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Constantine: Unconquered Emperor, Christian Victor

Overview

A fascinating survey of the life and enduring legacy of perhaps the greatest and most unjustly ignored of the Roman emperors-written by a richly gifted historian.

In 312 A.D., Constantine-one of four Roman emperors ruling a divided empire-marched on Rome to establish his control. On the eve of the battle, a cross appeared to him in the sky with an exhortation, "By this sign conquer." Inscribing the cross on the shields of his soldiers, ...

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Constantine: Roman Emperor, Christian Victor

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Overview

A fascinating survey of the life and enduring legacy of perhaps the greatest and most unjustly ignored of the Roman emperors-written by a richly gifted historian.

In 312 A.D., Constantine-one of four Roman emperors ruling a divided empire-marched on Rome to establish his control. On the eve of the battle, a cross appeared to him in the sky with an exhortation, "By this sign conquer." Inscribing the cross on the shields of his soldiers, Constantine drove his rivals into the Tiber and claimed the imperial capital for himself.

Under Constantine, Christianity emerged from the shadows, its adherents no longer persecuted. Constantine united the western and eastern halves of the Roman Empire. He founded a new capital city, Constantinople. Thereafter the Christian Roman Empire endured in the East, while Rome itself fell to the barbarian hordes.

Paul Stephenson offers a nuanced and deeply satisfying account of a man whose cultural and spiritual renewal of the Roman Empire gave birth to the idea of a unified Christian Europe underpinned by a commitment to religious tolerance.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Stephenson, a historian at the University of Durham, successfully combines historical documents, examples of Roman art, sculpture, and coinage with the lessons of geopolitics to produce a complex biography of the Emperor Constantine. Rather than the divinely guided hero of legend who singlehandedly brought pagan Rome to Christian orthodoxy, Constantine is depicted as very much a product of his political environment. Recognizing the growing influence of the Christian Church, he adapted the generally pacifist faith to the Roman “theology of victory” and created a newly militant Christianity that would sustain his rule. Constantine wisely sought to impose religious toleration on the diverse Roman Empire while discouraging “trivial” disputes among the Christian faithful. Stephenson examines the variety of religious beliefs in the early fourth century with emphasis on Mithraism, a pagan mystery cult practiced by pre-Constantine soldiers, and on the bitter divisions within victorious Christianity that ultimately led to the Council of Nicaea. Constantine is revealed as a master politician who, while delaying his own baptism for reasons not fully explained in the text, became the ruler of both church and state. 24 pages of illus.; 8 maps. (June)
Library Journal
In 323 C.E., Constantine reunited the Roman Empire under a single emperor after an unstable half century of 55 claimants to the throne culminating in the Tetrarchy of 293, of which Constantine's father was a junior member. Contemporary Christian propagandists co-opted and manipulated Constantine's story, particularly his conversion after he reputedly saw a vision that led to his great 313 C.E. victory at the Milvian Bridge. Historian Stephenson's careful look at the record demonstrates that in fact Constantine's conversion to Christianity was a gradual process. Constantine, who ended persecution of Christians and promoted toleration of all religions, probably became involved in Christian church counsels to resolve sectarianism that might annoy the new, powerful god who had done so much for his military career. Above all, Constantine was a magnificent military leader and a ruthless emperor who arranged the murder of his wife and son for reasons that are now lost to history. VERDICT Everyone interested in the classical period should read this exemplary biography, which eschews psychological speculation and instead builds its case inventively from primary accounts and the iconographic record in statuary, architecture, and coinage.—Stewart Desmond, New York
Kirkus Reviews
Scholar Stephenson (History/Univ. of Durham; Byzantium's Balkan Frontier: A Political Study of the Northern Balkans, 900-1204, 2000, etc.) offers a stately though academic biography of the first Roman emperor who converted to Christianity, with a heavy emphasis on the archaeological record. The author draws on the latest research in this complicated early Byzantine era to fashion a fairly readable work, especially in terms of his treatment of the early spread of "the cult" of Christianity. Constantine (272-337) was the son of an army officer on the rise and a Christian mother Stephenson calls a "barmaid," who might not have been legally married. As his father's star rose in the Roman military, he and his mother, Helena, now replaced by a more suitable wife, were consigned to the provinces. When his father acceded into the first Tetrarchy, the youth's own military career ensued in earnest and he grew into an experienced campaigner. First incorporated into the second Tetrarchy along with his father, Constantine, purportedly had a vision at the Battle of Milvian Bridge (where he erected the monumental Arch of Constantine) describing the godhead as in Revelations. His defeat of rivals Maxentius and Licinius consolidated his power, and he established Byzantium, rechristened Constantinople, as his capital. Having witnessed the persecution of Christians under Diocletian, Constantine established a reign remarkably tolerant of cults and religions, and he did not attempt to eradicate paganism. He depicted himself on coins as both the new Alexander and new Moses, defeated numerous barbarian tribes such as the Goths and the Sarmatians and centralized Christian authority through his bishops, conveningthe first ecumenical council in 325, the Council of Nicaea. Stephenson's knowledgeable account pursues a wide variety of historical branches of Constantine's story. Not necessarily for general readers, but the author provides valuable insight into Constantine's era.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590203248
  • Publisher: Overlook Press, The
  • Publication date: 6/10/2010
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 496,440
  • Product dimensions: 9.36 (w) x 6.52 (h) x 1.32 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Stephenson is a professor of history at the University of Durham and a specialist in the early and middle Byzantine periods. His publications include The Legend of Basil the Bulgar-slayer and Byzantium's Balkan Frontier: A Political Study of the Northern Balkans, 900-1204. Stephenson has researched and taught in the UK, Germany and the USA.
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