Constantine the Emperor

Constantine the Emperor

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by David Potter

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No Roman emperor had a greater impact on the modern world than did Constantine. The reason is not simply that he converted to Christianity, but that he did so in a way that brought his subjects along after him. Indeed, this major new biography argues that Constantine's conversion is but one feature of a unique administrative style that enabled him to take control

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No Roman emperor had a greater impact on the modern world than did Constantine. The reason is not simply that he converted to Christianity, but that he did so in a way that brought his subjects along after him. Indeed, this major new biography argues that Constantine's conversion is but one feature of a unique administrative style that enabled him to take control of an empire beset by internal rebellions and external threats by Persians and Goths. The vast record of Constantine's administration reveals a government careful in its exercise of power but capable of ruthless, even savage, actions. Constantine executed (or drove to suicide) his father-in-law, two brothers-in-law, his eldest son, and his once beloved wife. An unparalleled general throughout his life, planning a major assault on the Sassanian Empire in Persia even on his deathbed. Alongside the visionary who believed that his success came from the direct intervention of his God resided an aggressive warrior, a sometimes cruel partner, and an immensely shrewd ruler. These characteristics combined together in a long and remarkable career, which restored the Roman Empire to its former glory.

Beginning with his first biographer Eusebius, Constantine's image has been subject to distortion. More recent revisions include John Carroll's view of him as the intellectual ancestor of the Holocaust (Constantine's Sword) and Dan Brown's presentation of him as the man who oversaw the reshaping of Christian history (The Da Vinci Code). In Constantine the Emperor, David Potter confronts each of these skewed and partial accounts to provide the most comprehensive, authoritative, and readable account of Constantine's extraordinary life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[Potter] has examined, with gusto and an unrivalled mastery of detail, the aspects of Constantine neglected by those who concentrate only on his relations with Christianity. Potter's study of the mechanisms by which power was built up and brought to bear in the Roman world brings us closer to Constantine than any pious biography would."-Peter Brown, London Review of Books

"Vividly detailed and energetically told biography..." —Publishers Weekly

"This imaginative work is a fine contribution to scholarship on Emperor Constantine. ... Potter ably negotiates the literary and nonliterary evidence to demonstrate a number of major elements of Constantine's life... . [H]is understanding and explanation of the emperor's religious involvement are penetrating." —The Historian

"A good fit for academics and students of Roman history."—Kirkus

"David Potter's Constantine the Emperor is a fresh look by a veteran scholar at one of the most pivotal reigns in Western history. Almost all studies of this emperor take his conversion to Christianity as their starting point. Potter broadens the focus to show a shrewd field commander who can diagnose and exploit his opponents' weaknesses and an able ruler with a deeply held belief that his 'job' committed him to protecting the weak and ensuring fairness for all his subjects." —Harold Drake, University of California, Santa Barbara

"Crisp in its prose and comprehensive in its coverage, Constantine the Emperor grounds its much mythologized subject in the solid realities of imperial governance." —Noel Lenski, University of Colorado

"This is a penetrating and original analysis, closely based on contemporary evidence, of the step-by-step evolution of Constantine's role as Emperor, and of his conception of that role. Within that wider framework, the nature of Constantine's commitment to Christianity, and of his self-representation as a Christian, is carefully re-evaluated." —Sir Fergus Millar, University of Oxford

Potter, a professor of Greek and Roman history at the University of Michigan, actually offers this major hunk of history in a surprisingly readable and compelling manner. His description is excellent of Constantine's complicated world with its spreading Christian influence, altogether as good a story as the sordid family strife surrounding this emperor. Ancient Tides

"The interested reader could find no better starting point for exploring the man and the era than David Potter's Constantine the Emperor... [R]ewarding." —lThe Wall Street Journal

"ELvividly detailed and energetically told biography, Constantine was also one of Rome's greatest emperors and one of history's greatest leaders, with savvy leadership skills, great passion, and desire for an ordered society" Publishers Weekly

"Potter's interpretation of Constantine as transforming the world without intending to have that effect remains deeply provocative." l The History Book Club

Kirkus Reviews
Scholarly biography of the legendary Roman emperor "best known as the [man] who converted to Christianity and in so doing made it possible for Christianity to become a world religion." With Diocletian's abdication in A.D. 305, Constantine's troops acclaimed him as caesar. He preserved the idea of territorial caesars who spoke and acted in his name, but only he was supreme emperor. Here, halfway into the book, Potter (Greek and Roman History/Univ. of Michigan; The Victor's Crown: A History of Ancient Sport from Homer to Byzantium, 2011, etc.) finally begins the history of the man and his great governing successes. Constantine protected Romans in their concerns for fairness, marriage stability and personal standing, and he promoted efficiency throughout the empire. He had no use for patronage and abuse of the poor by the wealthy, and his decision to move the capital to Byzantium was as much a military decision as it was a reflection of his desire to establish his own eponymous shrine. It's unclear when Constantine converted from Roman deities to one God, but it's certain he ruled as a Christian emperor even though he was not baptized until he was on his deathbed. His First Council of bishops at Nicea cleverly united Christians through an administrative, not theological, process. That council's accomplishments are still felt today; it addressed the controversy over consubstantiation, defined the date for Easter and provided the Nicene Creed, which is still in use today. A good fit for academics and students of Roman history. General readers will need to work to keep the players and locations straight and patiently wait for the main attraction.

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Product Details

Oxford University Press
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6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

David Potter is Francis W. Kelsey Collegiate Professor of Greek and Roman History and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Greek and Latin at the University of Michigan. His books include Theodora (OUP), The Victor's Crown (OUP), Emperors of Rome, and Ancient Rome: A New History

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Constantine the Emperor 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
crayolakym More than 1 year ago
This is a must have book for any history junky or as a companion book for any classical history major. Written by Professor of Greek and Roman History, David Potter, aka Francis W. Kelsey, he meticulously lays out the superior reign of one of history’s most notable emperors as he not only converted to Christianity and willingly got his subjects to follow as well, but he single-handedly seized control of a vast empire while being raged against by the  Goths and Persians. “Whatever people saw when they witnessed an emperor’s coming, it was also important that those who could not see him be given a clear image so they could imagine how he looked.” Potter does a superb job with breaking up the historiography of Constantine into eight parts totaling 33 chapters. Nothing is left out or sugar coated from this pertinent time in history; throughout the book you will find photographs, sketches, as well as maps to add further depth to your reading experience. While I found the book to be titillating and packed full of historical adventure, I can see where someone who isn’t into classical and ancient history might find it a bit of a dry read. Overall, I would definitely recommend this book as a wonderful addition to any home library. *This book was provided in exchange for an honest review*          *You can view the original review at Musing with Crayolakym and San Francisco & Sacramento City Book Review
Lily_Tyler More than 1 year ago
This book was great. It took a bit to get into it but after a few pages it was amazing very detailed and descriptive.