Meteor proposed as Constantine's vision
LONDON (RNS)–Could the impact of a meteorite hitting the Italian Apennines have been the sign in the sky–believed to be in the shape of a cross–that encouraged the Emperor Constantine to invoke the Christian God in his decisive battle in 312 when he defeated his fellow Emperor Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge?
The victory paved the way for the recognition of Christianity by the Roman Empire and the union of church and state that lasted nearly 1,500 years.
The possibility is raised by a report in the current issue of New Scientist of the discovery of a meteorite impact crater dating from the fourth or fifth century A.D. in the Apennines.
The crater is a seasonal lake, roughly circular with a diameter of between 115 and 140 meters, which has a pronounced raised rim and no inlet or outlet and is fed solely by rainfall. There are a dozen much smaller craters nearby, such as would be created when a meteorite with a diameter of 10 meters shattered during entry into the atmosphere.
A team led by the Swedish geologist Jens Ormo believes the crater was caused by a meteorite landing with a one-kiloton impact–equivalent to a small nuclear blast–and producing shock waves, earthquakes and a mushroom cloud.
Samples from the crater's rim have been dated to the year 312 plus or minus 40 years, but small amounts of contamination with recent material could account for a date significantly later than 312.
However, from the written historical record it is uncertain whether Constantine's vision of the cross was a dream just before the decisive battle or, as Eusebius stated in his life of the emperor, a sign he saw in the heavens.