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Constantine: Roman Emperor, Christian Victor [Kindle Edition]

Paul Stephenson
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $30.00
Kindle Price: $18.99
You Save: $11.01 (37%)
Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC


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Book Description

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

From 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Stephenson, a historian at the University of Durham, successfully combines historical documents, examples of Roman art, sculpture, and coinage with the lessons of geopolitics to produce a complex biography of the Emperor Constantine.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)
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From Booklist

Assessing the Roman emperor who embraced Christianity, historian Stephenson casts a critical scholarly eye on much of contemporary propaganda's attributions to Constantine. His vision of the cross before the 312 Battle of the Milvian Bridge, though a later construction of Constantine's apologists, nevertheless inspires Stephenson with a plausible explanation of Christianity's appeal to Constantine and his troops. Elaborating a Roman “theology of victory,” Stephenson delves into pagan cults and rituals practiced in the Roman army, emphasizing the primacy paid to gods associated with winning battles. Rather detailed discussion of evidence in coins, inscriptions, and monuments carries the religious part of Stephenson's narrative and supplements his scrutiny of written sources about Constantine and his actions to attain the imperial throne. Mindful that those flowed from civil wars with rival claimants, Stephenson tempers the insults heaped on those Constantine defeated and handles his adoption of a new, victorious god not as a single personal revelation but as an extended conversion process throughout the late Roman world. Constantine in his times is well illuminated by Stephenson's able and discerning work. --Gilbert Taylor

Product Details

  • File Size: 2589 KB
  • Print Length: 377 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: B005X4CPR4
  • Publisher: Overlook (June 10, 2010)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #530,497 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Constantine's Imperial Ideology September 6, 2011
By Cato
The name of my post is a far more accurate description of this book than its given title. Those looking for a general historical biography will be disappointed, as will those looking for a military history or narrative account of Constantine's life.

However, that said, this book doesn't try to be any of the former. Rather, it is a fascinating scholarly examination of Constantine's imperial ideology. The author meticulously examines artifacts, murals, sculptures in great (at times too much) detail to describe how Constantine projected his power and wanted to appear to the masses. There is a great discussion of various religions competing with Christianity, the ideology of the imperial cult, and how Constantine co-opted the existing pagan symbolism and iconography into his new "christian" religion in an attempt to unify the empire. It was interesting to see the author describe how many of the dates Christians take for granted as holidays were actually pagan holidays that Constantine re-used and re-cycled. The author also uses coins and other artifacts to try and resolve conflicting historical accounts of Constantine's life.

While there is great detail as to the language and symbolism on the coins struck by Constantine, the book lacks any attention to detail on Constantine's campaigns. Very little attention is devoted to the makeup of Constantine's field army, his use of barbarian conscipts, changes in training, equipment, tactics, etc. There is some mention of Constantine's military reforms and changes to billeting, but not much analysis of the broader historical consequences of these decisions.

In summary, for what it is, this is a good book; it just was not what I was expecting based on the title.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chi-Rho January 29, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a book created by an author who has apparently done extensive research on the Roman Emperor Constantine. I thought the author did an excellent job of compiling a biographical history of Constantine. The author's historic sources are listed in great detail in the back of the book named "Biographical Essays". Then there the three (3) sections in the book with colored plates illustrating historic artifacts such as coins, cameos, triumphal arches, sarcophagi's, mosaics, a baptismal and other pieces of architecture/art/sculpture. All of this is carefully referenced to the main body of this book as the author does an excellent job of separating fact from Roman propaganda. I selected this book to get some kind of understanding of how the Christian cult grew into an Imperial Roman Religion known today as Catholicism. The following is a small sampling of what I found interesting:

During Constantine's life per Chapter 2, The Rise of Christianity, "It has been estimated that the number of Christians grew at a rate of forty percent per decade, through reproduction and conversion. From a tiny pool of believers, the number of Christians grew slowly at first, but eventually exponentially. The period of exponential growth began in the later third century, when from around one million in AD 250, there were more than six million Christians in AD300, and almost thirty-four million in AD 350. The total population of the empire remained relatively constant.............Thus, in the century that embraced Constantine's reign, the empire went from a tiny minority to a majority of Christians."

After the famous Battle of Milvian Bridge, Constantine sought to end the factionalism within the Christian community.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
The Roman Emperor Constantine I, or Constantine the Great, is one of the most significant figures in history. Among the reasons for his historical stature are (a) after two generations of divided rule of the Roman Empire by as many as four emperors ("the Tetrarchy"), Constantine reunited the Empire under one ruler; (b) he established Constantinople as a second Rome, or new Rome, transforming it into one of the most important cities in the world, at times "the" most important city; and, most significantly, (c) he converted to Christianity, becoming the first Christian Roman emperor.

CONSTANTINE: ROMAN EMPEROR, CHRISTIAN VICTOR is a blend of biography and history. It covers the life of Constantine, though not in minute detail (which, for all I know, might not be possible). In general, it employs a broader historical perspective than the more typical biography, which, I think, is a plus in this instance.

In his Preface, author Stephenson writes that his book is a "narrative" of Constantine's life, and as such is "as much story as history." This suggests that he is aiming more for a popular lay audience than denizens of academia. If so, he is only partly successful. The text is not punctuated by footnotes (although at the end of the book there are 35 pages of rather detailed "bibliographical essays", corresponding to each chapter of the book), but nonetheless the narrative is somewhat denser and more detailed than most popular histories. Reading it is not easy going, though it is not quite at the extreme of strenuous.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written and intelligent book on the Christian emperor
Mr. Stephenson is an engaging writer, and this is a good book, despite its being a biography of Constantine in which "only a shadow of the true Constantine" (303) emerges--which... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Oed
5.0 out of 5 stars Making real sense of history!
Stephenson proves himself a superior historian in cogently separating historiographic wheat from chaff (easier said than done) in his "Constantine", a truly exceptional book,... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Larry N. Stout
Constantine, by Paul Stephenson is the life story of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Actually it is more than that. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Robert D. Williams
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Quite What I Was Expecting
Judging by the title of the book you might think that this was a military or secular history of Constantine's career. It isn't. Read more
Published on May 30, 2012 by Arch Stanton
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book, although not at all what I was expecting
When I bought this book, I was expecting to read a military biography of Constantine the First, given its subtitle (Unconquered Emperor in the UK edition, Christian Victor). Read more
Published on March 12, 2012 by JPS
5.0 out of 5 stars historical facts not favoritism
It's nice to read history that is not tainted by the victors self-favoritisms but rather gives the good and the bad
Published on January 5, 2012 by Garratt
5.0 out of 5 stars clear, up-to-date, with good perspective
Paul Stephenson finds a Constantine who is neither the pious saint nor the machiavellian poseur.

Incorporating research into how people convert to new religions, how... Read more
Published on September 24, 2011 by CC Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Ancient Roman
Constantine was clearly steeped in the Roman world of autocratic rule, ruthless militarism, though attempting to keep the empire and its culture intact. Read more
Published on April 20, 2011 by T. Kepler
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my Favorite Recent History Books
I am an avid consumer of history and this book by Paul Stephenson combines everything I like to see in a work. Read more
Published on March 7, 2011 by Jorg H. Lueke
This book is simply marvelous;respectful of Christianity [most historians are not ] and superbly well-researched [ well-balanced and not leaning secular and hostile to God. Read more
Published on February 8, 2011 by Brian C. Smith
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