • 1741 – 1743
  • 1748 – 1749
  • 1769

If you're like me, you have no idea where Wallachia was; it was located in what is now Romania.

If you're like me, you will wonder if Moldavia is the same thing as modern Moldova; actually, the western half of historical Moldavia is a part of Romania, the eastern side is the Republic of Moldova, and some northern and southeastern chunks are now parts of Ukraine.

What Constantine the Great and Constantine Mavrocordatos have in common, besides for their name and birthday, is the city of Constantinople. So here is a photo essay of Byzantium / Constantinople / Istanbul:

Istanbul is a modern city, but you can
still see some of the ancient walls and gates
in places.

Many of the Christian churches were converted
into Muslim mosques, although many Christian
churches and some Jewish synagogues can be
found in the city.

Modern markets combine old and new. 
And a REALLY modern hotel is largely
under the sea!

Also on this date:

Science celebrations

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