It is 312 AD outside ancient Rome as Emperor Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus stands above the Tiber River and watches his enemy, Maxentius, and over one hundred thousand soldiers cross Milvian Bridge and take position on the battlefield. Unfortunately, forty-year-old Constantine no longer feels like the invincible god his enemies and some friends believe he is. But as he stands in the midst of a civil war, Constantine knows now is not the time for doubts.
As he capitalizes on his opponent's smallest mistakes and executes strategies that reflect his perception and genius, Constantine brutally battles within two global wars that not only include Maxentius, but also several other enemies with large forces. While he consolidates his power on the battlefield, Constantine must fight the fissures within an emerging Christian Church controlled by two popes and countless bishops. But as Emperor Constantine grows older and becomes a devoted father, battles erupt within his own family that lead to dramatic changes.
Imperator, Deus shares the fascinating historical tale of the first Christian Emperor of the Roman Empire from his victory at the Milvian Bridge in October 312 AD to his death twenty-five years later.
Outside Rome's City Walls, Italia Early morning, October 28, 1065 Ab Urbe Condita (312 AD) Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus no longer felt like the invincible god his enemies-and some friends-thought he was. Some mornings, his whole body ached. He was 40 and just beginning to notice the effects on a body that had been at war for most of his adult life. His father had died at 56. Looking south from his position on one of the rocky foothills above the Tiber River, Constantine could see the bright light of the rising sun on the Aurelian Walls of Rome. His troops were encamped directly below him on the plain, several hundred cubits from the river bank. He registered the chill of the October morning, thankful that it wasn't raining-as it often did in Rome, this time of year. The Milvian Bridge was clearly damaged. Next to it was a makeshift bridge, constructed of wood planks laid over barges floating in the Tiber. A rushed job. His enemy, Maxentius, had legions encamped on the south side of the river. But they were starting cross the makeshift bridge and position themselves on the north side. Constantine watched intently as they took positions. Their forces were impressive. A hundred thousand or more. Twice as many legionari, foot soldiers, as his army had. He studied the centurions directing Maxentius' legionari and sagittarii, the archers. Something was amiss. They moved too quickly. Their haste wasn't quite a panic but it was...anxious. Constantine knew that every defense had weak spots and he was starting to recognize Maxentius'. Meeting with his senior generals the evening before, he had focused on where his decurii, cavalry, should be deployed. They had agreed it was likely that Maxentius' weakest legions would be to the west. Farthest away from the center point of engagement. They had tentatively agreed that the decurii would ride west and flank the weaker troops after the sagittarii and the legionari attacked center to the bridge. But, this morning, Constantine wasn't so sure. Maxentius' Centurions seemed to be focused slightly to the west of center. The flanks were drawing little attention. "Vibius, summon my Generals!" Constantine snapped. Vibius shifted uneasily and then hurried down to the camp while the other four palatini-bodyguards-stood at attention. Constantine smiled. Vibius was like a brother and would do anything Constantine asked. But, on the day of a battle, Vibius liked to keep close. Like many of Constantine's troops, Vibius had once fought against him. In Vibius' case, the fight had been in Syria. Vibius was an African archer, enslaved by the Persians and then sold to the Syrians to fight the Romans. He had a tattoo on his neck that read "taxo pensus." Taxes paid. After the Roman army had defeated the Syrians, Constantine could have killed Vibius and the other prisoners. Instead, he'd asked for their loyalty and sent them to distant areas of the Empire to prove their worth. Vibius had been sent to fight for Constantine's father, the Emperor Augustus Constantius, in Gaul and Britannia. There, Vibius had earned the tattoo on the back of his right hand. This one was an eagle surrounded by a wreath above the letters SPQR-standing for "the Senate and People of Rome." He was a Roman soldier. A few years later, Constantine joined his father's army. By then, Vibius had become a well-rounded warrior. He had learned both the javelin and the sword-which was Constantine's favorite weapon. Constantine had a daily routine of practicing all weapons. While in the north, he frequently chose Vibius as his sparring partner. This was unusual. Constantine's four palatini were all experienced weapons instructors, and it was expected that he would spar with one or more of them. But anyone with eyes could see that Vibius was more athletic-and keener challenge for Constantine. Initially, the four had been critical of Vibius but, in time, all five become close. The sintering of battle drew them together. So did the love and laughter of the man they protected. Here, at the Milvian Bridge, they had been fighting together for almost eight years. "I have returned, Dominus. Your legati are directly behind me," reported Vibius as he ran back into position, shadowing Constantine. Vibius' behavior on the day of a battle was well known to the other bodyguards, who nodded slightly and smiled as he shuffled next to Constantine. The Emperor was moving across the rocky plateau to get a better view of his opponent's line. Vibius believed Constantine was as close to a god as a man could be. His life prior to meeting Constantine had been a miserable mix of slavery, threats and submission. He had been merely a body, a very tall and athletic body, but no one would have thought twice about him if he'd been killed in battle. Constantine was different, a great general who had granted Vibius-and many others-life rather than death. Who had given Vibius the freedom to become as good a soldier as his physical limits allowed. Who had allowed an African archer to become a sparring partner of the Emperor and a palatini, a respected figure. Vibius had a good life, honor and prestige. "Dominus," said Legatus Gaius, addressing Constantine as he climbed the ridge of the rocky plateau, followed by Legati Tiberus and Ablabius. Constantine turned from the battleground to Gaius, stopping first to look Vibius hard in the eye and then toward the other palatini. Vibius recognized the signal and walked slowly to the far side of the plateau where the other palatini were standing. Gaius, the Praetorian Prefect, was a bulldog of a man. And an aging one. Nearly bald and barrel-chested, he was clean-shaven with large, muscular jowls. Most of Constantine's military staff copied their clean-shaven Emperor. But many lacked his square jaw. Gaius was in command of all the armed forces, including the legionari. Tiberus commanded the sagittarii, and Ablabius the decurii. Tiberus was the tallest and leanest of the legati. Ablabius was the only Greek-the other two were native Romans-and the only legatus who had a beard, which he groomed meticulously with a custom set of scissors, wood comb and a gold-backed glass mirror. Ablabius' eyes gave the impression of sadness, belying his almost constant good nature. That melancholy look also hid what was, in Constantine's opinion, the best strategic mind among his generals. "Gaius, how do you read the formations?" Constantine addressed all his officers by their first names, a casual and close manner. "Yes, Dominus. We were watching," Gaius pointed to the ridge to the west of their position. "Ablabius and I feel the build-up has most attention to the direct north of the Bridge. Tiberus worries that it is a feint. He fears that Maxentius is setting us for a direct assault and hiding his strongest legions behind the hills between the city walls and the Tiber. They would have immediate access over the bridge, once we attack." The Emperor nodded his head slightly. "Tiberus, look at that bridge. He can't move two legions over so weak a structure in an hour. Not in half a day. Ablabius can overpower the center and start a rout before they cross." Years of building projects in the north of the Empire had given Constantine an eye for construction.
John R. Prann, Jr. is the former CEO of a NYSE-listed company and past member of several corporate boards. His interest in Christian history first began developing when he was a graduate student at the University of Chicago. John lives with his wife, Cheryl, and their ferocious miniature Schnauzer, Pepper, on Sanibel Island, Florida. Imperator, Deus is his first book. He is working on his second novel.