In 305 A.D., the Roman Emperor Constantius led his second campaign in Britain. His son Constantine accompanied him. Early in 306 the Romans defeated the Picts in northern Britain. York was one of the regional capitals in the Roman province of Britain and its legionary fortress was the headquarters of the northern military command.
When the emperor was in the north of Britain, the city also became the seat of the Imperial Court. On July 25, 306, Constantius died in York. At this time, sons did not automatically succeed their fathers to such positions of power, but on this occasion the late emperor’s loyal troops proclaimed his son Constantine his successor. Constantine reigned until his death in 337.
Elizabeth Hartley, who curated the Museum’s 2006 Constantine the Great exhibition, explained, “The story of Constantine the Great began in York.”
She is emphatic that had Constantine not been with his father when he died, “he would not have been handed the greatest prize — the right of succession to his father’s title.”
When his father was appointed caesar in 293, which was a junior member in the imperial college, Constantine was ensured a place at the imperial court. However, he did not join his father’s court at Trier, but that of the senior emperor, Diocletian, which was based principally at Nicomedia in Asia Minor. There he received training for high office, learning the skills of both statesman and soldier. He was therefore well placed to step into his father’s shoes.
Being groomed for the position is one thing, but how did Constantine earn the title “Great?”
Dr. Christopher Kelly, a leading expert based at Cambridge University, says there are three main reasons.
“After nearly 80 years and three generations of political fragmentation, Constantine united the whole of the Roman Empire under one ruler,” he said. “He was responsible for restoring stability and security to the Roman world. Constantine also abandoned Rome as the most important city in the Empire. He built a new capital at Constantinople — now modern Istanbul. In the next two centuries Rome and Italy became vulnerable to barbarian invasions. The much more easily defensible Constantinople (renamed Byzantium) lasted for another 1000 years. But it was Constantine’s strong support for Christianity that arguably had the greatest impact on European history.”
So why does the Yorkshire Museum want to raise £44,000 so that the hoard can be displayed in York?
Woods explained, “It contains coins minted in York from the time of Constantius who died in the city and then the first to feature Constantine rising to power. This was a pivotal moment in York’s history, but also the history of the Western World. We hope to now save the hoard to make sure it stays in Yorkshire for the public to enjoy, but also so we can learn more about this fascinating period as well as why it was buried and to whom it might have belonged.”
The hoard will be displayed at the Yorkshire Museum until Oct. 9. The museum has up until that date to raise the money.
To make a donation via Paypal, send payment via email. Donations are also accepted by cash or check in person at the Yorkshire Museum. Checks in sterling can be posted to the following address: Accounts Department, York Museums Trust, St. Mary’s Lodge, Marygate, York, YO30 7DR. Make check payable to York Museums Trust.