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Constantine: Unconquered emperor, Christian victor Paperback – 4 Aug 2011
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"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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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.
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?Read more ›
* 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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Professor Stephenson’s life of Constantine contains what I believe to be a fundamental flaw. I was astonished to find myself reading a version of history that clashed with... Read morePublished 17 months ago by RobCol
Paul Stephenson is obviously anti-Christian as this quite clearly comes over in his very biased view of Constantine. Read morePublished on 19 Jun. 2015 by Billy Bobble
Excellent item. I would recommend this seller for their accurate description, fair price and prompt deliveryPublished on 20 Feb. 2015 by Chris Plant
Stephenson's book is a competent account of the rise and reign of Constantine. We learn to appreciate Constantine's qualities as a military leader, in particular his grasp of the... Read morePublished on 1 Jun. 2014 by S. G. Raggett
I, like some others, thought that this would be a more straightforward biog but the basic theme was no less interesting. Read morePublished on 17 Aug. 2012 by Richard Sewell
Judging by the title of the book you might think that this was a military or secular history of Constantine's career. It isn't. Read morePublished on 31 May 2012 by Arch Stanton
Academics will look elsewhere for reviews of this book. The amateur with an interest in Constantine should look elsewhere for a book. Read morePublished on 10 May 2012 by C. P. Rostant
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