What Was the Edict of Milan?

Stamp commemorating the Edict of Milan. Editorial credit: neftali / Shutterstock.com
Stamp commemorating the Edict of Milan. Editorial credit: neftali / Shutterstock.com

The Edict of Milan was an agreement which helped establish a religious tolerance for Christians in the Roman Empire. It was the product of a political agreement between the Roman emperors Licinius and Constantine I who met in Milan on February 313 CE. The proclamation was agreed upon after the Edict of Tolerance, which was issued by Galerius in Serdica, two years earlier. Although it did not make Christianity an official religion in the empire, the Edict of Milan legalized Christianity.

What Was Proclaimed by the Edict of Milan?

The Edict of Milan bestowed lenience and neutralism to all the religions in the Roman Empire especially Christianity which were previously disapproved by all the followers of their traditional pagan religion. It asserted that everybody had a right to worship a deity of his/her choice; therefore, the persecutions of the Christians ceased with a promise that they will be reimbursed all their confiscated properties.

When Did the Persecution of Christian Begin in the Roman Empire?

The period of persecuting Christians which lasted for over two centuries began in 64 CE when Nero Caesar tormented Christians until 313 CE. The persecution was carried out by the state or the local authorities at the whims of the Roman communities. Persecution of Christians throughout the empire started in 250 CE, after a decree by Emperor Decius. Nero blamed the Christians for the Fire which broke out on June 19, 64 CE. Another emperor who became infamous for harassing Christians was Emperor Diocletian. Diocletian tortured and killed many Christians after confiscating their properties until 305 CE.

Why Did Emperor Constantine I Change His Mind About Christianity?

According to Lactantius, Constantine I was ordered (in a dream) to use the Chi-Rho (a holy divine symbol) on his soldier’s shield if he wanted to win the Milvian bridge battle. After putting the chi-rho on all his guards he won the war, and his victory helped solidify his claim to the throne. Although many historians cannot vouch for the dream, it’s believed to have played a significant role in his decision to sign the Edict of Milan.

Even though the agreement was presented as his first proper act towards Christians, it was not an act of genuine faith. The proclamation was his first step towards the creation of an alliance with God, who he believed was a stronger deity. During that era, Constantine I was more interested in protecting his empire from God’s wrath and social stability and not the well being of the Christians.

The agreement demanded that all the wrong done to all the Christians should be compensated in the best way possible which included returning of all the confiscated properties. The agreement states that all this will help secure public order within the empire and not for the glory of the Christian God. The edict showed the desires of the leaders to avoid future invasions and social unrests within the realm during their reigns. Constantine was superstitious, and he believed in the existence of the other deities and did not want to offset the balance of evil and good. Constantine believed that Rome would become stable after the legalization of Christianity.


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