Publishers Weekly - Publisher's WeeklyConstantine I founded Constantinople on the site of Byzantium and converted the Roman Empire to Christianity, yet this first Christian emperor ``would hardly be recognized as Christian at all today,'' asserts renowned classicist Grant in a compelling reassessment. A ruthless despot who strove to be a world-conqueror like Alexander the Great, Constantine (280?-337) murdered his second wife and his son, assassinated friends and advisers and extended the death penalty to minor crimes. While cultivating a reputation for almsgiving, the emperor crushed common people with oppressive taxes to finance his reckless wars, extravagant pomp and vast, corrupt bureaucracy. The Christian God whom Constantine revered was a god of power who presumably enabled him to destroy foes, and as Grant makes clear, the emperor's belief that he was constantly in touch with God made him difficult and dangerous. Illustrated. History Book Club main selection. (July)
Library JournalSince the very day of his death, Constantine the Great has been the subject of conflicting appreciations. Grant, the eminent historian of Greco-Roman times, clearly demonstrates in this latest book the intense partisanship Constantine aroused in biographers. On the one hand, pious Christians routinely overstated his virtues. They admired his support of the church, his ambitious civil building programs, and his military successes while ignoring his predatory taxation, his enlargement of the imperial bureaucracy, and his murders of perceived enemies. On the other hand, pagan (and later secular) historians routinely exaggerated his faults and scanted his real achievements. Grant has pruned away the exaggerations of both sanctifiers and vilifiers to produce a readable and reliable (if sometimes noncommittal) evaluation. Like most of Grant's books, it is directed to educated readers generally and is suitable for both public and academic libraries.-James F. DeRoche, Alexandria, Va.
Gilbert TaylorAlmost yearly, popular classicist Grant writes a volume on the ancients, this one a life of Flavius Valerius Constantinus. By the time he died in 337, that emperor had reigned over changes of pivotal significancenotably the establishment of Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire. Christianity's ascendance was controversial in the near-contemporary histories: Christian writers (like Eusebius) extolled the conversion; pagans blamed it for Rome's subsequent woes. Indeed, Constantine's time embodied a fleeting recovery of the strength of the empire, the western part of which soldiered on for two more centuries (the eastern half, governed from the self-named city Constantine built, existed another millenium). Grant, comfortable in the objective command of his sources, creates another knowledgeable narrative, critically objective of his man, who, after all, was an absolute autocrat. Grant crystallizes these complicated issues, be they the plainly understood power struggle to succeed Diocletian, or the more numinous schisms and anathemas of the early Church. In the process, he reaffirms his own authority and companionability with his immense audience. A History Book Club main selection.
- Sterling Publishing
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