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Constantine the Great The Roman Empire and its neighbors during the third and fourth centuries of our era, with an emphasis on the half century from the rise of Diocletian to the death of Constantine such is the general topic of Die Zeit Constantins des Grossen 1853 , which was the Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt s 1818 1897 first major work and one of the relatively few books he published before renouncing the writing of books for publication altogether Early though the book was in Constantine the Great The Roman Empire and its neighbors during the third and fourth centuries of our era, with an emphasis on the half century from the rise of Diocletian to the death of Constantine such is the general topic of Die Zeit Constantins des Grossen 1853 , which was the Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt s 1818 1897 first major work and one of the relatively few books he published before renouncing the writing of books for publication altogether Early though the book was in his career, his inimitable prose style is already present, as is the then idiosyncratic view of history Burckhardt had already developed Unlike most historians at that time, Burckhardt did not focus on great men and important events, which he saw as exceptional one offs no science of history could incorporate only record , but rather on the matters he viewed as amenable to a science of history culture in the broadest sense, including social and economic relations Nonetheless, Burckhardt did not avoid the discussion of great men and important events Indeed, Diocletian and Constantine the Great come in for a lot of attention in this text, though Burckhardt s primary interest in Diocletian is his unique attempt to solve the recurring problem of how to replace an emperor without an empire convulsing period of warfare between rival pretendants to the throne and musing on how Diocletian was able to keep his co rulers in line, even convincing his co emperor Maximian to retire with him after their 20 year co rule Constantine put a quick end to Diocletian s idea, butabout him later Otherwise, Diocletian is portrayed as a particularly successful exemplar of a long string of former generals made emperor by their essentially private armies Burckhardt s real focus is on which structural aspects of third century Roman politics power centers made this chain of emperor generals possible Alongside this focus on political social cultural structures instead of on individuals events, Burckhardt s discursive style admits extended passages revealing what was then known about social, political, economic and cultural life in the major Roman provinces in the third and fourth centuries Burckhardt holds that the city of Rome s political, economic and cultural significance was minimal at this time, when the rulers had their residences in York, Trier, Split, Antioch, etc., the Senate was toothless, and the armies were no longer raised on the Italian peninsula but in the provinces, often among the newly re settled barbarians , and even a little of the same about the Empire s neighbors The sections on Egypt were particularly fascinatingModel reconstruction of Diocletian s palace in Spalato now Split, Croatia portions are still standing today Burckhardt examines at length the evidence for the state of Greco Roman religion and concludes that the life had gone out of the old beliefs, that philosophy had placed the gods to the side to endlessly regard their own perfection or had abstracted them away altogether, that Greco Roman mythology had been reduced to a conventional ornament for art and literature, that serious drama had disappeared leaving only the crudest kinds of comedies and farces, and that a syncretism consisting primarily of religions and superstitions originally to be found in the North African and Near Eastern provinces, as well as Persia, occupied the spiritual energies of the Roman people Christianity was just one of these, but Burckhardt argues that it had the advantage of promising a very simple way to eternal bliss, whereas its competitors requiredcomplicated exertions to attain their heavens A particularly striking example of this syncretism was provided by the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Antoninus now better known as Heliogabalus , who was a priest of Elagabalus, an aspect of the Semitic god Baal He had Jupiter replaced by Elagabalus in the official pantheon, had the huge slab of black stone which was the god s manifestation brought from Emesa, built him an enormous temple in the center of Rome, then brought the corresponding relics of the Isis Astarte Venus Demeter Urania goddess 4 from Carthage and married the two gods in an elaborate ceremony He even moved the Ur Roman fire of Vesta into the new temple of Baal and Isis Apparently, this was a bit too syncretic for some the priestly emperor was murdered and the stone shipped back to Syria 5 But to return to the promise of immortality, Burckhardt argues at length that the Greco Roman view of an afterlife as joyless shadows in Hades with a few heroic exceptions on the Isle of the Blessed had changed during the crises of the third century into an obsession with the other side Increasingly, real life was moved from the here and now to a blissful afterlife that was not part of the traditional religion but was an important component of the Eastern religions pouring into Rome Interestingly, Burckhardt portrays Neo Platonism as a symptom of this shift in the Zeitgeist In fact, with the exception of Plotinus and Porphyrius, he sees Neo Platonists in the third and fourth centuries as fabulists and frauds occupied with magic and demonology There is so much else packed into this book, including an insightful overview of all aspects of late imperial art and literature and an examination of what could have brought Diocletian in the eighteenth year of his reign to let loose a terrible scourge against the Christians, but I must try to end this review So let me say a few words about the eponymous figure, Constantine In direct opposition to the picture drawn in hagiographies of Constantine by Eusebius whom Burckhardt calls der widerlichste aller Lobredner the most repulsive of all panegyrists later he calls Eusebius the first throughly dishonest history writer of ancient times and other Christian propagandists, Burckhardt s Constantine is an unprincipled opportunist with one purpose in mind sich und seine Herrschaft zu behaupten to assert maintain himself and his rule When his father, who had moved up to Imperator Augustus when Diocletian and Maximian retired, died in York, his army declared Constantine Augustus This was the beginning of a typically complicated and lengthy civil war out of which Constantine emerged as last man standing, and in the process of which he turned on his ally and brother in law, Licinius All of the contenders and their families were killed, including the widow and daughter of Diocletian, who himself committed suicide rather than respond to a probably fatal summons from Constantine and Licinius Such was his thanks for giving up the reins of power A few years after the end of the civil war, Constantine had his own son, Crispus, and his own wife, Fausta, killed So it could hardly startle that he also had his sister s eleven year old son killed But do let Burckhardt tell you the story of a ruthless man without any hint of moral conscience It makes quite a contrast with the received notions At Constantine s death another bitter civil war erupted in which the rest of his family killed each other and a significant percentage of the empire s population, leaving one son, the new emperor, Constantius, and the young nephew, Julian, who was the last in Constantine s line Now he is an emperor who greatly interests me This lively and richly detailed picture of the late Roman Empire has replaced Burkhardt s classic on the European Renaissance as my favorite book from his hand Be sure to read the second, corrected and expanded edition first published in 1880 The large format, beautifully printed edition I read, published by Phaidon Verlag Vienna in 1935, is particularly generously provided with 200 full page illustrations This enrichment is quite likely unique to this edition This book has been translated into English under the title The Age of Constantine the Great I discuss this renunciation in my review ofWeltgeschichtliche Betrachtungen, which is one of the posthumous paste ups Burckhardt s executor put together There do seem to beexceptions now than then in fact, there are entire schools of such exceptions now but these seem to be restricted to the academic ghetto Burckhardt makes the case that the Romans viewed the monotheisms like Christianity and Judaism or dualisms like Zoroastrianism as too foreign to readily incorporate into their syncretism Judaism and Zoroastrianism held themselves strictly apart from the melting pot, while Christianity was busy digesting large chunks of Neo Platonism as it became increasingly sophisticated and hierarchical 4 The second century Syrian Greek Lucian of Samosata wrote a biting satire, Of the Syrian Goddess, about the worship of the Syrian version of this goddess An equal opportunity heretic, Lucian did a number on the entire Greco Roman pantheon in his satires Curiously, the Romans via the Greeks had much earlier incorporated another version of this goddess Cybele, magna mater into their pantheon The same is true of the worship of Isis, which was known in Rome since the times of Sulla But the Roman people wanted a version that was not domesticized, that was still surrounded by the trappings of the mystical East which, often enough, included drunken orgies, quite thoroughly excluded in the domesticized Cybele and Isis cults 5 Supposedly the young emperor had a real gift for causing outrage it is reported that he prostituted himself in the imperial palace, but it is probable that many of the stories told about the young man are slanders used to justify his murder One cannot be sure exactly why he was murdered at the ripe old age of eighteen Rating Especially good are the two central chapters on the pagan mystery cults, which were a prelude to the rise of Christianity. Buckhardt can be plodding, but on subjects like Constantine, he is actually very entertaining In this book, he delivers a fascinating study of the reign of Diocletian, the Tetrarchy, its dissolution and the reign of Constantine If you are unfamiliar with this period of about 200 320 AD, then I can highly recommend this classic text I have not done further research, but I suspect that some of his conclusions might be challenged by recent archeological findings the book is from the 19c , but a Buckhardt can be plodding, but on subjects like Constantine, he is actually very entertaining In this book, he delivers a fascinating study of the reign of Diocletian, the Tetrarchy, its dissolution and the reign of Constantine If you are unfamiliar with this period of about 200 320 AD, then I can highly recommend this classic text I have not done further research, but I suspect that some of his conclusions might be challenged by recent archeological findings the book is from the 19c , but as this book is not particularly polemical, it remains factual and interesting I d heard much of Jacob Burckhardt throughout college and seminary, his work being often cited in other,modern histories Over the years I picked up titles as they were come across in bookstores I started with Constantine rather than hisfamous Renaissance because I knewabout ancient history to begin with and so would be able to compare his mid 18th century scholarship to thecontemporary material I was familiar with.To a layperson like myself, Burckhardt held up well, any I d heard much of Jacob Burckhardt throughout college and seminary, his work being often cited in other,modern histories Over the years I picked up titles as they were come across in bookstores I started with Constantine rather than hisfamous Renaissance because I knewabout ancient history to begin with and so would be able to compare his mid 18th century scholarship to thecontemporary material I was familiar with.To a layperson like myself, Burckhardt held up well, any major revisions in the history of the period having gone underneath my radar Ich gebe es auf, weil ich zum wiederholten Mal auf Stellen wie die folgende sto e in meiner Ausgabe S.119 Unter ihnen selbst den Bisch fen zeigte sich aber schon im dritten Jahrhundert schwere Ausartung wir finden manche von ihnen in Pomp versunken, als r mische Beamte, als Kaufleute, ja als Wucherer das sehr grelle Beispiel des Paul von Samosate wird mit Recht als keineswegs vereinzeltes betrachtet Es folgt kein Wort mehr zu Paul, sondern Fu note Nr 260 zweihundertsechzig durchnum Ich gebe es auf, weil ich zum wiederholten Mal auf Stellen wie die folgende sto e in meiner Ausgabe S.119 Unter ihnen selbst den Bisch fen zeigte sich aber schon im dritten Jahrhundert schwere Ausartung wir finden manche von ihnen in Pomp versunken, als r mische Beamte, als Kaufleute, ja als Wucherer das sehr grelle Beispiel des Paul von Samosate wird mit Recht als keineswegs vereinzeltes betrachtet Es folgt kein Wort mehr zu Paul, sondern Fu note Nr 260 zweihundertsechzig durchnummeriert Ah, denke ich mir, wenigstens endlich mal wieder ein krasses, grelles Beispiel, wie sie so sch n ausgeschm ckt sind in der Kultur der Renaissance , und bl ttere sensationsgespannt zu den Anmerkungen Was ist dort zu finden Schlosser, Univ.hist bersicht d alten Welt, III, 2 S 119 Ich w sste schon gern mehr zu Paul von Samosate Mittels dieses Buchs wird mir das aber wohl nur schwer gelingen , , , XX , , *READ BOOK ↮ The Age of Constantine the Great ☠ Translator s ForewordPreface to st EditionPreface to nd EditionThe Imperial Power in the rd CenturyDiocletian His System of Adoptions His ReignIndividual Provinces Neighboring Countries The WestIndividual Provinces Neighboring Countries The EastPaganism Intermingling of GodsImmortality Its Mysteries The Daimonization of PaganismSenescence of Ancient Life Its CultureThe Persecution of Christians Constantine the SuccessionConstantine the ChurchCourt, Administration Army Contantinople, Rome, Athens JerusalemAddenda et CorrigendaOn the Ancient SourcesChronology of the EmperorsIndex