Constandne by Ramsay Macmullen tWeidenfeld & Nis:olson 50s,)
THE author of this book is professor of History at Yale. In this book he shows the achievements of Constantine in relation to the political circumstances of his time, and though he opines that the pesonality of his subject is largely unknown, and to some extent unknowable, he does show him as he is, and there emerges a character different, perhaps, from that which is in the mind of the author.
Born at Nish in what is now Yugoslavia, the son of Constantius and Helena, the daughter of a tavern keeper according to St. Ambrose, in addition to lesser authorities. There seems no certain evidence that this marriage was not valid even though certain formalities had been overlooked. As to The date of his birth the author assigns it to co...D.280, though Seeck Sterns to have made out a good case for a later date, perhaps 288.
Constantine was a trong bullnecked youth, practical minded rather than philosophical. The author conducts a slow mise-en. scene and amid so many characters, one felt that a simple genealogical table would be a help, when, on turning the page (page 66), one appeared. In the early Dart of the book the waning and fall of the Tetrarchy is exposed together with some of the causes of its inevitableness. Thus the more natural and certainly more popular dynastic succession shows forth as the only practical arrangement for the future of the Empire.
Constantius dying at York, the army elected Constantine Augustus, but Galerius on appeal made him a Caesar only; nevertheless the choice of the army had to be ratified both as a matter of expediency. The author follows an interesting and indeed, useful sequence in a continued study of the coinage: the mint showed the progress of popular appreciation and legal right, sometimes being a little before the latter.
There are, incideatally; some excellent illustrations of these, and of architectural testimonies collected in two groups in this book. Constantine speedily showed the good sense and gift for administrative organisation of
his father: his army achieved its many victories as a result; most spectacular of these were those at Marseilles and later at the Milvian bridge a few miles north of Rome.
In both of these speed of movement characterised the cohesive order of the army. Looking back to this. G. Romano's fresco in the sala Constantine of the Vatican fully expresses the outstanding leadership of the young commander and his sense of ,mission. Here the history of the past becomes aiive,, and one can readily understand that he evoked a kind of hero worship on the part of his troops; perhaps too among those who opposed him. for be incorporated many of them into his own army. Once in Rome it is significant of his practical yet intuitive sense of the need of the moment, that he promptly dismissed the praetorian guard, thus ending a pretentious and mischievous source of high intrigue.
Whence came this sense of mission? His biographers would attribute it, at least in its highest intensity, to a vision seen in Gaul which led him to become a Christian catechumen and to put the monogram of Christ on
the shields of his troops; to this he attributed the victory at Milyear', and those successful campaigns in the East which made him Emperor of the world.
The author is doubtful as to the real cause which led him to kill his son Crispius and his second wife Fausta; others have thought that he was led to believe evil of this youth, so like himself in talents, by Fausta; and that it was his mother Helena who showed him the truth, which led logically to the death of Fausta. Shortly after this episode. mother and son went to the Holy land, where the site of the crucifixion was uncovered at considerable cost and several great basilicas built, according to the author, with the possessions of the deceased Fausta.
Here the True Cross was unearthed with two others.
For the rest it may be said that after the Edict of Milan 313, though the author is doubtful as to its form, Constantine was as groat a builder of churches as he had been of palaces all over the world; his generosity knew few bounds. How is he to be assessed? A religious man like his troops, a firm and necessarily blood seeking victor, yet, in terms of military practice at that time, not unduly harsh or harsh beyond necessity.
He regarded himself, as he put it, as 'bishop of those outside the Church." By this he shows his sense of duty for the religious beliefs of his pagan subjects, which he both advanced and controlled. In this dual role, he was a man well in advance of his times. His life gave no scandal to his contemporaries. His tender affection for and devotion to his mother Helena was in keeping with the character of one who, albeit conqueror of the world, had a sense of the beauties of nature shown in his siting of his many palaces, and in his daily period of solitary prayer.
In the end he was baptised by Bishop Eusebius shortly before his death. Chateaubriand was to describe him as the one "who engendered the Middle Ages." His services to God in the Church were of untold value and even this author, a little hesitant in this relationship of his subject, says "Constantine promoted the spread of Christianity beyond the frontiers, still more within them . . . He aimed at the prosperity of his reign and realm through ensuring to God acceptable worship." Perhaps the author underestimates his subject ject as an honest catechumen, a military ruler with the faults or, more correctly, the conduct in victory of his time, but one who put God first and paid Him his his dues. This is an interesting book in the somewhat flat English that one has come to expect from the American universities; as an account of the triumphal passage of Constantine through this terrestrial life it is excellent, but the author seems not fully to have understood the personality of the man himself.