The Emperor Constantine

By Hans A. Pohlsander | Go to book overview

had been set free from distress, therefore, as though a cloud had been dissipated, a joyful day began to gleam forth upon the City of God all over the world." Conversely Petrarch (1304-74) in his Bucolicum Carmen calls Constantine a miser (wretch) and hopes that he will suffer forever. Here, and also in his De vita solitaria, Petrarch disapproves of the Donation of Constantine.

In more modern times Constantine has come in for some harsh criticism from both philosophers and historians. Thus Voltaire, in his Philosophical Dictionary (1767), s. v. "Julian the Philosopher," decribes Constantine as a "fortunate opportunist who cared little about God and humanity" and who "bathed in the blood of his relatives." And the German philosopher Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) thought that in the state-supported Christian church Constantine had created a "double-headed monster."

Edward Gibbon, in his celebrated The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-88), held that Constantine degenerated "into a cruel and dissolute monarch," one who "could sacrifice, without reluctance, the laws of justice and the feelings of nature to the dictates either of his passions or his interest." He also held that Constantine was indifferent to religion and that his Christian policy was motivated by purely political considerations.

In his The Age of Constantine the Great (1852) the renowned Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt saw in Constantine an essentally unreligious person, one entirely consumed by his ambition and lust for power, worse yet, a "murderous egoist" and a habitual breaker of oaths. And, according to Burckhardt, this man was in matters of religion not only inconsistent but "intentionally illogical."

Even the great Theodor Mommsen, whose judgment is never to be dismissed lightly, expressed the opinion, in 1885, that one should speak of an age of Diocletian rather than of an age of Constantine; furthermore that the little which we can tell about Constantine's character, between the flattery and hypocrisy of his supporters and the hateful attacks of his enemies, is not admirable.

Henri Grégoire (1881-1964), distinguished Belgian scholar, vigorously denied any conversion of Constantine in 312 and, quite unreasonably, it seems to this writer, asserted that the real champion of Christianity was Licinius.

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The Emperor Constantine
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • List of Illustrations vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Chronology xi
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - The Soldier Emperors and Diocletian 4
  • 3 - Constantine's Rise to Power 13
  • 4 - Constantine's Conversion 22
  • 5 - Constantine as the Sole Ruler of the West 31
  • 6 - The Conflict with Licinius 40
  • 7 - The Arian Controversy, the Council of Nicaea and Its Aftermath 48
  • 8 - The Crisis in the Imperial Family 56
  • 9 - The New Rome 63
  • 10 - Constantine's Government 73
  • 11 - Constantine's Final Years, Death and Burial 80
  • 12 - Constantine's Image in Roman Art 85
  • 13 - An Assessment 90
  • Appendix I 95
  • Appendix II 98
  • Appendix III 102
  • Appendix IV 109
  • Select Bibliography 111
  • Index 117
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