Archaeologists have discovered remarkable physical evidence of Constantine’s defining victory at the Milvian Bridge

A few years ago, an open-air food market I frequented near the Milvian Bridge in Rome was moved a short distance to a covered site where it is part of a shopping complex. Only recently I discovered the archaeological importance of that site, which convinced me Rome sometimes forgets its past or does not want to remember it – even when it is of global significance.

During excavations by the Rome Archaeological Authority before the shopping complex was built, remains were found of a clash that determined the course of Christianity: the battle won by Constantine on October 28, 312, against a rival for command of the Roman Empire.

According to a later account by Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, on the eve of the battle Constantine saw a cross in the sky and heard of voice promising: “In hoc signo vinces” (“In this sign you will conquer.”) A year after his victory, he recognised Christianity as one of the religions within the empire, whereas previously Christians had suffered intermittent persecution.

Constantine had the first St Peter’s Basilica built and favoured Christians, though he did not make Christianity the state religion. (Theodosius I finally did so in 380.)

Diocletian had introduced a system of shared rule of the empire. Constantius Chlorus, Constantine’s father, shared control of the western part of the empire with Maxentius. On the death of his father, Constantine was proclaimed emperor by his troops in what is now York, and he marched towards Rome where his rival Maxentius ruled. It was the beginning of a civil war which lasted 18 years.

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