Cover Page

CONTENTS

ILLUSTRATIONS

PREFACE

ABBREVIATIONS

1 INTRODUCTION

OFFICIAL LIES AND THE ‘CONSTANTINIAN QUESTION’

THE PROGRESS OF HISTORICAL RESEARCH

CONTEMPORARY PERSPECTIVES ON CONSTANTINE

COINS, INSCRIPTIONS AND MONUMENTS

2 THE SOLDIER AND THE STABLE-GIRL

THE SOCIAL STATUS OF HELENA

THE MARRIAGE OF CONSTANTINE’S PARENTS

CONSTANTIUS’ SECOND WIFE

THE LATER LIFE OF HELENA

3 CONSTANTINE, THE RUINS OF BABYLON AND THE COURT OF PHARAOH

THE DIOCLETIANIC TETRARCHY (293–305)

THE APPOINTMENT OF NEW EMPERORS

CONSTANTINE IN THE EAST (293–305)

THE DYNASTIC COUP OF 305

4 THE ROAD TO ROME

CONSTANTINE’S PROCLAMATION AND RECOGNITION AS EMPEROR

POLITICS AND WARFARE 306–310

THE VISION OF CONSTANTINE

THE INVASION OF ITALY

CONSTANTINE IN ROME AND CHRISTMAS 312

CONSTANTINIAN CHURCHES IN ROME

APPENDIX: THE STATUS OF CONSTANTINE 306–311

5 BROTHERS-IN-LAW

CONSTANTINE AND LICINIUS IN MILAN

WAS THERE AN ‘EDICT OF MILAN’?

TOWARDS WAR

FROM CIBALAE (316) TO CHRYSOPOLIS (324)

6 THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE EAST

THE FOUNDATION OF CONSTANTINOPLE

AN IMPERIAL SERMON

THE COUNCIL OF NICAEA

A CHRISTIAN CAPITAL FOR A CHRISTIAN ROMAN EMPIRE

PRO-CHRISTIAN LEGISLATION

CONSTANTINE AND ECCLESIASTICAL POLITICS

EAST AND WEST IN THE FOURTH CENTURY

7 DYNASTIC POLITICS AFTER THE COUNCIL OF NICAEA

THE DEATHS OF CRISPUS AND FAUSTA

A THIRD WIFE FOR CONSTANTINE?

THE ORGANIZATION OF THE EMPIRE

CONSTANTINE’S DYNASTIC PLANS

AN ASTROLOGER’S PRAISE OF CONSTANTINE

APPENDIX: THE DYNASTIC MARRIAGES OF 335 AND 336

TABLES: DYNASTIC ALLIANCES AND CHILDREN OF EMPERORS 285–337

8 EPILOGUE

APPENDIX A: THE CAREER OF LACTANTIUS

APPENDIX B: GALERIUS’ SARMATIAN VICTORIES

APPENDIX C: THE PANEGYRICI LATINI AND CONSTANTINE

APPENDIX D: EUSEBIUS, ON EASTER (DE SOLLEMNITATE PASCHALI)

APPENDIX E: NICAGORAS IN EGYPT

APPENDIX F: PRAXAGORAS OF ATHENS

APPENDIX G: AN ANONYMOUS PANEGYRIC OF CONSTANTINE

NOTES

1 INTRODUCTION

2 THE SOLDIER AND THE STABLE-GIRL

3 CONSTANTINE, THE RUINS OF BABYLON AND THE COURT OF PHARAOH

4 THE ROAD TO ROME

5 BROTHERS-IN-LAW

6 THE TRANSFORMATION OF THE EAST

7 DYNASTIC POLITICS AFTER THE COUNCIL OF NICAEA

APPENDIX A: THE CAREER OF LACTANTIUS

APPENDIX B: GALERIUS’ SARMATIAN VICTORIES

APPENDIX C: THE PANEGYRICI LATINIAND CONSTANTINE

APPENDIX D: EUSEBIUS, ON EASTER (DE SOLLEMNITATE PASCHALI)

APPENDIX E: NICAGORAS IN EGYPT

APPENDIX F: PRAXAGORAS OF ATHENS

APPENDIX G: AN ANONYMOUS PANEGYRIC OF CONSTANTINE

BIBLIOGRAPHY

A. ANCIENT SOURCES

B. MODERN WORKS OTHER THAN EDITIONS, TRANSLATIONS AND COMMENTARIES LISTED UNDER A

SUPPLEMENTAL IMAGES

INDEX

Blackwell Ancient Lives

At a time when much scholarly writing on the ancient world is abstract and ­analytical, this series presents engaging, accessible accounts of the most influential figures of antiquity. It re-peoples the ancient landscape; and while never losing sight of the vast gulf that separates antiquity from our own world, it seeks to communicate the delight of reading historical narratives to discover “what happened next.”

Published

Cleopatra and Egypt
Sally-Ann Ashton

Alexander the Great in his World
Carol G. Thomas

Nero
Jürgen Malitz

Tiberius
Robin Seager

King Hammurabi of Babylon
Marc Van De Mieroop

Pompey the Great
Robin Seager

The Age of Augustus, second edition
Werner Eck

Hannibal
Serge Lancel

Constantine: Dynasty, Religion and Power in the Later Roman Empire
Timothy Barnes

Image

2010047212





του̑ δὴ συγγραφέως ἔργον ἕν, ὡς επράχθη εἰπει̑ν

 

The sole task of the historian is to say how it happened

Lucian, On how history should be written 39

ILLUSTRATIONS

(Between pages 146 and 147)

Plate 1

Imperial bust of the tetrarchic period from Nicomedia; probably Diocletian
Source: The Art Archive/Alamy

Plate 2

Constantius liberating London as the ‘Restorer of Eternal Light’ (Arras Medallion)
Source: © Musée des Beaux-Arts d’Arras, inv. 927.6.1

Plate 3

Head of Constantine from early in his reign; found in the Stonegate, York
Source: Angelo Hornak/Alamy

Plate 4

Constantine in front of the Roman monument commemorating the vicennalia of Diocletian and Maximian and the decennalia of Constantius and Galerius in 303 (Arch of Constantine)
Source: Alinari/Topfoto

Plate 5

Fragments of the colossal statue of Constantine in the Capitoline Museums in Rome
Source: Russell Kord/Alamy

Plate 6

The ‘Great Cameo’ showing a Victory crowning Constantine
Source: Photo and collection Geldmuseum (Money Museum), Utrecht

Plate 7

The Ada-Cameo from Trier
Source: Stadtbibliothek Trier, book cover of the Ada-gospels, Ms 22

Plate 8

Coin of Constantinople c. 327: obverse Constantine; reverse labarum with medallions of three emperors (British Museum: RIC 7.572 no. 19)
Source: © The Trustees of the British Museum

Plate 9A

The city of Constantinople and surrounding areas as depicted on the Tabula Peutingeriana
Source: Photo: akg-images

Plate 9B

Detail of 9A: the porphyry column with the statue of Constantine and the Tyche of Constantinople
Source: Photo: akg-images

PREFACE

In the ‘few bibliographical notes’ (amounting in fact to more than seventy pages) which Norman Baynes added to the published version of the paper on Constantine which he delivered before the British Academy on 12 March 1930 as the Raleigh Lecture on History for 1929, he severely castigated Eduard Schwartz for his second thoughts on Constantine. Baynes contrasted Schwartz’s article in the first volume of Meister der Politik, edited by Erich Marcks and Karl Alexander von Müller (Stuttgart & Berlin, 1922: 171–223) with his earlier book Kaiser Constantin und die christliche Kirche (Leipzig, 1913). In the later essay, Baynes complained, Schwartz not only ‘carries to yet further lengths the views expressed in the book,’ but ‘this harsher restatement reads as a gage of challenge flung down before the critics.’ The present book bears a similar relationship to my Constantine and Eusebius, though its distance in time from a book published in 1981 is much closer to the interval between the two editions of Jacob Burckhardt’s classic Die Zeit Constantin’s des Grossen, which was first published in his native Switzerland in 1853 and issued in a revised edi­tion in Germany twenty-seven years later (Leipzig, 1880). There is, however, a ­fundamental scholarly difference between my second thoughts and those of both Burckhardt and Schwartz, neither of whom was able to use significant new ­evidence that had come to light in the intervening period. Since 1981 there have been advances in our understanding of Constantine and the age in which he lived on many fronts, and an unexpected and startling increment in our evidence.

In December 2008 a young Canadian scholar working in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University contacted me out of the blue and asked if I would look at the draft of a monograph on the Late Greek epigrammatist Palladas. Until then, since I had read Palladas’ anti-Christian poems before I ever began to think seriously about Constantine, I had accepted the prevailing view of enlightened Anglo-Saxon scholarship that the anti-Christian epigrams of Palladas preserved in the Greek Anthology were written decades after the death of Constantine, during the reign of the emperor Theodosius (379–395). But as soon as I read what Kevin Wilkinson had sent me and tested his arguments, I saw that he had proved beyond any serious possibility of doubt that Palladas was in fact writing during the reign of Constantine – a redating very relevant to my interpretation of Constantine’s religious policies. Kevin’s chronological arguments appeared in the Journal of Roman Studies in November 2009, and he has most generously allowed me to read and use in advance of their publication both two more articles on Palladas and his edition of and commentary on PCtYBR 4000. I have thus been able to reflect upon Kevin’s discoveries before their entry into the public domain, so that he is in a very real sense the ‘onlie begetter’ of this book.

My researches into the Constantinian period have been assisted over the last three decades by so many others who have shared information with me or engaged with me in constructive discussion of matters of interpretation that it seems invidious to single out a few by name. But I must make three specific acknowledgments. Since 1990, when I first met him, I have received very considerable help from Simon Corcoran, whose expertise in analyzing legal texts far surpasses my own. During the actual composition of the book, which began in earnest in October 2009, I learned much from Paul Stephenson’s recently published study of Constantine, which proposes some important, original and (to my mind) convincing ideas on central problems of interpretation. My final text owes much to my wife Janet, who read a full draft of the completed work and has improved both the logic and phrasing of many passages.

The errors and misjudgments that remain are my own, as are all translations from Greek and Latin except where I have explicitly attributed them to an earlier translator. I have of course usually consulted existing English versions when preparing mine, but I believe that, except where I make a specific acknowledgment, I have so modified and adapted earlier translations as to have earned the right to call what I have produced my own. I must also apologize for the frequent repetitions which may sometimes seem otiose or inelegant: they are there because I have often deemed it necessary to repeat the same facts in several different contexts.

Timothy Barnes
Edinburgh, 21 August 2010

 

The passage from Lucian which I have used as an epigraph will probably be more familiar to most readers in the reformulation which Leopold Ranke gave it in the programmatic preface to his first published work. Rejecting the notion that the function of a historian might be to pass judgment on the past or to provide guidance for the future, the young Ranke declared of his own work that ‘er will bloß sagen, wie es eigentlich gewesen’ (Geschichten der romanischen und germanischen Völker von 1494 bis 1535 [Leipzig & Berlin, 1824], v), where the German sagen is a straight translation of Lucian’s εἰπει̑ν. Fifty years later, in a second edition of his first book, the mature Ranke changed the wording to ‘er will bloß zeigen, wie es eigentlich gewesen’ (Sämmtliche Werke 33 [Leipzig, 1874], vii) – where the change of verb from ‘say’ to ‘show’ considerably diminishes the similarity of his formulation to that of Lucian.

ABBREVIATIONS

AE

L’année épigraphique

Anth. Pal. / Plan.

Anthologia Palatina / Planudea

Barrington Atlas

Barrington Atlas of the Greek and Roman World, ed. R. J. A. Talbert (Princeton & Oxford, 2000)

BEFAR

Bibliothèque des Écoles françaises d’Athènes et de Rome

BHG

Bibliotheca hagiographica graeca, 3rd edition. Subsidia Hagiographica 8a (Brussels, 1967)

CCSL

Corpus Christianorum, Series Latina (Turnhout, 1954–)

Chr. Min. 1, 2

T. Mommsen, Chronica Minora Saec. IV.V.VI.VII 1, 2. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi 9, 11 (Berlin, 1892; 1894)

CIL

Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum (Berlin, 1863–)

CLRE

Consuls of the Later Roman Empire, ed. R. S. Bagnall, Alan Cameron, S. Schwartz & K. A. Worp (Atlanta, 1987)

CPG

M. Geerard, Clavis Patrum Graecorum 1–5 (Turnhout, 1974–1987); M. Geerard & J. Noret, Supplementum (Turnhout, 1998); J. Noret, Clavis Patrum Graecorum 3A: Addenda volumini III (Turnhout, 2003)

CPL

E. Dekkers & E. Gaar, Clavis Patrum Latinorum, 3rd ­edition (Steenbrugge, 1995)

CSEL

Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (Vienna, 1866–)

CJ

Codex Justinianus

CTh, CThBarnes,

CThSeeck

Codex Theodosianus: CTh without superscript indicates that I accept the transmitted date, CThBarnes or CThSeeck that the date stated is the date as emended in Barnes 1982 or Seeck 1919

Dokument(e)

Athanasius Werke 3.1.3. Dokumente zur Geschichte des ­arianischen Streites, ed. H. C. Brennecke, U. Heil, A. von Stockhausen & A. Wintjes (Berlin & New York, 2007)

EOMIA

C. H. Turner and others, Ecclesiae Occidentalis Monumenta Iuris Antiquissima (Oxford, 1899–1939)

FGrH

F. Jacoby, Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker (Berlin & Leiden, 1923–)

FIRA

S. Riccobono (& others), Fontes Iuris Romani Anteiustinianei, 2nd ­edition (Bologna, 1940–1943)

GCS

Die Griechischen Christlichen Scriftsteller der ersten (drei) Jahrhunderte (Leipzig, 1897–1918; Berlin, 1954–)

ICUR

J. B. Rossi and others, Inscriptiones Christianae Urbis Romae (Rome, then Vatican City, 1861–1992)

IG

Inscriptiones Graecae (Berlin, 1878–)

ILCV

H. Diehl, Inscriptiones Latinae Christianae Veteres (Berlin, 1925–1931; 2nd edition with supplementary volume ed. J. Moreau & H.-I. Marrou, Berlin, 1961–1967)

ILS

H. Dessau, Inscriptiones Latinae Selectae (Berlin, 1892–1916)

Lampe

G. W. H. Lampe, A Patristic Greek Lexicon (Oxford, 1968)

LP

Liber Pontificalis

LSJ9

H. Liddell, R. Scott & H. Stuart Jones, A Greek-English Lexicon, 9th edition with a supplement (Oxford, 1968)

OLD

Oxford Latin Dictionary, ed. P. W. G. Glare (Oxford, 1968–1982)

PG

Migne, Patrologia Graeca (Paris, 1857–1894)

PL

Migne, Patrologia Latina (Paris, 1844–1974)

PLRE 1

A. H. M. Jones, J. Martindale & J. Morris, The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire 1: A.D. 260–395 (Cambridge, 1971)

PLRE 2

J. Martindale, The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire 2: A.D. 395–527 (Cambridge, 1980)

RE

Paulys Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. G. Wissowa and others (Stuttgart, 1893–1980)

RIC 6

C. H. V. Sutherland, The Roman Imperial Coinage 6: Diocletian to Maximinus A.D. 294–313 (London, 1967)

RIC 7

P. Bruun, The Roman Imperial Coinage 7: Constantine and Licinius A.D. 312/3–337 (London, 1966)

RIC 8

J. P. C. Kent, The Roman Imperial Coinage 8: The Family of Constantine I A.D. 337–364 (London, 1981)

SEG

Supplementum Epigraphicum Graecum (Amsterdam, 1923–)

Urkunde(n)

H.-G. Opitz, Urkunden zur Geschichte des arianischen Streites. Athanasius Werke 3.1.1-2 (Berlin & Leipzig, 1934–1941)

1

INTRODUCTION

In the preface to his novel about Helena, the mother of Constantine, Evelyn Waugh proclaimed that ‘the Age of Constantine is strangely obscure’ and that ‘most of the dates and hard facts, confidently given in the encyclopedias, soften and dissolve on examination.’ Similarly, Michael Grant began the preface to his book on Constantine by observing that ‘the problem of finding out about Constantine is an acute one’, then quoted these words of Evelyn Waugh before characterizing his own work as ‘another endeavor to walk over the same treacherous quicksands’ (Grant 1998: xi). In their assessment of the ancient evidence for Constantine, which Grant pronounced ‘wholly inadequate’ (Grant 1998: 13), both Waugh and Grant showed far superior judgement to professional historians of the Later Roman Empire who have recently written about the emperor and his place in history.

One such historian goes so far as to make the palpably false claim that ‘Constantine is one of the best documented of the Roman emperors, and a political narrative of his life and reign is straightforward enough’ (Van Dam 2007: 15), while another asserts that, if Constantine remains a problematical figure, it is not ‘because the events of his reign are obscured by a lack of relevant material’ (Lenski 2006b: 2). But the last period of Constantine’s reign from the surrender of the defeated Licinius on 19 September 324 to his own death on 22 May 337 is a truly dark period, in which the course of events is often obscure, except for the emperor’s movements, which can be reconstructed in detail (Barnes 1982: 76–80), and certain aspects of ecclesiastical politics, for which many original documents are preserved (Barnes 1981: 208–244; 1993a: 1–33). For the last third of Constantine’s reign, therefore, it is simply impossible to construct any sort of detailed military or political narrative. Nevertheless, it is possible to write a coherent and connected political and military narrative of the first third of Constantine’s reign (Chapters 4 and 5). Moreover, even if we know far less about Constantine than we do about other periods of Roman history such as the last decades of the Roman Republic, we can understand the basic outlines of his life and career before he became emperor, his political and military achievements as emperor, and his religious policies and attitudes – provided that we allow ourselves to be guided by the ancient evidence and do not seek to impose our own antecedent assumptions on its interpretation.

OFFICIAL LIES AND THE ‘CONSTANTINIAN QUESTION’

Constantine himself is in no small way responsible for creating many of the uncertainties about his religious convictions and religious policies which have been the subject of scholarly controversy since the sixteenth century. He was a highly skilful politician who, like all others of his breed, appreciated the necessity of using deceit in achieving his aims, and he had no compunction about eliminating those who obstructed his dynastic plans (Chapter 5). Moreover, he consistently employed propaganda in order to perpetuate deliberate falsehoods about both himself and important political and dynastic matters. Constantine’s subjects perforce accepted official falsehoods and reiterated them in public – and many no doubt genuinely believed them, as so often happens even in our modern world. Gross falsehoods put out by what may aptly be described as Constantine’s propaganda machine for contemporary consumption have also deceived many recent historians of Constantine and the Later Roman Empire – even those who prided themselves most on their critical acumen.

The prime (and most important) example of modern willingness to acquiesce in Constantine’s misrepresentation of basic facts without proper critical scrutiny is what ought to be the uncontroversial matter of his date of birth. Without exception, ancient authors who offer a figure state that Constantine was in his sixties when he died: according to Eusebius, for example, Constantine began to reign at the age when Alexander the Great died, lived twice as long as Alexander lived and twice as long as he himself reigned (VC 1.8, 4.53).1 The explicit ancient evidence, therefore, unanimously and unambiguously places Constantine’s birth in the early 270s (Barnes 1982: 39–40), and the indirect evidence indicates that he was in fact born on 27 February 273 (Chapter 2). Otto Seeck, however, rejected this date and contended that 288 was almost certainly (‘ziemlich sicher’) the year of Constantine’s birth (1895: 407; 1922: 435–436), adducing five specific items of ­evidence, namely (i) the mosaic in the palace of Aquileia invoked in the Gallic panegyric of 307 (Pan. Lat. 7[6].6.2i5); (ii) Eusebius’ report that he saw Constantine accompanying Diocletian in 301 or 302 when he was an adolescent (VC 1.19, cf. Chapter 3); (iii) Constantine’s own statement that he was a mere boy in 303 (Eusebius, VC 2.51); and retrospective statements that the emperor was young when he came to power in 306, especially those of (iv) Nazarius in 321 (Pan. Lat. 4[10].16.4: adhuc aevi immaturus sed iam maturus imperio) and (v) Firmicus Maternus in 337 (Mathesis 1.10.16). But the mosaic at Aquileia (i) probably depicted Constantine as a young man in 293, which is perfectly compatible with his being twenty at the time (Chapter 3), while Nazarius (iv), Firmicus Maternus (v) and Eusebius (ii) are merely repeating Constantine’s own deliberate misrepresentation for political reasons of how old he was in 303 and 306. In other words, it cannot be denied that contemporary writers presented Constantine in the last two decades of his life as being younger than he really was. Why? It is naive and simple-minded in the extreme to argue that ‘his precise age was apparently unknown,’ then to deduce from what Eusebius says that Constantine was ‘about thirteen or fourteen’ in 296 or 297 ( Jones in Jones & Skeat 1954: 196–197, slavishly repeated by Winkelmann 1962b: 203). That is not only to date the occasion when Eusebius saw Constantine at the side of Diocletian five years too early (Chapter 3), but to allow undue ­credence to an official untruth. Constantine himself deliberately lied about his age for political reasons.

Writing to ‘the provincials of the East’ shortly after his defeat of Licinius in 324, Constantine subtly combined two lies about his situation when Diocletian consulted the oracles of Apollo immediately before launching the ‘Great Persecution.’ He claimed that ‘I heard <about it> as a mere youth2 at the time’ (VC 2.51.1: κροώμην τότε κομιδη̑ παι̑ς τι πάρχων). That is doubly false: in the winter of 302–303 Constantine was a mature adult at the court of Diocletian waiting for promotion into the imperial college (Chapter 3). Constantine undoubtedly knew how old he was. His claim that he was a mere boy or youth in 303 is not a simple and straightforward statement of fact from an impartial witness. He was in Nicomedia when the ‘Great Persecution’ started in that city, as he told a different audience at Easter 325 (Chapter 6 at nn. 13–15) and he stayed silent in order not to compromise his position as a crown prince or damage his prospects of being co-opted into the imperial college. More than twenty years later and over a decade after his very public conversion to Christianity, Constantine reminded his new subjects in the East that in 303 his father had protected the Christians of his territories at a time when his three imperial colleagues were not only savage persecutors intent exclusively on their own advantage, but also mentally deranged (VC 2.29). Political animal as he was, the Constantine of 324 avoided the embarrassing question of why he had failed to protest when his Christian friends were being hauled off to execution for their religious beliefs (Vogt 1943a: 194). He simply claimed that, so far from being a grown man of thirty with a prominent position at court in 303, he was in fact in 303 ‘still just a boy.’ For what could a mere boy have done to stop the persecution?

Historians who wrote about Constantine in the nineteenth century or most of the twentieth found it hard to believe that Constantine lied about his age and hence either allowed themselves to be taken in like Seeck or, like Jones, invented an excuse to palliate the misrepresentation. I write as one whose political awareness began in October 1956 with the invasion of Egypt by British, French and Israeli troops acting in concert at the same time as Russian tanks attacked Hungarian civilians on the streets of Budapest. Hence I have long been familiar with official stories designed to deceive. Indeed in 2003 I watched both the American Secretary of State and the British Prime Minister on television as they misled the Security Council of the United Nations and the House of Commons in Westminster about the necessity of invading a small country which they falsely claimed to possess ‘weapons of mass destruction’ ready to be deployed.

When I began to write about Constantine in the early 1970s, I immediately became aware that propaganda had played a role in shaping the surviving evidence for his reign (Barnes 1973: 41–43, cf. 1981: 37, 45, 47, 68, 268–269), but I underestimated quite how great that role really was until I read and reflected on Charles Pietri’s analysis of what the four documents which Eusebius quotes in the second book of his Life of Constantine (VC 2.24–42, 46, 48–60, 64–72) reveal about imperial propaganda and the emperor’s theology, self-presentation and self-promotion in and after 324 (1983: 73–90). It will be apposite, therefore, to draw together some other clear examples (besides his age) of the emperor’s use of deliberate falsehood and his misrepresentation of facts and recent events which will be discussed in the following chapters.

1 The Origo Constantini Imperatoris and Lactantius have differing versions of an invented story that Galerius attempted to get Constantine killed either in battle or on the parade ground (Chapter 3).
2 In his tract On the Deaths of the Persecutors (De Mortibus Persecutorum), which he wrote c. 315 after he had returned to Bithynia, Lactantius repeats an embroidered version of the death of Maximian (Chapter 4). In 310 Maximian committed suicide under compulsion when his attempt to seize power from Constantine failed; a year or more after his death, a story was invented that he was pardoned by Constantine, but repaid his clemency by attempting to assassinate him as he lay asleep in the palace at Arles; this story was in circulation at the court of Constantine in 311 and 312 when Lactantius heard it (Appendix A) and later repeated it in 314/315 (Mort. Pers. 30), even though by this time Constantine was rehabilitating the memory of Maximian. After his death Constantine first vilified Maximian and abolished his memory by ordering statues and images of him to be pulled down and destroyed (Lactantius, Mort. Pers. 42.1: senis Maximiani statuae Constantini iussu revellebantur et imagines ubicumque pictus esset detrahabantur). After the Battle of the Milvian Bridge on 28 October 312, however, Constantine decided to rehabilitate his memory, and the Roman Senate consecrated his memory so that in 318 coins from Constantinian mints honored him as a divus together with Constantine’s father and Claudius, his purported third-century imperial ancestor as (I transpose the obverse legend from the dative to the nominative case and expand the abbreviations) divus Maximianus senior fortissimus (or optimus) imperator (RIC 7.180, Trier: nos. 200–207; 252, Arles: nos. 173–178; 310–312, Rome: nos. 104–128; 395, Aquileia: nos. 21–26; 429–430, Siscia: nos. 41–46; 503, Thessalonica: nos. 24–26).
3 Maxentius granted the Christians of Italy and Africa the right to practice their religion freely very soon after he came to power in October 306, though he did not allow Christians to recover confiscated property until some years later (Chapter 4). But he exiled Marcellus and Eusebius, successive bishops of Rome, and the latter’s rival Heraclius, because Christian factions were fighting one another in the streets of Rome (Chr. min. 1.76; Damasus, Epigrammata 48, 18 = ILCV 962, 963, cf. Barnes 1981: 38, 304 n.106). The see of Rome then remained vacant for almost three years until Miltiades was consecrated bishop on 2 July 311 when war loomed with the pro-Christian Constantine (Chr. min. 1.76). These necessary police actions helped to provide a basis for claiming that after a good start Maxentius turned against the Christians, and after the Battle of the Milvian Bridge Constantinian propaganda rapidly transformed Maxentius into a textbook tyrant who massacred his subjects, raped the wives of senators and examined the entrails of pregnant women, infants and lions for magical purposes (Eusebius, HE 8.14.1–5, cf. Grünewald 1990: 64–71; Barnes 1996a).
4 Constantinian propaganda conflated the two wars against Licinius of 316–317 and 323–324 into one. While many sources correctly distinguish between the two wars, which were separated by an interval of several years (Origo 18–28; Victor, Caes. 41.6–9; Eutropius, Brev. 10.5–6.1), they are conflated in Praxagoras’ history of Constantine, which was probably completed in or by 330 (Appendix F), in Eusebius’ Life of Constantine (1.47–2.18), by Libanius in his double panegyric of Constantius and Constans, which he probably delivered in 344 (Orat. 59.21, cf. Barnes 1993a: 315–316 n.49) and by the Epitome de Caesaribus (41.4–8).3
5 After the execution of Crispus in 326, Constantine abolished his memory, even though he had been a member of the imperial college for more than nine years. Hence the historical Crispus ‘was not only dead, he was abolished, an unperson’ – like George Orwell’s original unperson, who bore the significant name of Syme.4 Eusebius duly conformed to the new official truth. In a minor revision of the final edition of his Ecclesiastical History, which survives only in Syriac translation, he expunged the name of Crispus and excised the two laudatory references to his role in the campaign of 324 (HE 10.9.4, 6). The Life of Constantine, which Eusebius composed or at least revised after Constantinus, Constantius and Con­stans had been proclaimed Augusti on 9 September 337, predictably presents Constantine as only ever having had three sons, and it makes not the slightest allusion to the existence of the Caesar Dalmatius, whose existence Eusebius had naturally acknowledged when he saluted Constantine as a charioteer driving a four-horse team of Caesars in Constantinople on 26 July 336 (Panegyric of Constantine 3.4). Eusebius was writing before Constantinus invaded the territory of Constans in 340, when he was killed, suffered abolitio memoriae and officially became, like Crispus, an unperson for a decade or more. Praising Constantius and Constans as joint emperors after 340 (Orat. 59, cf. Barnes 1993a: 315–316 n.49), Libanius carefully avoids any hint that Constantine might ever have had more than two sons.

An anti-Christian version of the history of the reign of Constantine was adumbrated by Julian the Apostate during his brief period as sole emperor (from November 361 to June 363) and elaborated by others after he was killed in combat in Mes­opotamia. But neither Julian nor writers like the Antiochene rhetor Libanius, the rabidly pagan historian Eunapius of Sardis and Ammianus Marcellinus, who adopted a deceptive posture of impartiality in matters of religion (Barnes 1998a: 79–94; G. Kelly 2003), took any pains to discover and reveal truths about Constantine which had been hidden by his Christian admirers. They were more intent on fixing blame for all the disasters of the intervening decades on the first Christian emperor and his adopted religion. Julian blamed Christianity for the dynastic murders of his close relatives in the purge of imperial rivals to the sons of Constantine in the summer of 337, while both Libanius and Eunapius came out with deliberate falsehoods about Constantine’s religious beliefs and policies. In particular, when Libanius addressed a plea for the protection of pagan temples to Theodosius in 386, he made the palpably false claim that Constantine ‘made absolutely no change in the traditional forms of worship’ (Orat. 30.6). Not only is the claim false, but Libanius knew that it was false, since his Autobiography alludes to Constantine’s prohibition of sacrifice: as a student in Athens in the 330s Libanius formed a close friendship with Crispinus of Heraclea whose uncle risked death by his ostentatious paganism and ‘mocked that evil law and its impious enactor’ (Orat. 1.27), who can only be Constantine (Barnes 1989a: 329–330). Unfortunately, Libanius’ barefaced lie that Constantine ‘made absolutely no change in the traditional forms of worship’ (sometimes modified in quotation by modern scholars in order to mitigate its absurdity) has been treated as essentially true by modern historians who have written about Constantine from Edward Gibbon in the eighteenth century and Jacob Burckhardt in the nineteenth to Paul Stephenson in the twenty-first (2009: 56). Indeed, it has often served as the cornerstone of modern interpretations of the emperor’s religious policies.

THE PROGRESS OF HISTORICAL RESEARCH

It has recently been asserted that ‘the rediscovery of the historical Constantine had to await the arrival of critical scholarship in the Renaissance’ (Lieu 2006: 317). That is untrue. It had to wait much longer. For neither Johannes Leunclavius (Löwenklau), who defended Zosimus as an accurate historian in the introduction to his Latin translation of the historian, published at Basle in 1576, nor Cardinal Baronius (1538–1607), whose Annales Ecclesiastici was the greatest intellectual achievement of the Counter-Reformation, nor Henri de Valois (1603–1676), the distinguished seventeenth-century editor of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History and Life of Constantine, had any knowledge at all of the most important historical source for the ‘Great Persecution’ initiated by Diocletian in 303 and the political history of the decade 303–313. The historical Constantine only began to emerge from the mists of the emperor’s own propaganda, of fourth-century polemic, of distortion by ­ecclesiastical historians and of sheer myth-making when Étienne Baluze (1630–1718) published the editio princeps of Lactantius’ On the Deaths of the Persecutors in 1679. But Lactantius’ authorship and the authenticity of the work were often denied, as by Edward Gibbon, until the beginning of the twentieth century when René Pichon finally put its authenticity and authorship work beyond all possible doubt (Pichon 1901, cf. Moreau 1954: 22–33). Yet Lactantius’ trustworthiness as a witness continued to be denied or doubted by many for most of the twentieth century.

A true understanding of Constantine only began to become possible in the 1950s. Quite independently of each other, Jacques Moreau’s classic commentary demonstrated Lactantius’ accuracy on matters of fact (Moreau 1954: 187–473) while the researches into the coinage of Constantine by the Finnish numismatist Patrick Bruun rescued Lactantius’ credit as a historical witness. For almost three centuries from Godefroy’s edition of the Theodosian Code (Lyon, 1665), the Battle of Cibalae, the first battle of the first war between Constantine and Licinius, had universally been dated to 8 October 314, which is the date stated in the Descriptio consulum (otherwise known as the Consularia Constantinopolitana), from which it followed that Lactantius, who cannot have completed On the Deaths of the Persecutors before October 314, had deliberately and dishonestly misrepresented the relations between the two emperors by suppressing any mention of the War of Cibalae. In 1953, however, Bruun re-dated the war from 314 to 316/317 (Bruun 1953; 17–19; 1961: 10–22; 1966: 65–67), and, when other numismatists demurred, Christian Habicht weighed in to decisive effect by showing that all the relevant ancient evidence with the sole exception of the Descriptio consulum confirmed Bruun’s re-dating of the war (Habicht 1958). Hence, when Lactantius wrote On the Deaths of the Persecutors in 314/315, the first war between Constantine and Licinius still lay in the future.

A parallel controversy long impugned the reliability of Eusebius’ Life of Constantine until a magisterial survey of ‘the problem of the authenticity of the Life’ brought it to a sudden end in 1962.5 In a lengthy and incisive article of more than fifty pages, Friedhelm Winkelmann carefully untangled three separate questions which those who rejected the evidence of the Life of Constantine had too often combined and confused (1962b: 187–243). (i) Were the documents quoted in the Life authentic? The often bitter controversies over this question were stilled in 1954 when it was shown that a contemporary papyrus preserves part of the long letter of Constantine (VC 2.24–42), whose authenticity had been most confidently denied ( Jones & Skeat 1954). (ii) Is the Life the work of Eusebius of Caesarea or a later hand or has Eusebius’ original text been heavily interpolated after his death? (iii) Is the Life of Constantine a reliable historical source? Those who have denied Eusebius’ authorship too often argue that he could not have written particular passages in the Life because they contain errors which a contemporary could not have made (Grégoire 1938a: 562–563, 569–577, 582; 1953: 473–478). Winkelmann showed that most of these supposed errors either reflect Constantinian propaganda or result from ­modern misunderstanding (1962b: 218–243). Moreover, Winkelmann pointed out that not only had Giorgio Pasquali proved in 1910 that the Life of Constantine as we have it is a conflation of two stylistically heterogeneous drafts which someone else put into circulation after Eusebius’ death, but also that all who had written about Constantine in the next fifty years, including Grégoire and Norman Baynes, had misstated Pasquali’s very clear conclusion, apparently at second hand (Winkelmann 1962b: 208–218, cf. Pasquali 1910: 386). Since 1962 the reliability and historical value of the Life of Constantine have been enhanced in several ways. In particular, not only has it been established that Constantine’s Speech to the Assembly of the Saints is authentic (Chapter 6) and that Eusebius does indeed report accurately what Constantine told him about what he and his army saw in the sky (Weiss 1993, 2003 cf. Chapter 4), but Kevin Wilkinson’s proof that the epigrammatist Palladas was writing under Constantine has confirmed Eusebius’ account of Constantine’s aggressively Christian policies in the East after 324 and his often doubted assertion that Constantine founded Constantinople as a Christian city (Wilkinson 2009; 2010a; 2010b).

CONTEMPORARY PERSPECTIVES ON CONSTANTINE

Literary texts survive which were written at different times during the reign of Constantine by authors from widely varying points of view. Four Latin panegyrics delivered in the presence of Constantine in Gaul between 307 and 313 and another delivered in Rome in 321, though not in his presence (Appendix B) reflect a change in the religious atmosphere in 312; an exchange of letters between Constantine and a Roman aristocrat and poet reveals the emperor as an educated man and a patron of Latin literature (Chapter 4); the summary of a panegyrical history of the reign of Constantine down to 324 written by a young Athenian aristocrat shows pagan acquiescence in his achievements (Appendix F); a fragmentary panegyric from Egypt praises Constantine for not despoiling pagan temples (Appendix G); and a handbook on astrology includes largely conventional praises of the emperor written in the last weeks of his life (Chapter 7). But, as will be clear from the preceding pages, three writers are of central importance: the Latin rhetor and Christian apologist Lactantius, without whose polemical pamphlet On the Deaths of the Persecutors we could not write a satisfactory account of the first forty years of Constantine’s life; Eusebius, who was metropolitan bishop of Palestine from c. 313 to 338 or 339 and composed, in the last three books of his Life of Constantine, an account of the emperor’s religious policies after 324 which quotes many documents in full; and the Egyptian poet Palladas who wrote anti-Christian epigrams, some of them in the newly founded city of Constantinople, which confirm Eusebius’ veracity in all essentials.

Lactantius

Lactantius came to Nicomedia at the invitation of Diocletian who appointed him to the city’s official chair of Latin rhetoric (Jerome, De viris illustribus 80). In this capacity (like Augustine in Milan in the 380s), Lactantius will have delivered praises of the emperor – with Constantine not only present, but at the emperor’s side as a candidate for the imperial purple. Since Lactantius probably arrived in Nicomedia no later than the mid-290s, he had the opportunity to meet and converse with both Constantine and his mother on less formal occasions. A careful study of Lactantius’ philosophical and theological assumptions appears to have established that he was converted to Christianity in the East rather than in his native Africa (Wlosok 1960: 191–192 n.28; 1961: 247). In 303, under the provisions of the first persecuting edict of 24 February, Lactantius was compelled to choose between making a symbolic act of sacrifice in order to retain possession of his official chair of Latin rhetoric and resigning in order to avoid the obligation to sacrifice (Barnes 1981: 13, 22–23). It can hardly be doubted that he chose the latter course of action. But he remained in Bithynia at least until 1 May 305 when Galerius gained control of Asia Minor (Div. Inst. 5.2.2, 11.15, cf. Barnes 2006: 15). His movements in the years following 305 are not properly documented, but it seems that he left the East not long after 1 May 305 and was at the court of Constantine in Trier, where he was tutor to Crispus, the son of Constantine, before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (Appendix A). He probably returned to the East in 313 to resume possession of his chair of ­rhetoric in Nicomedia: he wrote his tract On the Deaths of the Persecutors in Nicomedia and remained there until he died, probably in the summer of 324 (Barnes 1981: 13–14, 290–292 nn.93–100).

On this reconstruction of his career (tabulated in Appendix A), Lactantius was in Nicomedia from the mid-290s until at least May 305, at the court of Constantine in Trier in 311/312 and in Nicomedia again from 313 onwards. Hence he wrote On the Deaths of the Persecutors, whose composition is firmly dated to 314/315, in Nicomedia as a subject of Licinius, not of Constantine (Barnes 1973: 39–41). This tract or pamphlet, though a political satire and often grossly tendentious, scores very highly for factual accuracy in what it explicitly states6 – though its deliberate omissions and silences can be extremely misleading (Barnes 1999a; 2010a: 114–118).

Eusebius of Caesarea

Eusebius of Caesarea, who was born shortly after 260, was primarily a biblical scholar in the tradition of Origen, though far more interested in history than philosophy than Origen ever was, and a Christian apologist and theologian who preferred to use primarily biblical and historical arguments in the defense of his religion (Barnes 1981: 94–188). Eusebius was bishop of Caesarea in Palestine from c. 313 until his death and he wrote in a wide variety of genres (Barnes 2010b). Only two of these are works of contemporary history. The final three books of his Ecclesiastical History include the rise of Constantine to sole rule, and his Life of Constantine is our most voluminous and informative single source for the first Christian Roman emperor. Eusebius saw the young prince as he traveled through Palestine at the side of the emperor Diocletian as an heir presumptive to the ­imperial purple in 301 or 302 (Life 1.19, cf. Chapter 3) and he died almost forty years later, leaving the Life unfinished. It was published by an editor, probably Acacius, his ­successor as bishop of Caesarea, who added a few brief passages to sew the two disparate drafts together (Pasquali 1910: 386; Winkelmann 1975: xlix–lvii; Barnes 1989b: 98–107; 1994c). But Eusebius only became a subject of Constantine when he was aged more than sixty, and his relationship to Constantine was universally misunderstood until thirty years ago. For Eusebius’ presentation of himself as close to the emperor in his Life of Constantine was accepted uncritically, even by those who expressed extreme skepticism about his account of the emperor. Hence it was widely, indeed almost universally, assumed that in his later years Eusebius frequented the court of Constantine, that he was ‘an adviser of the emperor Constantine,’ and an ‘elder statesman’ (Brown 1971: 82, 90). In fact, Eusebius met Constantine on no more than four occasions, always in the company of other bishops (Barnes 1981: 261–275).7

Modern understanding of both Eusebius and Constantine was, for more than a century, derailed by Jacob Burckhardt, whose Die Zeit Constantin’s des Grossen was first published in 1853 and issued in a revised edition in 1880, in which Burckhardt introduced the concept of a Reichskirche, absent from the first edition, under the impact of the unification of Germany in 1871 and its consequences for Christian churches in the united Germany of Otto Bismarck (Barnes 1993a: 168, 292–293 nn.11–15). The introduction to a recent coffee-table reprint of Moses Hadas’ English translation of this classic praises Burckhardt for ‘his mastery of the ancient sources’ (Lenski 2007: xiv). That is an utterly perverse and grossly misleading verdict. For Amadeo Crivellucci pointed out long ago that Burckhardt, no less than Cardinal Baronius in the sixteenth century, evaluated the testimony of Eusebius, not by comparing him with other evidence, but in accordance with his own ­antecedent preconceptions (Crivellucci 1888: 6–7, quoted by Winkelmann 1962b: 195–196) – a procedure which is entirely appropriate for a historical novelist like Sir Walter Scott, but improper for one who claims to be a serious historian.

Burckhardt set aside the clear and explicit evidence of Lactantius and Eusebius that Constantine gave Christians his political support from the start and began to declare himself a convert to Christianity before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge on 28 October 312. Burckhardt, who was echoed in the twentieth century by Henri Grégoire (1930–31: 270), depicted Constantine as a fourth-century Napoleon, not only a skilful politician (as he indeed was), but essentially irreligious and amoral. His anachronistic interpretation of Constantine owed far more to the modern German philosopher Friedrich Hegel than to the ancient evidence. Hence, in order to sustain his perverse interpretation of Constantine, Burckhardt was obliged to discredit the two main surviving contemporary literary sources by fair means or foul. He denounced Eusebius as ‘the most objectionable of all eulogists’ and ‘the first ­thoroughly dishonest historian of antiquity,’ on the grounds that Eusebius must have known the truth about Constantine, as discovered in the nineteenth century, but deliberately misrepresented it. According to Burckhardt, Eusebius praised Constantine insincerely, falsified history and indulged in ‘contemptible inventions’ (Burckhardt 1949: 260, 283, 299).8 This condemnation also relied on the false assumption that the bishop of Caesarea in Palestine was somehow a habitué of the imperial court who displayed the manners of a courtier and flattered his royal master, often with conscious dishonesty.

Burckhardt’s depiction of Constantine inspired two ultimately futile scholarly controversies, whose course Winkelmann surveyed in magisterial fashion: one concerned the authenticity of the Constantinian documents in the Life of Constantine (Winkelmann 1962b: 197–202); the other whether Eusebius of Caesarea really was the author of the LifeLifeP. LondVC9