CONSTANTINE by Paul Stephenson


Roman Emperor, Christian Victor
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Scholar Stephenson (History/Univ. of Durham; Byzantium's Balkan Frontier: A Political Study of the Northern Balkans, 900–1204, 2000, etc.) offers a stately though academic biography of the first Roman emperor who converted to Christianity, with a heavy emphasis on the archaeological record.

The author draws on the latest research in this complicated early Byzantine era to fashion a fairly readable work, especially in terms of his treatment of the early spread of “the cult” of Christianity. Constantine (272–337) was the son of an army officer on the rise and a Christian mother Stephenson calls a “barmaid,” who might not have been legally married. As his father's star rose in the Roman military, he and his mother, Helena, now replaced by a more suitable wife, were consigned to the provinces. When his father acceded into the first Tetrarchy, the youth's own military career ensued in earnest and he grew into an experienced campaigner. First incorporated into the second Tetrarchy along with his father, Constantine, purportedly had a vision at the Battle of Milvian Bridge (where he erected the monumental Arch of Constantine) describing the godhead as in Revelations. His defeat of rivals Maxentius and Licinius consolidated his power, and he established Byzantium, rechristened Constantinople, as his capital. Having witnessed the persecution of Christians under Diocletian, Constantine established a reign remarkably tolerant of cults and religions, and he did not attempt to eradicate paganism. He depicted himself on coins as both the new Alexander and new Moses, defeated numerous barbarian tribes such as the Goths and the Sarmatians and centralized Christian authority through his bishops, convening the first ecumenical council in 325, the Council of Nicaea. Stephenson's knowledgeable account pursues a wide variety of historical branches of Constantine's story.

Not necessarily for general readers, but the author provides valuable insight into Constantine's era.

Pub Date: June 17th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-59020-324-8
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Overlook
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2010


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