The Vision of Constantine

On the eve of the battle, Constantine experienced another solar apparition. We have two accounts of his vision: Eusebius' Life of Constantine, 1.28, was written shortly after Constantine's death in 337 C.E., and Lac-tantius' On the Deaths of the Persecutors was written shortly after the event in 314 C.E. (see Primary Document 3.5). According to Lactantius, Con-stantine was directed in a dream to mark his soldiers' shields with the heavenly sign of God before engaging in battle. The sign was a slanted letter X with the top of its head bent around. Some scholars have interpreted this as the symbol of the staurogram while others have identified it as the symbol as the Christogram. The staurogram was a common symbol for the cross already in use by the third century; the Christogram was the Christian emblem of an interlocked chi and rho, the first two letters of the word "Christ" (xpiOTog) in Greek.

In Eusebius' account of the dramatic vision, Constantine was contemplating to which god he should pray to ensure his victory in the battle against Maxentius. He considered that those who worshipped many gods and propitiated them with sacrifices and dedications were often deceived;

a multitude of gods could not protect them. He recalled, too, that his own father had condemned the error of worshipping a plurality of gods. Instead, Eusebius tells us in his Life of Constantine (1.28), his father had chosen to worship "the God who transcends the universe, the savior, and guardian of his empire." He prayed for aid to the god of his father and received a vision of a labarum, a tall pole with a horizontal bar forming a cross that was crowned with a wreath of precious stones; on it were two letters imitating the first two Greek characters of the name "Christ," the chi-rho symbol. According to Eusebius, it was the God of the Christians who promised Constantine victory in that vision and in return he insisted that all the men in his army display on their shields the Christian emblem of the interlocked chi and rho.

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