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Gaius Valerius Licinianus Licinius (c. 263 – 325), commonly known as Licinius, was Roman Emperor from 308 to 324. Co-author of the Edict of Milan that granted official toleration to Christians in the Roman Empire, for the majority of his reign he was the rival of Constantine I. He was finally defeated at the Battle of Adrianople, before being executed on the orders of Constantine I.
Born to a Dacian (Thracian) peasant family in Moesia Superior, Licinius accompanied his close childhood friend, the future emperor Galerius, on the Persian expedition in 298. He was trusted enough by Galerius that in 307 he was sent as an envoy to Maxentius in Italy to attempt to reach some agreement about his illegitimate status. Galerius then trusted the eastern provinces to him when he went to deal with Maxentius personally after the death of Flavius Valerius Severus.
Upon his return to the east, Galerius elevated Licinius to the rank of Augustus in the West on November 11, 308. He received as his immediate command the provinces of Illyricum, Thrace and Pannonia.
In 310 he took command of the war against the Sarmatians, inflicting a severe defeat on them and emerging victorious. Then on the death of Galerius, in May 311, Licinius entered into an agreement with Maximinus Daia, to share the eastern provinces between them. By this point, not only was Licinius the official Augustus of the west, but he also possessed part of the eastern provinces as well, as the Hellespont and the Bosporusbecame the dividing line, with Licinius taking the European provinces and Daia taking the Asian.
An alliance between Daia and Maxentius forced the two remaining emperors to enter into a formal agreement with each other. So in March 313 Licinius married Flavia Julia Constantia, half-sister ofConstantine, at Mediolanum (now Milan); they had a son, Licinius the Younger, in 315. Their marriage was the occasion for the jointly-issued "Edict of Milan" that restored confiscated properties to Christian congregations and allowed Christianity to be professed in the empire.
Daia, in the meantime decided to attack Licinius. Leaving Syria with 70,000 men, he reached Bythinia, although harsh weather he encountered along the way had gravely weakened his army. In April 313, he crossed the Bosporus and went to Byzantium, which was held by Licinius' troops. Undeterred, he took the town after an eleven-day siege. He moved to Heraclea, which he captured after a short siege, before moving his forces to the first posting station. With a much smaller body of men, possibly around 30,000, Licinius arrived at Adrianople while Daia was still besieging Heraclea. On 30 April 313, the two armies clashed at the Battle of Tzirallum, and in the ensuing battle Daia's forces were crushed. Ridding himself of the imperial purple and dressing like a slave, Daia fled to Nicomedia. Believing he still had a chance to come out victorious, Daia attempted to stop the advance of Licinius at the Cilician Gates by establishing fortifications there. Unfortuately for Daia, Licinius' army succeeded in breaking through, forcing Daia to retreat to Tarsus where Licinius continued to press him on land and sea. The war between them only ended with Daia’s death in August 313.
Given that Constantine had already crushed his rival Maxentius in 312, the two men decided to divide the Roman world between them. As a result of this settlement, Licinius became sole Augustus in the East, while his brother-in-law, Constantine, was supreme in the West. Licinius immediately rushed to the east to deal with another threat, this time from the Persian Sassanids.
Conflict with Constantine I
In 314, a civil war erupted between Licinius and Constantine, in which Constantine used the pretext that Licinius was harbouring another of Constantine’s brothers-in-law, Bassianus, whom Constantine accused of plotting to overthrow him. Constantine prevailed at the Battle of Cibalae in Pannonia (October 8, 314). Although the situation was temporarily settled, with both men sharing the consulship in 315, it was but a lull in the storm. The next year a new war erupted, when Licinius named Valerius Valens co-emperor, only for Licinius to suffer a humiliating defeat on the plain of Mardia (also known asCampus Ardiensis) in Thrace. The emperors were reconciled after these two battles and Licinius had his co-emperor Valens killed.
Over the next ten years, the two imperial colleagues maintained an uneasy truce. Licinius kept himself busy with a campaign against the Sarmatians in 318, but temperatures rose again in 321 when Constantine pursued some Sarmatians, who had been ravaging some territory in his realm, across the Danube into what was technically Licinius’s territory. When he repeated this with another invasion, this time by the Goths who were pillaging Thrace, Licinius complained that Constantine had broken the treaty between them.
Constantine wasted no time going on the offensive. Licinius's fleet of 350 ships was defeated by Constantine I's fleet in 323. The in 324, Constantine, tempted by the "advanced age and unpopular vices" of his colleague, again declared war against him, and, having defeated his army of 170,000 men at the Battle of Adrianople (July 3, 324), succeeded in shutting him up within the walls of Byzantium. The defeat of the superior fleet of Licinius in the Battle of the Hellespont by Crispus, Constantine’s eldest son and Caesar, compelled his withdrawal to Bithynia, where a last stand was made; the Battle of Chrysopolis, near Chalcedon (September 18), resulted in Licinius' final submission. While Licinius' co-emperor Sextus Martinianuswas killed, Licinius himself was spared due to the pleas of his wife, Constantine's sister, and interned at Thessalonica. The next year, Constantine had him hanged, accusing him of conspiring to raise troops among the barbarians.
Character & Legacy
Constantine made every effort to blacken the reputation of his imperial colleague. To this end, stories began circulating about Licinius’s cruelty. It was said that he had put to death Severianus, the son of the emperor Severus, as well as Candidianus, the son of Galerius. To this was added the execution of the wife and daughter of the emperor Diocletian, who had fled from the court of Licinius before being discovered at Thessalonica . Much of this can be considered imperial propaganda on the part of Constantine.
In addition, as part of Constantine’s attempts to blacken Licinius’s name, he actively portrayed his brother-in-law as a pagan supporter. This was not the case; contemporary evidence tends to suggest that he was at least a committed supporter of Christians. He co-authored the Edict of Milan which ended the Great Persecution, and re-affirmed the rights of Christians in his half of the empire. He also added the Christian symbol to his armies, and attempted to regulate the affairs of the Church hierarchy just as Constantine and his successors were to do. It is even a possibility that he converted. However, Licinius’s name was dragged through the mud in Eusebius of Caesarea’s works of historical revisionism. This turned what appeared to be a committed Christian into a man who feigned sympathy for the sect but who eventually exposed his true bloodthirsty pagan nature, only to be stopped by the virtuous Constantine.
Finally, on Licinius’s death, his memory was branded with infamy; his statues were thrown down; and by edict, all his laws and judicial proceedings during his reign were abolished.