Although the story of the Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity has often been told in a simple, straightforward way, recent research shows a more complex picture. Other than Eusebius’ Life of Constantine, there is little evidence demonstrating that Constantine knew much about his new religion. In fact, Constantine may have worshipped the cult of the “unconquered son” as evidence from coins and statues suggests. His conversion, which took place in a dream or during a vision he saw in battle, depending on which version you read, linked his victory at the Milvian Bridge in 312 AD to the Christian god or sun god Apollo. But whether this was a genuine religious conversion, or a clever political decision to keep Christian and pagans happy is hard to tell.
Clearly, Constantine’s conversion was not straightforward or simple anymore than the Gospels are simple accounts of exactly what Jesus said or did. Our main source, Eusebius, was a Christian bishop telling the story of a Christian hero from a Christian point of view. This evidence cannot be taken at simple face value. Once we look at other evidence, it’s not even clear that Constantine was a Christian. He seems to have combined Christian ideas with pagan ideas about the sun god. Whether Constantine was moved by religion, politics, or both is open to interpretation. It appears that his conversion was a complex mix of both religion and politics. In any case, it had an enormous impact on the history of Christianity, giving it support of the emperor to build churches, end the persecution of Christians, and link victory in battle with the favor of the Christian god. All of these would help the continued spread of Christianity, regardless of Constantine’s motives or personal beliefs.