Good news for York’s history-lovers: The head of the Roman emperor Constantine I heads home to York, to where it was originally found. Over the last year, the sculpture was displayed in the Colosseum and in Milan as part of the Italian exhibition “Constantino 313AD” to mark the 1700th Anniversary of the “Edict of Milan”, an edict passed by Constantine and Licinius to make Christianity lawful for the first time in the Roman world.
Constantine’s head was exhibited alongside 200 other important Roman artefacts, on loan from the Captoline Museums in Rome, the National Gallery of Washington and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.
Natalie McCaul, curator of archaeology at the Yorkshire Museum, said: “It is great to have one of our star objects back in York after being on loan at the iconic Roman landmark. For it to be included in such a prestigious exhibition has been fantastic and it will have hopefully have raised the profile of York as a Roman city to thousands of people from all over the world.”
The sculpture is considered one of Constantine’s earliest portraits that was presumably shortly carved after he was proclaimed emperor by his troops after his father Constantius fell in a military campaign to defeat the Picts.
Constantine brought significant changes to the Roman world, not only by reuniting the divided Roman Empire but also by inaugurating religious tolerance for the Christian parish that had primarily been persecuted heavily. The Church was even given legal rights and large financial settlements. His religiously crucial role arose out of conflict: When he was taking part in the battle at Milvian Bridge outside Rome in AD 312, he was inspired by a Christian symbol and referred his successful defeat of usurper Maxentius to Christian deity.
He built St Peter’s in Rome, as well as other churches in the city and in Constantinople, making Constantinople the “New Rome” for the empire on the site of the Greek city of Byzantium, now the capital of Turkey, Istanbul. In AD 325 Constantine headed the first ecumenical council at Nicaea in Turkey, at which the words of the Nicene Creed, that are still known today, were agreed.