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Constantine: Roman Emperor, Christian Victor
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
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. Constantine's fear was that the he would lose favor with the Christian God thus resulting in divine wrath (IE Old Testament God). Constantine wanted all within the Christian community focused on one Christian faith to ensure the Christian's God's favor in all future wars, thus assuring continued victory.

The author cites numerous examples that prove that the Imperial Christianity of Constantine was not of peace and forgiveness. A good example is the murder of his first born (a Caesar) and his young second wife.

Constantine's wisdom is clearly demonstrated by his instituted policy of religious tolerance throughout the empire during his rule. However, the author reproduces a decree documented by Constantine's biographer Eusebius ordering all Christian factions including Gnostics to be eliminated and that all property shall be burned and/or turned over to the State or "Church". This of course appears to have been decreed toward the end of Constantine's life.

Of interest to me is that while Constantine's as well as all previous emperors' belief system was established to convince the army's that his military victories were based on favor with their gods. However, after reading this book, the greatest attribute to Constantine was his military genius. He was a military Master. He expanded the empire and defeated multiple fellow Caesars and Augusti with vastly inferior numbers. He did this with foreign conscripts that he spent many years training before and during battle. He never lost a battle. Thus his army's would fight that much harder and efficiently during battle remaining extremely loyal to him. He paid and treated them well. You could say Constantine was ONE with his armies.

What seemed to be missing was more of the details associated with the Council of Nicaea. Whenever there was conflict over factions, the Bishops would ask their emperor, Constantine, for help in settling the matter. Constantine was notorious for flip flopping on these issues. Still there is very little if nothing referencing the creation of the Bible at the Council of Nicaea.

Contrary to popular belief, Constantine did not convert to Christianity after his Battle of Milvian Bridge outside Rome. He did stop the persecution of Christians and decreed religious tolerance. Basically he spent the rest of his life learning and converting to Christianity. He was not baptized. And of course of great interest to me is what sign Constantine and his army saw in the sky before the Battle of Milvian Bridge. It was not the Crucifix. It was the Chi-Rho. The Chi-Rho was the sign or symbol of Christ in early Christianity. Chi-Rho are the first two Greek letters of Christ's name or XP.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2011
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 Christianity is likely to have spread during this time period, and with illuminating references to the development of the military and governmental structure, the minting of coins, and most importantly the emperor's qualifications to rule -- his genius / good fortune / divine protection making him unconquerable in battle -- he gives us a very convincing life story in a clear context.

D. G. Kousoulas still offers a more linear approach if you're looking for a narrative biography. If you don't know anything about the tetrarchy and haven't yet learned the differences among Maximian, Maxentius, and Maximin you might (like the latter) hit your head against a wall until your eyes pop out.

But I agree with more aspects of Stephenson's reconstruction than with any other I've read, especially since he backs it up with the most current scholarship. I think this book also has the best descriptions of the arch of Constantine and the establishment of Constantinople (which he compares and contrasts to other imperial seats of power).

It's also fun! The enthusiasm of the voice reminds me of the popularizing but now musty G.P. Baker Constantine biography, to which I think he even refers at one point. I enjoy how he works out his ideas and I'm grateful to him for sharing them.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2011
I am an avid consumer of history and this book by Paul Stephenson combines everything I like to see in a work. The author doesn't just jump into his premises and conclusions but sets the stage by describing the world Constantine was born into. He looks at the army, the apologists and their antagonists, but also the common people through the work of the sociologist Rodney Stark. Having lain his groundwork he then layers upon this Constantine's life and career. The research underlying the book is very interesting, quite thorough, and at time controversial. I don't know if every assertion will be proven true but on balance he makes an excellent case for the role of women, the army, and the general political and social conditions of the late 3rd century. Just as importantly the prose is very good. The book is a joy to read, something that facts and research can at times undermine in lesser authors. Constantine is the best book I've read so far this year and I highly recommend it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 20, 2011
Constantine was clearly steeped in the Roman world of autocratic rule, ruthless militarism, though attempting to keep the empire and its culture intact. In this respect Christianity provided a means to accomplish this project. Was Constantine a Christian? Why did he have his son and his son's step mother murdered? There, Constantine reverts to the old world ways of retribution. A practice not unheard of in pockets of the Middle East today! Overall a well written book and an interesting look at the politics and unrelenting militarism of the ancient world.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2011
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.]Much needed,over due. All believers should read this to better understand how the Roman Empire became The Holy Roman Empire. Constantine would become a saint in the Eastern Church and with good reason.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 17, 2010
The man who did more for Christianity than perhaps anyone other than Jesus. "Constantine: Roman Emperor, Christian Victor" looks at the man who brought Christianity to widespread faith throughout the Roman Empire, and who united an Empire divided. Constantine reunited the western Roman Empire and converted to Christianity, ending its persecution in the Empire. From there, it exploded to the religion of the Western world it is today. "Constantine" is a solid addition to any history collection, very highly recommended.
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on April 27, 2014
Constantine, by Paul Stephenson is the life story of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Actually it is more than that. The book describes life in the Roman world both before and after with characters and events that shaped his life.

The son of monotheists, he was brought up to venerate a single "greatest God", Constantine was the ideal candidate to embrace the world's fastest growing faith, Christianity. His vision and victory at the Milvian bridge has been the keystone of Christianity ever since.

At the time of Constantine's birth, the empire was ruled by four military leaders, two junior with the tittle of Caesar, and two senior with the tittle of Agustus. Together they were known as the Tetrarchs. One of these was his father, Constantius Chlorus. Constantine took over his father's position in 306 CE. He married Minervina and had a son, Crispus in 302 CE. The woman died soon after. In 307, he married Fausta and had three sons with her.

Constantine is best known for his effect on the struggling Christian community. At that time there were many Christians, even more than there were pagans throughout the empire, however, they were disorganized and there were many sects of them.

After many battles and campaigns, Constantine became the sole ruler of the Roman Empire. He re-founded the city of Byzantium and renamed it the city of Constantine, or Constantinople. Contrary to popular belief, Constantine did not conceive of this new city as a Christian one, for temples of pagan worship were constructed. And in the city stood a statue of himself with a radient crown in the guise of a sun god. The first known Christian chapel was constructed no earlier than 421 CE. He did, however, take a Christian name, Victor Constantine. He considered himself a divine vehicle and channel for grace.

Constantine had a quick and vicious temper. He murdered his wife, Fausta and first son Crispus. His biographer, Eusebius tried to conceal his evil nature and not much is known concerning their deaths.

Though a Christian, Constantine considered his victories in war above all his other achievements. Constantine's interest was not to effect the triumph of Christianity throughout the lands, but rather to appease the god who had granted him victory.

In those times prostitutes and gladiators were expressely forbidden from receiving baptism because their activities were impermissible for Christians, and so too as commander in chief of the army was Constantine disqualified from baptism. He was not finally baptised until just before his death. Confession of sins was then a one-time event.

The Council of Nicea was convened by order of Constantine in 325 CE. It was then that the bishops hashed out the framework for the Bible. And the date of Easter was agreed upon. The two bishops who refused to agree were exiled. The Council at Nicea is not well documented and was only described by Constantine's biographer, the bishop Eusebius of Caesarea a decade afterwards.

Constantine died on May 22, 337 CE. His body was cremated according to Roman tradition and was not afforded any Christian rites. His remains were placed in a mausoleum in Constantinople.

The book is a looking glass in which one may observe life in the early Roman Empire and the world of Constantine and discover how it worked and how history unfolded in that part of the world. I enjoyed reading it.
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on May 15, 2014
Stephenson proves himself a superior historian in cogently separating historiographic wheat from chaff (easier said than done) in his "Constantine", a truly exceptional book, insightfully conceived and methodically written. Carefully establishing a background and framework, and drawing upon written sources (with full measure of due skepticism), and numismatic and art-historical evidences as well, he constructs an astutely plausible and convincing narrative, eschewing the slog of pedantic footnote digressions, while debunking mythos and steering clear of the romanticism and artificial dramatization of historical fiction. This is not ordinary historical biography, this is trenchant investigative historiography. A great piece of work, very enjoyable, very insightful and enlightening!

Caveat: In the edition I have (Overlook Press, 2010), some of the scales of maps at the front are wildly inaccurate; Map 8, the worst example, shows Constantinople's Hippodrome to be some 100 miles in width! Nicomedia is mislocated on Map 5. And the text goes off the editorial rails in the second paragraph of p. 181, where we find the Bosphorus referred to as the Hellespont, and Lampsakos (on the Hellespont) is said to be near Chalcedon (on the Bosphorus); whereas, they are distant some 135 miles as the crow flies, much further apart by an army's land route. I am inclined to attribute these gaffes to the publisher's staff.
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on January 5, 2012
It's nice to read history that is not tainted by the victors self-favoritisms but rather gives the good and the bad
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