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Constantine: Unconquered emperor, Christian victor Paperback – 4 Aug 2011

3.6 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Quercus (4 Aug. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0857381660
  • ISBN-13: 978-0857381668
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.6 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 138,159 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

"Scholar Stephenson offers a stately though academic biography of the first Roman emperor who converted to Christianity, with a heavy emphasis on the archaeological record... Stephenson's knowledgeable account pursues a wide variety of historical branches of Constantine's story." - "Kirkus" "Everyone interested in the classical period should read this exemplary biography, which eschews psychological speculation and instead builds its case inventively from primary accounts and the iconographic record in statuary, architecture, and coinage."-"Library Journal" STARRED REVIEW

From the Inside Flap

Constantine: Unconquered Emperor, Christian Victor is a masterly survey of the life and enduring legacy of the greatest of the later Roman emperors - from a richly gifted young historian.
In 312, Constantine - one of four Roman emperors ruling a divided empire - marched on Rome to establish his sole control of its western half. According to Constantine's first biographer, the bishop of Eusebius, on the eve of the decisive battle, at Rome's Milvian Bridge, he had a vision. `A cross-shaped trophy of light' appeared to him in the sky with an exhortation, generally translated as `By this sign conquer'. Inscribing the sign on the shields of his soldiers, Constantine drove the followers of his rival Maxentius into the Tiber and claimed the imperial capital for himself. He converted to Christianity and ended persecution of his co-religionists with the defeat in 324 of his last rival, Licinius.
Under Constantine, Christianity emerged from the shadows, its adherents no longer persecuted. Constantine united the western and eastern halves of the Roman Empire, and presided over the first ecumenical council of the Christian Church, at Nicaea in 325. He founded a new capital city nearby on the Bosphorus, where Europe meets Asia. This site, the ancient trading colony of Byzantium, became the city of Constantine, Constantinople, a new Christian capital set apart from Rome's pagan past. Thereafter the Christian Roman Empire endured in the East as Byzantium, while Rome itself fell to the barbarian hordes in AD 476.
Paul Stephenson offers a nuanced and deeply satisfying account of a man whose cultural and spiritual renewal of the Roman Empire gave birth to the historically crucial idea of a unified Christian Europe underpinned by a commitment to religious tolerance. In Constantine: Unconquered Emperor, Christian Victor, a seminal figure in the political and cultural history of the West has at last found the biographer he deserves. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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3.6 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is presented as the new classic Bio of Constantine. That's the reason I purchased it. Im afraid, although brilliantly researched, it was greatly lacking for me. In the Intro we are promised that he will stick to the subject and not get sidetracked - im afraid he packs out the bio with information that a number of times feels like a sidetrack. Im afraid for me it was an effort to stay interested and to continue reading. Am still looking for a good readable, interesting but factual bio. I especially wanted to see his impact on the Church of his day. This book although dealing with this still lacks in areas only mentioning things in passing which I would want info on.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Paul Stephenson's account of Constantine is a highly accessible and readable account of the life and acts of Constantine, and the author beings into consideration aspects which are often not covered in more academic and specialised texts. On strength is the author's discussion of existing religions, particularly with respect to the army, and how the Christianisation of the empire fitted in with this.

Because it is a work aimed at the more general reader, this does mean that there is no real reference to sources made, and so, as some other reviewers have pointed out, as a result it's difficult to check some of the claims made. Secondly by trying to cover such an immense subject in a paperback, coverage of some aspects are not as detailed as perhaps would be desirable, but it's a difficult balancing act, and Stephenson provides us with a good overview.

Although ostensibly focusing on the theology of imperial power, I thought that as a whole the book lacked a clearly stated or proven thesis or theses, but it may be that the author did not really set out with such an aim. A qualified recommendation - this should be a book to whet the reader's appetite to delve more deeply into the life and historical significance of Constantine rather than a standalone complete work.
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Format: Hardcover
I gather that the previous reviewer is a bit of an expert - my review comes from a more "general reader" perspective! The book is certainly well worth a read - and not the less so because despite Paul Stephenson's best efforts (and as he freely acknowledges in his conclusion) no really clear picture of Constatine emerges. So it answers clearly the question: can we hope to know or understand this exceptional emperor? The answer - by reason of the levels of spin used by Constantine himself via the imperial system, and the sources who have come down to us (notably Eusebius, who writes from a Christian centred perspective) is a big no.
That does not mean that Stepehenson doesn't clarify the picture considerably. Extrapolating from representations on coins and other artefacts he argues a number of points powerfully - not least the case for doubting that the chi-ro was part of a Milvian Bridge vision, or that Constantine's journey to conversion occurred suddenly at about this time. Also fascinating in this context is the extent to which the old visual forms continued to be used because they had establshed meanings, in a way that Christianity could not yet challenge.
So why only four stars? It is really two things: (i) that the book has lots of good things, but it is patchy and does not really come together as a coherent whole and (ii) Stephenson sometimes hesitates to make his own points, or treats them as "given" without sufficient basis. In relation to the first point, there is a noticeable stylistic disjunction between the introductory chapters, setting the scene, which are written with admirable fluidity, and in very user friendly mode (almost like an "introduction to the world of Constantine" lecture?
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As a Religious Studies teacher I'm always on the lookout for fresh Constantine material that adds further learning to the Early Christian Church and the influence of the Roman Empire. Paul Stephenson's book is historically accurate and covers the reign of Constantine in user friendly manner. One thing I really liked about this book was the documented archaeological evidence displayed in the photographs. Stephenson's chapters based on the Battle of the Milvian Bridge and the Arch of Constantine are very informative and raise further room for scholarly discussion. The controversial nature of Constantine is still preserved throughout the book and this makes for great wider reading in this important time period for the early church. All work is well resourced and documented.
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Format: Hardcover
Paul Stephenson is a Reader in the Department of History at the University of Durham. His book begins with a preface and an introduction. The main text is divided into three parts. Here is a brief overview:

* PART I - The general background - chapters 1-4

* PART II - Constantine's road to power - chapters 5-8

* PART III - Constantine as emperor - chapters 9-12

The book ends with a conclusion, a glossary, a brief note on primary sources, a long bibliographical essay and an index.

What about illustrations? In the beginning of the book there are eight maps and two family trees (stemmata). In addition, there are 60 photos, most of them in colour. The photos are printed on special paper in three separate blocks. Most of the photos come from an agency, but 24 are taken by the author himself. The size is rather small, with two or three photos per page.

In his preface Stephenson says he hopes information given in the book "will prove useful to those who wish to follow in the emperor's footsteps, from York to Trier, from Arles to Rome, from Thessaloniki to Istanbul, and beyond."

When we look at the illustrations, we can see he has followed his own advice. There are photos taken by the author from Trier, Arles, Rome and Thessaloniki.

Stephenson's account is supported by a wide range of sources, not only ancient texts but also archaeological objects, sometimes coins with pictures and inscriptions, sometimes monuments with pictures and inscriptions.
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