CONSTANTINE by Ramsay MacMullen


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One must go back some twenty years, to Jones' Constantine and the Conversion of Europe, for the last first-rate study in English of Constantine; other than that, there was only Burckhardt's nineteenth-century classic (in translation), The Age of Constantine the Great. Now, Yale's MacMullen has produced a work which, though relatively brief, and non-academic in approach, goes a long way toward filling that gap in modern historiography. There are things which one might wish the author had done differently; for example, there are relatively few quotations from contemporary documents in a period where these are particularly informative and colorful; and there is too little space devoted to the stage-setting of Constantine--i.e., to the life-style of the Empire in the early fourth century. But, on the whole, MacMullen's-lively prose, his ability to disengage myth from reality, and his determined objectivity, make a book which will endure. Those qualities are best, or at least most pithily, exemplified in the author's assessment of Constantine's reign: ""What he did made sense."" It is an epitaph that is found inscribed on the tombstones of few of the great men of history.

Pub Date: Oct. 28th, 1969
Publisher: Dial