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Constantine the Emperor (2012)

av David Potter

MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
13730155,742 (3.58)15
With a critical eye aimed at earlier accounts of Constantine's life, the author aims to provide the most comprehensive, authoritative and readable account of the Roman emperor's extraordinary life.
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A pretty academic but readable biography by a serious scholar. It turns out that contemporaneous information about Constantine is relatively sparse despite his outsized role in the history of Rome and Christianity.

As a result, the early years of Constantine are a blur, and mostly describe his probable experiences in Diocletian’s court. The biography draws from panegyrics (long poems celebrating his achievements) and Constantine’s responses to petitions from around the empire. It reveals an world where people had fixed legal duties and obligations to their communities, much of the petitions were seeking for exemptions from these costly obligations.

The author tries hard to not “back out” Constantine’s life from his conversion. Hence the title “emperor” and reliance on contemporaneous sources like panegyrics and petition responses. Constantine comes across as a supremely pragmatic ruler. He reforms some marriage laws to protect young brides and is concerned about mistakes in status that could deprive a person born free of their free status but never questions slavery or the notion that people are born into fixed statuses itself. His conversation experience is a little more nuanced as well. Early experiences seem to indicate that he wasn’t sure which god was speaking to him, either Apollo or a personal warrior god. The idea of a personal god for the emperor was not particularly new, as a predecessor took sol invictus as his. Eventually Constantine became convinced that the god helping him win battles was the Christian God. There’s some suggestion that Constantine may have adopted monotheism to distance his reign from Diocletian’s. A particularly fascinating argument the book makes is that in the famous moment that Constantine has his soldiers paint the chi-rho in their shields may not have been linked with Christianity at all. The chi-rho could have stood for Christ or simply luck (in Greek they’re apparently similar), and only record of the story of Constantine’s famous dream was not contemporaneous. Constantine is shown as a ruler, who learns from his mistakes, first blundering by reacting harshly the donatist controversy before trying to resolve the Adrian controversy through a more peaceful council at Nicaea where he proposed a compromise.

The book is shorter than it seems, and it is a work of serious historical scholarship. Parts of it are dense (prepare to learn a lot about the period, its complex politics and law. As an aside, I particularly liked a response to a petition setting aside a contract as immoral. A predecessor to public policy?) but interesting historically. A great biography about a great figure ( )
  vhl219 | Jun 1, 2019 |
After reading 'The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' I was looking for another, deeper dive into the post Roman, early Christian era. David Potter's book was solid. It wasn't mind-blowing, but it delivered probably more facts than I was fully prepared for. This is a book that might not compete well against the narrative historians of this period, but I think it is solid academic work.
1 rösta darwin.8u | Jun 9, 2016 |
Can't seem to get into it yet, but will try again. ( )
  VictoriaJZ | Mar 14, 2015 |
I love history books that unspool in seemingly endless detail past eras and disputes. This is not to everyone's taste, but what I have often found is that a deeper understanding emerges from this detail. Only when one is immersed in the contradictions, arguments and irrationalities of a period can one induce a pattern in the behavior.

This is exactly the sort of book that attempts to do just that, through detailed discussion of the legal and bureaucratic machinery that allowed Constantine (and many of his predecessors and co-rulers) to rule a vast and stable empire over decades, we come to understand how Constantine helped create the foundations of Christianity and along with it eighteen centuries of western civilization. He was building for the future, but not for our future. He was concerned with his legacy and his religion but in a far more immediate and instrumental way than we have tended to think of him. He created a structure to ensure Christianity could work in the Roman system and as a result created a system that allowed it to exist after the Roman system came apart.

Overall a valuable book and although the writing is was not always scintillating (as one would expect in dealing with property law rulings in Roman Asia Minor or the like)it is well worth the effort it requires.
1 rösta benpass4 | Sep 23, 2013 |
This is a must have book for any history junky or as a companion book for any classical history major. Written by Professor of Greek and Roman History, David Potter, aka Francis W. Kelsey, he meticulously lays out the superior reign of one of history’s most notable emperors as he not only converted to Christianity and willingly got his subjects to follow as well, but he single-handedly seized control of a vast empire while being raged against by the Goths and Persians.
“Whatever people saw when they witnessed an emperor’s coming, it was also important that those who could not see him be given a clear image so they could imagine how he looked.”
Read FULL review here http://www.musingwithcrayolakym.com/3/post/2013/09/constantine-the-emperor.html ( )
  crayolakym | Sep 2, 2013 |
Visa 1-5 av 30 (nästa | visa alla)
"A good fit for academics and students of Roman history."
tillagd av bookfitz | ändraKirkus Reviews (Oct 15, 2012)
 
"Yet as Potter, a classical historian at the University of Michigan, reminds us in this vividly detailed and energetically told biography, Constantine was also one of Rome’s greatest emperors and one of history’s greatest leaders, with savvy leadership skills, great passion, and desire for an ordered society."
tillagd av bookfitz | ändraPublishers Weekly (Sep 10, 2012)
 
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PREFACE
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It is a pleasure to thank those who have played a role in making this book possible.
INTRODUCTION
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The Roman Emperor Constantine changed the world. For many millions of people across this planet, an institution that he introduced and promoted has become a central part of their lives; they use or hear words that he approved.
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With a critical eye aimed at earlier accounts of Constantine's life, the author aims to provide the most comprehensive, authoritative and readable account of the Roman emperor's extraordinary life.

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