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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 Co 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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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 Co 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.

30 review for Constantine: Roman Emperor, Christian Victor

  1. 5 out of 5

    Zachary

    This is less a biography of Constantine than it is an attempt to ground his conversion and promotion of Christianity within the theological and ideological understandings of imperial power that evolved from the upheavals of the Crisis of the Third Century. As such, I found this far more interesting than a simple retelling of the outlines of Constantine's life would have been. The Crisis of the Third Century shattered the Roman empire and many of the ideological and social bases upon which the em This is less a biography of Constantine than it is an attempt to ground his conversion and promotion of Christianity within the theological and ideological understandings of imperial power that evolved from the upheavals of the Crisis of the Third Century. As such, I found this far more interesting than a simple retelling of the outlines of Constantine's life would have been. The Crisis of the Third Century shattered the Roman empire and many of the ideological and social bases upon which the empire had rested. The imperial system and the religious understandings within which it existed evolved as a consequence of these changes. During the Crisis, legitimacy to rule came to be grounded on victory, which was required to maintain the allegiance of the soldiers. This led to strains of propaganda with a strongly religious bent, the victories and thus legitimacy being depicted as based on divine favor. This came during a time that also saw a lot of religious ferment, as insecurity drove both the crumbling of old socially-based religious understandings and the rise of new religions marked by broadly syncretic and monotheistic thrusts and emphases on personal salvation. As a consequence, a leader who was victorious and of a new religion, could do much to spread that religion by acting as a display of the apparent power of the religion to win divine favor. Constantine latched onto Christianity, drove for toleration of it, then for outright promotion of it, and the rest was history. The author makes clear how Constantine, unlike his successors, seemed most concerned with promoting Christianity, but not with destroying older religions. In this, he was to be commended. However, it is also clear that Constantine was a monstrous individual, who killed his own son, multiple brothers-in-law, and a wife. He won because he was smart and he was ruthless. I understand him better, though I like him no better. As I read, however, I found myself really wishing we had more/any sources from his time that were not impacted by his propaganda and myth-making. So much of Constantine as a person and ruler is shrouded in mystery, and this is a pity.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Sulzby

    Paul Stephenson's Constantine is the best coverage by themes and best documented history of any of the Roman emperiors I have read thus far. Highly recommended. I gave it 5 stars but I realize that it won't be interesting to many. Good news is that this is Stephenson's first book. Constantine was a strong emperor who made Christianity more strongly accepted in the Roman world and, hence, in history and later history of the RC church. The fun is that after a few short-lived decendents, Julian the Paul Stephenson's Constantine is the best coverage by themes and best documented history of any of the Roman emperiors I have read thus far. Highly recommended. I gave it 5 stars but I realize that it won't be interesting to many. Good news is that this is Stephenson's first book. Constantine was a strong emperor who made Christianity more strongly accepted in the Roman world and, hence, in history and later history of the RC church. The fun is that after a few short-lived decendents, Julian the Apostate gained the throne and revitalized the Greek/Roman gods and goddesses. I have read lead-up histories and historical fiction from around 1C BCE up to the 4th C. CE from both christian and non-christian viewpoints. Since Constantine declared the Roman catholic religion as the religion of the Roman Empire, this marks an important and more documented point in time, often misstaken as the state of the "church" from the time of Jesus and his apostles onward. The claim, quite believable, is that the hierarchical and powerful winnowing of accepted belief (and brutal destruction of people who believed "heretical" ideas) fit well with an empire that was also becoming more and more powerful through hierarchical design and power channels. (I am editing this review on 11/16/2013 having read much more about the typically chaotic nature of the Roman armies along with a growing sense of how to maintain order, lines of command and morale. The church's hierarchical structure and regimentation truly would have been helpful as a "state religion" so that claims to power could be made to keep the troops "in line. ) I knew that heresies were "created" by the overpowering "true belief" within the early church/churches. I knew people were put to death but I did not know the brutal forms of death--such as flaying, stripping flesh from the bones while the person was alive; burning at the stake--sometimes after flaying; and other evil tortures, such as stretching on racks pulling the bones, ligaments, tendons, etc., apart. Many times stories were created about the persons deemed heretical when in fact their differences were minor and appeared to be as well based in the line of "true belief" as those of the conquering church. Following this history and what led up to it and came immediately after revelations that the papacy (the papa bishop, now called the Pope) evolved in fits and starts, with claims about relics such as bones, clothing (the Turin Shroud, for example) and gravesites being embodied in churches, monasteries/nunneries, etc. The early apostles and their apostles believed that Jesus the Christ would re-appear during their lifetimes; when that didn't happen they needed explanations to keep the religion going in spite of this disappointment. The history of the apostles after Jesus's death shows multiple claims and documentations made for the lines of descent from the apostles' lives, beliefs, and deaths. Recent reports on the Dead Sea scrolls/Nag Hammadi MSS show many of the competing candidate explanations and lives of the key figures during Jesus' lifetime and in the early 1st/2nd centuries. I am just beginning to read in detail about the creation of the "canons" of the Pentateuch and other Jewish scripture; the roman catholic canon; and, later, the protestant canon. I had covered this arena much earlier when the document was scanty (but often described as fact, in theological and church historical writings). I quit reading this book down for quite some time, and when I returned to it, I found it very compelling. Some interesting points: he argues that one reason christianity spread so fast was because of Jewish beliefs on marriage, the elevated status of women in the early years of the church (before the church boys began their wars on women), and the lack of infanticide as a policy. More marriages, more women married, more babies and more babies living, etc., lead to the growth of the church and Constantine's use of the church and pro ported conversion to christianity multiplied the influence of women and families. Stephenson depicts Constantine's "conversion" as a change in beliefs and the utility of beliefs over time. Constantine consciously upheld tolerance for other religions, except for the Deus Maximus that the entire armed forces had to honor along with honoring of the emperor. Stephenson traces the lines of beliefs from the spirit within a given object (numina), multiple gods across peoples/countries for parts of a person's life: Gods of war/prosperity/fortune-luck, etc. He also held tolerance and also used other religious cults with "mysteries," such as Mithraism. It was finally near Constantine's death that he proclaimed a total conversion to christianity and was baptized. Constantine chose to honor meetings to deal with schisms and so-called heresies in the new church: Arles, Nicosea, etc. Thus his name was given prominence equal to or greater than the bishops, esp. of Rome (later the papas, or popes). During this period, his rule of tolerance of local and private beliefs turned into one of intolerance to bring the views of certain christians either into death (torture, including pulling on racks, flaying, burning at the stake or combinations of these). Stephenson, like other writers, caution that the sins of the church and empire occurred alongside many humble or devoted and loving people who adhered more to the "love thy neighbor" and spiritual lessons drawn from Jesus' and his apostles' lives and teachings.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Campbell

    Paul Stephenson’s Constantine: Roman Emperor, Christian Victor is an enjoyable exploration of Constantine’s life and times. As previous reviews have stated, Stephenson’s study includes an exploration of the religious changes in the Roman Empire of the 4th century C.E. Stephenson concludes that Constantine and his subsequent embrace of Christianity caused the religion to be seen as the religion of victory, all based in the old imperial theology of victory. I also enjoyed how Stephenson utilized h Paul Stephenson’s Constantine: Roman Emperor, Christian Victor is an enjoyable exploration of Constantine’s life and times. As previous reviews have stated, Stephenson’s study includes an exploration of the religious changes in the Roman Empire of the 4th century C.E. Stephenson concludes that Constantine and his subsequent embrace of Christianity caused the religion to be seen as the religion of victory, all based in the old imperial theology of victory. I also enjoyed how Stephenson utilized his sources in this book. He used traditional text sources, although many of these are questionable since many authors embellished or made mistakes. He also used coins and art in his book to support an idea. As someone who enjoys coins I found his use of them interesting. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the Roman Empire or religious history. A background knowledge of the time period in question is highly recommended.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Rob Collinge

    Professor Stephenson’s life of Constantine contains what I believe to be a fundamental flaw. I was astonished to find myself reading a version of history that clashed with everything I had ever read about this period. It was always my understanding that 4th Century Christianity was a minor sect that had made little progress in 300 years and without Constantine’s dramatic intervention might well have died out. Now I learn (and the book places great emphasis on this) that 4th Century Romans had sud Professor Stephenson’s life of Constantine contains what I believe to be a fundamental flaw. I was astonished to find myself reading a version of history that clashed with everything I had ever read about this period. It was always my understanding that 4th Century Christianity was a minor sect that had made little progress in 300 years and without Constantine’s dramatic intervention might well have died out. Now I learn (and the book places great emphasis on this) that 4th Century Romans had suddenly woken up to the inherent superiority of Christianity over all other religions and that the Roman Empire was inevitably destined to go Christian in the near future. Constantine just helped things along a bit and decided basically to ‘go with the flow’. Well that is certainly not what I learn from other historians. For instance: • Gibbon’s 18th Cent classic ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ • Professor A H M Jones : ‘Constantine and the Conversion of Europe’ • Professor Michael Hart : ‘A Ranking of the 100 Most Influential Persons in History’ • Peter Heather : ‘The Fall of the Roman Empire’ • Britannica.com on the Internet • Even on TV, Alistair Sooke in ‘Treasures of Ancient Rome’ describes Christianity before Constantine as ‘an obscure sect’ and ‘a fringe religion’. What really annoys me is that Professor Stephenson presents his own preferred vision of history as undisputed historic fact, apparently condemning all other historians as incorrect and misguided. He appears to be either one of the ‘revisionist’ historians who invent versions of history unsupported by anyone else in order to attract a wider audience or a person who lets his religious convictions warp his judgement. Either way, such a lack of objectivity in a supposedly ‘eminent historian’ is, in my opinion, most unfortunate.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    I don't know how to rate this and be fair to the author. I was looking for a general reader's introduction to Constantine and his times, but this was not the book. I have no idea if it was a good representation of this Emperor, but I know this book was too academic for me. The first third of the book is devoted to introductory material. In the introduction, the author says this background is needed, but this background isn't re-visited much in the rest of the text. The intro could be reduced by 8 I don't know how to rate this and be fair to the author. I was looking for a general reader's introduction to Constantine and his times, but this was not the book. I have no idea if it was a good representation of this Emperor, but I know this book was too academic for me. The first third of the book is devoted to introductory material. In the introduction, the author says this background is needed, but this background isn't re-visited much in the rest of the text. The intro could be reduced by 80% without harming, and even helping the general reader. Wanting to know about Constantine I stayed with it, but my retention was limited. The narrative about Constantine was interrupted by too many explications of art work on coins, frescoes, buildings and memorials. At times I felt I was reading a flood of facts. Not knowing the limitation of the primary sources or knowing what a book on Constantine should include, I can't rate this book. It may be a very good book, but my experience of it was not. I'll give it a middling number of stars.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Pieter Baert

    Constantine by Paul Stephenson is not your average 'Roman Emperor biography'. Stephenson is enormously detailed in his description of Constantine's world and the role religion played in the Roman world of the 3d and 4th centuries AD. He makes a detailed description of many layers of the Roman society and as such, gives us a nice detailed setting of the world Constantine lived in. The book is meticulous but never overreaches. Unlike many other biographies of the classical world, Stephenson never Constantine by Paul Stephenson is not your average 'Roman Emperor biography'. Stephenson is enormously detailed in his description of Constantine's world and the role religion played in the Roman world of the 3d and 4th centuries AD. He makes a detailed description of many layers of the Roman society and as such, gives us a nice detailed setting of the world Constantine lived in. The book is meticulous but never overreaches. Unlike many other biographies of the classical world, Stephenson never attempts to fill the gaps with assumptions. What is not known for certain about Constantine is not mentioned. This of course makes it difficult for a reader who expects a book where he really gets to know and identify with the 'protagonist'. Nevertheless, Stephenson compensates for these gaps brilliantly by giving us a full detailed story of the Roman world Constantine lived in and perceived and we're given first rate seats in the great play of Rome and the cult of Jesus Christ growing towards each other and laying the foundations of a Christian Empire. A must read!

  7. 4 out of 5

    John Ball

    A good book. The author tries to write a history book that is also a popular book for the general public, and he wanders at times from one genre to the other. He sometimes gives too much detail about loosely related people and events (as in a history book) and he sometimes spends paragraphs on speculative material that would be more appropriate in an historical novel. Endnotes are extensive, and I like that a lot. His description of Christian church growth before Constantine, especially the role o A good book. The author tries to write a history book that is also a popular book for the general public, and he wanders at times from one genre to the other. He sometimes gives too much detail about loosely related people and events (as in a history book) and he sometimes spends paragraphs on speculative material that would be more appropriate in an historical novel. Endnotes are extensive, and I like that a lot. His description of Christian church growth before Constantine, especially the role of women in that growth, and what he sees as the reasons behind the attraction of Christianity were insightful and interesting. I liked the palace intrigues and battle details that were directly relevant, but I could have done with less on other warfare. His details about Roman military camp life were very interesting. In common with other modern historical writers, the author has a tendency to discount and malign the authors of material written during the time of interest. There is a strong tendency to assume that favorable writers are biased toward a falsely positive presentation and that unfavorable writers are biased the other way. This means the reader must trust the author to sift out the truth by means of his or her conjectures, knowledge and wisdom. In addition, I suspect the author does not understand what it means to be a convert or to be a Christian. He repeatedly puts motivations in Constantine’s heart that I doubt were there. The author sprinkles doubt on the reality of Constantine’s Christianity throughout the book. He slides in facts such as that Constantine ran a war machine after his conversion and that he had a number of people executed, including his own relatives. The author apparently thinks a real Christian would not do such things. All in all, it was a good book and has excellent reference material in the back. Constantine was already a hero of mine. What I gained from the book is a bit of confidence that Christianity would probably have become the dominant religion in the western world whether or not Constantine had converted. But who knows?

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    This is a great read if you are interested in Constantine. Constantine as a political and historical figure is fascinating. This book drags at times; it's definitely a little dense, but there is much here to be mined in terms of our sanitized historical perspective of an emperor who's conversion may have had more to do with a solar flare and desire for political gain than a proper "conversion" and desire for Christianity to spread to the ends of the earth. Stephenson does a fantastic job of sett This is a great read if you are interested in Constantine. Constantine as a political and historical figure is fascinating. This book drags at times; it's definitely a little dense, but there is much here to be mined in terms of our sanitized historical perspective of an emperor who's conversion may have had more to do with a solar flare and desire for political gain than a proper "conversion" and desire for Christianity to spread to the ends of the earth. Stephenson does a fantastic job of setting up an argument for how Constantine's theology of victory came to be and the historical revision that followed throughout Eusebius' writings. To be sure, the more time spent with Constantine, the more (in my opinion) he begins to resemble a certain polarizing world leader we see today. Stephenson writes, "Constantine was no holy warrior, still less a crusader. He was a Roman emperor whose fate was determined within the strictures of the imperial theology of victory." This imperial theology of victory, in my opinion, has done more damage to our modern day understanding of faith, politics and war than we would ever give Constantine credit for...after all, he's a hero of faith....

  9. 5 out of 5

    Red

    The author makes a lot of assertions, including ones that diasagree with other historians. One of the most interesting assertions is that Constantine's conversion was gradual, arguing from a sociology viewpoint that all religious conversions are such. But the author is no sociologist, forcing him to rely on tye work of other sociologists to prove this contentious point. Thus, his argument is weakened, lacking in credibility due to lack of speciality. I found similar things throughout the book. I g The author makes a lot of assertions, including ones that diasagree with other historians. One of the most interesting assertions is that Constantine's conversion was gradual, arguing from a sociology viewpoint that all religious conversions are such. But the author is no sociologist, forcing him to rely on tye work of other sociologists to prove this contentious point. Thus, his argument is weakened, lacking in credibility due to lack of speciality. I found similar things throughout the book. I gave it 3 stars since it was interesting and brought up some new points. That and Constantine is becoming my favorite Roman emperor to study.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

    I was disappointed in this one. I was looking for a straightforward biography of Constantine and the city of Constantinople but this was more of an analysis of Constantine, his religious beliefs, and the military circumstances he was in. Very dense, and contradictory at times, this work was not meant to be read for general knowledge. It seemed to be geared to use as another secondary source for when you are conducting research. There is no doubt the author is passionate about Constantine but thi I was disappointed in this one. I was looking for a straightforward biography of Constantine and the city of Constantinople but this was more of an analysis of Constantine, his religious beliefs, and the military circumstances he was in. Very dense, and contradictory at times, this work was not meant to be read for general knowledge. It seemed to be geared to use as another secondary source for when you are conducting research. There is no doubt the author is passionate about Constantine but this book was did not fit my specific needs. It gets two stars because I didn’t hate it but I didn’t necessarily like it either.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Kukwa

    Very strange. This is far less about Constantine and far more about all the events and people that catch Constantine in their nets...primarily in the course of the development of Christianity as the supreme religion of the Roman Empire. The result is a book full of fascinating information, but also far FAR too much of this. It is superficially chronological in construction, but it dives head-long into great swaths of in-depth subject matter, from urban design to the composition of the army. You Very strange. This is far less about Constantine and far more about all the events and people that catch Constantine in their nets...primarily in the course of the development of Christianity as the supreme religion of the Roman Empire. The result is a book full of fascinating information, but also far FAR too much of this. It is superficially chronological in construction, but it dives head-long into great swaths of in-depth subject matter, from urban design to the composition of the army. You learn a great deal about the era of the late empire, but you actually learn very little about Constantine himself. He remains an enigma from the first page to the last page.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Rodney

    I enjoyed reading this book, always wanted to know why the Empire had a change of heart when it came to Christianity, now I know. I like the fact that Constantine was a family man and had the utmost respect for his mother, pretty much a momma's boy like myself. Will continue reading about the Empire, now I want to know why Nero was such a villain when it came to the Christians. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated. I enjoyed reading this book, always wanted to know why the Empire had a change of heart when it came to Christianity, now I know. I like the fact that Constantine was a family man and had the utmost respect for his mother, pretty much a momma's boy like myself. Will continue reading about the Empire, now I want to know why Nero was such a villain when it came to the Christians. Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

  13. 5 out of 5

    David

    If there's one thing I learned from this book, it's that the real man who was Constantine lies well hidden behind his historians' personal agendas and his own propaganda. I appreciate Stephenson's numerous photographs and allusions to coins and other ancient artifacts that help fill in blanks. I think his treatment of mystery religions and their connection to Christianity, however, is overemphasized and not current with Second Temple studies. If there's one thing I learned from this book, it's that the real man who was Constantine lies well hidden behind his historians' personal agendas and his own propaganda. I appreciate Stephenson's numerous photographs and allusions to coins and other ancient artifacts that help fill in blanks. I think his treatment of mystery religions and their connection to Christianity, however, is overemphasized and not current with Second Temple studies.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Guillaume Dohmen

    An excellent biography This book puts Constantine in his time and does not judge him by today’s standards. It is a increasingly popular thing to judge historical personalities by today’s ethical standards. Historians sometimes forget that today’s standards are those of two world wars, the Vietnam War, the Middle East Wars, Hiroshima. - not better than those of the very early Middle Ages.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ahmet

    Sometimes drown in details but overall a very deep description of Roman perception of "religion" and its relationship with the society, politics and of course military (hint: Fortuna plays a huge part in deciding the "true emperor, religion"). Of course describes well how Constantine played a part during the rise of Christianity in Roman World and how he lived through the chaotic times of tetrarchy. Sometimes drown in details but overall a very deep description of Roman perception of "religion" and its relationship with the society, politics and of course military (hint: Fortuna plays a huge part in deciding the "true emperor, religion"). Of course describes well how Constantine played a part during the rise of Christianity in Roman World and how he lived through the chaotic times of tetrarchy.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Asher

    Fascinating, if a bit irritating at times due to the author's imperfect understanding of and occasionally snide attitude toward Christianity. Frankly, I'm skeptical that Constantine was a Christian - he certainly didn't seem to act like it. But, who knows? Fascinating, if a bit irritating at times due to the author's imperfect understanding of and occasionally snide attitude toward Christianity. Frankly, I'm skeptical that Constantine was a Christian - he certainly didn't seem to act like it. But, who knows?

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ross

    Not very biographical for a biography. Focus is more on Christianity’s rise and Constantine feels like a shadow in the background.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    More balanced than I expected, with a title like this

  19. 5 out of 5

    David

    Paul Stephenson tells the story of Constantine, first Christian emperor of Rome, with both a readable style and depth of background. The first part sets the stage, looking at religion in the third century Roman Empire, the rise of Christianity, and the tetrarchy established by Diocletian. Most interesting here is the Roman theology of victory and the relationship of the Roman emperor to the military. Stephenson argues that Constantine's belief that the Christian god gave him victory fits right i Paul Stephenson tells the story of Constantine, first Christian emperor of Rome, with both a readable style and depth of background. The first part sets the stage, looking at religion in the third century Roman Empire, the rise of Christianity, and the tetrarchy established by Diocletian. Most interesting here is the Roman theology of victory and the relationship of the Roman emperor to the military. Stephenson argues that Constantine's belief that the Christian god gave him victory fits right in line with previous emperor's belief in divinely given victory. Of course, Constantine was the first to attribute his victory to the Christian god. Stephenson does well in giving a balanced view of Constantine: Constantine did not simply make Christianity the most powerful religion, instead he saw a faith already ascending and got on board with it. Further, while Constantine may have seen a vision prior to the battle at Milvian Bridge in 312, the legend that he had a vision from the Christian god the night before the battle was a later retelling of what actually happened, as Constantine was reinterpreting his life in light of his faith. In the end, we get a picture of a man who eventually has a sincere faith in the Christian god, but of course this faith is influenced more by the Roman theology of victory than by any sort of nonviolence of Jesus himself. Constantine's focus was on the glorious, victorious God more than the Jewish carpenter. Constantine's vision of Christianity was of a unified church for the good of the empire, which influenced his interactions at Nicea and in regard to the Donatists. He legalized Christianity and gave it a favored status, ultimately setting the path for his descendants who made paganism illegal and Christianity the only legal religion. If you want a good historical read on the life of a man often blamed for much that went wrong in Christianity, check this out.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rob Atkinson

    Boilerplate historical exposition and introductory background material get this history (for it is a history, rather than a true biography) off to a slow start. However as the book progresses its focus and themes become clear, and form a lucid and compelling analysis of what motivated Constantine to eventually adopt Christianity, thereby radically changing the course of history. Many stories of Constantine's life that are 'common knowledge' prove to be apocryphal, as during his own lifetime his Boilerplate historical exposition and introductory background material get this history (for it is a history, rather than a true biography) off to a slow start. However as the book progresses its focus and themes become clear, and form a lucid and compelling analysis of what motivated Constantine to eventually adopt Christianity, thereby radically changing the course of history. Many stories of Constantine's life that are 'common knowledge' prove to be apocryphal, as during his own lifetime his story was retroactively rewritten to reflect his increasing attachment to the Christian faith, and one finds the Emperor's saintly portrayal by contemporary panegyrists covers up a history of ruthless power seeking and even the cold-blooded killing of his wife and eldest son. For those with only a superficial knowledge of Constantine and his era this work will be full of surprises, and for those who enjoy reading about the seamier side of Imperial Rome there's some juicy material here. Stevenson also happily avoids getting bogged down in the schismatic squabbles of the early Church as many histories of the late Empire do, succinctly dealing with the knotty ecclesiastical history in a single chapter. One only wishes this pivotal Emperor had had a Suetonius or Tacitus to illuminate his character; Constantine did not, and the man himself remains something of a cipher. Much must be inferred from his public actions, and by gleaning what truths can be discerned in mostly fawning or piously propagandistic chronicles of his life. All in all, however, it's a surprisingly enjoyable and highly edifying read, a well written and organized account of Constantine the successful general and leader, of his tumultuous era, and of the ultimate triumph of Christianity in the Roman world.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Brian Collins

    Stephenson produced a workmanlike biography of Constantine. It was consistently informative, if not always engaging. On the issue of Constantine's conversion, Stephenson steers a middle course between those who argue it was an insincere political machination and Eusebius's glowing portrait of the Christian emperor. Stephenson believes the evidence points to a sincere but gradual conversion. In other words, Constantine did sincerely convert, but he was emperor over a religiously diverse empire, a Stephenson produced a workmanlike biography of Constantine. It was consistently informative, if not always engaging. On the issue of Constantine's conversion, Stephenson steers a middle course between those who argue it was an insincere political machination and Eusebius's glowing portrait of the Christian emperor. Stephenson believes the evidence points to a sincere but gradual conversion. In other words, Constantine did sincerely convert, but he was emperor over a religiously diverse empire, and he had religious duties as emperor. Thus there is some ambiguity between 312 and 317. But the trajectory is that of a man with a deepening commitment to Christianity. Stephenson also discusses Constantine's roles in the Donatist and Arian controversy. His view is that Constantine saw the doctrine differences as trivial, but he nonetheless demanded a unified Christian church. Thus he imposed unifying solutions on the church. This led the emperor who proclaimed toleration of all religions to persecute Christian heretics and schismatics. If there is any part of the book that church historians are likely to disagree with, it would be the section on the councils. Constantine's role is placed in the foreground and the bishops' roles are minimized. Nonetheless, Stephenson has produced a helpful biography of Constantine, and the bibliographical essays that conclude the work contain a wealth of information.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ted

    The book was well written and interesting - not an ecclesial history, but with plenty of references to the church, and I think presented in a balanced way. Constantine rides to power through the military, but also sees his victory as coming from "the greatest God." He is not leading the growth of the church, but is riding the wave and attempting to harness its energies for his own purposes. He on one hand recognizes the authority of the church leaders - the bishops, but then also reminds them th The book was well written and interesting - not an ecclesial history, but with plenty of references to the church, and I think presented in a balanced way. Constantine rides to power through the military, but also sees his victory as coming from "the greatest God." He is not leading the growth of the church, but is riding the wave and attempting to harness its energies for his own purposes. He on one hand recognizes the authority of the church leaders - the bishops, but then also reminds them that they are his subjects and he wields imperial power. The Church was somewhat a confederation of leaders, theologies and state diocesan rivalries. Constantine demands greater unity from the Church. The Church had no one way to solve its internal differences and conflicts, and to some extent lived with them - at least until bishops realized they could appeal to Constantine to solve problems (= impose solutions). This caused church leaders to vie for Constantine's favor and attention and to be willing to throw others under the bus. This changed the very way in which the various Christian factions related to each other.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jeremiah

    Informative biography from a secular and naturalistic point of view. Stephenson's explanation of pre-Christian religion in Byzantium and the rise of Christianity to what would soon be a world religion is very believable. There is a fair amount of conjecture presented as "history", which is common to many "historical" accounts. The author demonstrates bias by stating that Barack Obama's conversion story is more "believable" simply because it was gradual, compared to GW Bush's since his was rapid. Informative biography from a secular and naturalistic point of view. Stephenson's explanation of pre-Christian religion in Byzantium and the rise of Christianity to what would soon be a world religion is very believable. There is a fair amount of conjecture presented as "history", which is common to many "historical" accounts. The author demonstrates bias by stating that Barack Obama's conversion story is more "believable" simply because it was gradual, compared to GW Bush's since his was rapid. Stephenson should stick to history as he fails to understand spirituality in all its diversity. That said, the author's description of Constantine's conversion as being gradual is completely possible.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Irven

    This book pointed out to me that history is often written by the Victors. History is forever changing as new archaeological finds are made and then end up in the reinterpretation of that history. Essentially, this is what this book is about. Paul Stephenson meticulously outlines the known history of Constantine year by year and then puts the Christian overlay to that history. He cautions about the veracity and accuracy of much of the primary sources from the ancient world as they are definitely o This book pointed out to me that history is often written by the Victors. History is forever changing as new archaeological finds are made and then end up in the reinterpretation of that history. Essentially, this is what this book is about. Paul Stephenson meticulously outlines the known history of Constantine year by year and then puts the Christian overlay to that history. He cautions about the veracity and accuracy of much of the primary sources from the ancient world as they are definitely only giving their side if the story! I enjoyed this book and finding out about Constantine and his role in shaping our Christian world.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    An interesting read, giving what appears to be a fairly balanced portrait of Constantine as both Roman Emperor and Christina Victor. Certainly Constantine was not particularly Christian by 3rd century standards, no army officer was - and certainly not someone who arranged the murder of his son and (possibly) wife. But he'd make a great 'Christian' by modern standard: war and violence over pacifism, absolute iron fisted orthodoxy over tolerance. An interesting read, giving what appears to be a fairly balanced portrait of Constantine as both Roman Emperor and Christina Victor. Certainly Constantine was not particularly Christian by 3rd century standards, no army officer was - and certainly not someone who arranged the murder of his son and (possibly) wife. But he'd make a great 'Christian' by modern standard: war and violence over pacifism, absolute iron fisted orthodoxy over tolerance.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Shawn

    Unfortunately, very little of this book was actually on Constantine the man and emperor. Too much of this focussed on the history of the Roman empire and Christianity leading into the era of Constantine, the ongoing wars during the time, and even detailed accounts of artifacts in many museums around the world from his day as well as still-standing monuments and palaces. For a lot of this book I felt as though I was reading a script for a tour guide.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Randall Morris

    I read many parts of this book when writing my senior thesis on Constantine for my BA degree in history. Stephenson approaches the topic of Constantine unlike any other scholar I read. Accepting that Constantine could function as both a pagan and a Christian leads to a much clearer understanding of his reign and Stephenson provides ample evidence that this was probably the case. Great read for researchers or history buffs interested in Constantine or the Byzantine Empire.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

    I liked this book. I am a fan of ancient history and of church history. I will caution that you should have some basic knowledge of each before reading this book. It is not for the novice. That being said, the book give a very balanced view of the life of Constantine. Unlike some, Stephenson does not take Eusebius at face value. Where possible, multiple sources are used to create a balanced picture. thus, this is a good book to read for someone who wants to know more about Constantine.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jerry-Book

    Other than Jesus Christ and Paul, Constantine is the most important figure of early Christianity. I liked the way the author uses archeology to confirm his theories and ideas.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Manoj Kewalramani

    Brilliant book.. wonderful and engaging analysis of Rome's most intriguing ruler. Brilliant book.. wonderful and engaging analysis of Rome's most intriguing ruler.

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