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CONSTANTINE THE GREAT
Constantine was a great Roman general, who was honestly trying to decide for himself between the old religion of the gods in which he had been brought up, and
the new religion of Christ, which was coming more and more 5 to be talked of and believed in.
As he marched along with his great army, behold, so the legends goes, there appeared in the sky a great cross; and round about it were these words, “In hoc signo vincos.”
These are Latin words which mean, “By this sign thou 10 shalt conquer.”
“I accept the omen,” said Constantine, bowing low before the wonderful cross. Accordingly he proclaimed himself a Christian, and entering Rome, promised protection to the Christians and freedom from persecution.
He rebuilt all the old churches that had been destroyed and erected many new ones. He did not destroy the old heathen temples, but in every way tried to show the Romans the beauty of the new faith; hoping that little by little they night turn to it.
He was very wise and generous and it would have been well had many a later convert remembered his examples of wisdom and leniency.
It was hard for the new Christian emperor to take his part in the state affairs; for every little act was so bound 25 up in heathen rites and ceremonies. Not a movement
could be made without first consulting the oracle, not an action could be commenced without first offering sacrifices to this, that, or the other god; and everything must await the omens of approval.
"I cannot bear all this,” said Constantine;"neither is it right to uproot the old faith until the people have got ready for the new. I will build a new capitol, and in this there shall be only Christian rites from the beginning." 5 Accordingly he chose the site of the old Greek city of Byzantium. This ruined city he rebuilt and enlarged, and gave it the name of Constantinople, the name by which it is still known.
In all these long years, the Romans, once so bold and 10 daring, so strong and warlike, so brave and capable of
bearing, had been growing weak and lazy, and more fond of games and luxury than of being strong and brave.
It is little wonder, then, that, when three centuries or more after the birth of Christ, the Goths and the Vandals, 15 fierce tribes from the north, poured down upon them, they were too weak to resist them.
Thus it came about that, as one after another of the northern tribes came pouring into Italy, spreading them
selves about, settling wherever they chose, taking possession 20 of whatever pleased them, the Roman Empire fell.
And so ends the Pagan history of Rome.
HELPS FOR STUDY
What does legend say caused Constantine to proclaim himself a Christian?
Why was it hard for the Christian emperor to take his place in the state affairs?
What was the oracle?
What did Constantine do in order to more firmly establish the Christian faith?
Why did he give the name of “Constantinople” to the city he rebuilt?
Who were the “Goths and Vandals”?
When Edward the Confessor died, in 1066, leaving no children, there were several claimants to the English throne. One of them was Harold, the son of Godwin, who was chosen by the Witenagemot to be the next king. It seems, more5 over, that Edward the Confessor had picked out the same Harold to succeed him.
The Duke of Normandy, also a relative of Edward, claimed that the throne should belong to him. He said
that Edward had once promised to name him his suc10 cessor, and added that when Harold was shipwrecked in
Normandy he solemnly swore to help the duke get possession of the English crown.
According to some histories, William, Duke of Normandy, had forced the shipwrecked Harold to make that 15 promise. The Saxon prince, thinking an oath under such
circumstances could not be binding, laid his hand upon a small relic which William placed on the table. soon as the words were spoken, the duke removed the cloth
which covered the table, and showed Harold a pile of the 20 holiest relics that could be found.
Of course, in these days a promise is a promise, but in the time of Harold it was considered more binding if made upon several relics than if upon one. If Harold really promised to give William the throne, he should have done but
you will find in some histories that Harold made
* From Guerber's “Story of the English.” Copyright, 1898, by American Book Company. Used by permission of the publishers.
no such promise, and hence did not break his word when he accepted the crown.
However that may be, Harold was no sooner named king than he found himself compelled to fight against the 5 Danes, who invaded his kingdom on one side, and the Normans, who were coming on the other.
Harold, who is known as the “Last of the Saxons,” because he was the last Saxon king, promptly collected his
army, and, marching rapidly northward, met and defeated 10 the Danes at Stamford Bridge. But scarcely had he won
this victory, when a herald came in great haste to announce that the Normans were crossing the Channel in many ships. Without giving his men a moment to rest, Harold marched
them from Stamford Bridge to the shore at Hastings, 15 where he arrived three days later, only to find that the Normans had already landed.
We are told that as William was leaving his boat he stumbled and fell. People were very superstitious in those
days, so some of his followers began to mutter something 20 about evil omens and bad luck. But William, who was
very quick-witted, laughed aloud, and, seizing some sand in his hands, he cried that he now held England fast. This gave his men new courage, and when they met Harold's
army at Senlac, a few miles away, they fought with great 25 energy
For a long while the battle raged furiously, and it seemed doubtful how it would end. Then, suddenly, a cry arose that William had been killed, and his men paused in dis
may. But before they could turn and flee, he put spurs 30 to his horse, and, snatching his helmet from his head so
that all might see his face, rode through the ranks, crying, “I am still alive, and, with the help of God, I shall yet conquer.”
The Norman soldiers, encouraged by these words, again 35 attacked the weary Saxons, who fought bravely, in spite of the terrible rain of Norman arrows, until they saw their king fall dead. When the battle was over, and William remained victor, Harold's lady-love came to look for his body. She found it under a heap of slain, on the very 5 spot where he had fought gallantly to the last. A Norman arrow was sticking through his eye into his brain, and his hand still grasped his sword.
Some historians say that Harold's body was buried in an abbey near London. Others declare that William 10 ordered that he should be buried on the shore, saying, “He
guarded the coast while he was alive; let him continue to guard it after death.” Upon his grave, wherever it was, his lady is said to have put this epitaph: “Here lies Harold the Unfortunate.”
HELPS FOR STUDY
What led to the Battle of Hastings?
What Channel did the Normans cross in coming to make war upon Harold?
Locate on your map Stamford Bridge, Hastings, and Senlac.
346:3 Godwin. The Earl of Wessex, a famous Saxon noble. His daughter, Editha, sister of Harold, was the wife of Edward the Confessor.
246:4 Witenagemot. The Anglo-Saxon general assembly or parliament. It was composed of the king, the witan, or wise men, the bishops, the ealdormen, or Saxon leaders, and some of the chief proprietors of the land. This council had the highest power in the kingdom, even that of choosing the king.