On October 28, 312 A.D., Constantin the Great defeated his rival Maxentius against all odds and attributed his victory to the God of Christians. In an attempt to retreat by the Milvian Bridge, most of the Maxentius’s army and himself drowned in the Tiber.


Emperor Diocletian planted the seeds of the civil war by introducing the Tetrarchy system of governing. In this system, the Rome Empire was divided into the West and the East halves, each of which was ruled by an emperor assisted by a deputy who would accede to the power. Among the hopeful candidates were Flavius Valerius Constantinus, known to the history as Constantine the Great, and his brother-in-law Maxentius, who occupied Rome. Willing to defend the claim for the whole Empire, they moved their armies, 40,000 Gauls of Constantine against 100,000 of Maxentius, toward Rome.

There are several historical accounts of the events. According to one of them, made by Eusebius of Caesarea, the night before the Milvian Bridge battle, Constantine and his people allegedly saw a cross of light in the sky above the sun. There were the words in Greek that meant “in this sign, you will conquer.” According to another popular account of the battle, made by Christian author Lactantius, Constantine had a dream in which he was told to mark his soldiers’ shields with a sign of God. Even though Constantin was a pagan devoted to the sun god Sol Invictus, he got so impressed that he did as was instructed and won the battle.

However, some historians do not ascribe the victory to the religious miracle and argue that Constantine won due to a set of circumstances. Maxentius moved his army on the bank of Tiber. He ordered to destroy the Milvian Bridge so that it could not be used by the enemy. He also ordered to make a temporary pantone bridge of boats in case he needed to retreat to Rome. Unfortunately, as Constantine’s forces attacked, Maxentius’s army overcrowded the pantone bridge, causing it to collapse. Many people that were on the bridge, including Maxentius himself, drowned trying to cross the river. Later, Maxentius’s body was found in the Tiber, decapitated, and paraded along the streets of Rome.

Maxentius was one of the several rivals for the control of the Empire. Constantine became the sole ruler only in 323 A.D. after defeating Licinius of Tarsus. His vision of the cross is believed to have inspired his ultimate conversion to Christianity. The victory has a great historical significance as well as it paved the way for Christianity to become the major religion not only in the Rome Empire but also in entire Europe.

The battle of the Milvian Bridge inspired many artists and sculptors and found its reflection in many works of art, such as tapestries, paintings, and sculptures. One of the masterpieces is a tapestry showing the triumph of Constantine over Maxentius at the battle of the Milvian Bridge from the series “The History of Constantine the Great,” designed in 1622 by Rubens. Another significant work is a fresco, The Battle of the Milvian Bridge, located in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican. The fresco was painted in the 16th century by Giulio Romano, an assistant of the Italian Renaissance artist Raphael. Besides, Constantine’s victory was commemorated in the Arch of Constantine I, erected in c. 315 CE. It is the largest surviving Roman triumphal arch and the last magnificent monument of Imperial Rome.