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Constantine the Great: The Man and His Times Hardcover – April, 1994

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Constantine 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.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Since 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.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 282 pages
  • Publisher: Charles Scribner's Sons; 1st edition (April 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684195208
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684195209
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,206,107 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Matthew T Donaghue on May 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a concise yet thoughtful work on the pivotal character in the late classical world. Constantine's character is analyzed as well as possible and there is an excellent chapter on his building programs thoughout the Roman Empire. The Civil Wars between Constantine and Maxentius, then Constantine and Licinius, are covered in good detail.
More information on the Tetrarchy (Constantine lived at the court of Galerius, who was a Caeser under Diocletian and an Augustus after Diocletian and Maximian retired) would have been useful to help give the reader a clearer picture of the times Constantine lived in. The conclusion was a bit disappointing. Grant spends little time discussing the affect Constantine's policies had upon the civil wars fought by his three sons and two nephews, of which Constantius II was ultimately victorious. Also, he spends little time in his conclusion talking about how Constantine's policies effected Constantius II's rule.
All in all, a good book on a difficult subject.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Orbman on April 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover
In my book, "Astronomical Symbols on Ancient and Medieval Coins", I devote an entire chapter to the visions of Constantine, the depiction of these visions on Constantinian coinage, and what Constantine actually saw in the heavens. As part of my research, I read numerous books on the life of Constantine, and I found that Michael Grant's book, "Constantine the Great," was especially useful.

Not only were there many items of interest that added to my understanding of the history of his reign, but of all the books about Constantine that I read, Grant's book was one of the easiest and most interesting reads. He really brought ancient history to life.

I highly recommend this book to all who are interested in Roman history.

Marshall Faintich
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Gderf on October 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Typical Grant, the book is meticulously researched with all source material accounted for and devoid of speculation. This is as credible a history as it is possible to find. Grant uses his numismatic expertise in presenting history and economics of the times in terms of Constantine's coinage among his other sources including Gibbon and a number of Christian and pagan historians. Grant reveals a liberal bias, ala' W.J. Bryant, when he says that Constantine's hard money coinage policy favored the rich. Good maps, a chronology and family tree enhance readability. In his conclusion Grant reiterates Gibbon's surprising conclusion that Constantine's conversion to Christianity was a contributing factor in the decline of the western Roman empire. Grant points to the many accomplishments and attributes of Constantine, more negative than positive. He was a great general, but mainly interested in his own power. He murdered many of his friends and relatives as well as his enemies. He failed in his attempts to settle early religious controversies within the Church. He began the process of admitting Germans into Roman territory as settlers and soldiers. He burdened his progeny with useless foreign wars, particularly in the quarrel with Persia. He made a mess of the succession with a short lived tetrarchy.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Carolyn Leonard on December 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Michael Grant, a well-known historical writer, has completed many biographies of the ancients, this one a life of Flavius Valerius Constantinus (Constantine the Great).

This book records the turbulent life of the first Christian Roman emperor, a charismatic Emperor Constantine who was directly responsible for the founding of Constantinople as the Roman capital and the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity. By the time Constantine died in 337, he had reigned over changes of significance, notably the establishment of Christianity as the state religion of the "Holy" Roman Empire.

Constantine was the son of Constantius I Chlorus, a rough soldier of humble origin who rose to become the Caesar to Diocletian's co- emperor Maximian in 286, and Helena, a barmaid. Constantine's father, Constantius I Chlorus, was the son of a goat-herd and of a freedman's daughter; definitely not aristocracy. Yet in 293, Constantius took a second wife, Maximian's stepdaughter, Flavia Maximiana Theodora with whom he had six more children; and was eventually elevated to emperor.

The son Constantine was betrothed to Maximiam's daughter Fausta in 293; they married after the year 300. When Constantius was made Caesar of the empire's western half, Constantine remained at the court of Diocletian. With the resignation of Diocletian and Maximian in 305, Constantius and Galerius were emperors. Constantius died the next year and Constantine became the new emperor.

The founding of Constantinople (330) and the establishment of state Christianity (312) were great achievements, still Grant concludes that Constantine ``had a lot to answer for.'' Constantine had a son, Crispus, by Minervina, either his first wife or his concubine. He had at least four more children by Fausta.
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