Late Antiquity - Constantine and Christianity
Late Antiquity - Constantine and Christianity
Late C5/early C6
in six books from Augustus to 410
Committed pagan - heavily critical of Constantine
Blamed fall of the empire on rise of Xtnity - decline from a polytheistic POV
For years 270-404 used Eunapius - Greek pagan historian
Relies heavily on sources - critical of Stilicho in Eunapian section, favours Stilicho in section from Olympiodorus
Unknown whether unfinished - breaks off suddenly mid-410, sections missing - or suppressed by ecclesiastics for criticism
Credibility criticised by Xtn writers for being polytheistic; sometimes defended purely because he criticised Xtns
Numerous errors and sometimes reverted to pure opinion exaggerating the truth
Bishop of Caesaria in Palestine
Author of first ecclesiastical history and biography praising Constantine written soon after Constantine's death - was chronicler of his family
Sanitisation of Constantine's life - omission of Fausta and Crispus
Praxagoras of Athens
Wrote three works, all now lost - one was a panegyric biography of Constantine
Pagan but still praised Constantine
Sections preserved in Photius'
'despite his pagan religion, Praxagoras declares that through his many virtues, his personality and all his successes, the emperor Constantine eclipsed the memory of all those who ruled before him
Collection of 12 ancient and late antique prose panegyrics - appear to be mostly Gallic in origin
First composed Pliny the Younger AD 100, rest between 289-389
Constantine has five panegyrics
Panegyric 6 - delivered by an anonymous orator in Trier in 310 on Constantine's 5th anniversary of accession, talks about an appearance of Apollo to Constantine - model of later Xtn vision?
English gentleman scholar
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Strongly influenced by Enlightenment thinking, critical of Constantine and the church
Ascribed decline of empire to combined impact of barbarians and Xtnity - surprisingly lenient attitude towards Constantine personally
Swiss historian with wide breadth of expertise
Constantine an ambitious amoral politician prepared to gain any advantage possible - patronised Xtns to get their support
Doesn't address issue that only 5-10% of empire was Xtn in 312, not worth pandering to them and alienating rest of empire
British historian of late antiquity and Byzantium
Highlighted weaknesses in Burckhardt's portrayal - said Constantine was genuine in his support
British historian of late Roman empire
Student of Ronald Syme (greatest C20 Roman historian)
Constantine genuine in his support and supported Xtnity from well before 312 -
British historian of late antiquity
Wrote a translation and commentary on Eusebius'
Life on Constantine
Says Barnes sets too much score by Eusabius' view
Said Constantine moved from polytheism to solar monotheism to Xtnity
Xtn support genuine from 312 but understanding of Xtnity only develeped gradually
Early Xtn advisor to Constantine, guided his religious policy, tutored Crispus
Born into a North African pagan family, professor of rhetoric in Nicomedia, associated with Diocletian, Constantine, Galeirus
Converted to Xtnity - resigned and fled Nicomedia when Diocletian's persecutions started
Wrote apologetic works explaining Xtn beliefs to educated Roman pagans and defended them against Hellenistic philosophers
Historiography of Constantine's Conversion
Meteorological phenomenon - light refracted through ice crystals in atmosphere
Halo of light appears a little like a cross
Possible that he saw one when crossing the Alps to Italy on campaign against Maxentius?
Constantine decided to worship the same god as Constantius (Xtn god) because Romans had worshipped imperial gods and now subjugated under Maxentius
Saw a divine sign - cross saying
'by this conquer'
- seen by a whole company of soldiers, Constantine swore under oath to Eusebius that he'd seen it
Christ appeared in a dream and told him to place the sign on a labarum banner - priests explained history of Xtnity
Maxentius a rapist, sorcerer, vivisected pregnant women and babies for augury etc - at battle drowned like Pharoah in Bible because God sank their boats
'your Apollo, accompanied by Victory'
while campaigning in Gaul
the divine spirit and the eternal majesty of the City itself'
made Maxentius leave the city
'after the Tiber swallowed the impious, the same Tiber also snatched up their leader himself in its whirlpool and devoured him
Portraying the Rome and the Tiber as aiding Constantine - no mention of Xtn god
Constantine advised in a dream to mark sign of God on his shield before battle
Constantine destined to win the battle by acclaim -
'the people shouted with one voice: 'Constantine cannot be conquered!''
While the fight was going on
'the hand of God was over the battle-line'
- Maxentius and his army
'siezed by terror'
Maxentius pitched into the Tiber by his own army attempting to flee
Origo Constantini Imperatoris/The Origin of the Emperor Constantine
Anonymous author, written around 338 AD
Generally regarded as reliable
Unknown first part - first sentence suggests the end of an account of Diocletian and Maximian's reigns
No mention of religion - Maxentius came out of the city to do battle and was defeated, he and his army fled but he fell into the Tiber, body recovered the next day and severed head taken into the city
Clearly pro-Constantine/anti-Maxentius - questioned his mother about his parentage, admitted he was illegitimate and the son of a Syrian - official party line by Constantine? artistic license?
Conversion - Dream vs Vision?
- obviously would want it to be more Xtn - already drawn on Bible for Moses so clearly given to exaggeration - emperor swore under oath so other soldiers would have to agree otherwise saying the emperor is lying - but Constantine lying or Eusebius lying? or neither and Constantine and soldiers saw a solar halo?
- also very Xtn but used dream rather than vision - idea of falling into Tiber during escape backed up by Origo rather than Eusebius so more likely to be true?
3rd Century Upheaval
Early/mid C3 to early/mid C7
Empire in crisis early C3, recovered late C3, stable throughout C4
Problems in west in C5 and eventual disintegration of the western empire
Eastern empire continued throughout C5-6 until C7 Arab invasions
Augustus' regime granted two centuries of stability - some hiccups eg 69 AD Year of the Four Emperors, early 190s civil war - but hiccups nothing compared to pre-Augustus or later
Augustan regime began to crumble 230s onward throughout Late Antiquity
Eastern frontier - Sassanid Empire
-- Arsacid/Parthian Persians overthrown by Sassanid Persians in 224 - more of a threat, would control the east for 400 years
-- Capital was Ctesiphon near modern Baghdad, cultivated more land via interrogation on the Tigris than Babylonians or Parthians
-- 252, 260 - launch major invasions of Roman territory eg Syria - skilled at siege warfare, besieged forts eg Dura-Europos
-- 260 - Defeated Roman army and captured Emperor Valerian - first time an emperor had been captured - used as propaganda by Shapur I
-- Goths, Alemanni etc launched multiple invasions
-- 275 - Loss of Dacia
-- Aurelian Walls built 270s - show threat to Rome
Needed more troops to deal with frontier problems
Had to change currency - 99% bronze coated with silver rather than real silver
Inflation due to people losing confidence in the economy - similar to 1920s Weimar Republic
People started to be paid in food and clothes rather than in money
High turnover of emperors - average rule 2-3 years
Breakaway empires declaring their own ruler - Gallic empire, Palmyrene empire
Until 235 typically had a senatorial background - increasingly were former army officers - increasingly from Balkan/Illyric background because highly represented in army
New style of rule focusing on mobility and involvement - spending more time in frontier cities than in Rome eg Trier, Milan, Sirmium, Nicomedia, Antioch - some emperors never visited Rome
Born in Illyria, senior officer by the time he was made emperor in 284
Realised success in willingly sharing power - made army colleague Maximian Augustus/co-emperor in 286 - made Constantius and Galerius caesars/junior emperors in 293
Rule of four known as a tetrarchy
Allowed emperors to be mobile - Diocletian issued laws from eight different cities in 290
Consolidated frontier security - eg 290 victory against Sassanids
New fiscal style of taxation in kind - taxes paid in food and clothing to be passed on to army and officials
Failures - 'Edict on Maximum Prices' - inflation due to greed of merchants, weren't allowed to charge more than a certain amount - ignorant of supply and demand, cost of transportation, regional variation in price
Abdicated in 305 from sickness and Maximian did the same - caesars became Augusti and elected new caesars
Constantius born 250 in Balkans/Illyria - successful military career
Married Helena - Constantine born 272
Divorced Helena and married Theodora, step-daughter of Maximian in 289 to strengthen his ties to the emperors - made caesar 293
Given responsibility for Gaul, based at Trier
293 - Defeated pretender Carausius who had declared himself emperor of Gaul and Britain - Carausius assassinated by Allectus
296 - Invaded Britain to defeat Allectus
Before 303 it was expected that Constantius' son Constantine and Maximian's son Maxentius would become caesars - Galerius persuaded Maximian to choose Galerius' nephew Maximinus and friend Severus
305 - Diocletian and Maximian stepped down - Constantius and Galerius made Augusti, Severus as Constantius' caesar, Maximinus as Galerius'
306 - Constantius died at York after fighting the Picts and recommended his son as emperor to the army - the army declared Constantine as emperor
Had been living at Diocletian's court from 293 being groomed as his father's successor and campaigning - 297 campaign in Syria under Diocletian; 298 Persian campaign under Galerius
305 - Fled to Constantius' court after Galerius became emperor - believed life in danger
306 - Declared emperor in York, reluctantly accepted as caesar by Galerius after notifying him of the army's decision - named caesar, Severus named Augustus - Maxentius seized title of emperor while in Rome
Galerius sent Severus to unseat him but Severus' armies previously been Maximian's - imprisoned Severus
307 - Maximian offered to marry his daughter Fausta to Constantine and make him Augustus if he recognised Maxentius' claim
308 - Galerius demoted Constantine to caesar and appointed Licinius as Augustus
310 - Maximian rebelled against Constantine and committed suicide when defeated - Constantine started claiming descent from Claudius II instead of claiming legitimacy through Fausta
311 - Galerius died - Maxentius seized Asia Minor from Licinius and a peace was signed
311-12 - Constantine allied with Licinius and agreed a marriage between Licinius and his sister Constantia
312 - Campaigned against Maxentius - most of Italy accepted him and rejected Maxentius' fleeing soldiers - Battle of Milvian Bridge
313 - After defeat of Maxentius Constantine controlling west and Licinius controlling east - originally cooperated, marriage of Licinius and Constantia - Edict of Milan ensuring religious freedom for Xtns
314-17 - Conflict resulting in Constantine's sons Crispus and Constantine II and Licinius' son Licinianus made caesars
320 - Licinius reneged on Edict of Milan and began discriminating against Xtns
324 - Civil war - Constantine and Franks marching under ☧ labarum banner, Licinius representing paganism with Goth mercenaries - Constantine won, agreed that Licinius and his family would be spared if they lived as private citizens in Thessalonica
325 - Constantine accused Licinius of plotting against him and had him and his son (Constantine's half-nephew) hanged
State gods - the pantheon of Jupiter etc
Household gods - lares and penates
'Oriental cults' - Isis, Mithras etc - originated in Egypt and the Middle East
Localised deity - linked to a particular stream, mountain etc
Tradition of openness towards other religions
Tradition of blood sacrifice of animals as part of contract with deity
Judaism - tolerated because of antiquity (respected that it pre-dated Rome) and had similarities ie blood sacrifice even though it was monotheistic
Christianity - not ancient, rejected sacrifice, monotheistic - not tolerated as much
Persecution by Nero 64 AD in Rome
Correspondence between Pliny and Emperor Trajan about Bithyrian Xtns in early C2 - Pliny worried but Trajan says that don't go out looking for them to punish them but if they're in prison they should be made to sacrifice to the imperial gods
Start of empire-wide persecution mid-C3
Localised persecutions prompted by local people demanding their governors do something eg Dura-Europos
-- Well-preserved fort in Syria - evidence eg papyri preserved by desert
-- Temples for Greek and Roman gods (Zeus, Artemis), local gods (Atargatis, Arsu, Bel), cults (cult of tribune Julius Terentius, Mithras (popular soldier cult)), synagogue (with mosaics of Moses etc) and the earliest example of a Xtn house church (meeting room, baptistry, frescoes of New Testament scenes)
250 - Decius - edict that all had to sacrifice to imperial gods, sacrifices monitored and signed off on, maybe not originally aimed at Xtns but affected them - led to imprisonment and execution of Xtns - ended 251 when Decius killed
257 - Valerian - targeted church leaders and socially prominent Xtns - demonstrates Xtnity had permeated elite levels of society - ended with Valerian's 260 capture by Shapur and formally ended by his son Gallienus
303 - Diocletian - series of measures including confiscation of scripture and church property, made it evident that many Xtns in army and administration - probably 5-10% of population of empire?
Following increased as persecution increased - Xtn charity made a favourable impression; people expected them to renounce their faith but didn't so martyrdom encouraged others to convert; failure of persecutions highlighted weakness of government and potentially of imperial gods
Beginning of Reign
312 Battle of Milvian Bridge - started to favour Xtnity
(bishop of Caesarea, author of first ecclesiastical history and a panegyric biography of Constantine) records letters written by Constantine in the weeks following 312 victory to bishop of Carthage and governor of Africa
-- Constantine to Caecilian, bishop of Carthage - expenses paid to
'servants of the lawful and most holy catholic church'
, calls him
, tells him to to request more money if needed, says
'may the divinity of the great God preserve you for many years'
-- Constantine to Anullinus, governor of Africa - ending Xtn worship and
'the highest reverence of the most holy heavenly power'
brought ruin to the empire and Constantine's revival of it brought good fortune, says that all clergymen who
'provide personal service in this holy worship in the catholic church'
'kept immune from all public burdens of any kind whatever'
so they won't be distracted from service
1313 Edict of Milan agreed by Constantine and Licinius for religious tolerance (not an edict, possibly not even a formal agreement)
Arch of Constantine
No Xtn imagery on Arch
-- Reliefs of battles, progression from Gaul to Rome, inscription ('greatest, dutiful and blessed Augustus', avenged Rome 'by the prompting of divinity...with righteous arms')
-- Initiative for arch taken by the senate - Constantine only in Rome for two months, inscription said dedicated by SPQR/senate and people of Rome so they would have chosen imagery, but would have taken his interests into account
Political message on the Arch
-- Parallels with Augustus' Res Gestae - omission of Maxentius, emphasis on peace and liberation
-- Said Flavius Constantine not Flavius Valerius Constantine - next to Colosseum built by Vespasian founder of Flavian dynasty, distancing self from tetrarchy
-- Commemorating victory in civil war - not usually a focus for emperors because was a war against own people - symbolising rejection of the tetrarchy and restoration of preeminence of Rome
Religious message on the Arch
-- 'by the prompting of divinity' - lack of commitment to any particular divinity? deliberately ambiguous to avoid offence and losing control of the empire? senate's phrasing?
- particular phrasing occurs in pagan literature but rarely in Xtn literature, linked to imagery associating Constantine with Rome and the senators, offered a pagan interpretation of his faith to try and convince Constantine to see his victory as non-Xtn
-- Endowment of churches, provision of charitable resources
-- Later copied by nephew Emperor Julian when he tried to restore paganism - wanted to make it oppose Xtnity using charity and organised religion - changed paganism
-- Repealed Augustan marriage legislation - people no longer suffered for being unmarried or childless - bid for popularity? benefiting celibate Xtns eg monks, priests? winning support from senatorial aristocracy?
-- Legislation on unilateral divorce - made it harder for both men and women to divorce, before either could initiate - wanted to uphold Xtn marriage values? but made it impossible for women to divorce husbands for adultery which was against Xtn values
-- Called himself
'bishop to those outside'
- outside the church? outside the empire?
-- Growing profile of bishops throughout C4 - allowed them to be judges and manumit slaves
-- Worked with them to tackle church divisions
--- Donatist controversy in North Africa - treated Xtns who handed over Scripture during Diocletian's persecutions as traditores/traitors/'handers-over' - rest of church more forgiving so caused conflict - Donatists appealed to Constantine but councils in 313 and 314 didn't solve it - died out with C7/8 Muslim conquest
--- Arian controversy in east - theological debate in eastern provinces of Christ being son of God - Arians said son and therefore subordinate, Homoousian Xtns believed in Trinity and that Christ was God - 325 Council of Nicaea said son of God but made of same substance but didn't solve debate
Attitude to pagans - 333 agreed to the building of a temple in honour of the Flavian family as long as no blood sacrifice -
'should not be defiled by the deceits of any contagious superstition'
because dedicated in his name
First marriage - Minervina
-- Son Crispus born around 305
Second marriage - Fausta - political match - no official divorce document mentioned so unknown if Minervina a concubine rather than a wife or dead by 307
-- Three sons - Constantine Jr/II, Constantius/II, Constans/I plus two daughters
Crispus nearly 20 when Constantine gains full control in 324 - had been giving him responsibilities since before then
-- 317 - Made caesar
-- 318 - Made consul
-- 322 - Married Helena and had a son - Constantine reportedly pleased to be a grandfather
-- 324 - Played leading role in military campaigns
326 - Crispus and Fausta executed
says Fausta was jealous of Crispus and wanted rid of him so her sons would inherit so accused him of rape but was killed when Constantine later found out the truth after Crispus had already been executed
-- Also rumours of an affair between stepmother and stepson or that they were plotting together against Constantine but less likely - although explanation for Fausta's delayed execution is possibly pregnancy, dates of birth of two daughters unknown
-- Crispus fell from grace in two years
-- Fausta locked in bathhouse and suffocated by having the heat turned up, Crispus tried and executed
-- All record of Crispus, Helena and their son destroyed - unknown fate
337 - Constantine dies - had been promoting his half-siblings from Constantius and Theodora in years before his death - six half-brothers executed after his death - out-of-control troops? Constantine's sons who didn't want them challenging them?
-- Two survivors of 337 massacre - youngest was Julian aged about 5 - half-nephew of Constantine, father and brothers killed
-- Born 331/2, died 363
-- Blamed Constantius II for murder of family
-- Brought up as Xtn, secretly converted to paganism in 20s - 'Julian the Apostate'
-- Emperor from 361-63 - actively tried to undo Constantine's support on church
-- Wrote polemic works against Xtnity eg Against the Galileans; also satire eg The Caesars