The Age of Constantine


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The Age of Constantine

  1. 1. THE AGE OF CONSTANTINE CLAH266 – Lecture 5 26th October 2012 Dr Jamie WoodColossal head of Basilica of Constantine, TrierConstantine, Palazzo deiConservatori, Rome
  2. 2. Aims of the lecture To provide an introduction to religious developments in the later Roman Empire To put Constantine‟s decision to „convert‟ to Christianity into context To give an overview of the main political events in the age of Constantine To analyse some primary sources on the conversion of Constantine and its consequences
  3. 3. Structure of the lecture Religion in the 2nd and 3rd centuries – a move to monotheism? The politics of Constantine‟s age The conversion of Constantine Seminar: sources on Constantine‟s conversion
  4. 4. Key points on religion in 2nd-3rd C 41. Despite the traditional stress on conflict between Christianity and the Roman Empire (e.g. ideas of targeted persecution by the authorities and voluntary martyrdom by the Christians), religions system of the empire was becoming increasingly monotheistic2. Some Christian values, beliefs and practices were very similar to those of contemporary philosophical schools.
  5. 5. Monotheism/ Polytheism5  Monotheism is a religious system which believes that there is only one god  Judaism and Christianity are both monotheistic  Traditional Graeco-Roman society was polytheistic (= a religious system that believes there are many gods)  This remains true in 2nd and 3rd Cs, however...
  6. 6. Monotheism/Polytheism/Henotheism6 1. Some philosophical schools, e.g. Stoics, were developing monotheistic ideas about God (theology) 2. Some emperors were developing special forms of devotion for one God among the others; this religious system is called henotheism (political implications)
  7. 7. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations VI, 77  “Let your one delight and refreshment be to pass from one service to the community to another, with God ever in mind” Equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, Capitoline Museum, Rome
  8. 8. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations XII, 2-38  “God views the inner minds of men, bared of the material vesture and rind and impurities. Acting through his thought alone, he makes contact solely with that in them which is an outflow from himself. School yourself to do likewise, and you will be spared many a distraction; for who that looks past this fleshly covering will ever harass himself with visions of raiment, housing, reputation, or any of the rest of life‟s costume and scenery? You are composed of three parts: body, spirit and mind [...].”
  9. 9. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations VIII, 29 “Of any action, ask yourself, What will its Column of Marcus Aurelius consequences be to me? Shall I repent of it? Before long I shall be dead and all will be forgotten; but in the meantime, if this undertaking is fit for a rational and social being, who is under the same law as God himself, why look for
  10. 10. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations XI, 3(on the Christians)10  “Happy the soul which, at whatever moment the call comes for release from the body, is equally ready to face extinction, dispersion, or survival. Such preparedness, however, must be the outcome of its own decision; a decision not prompted by mere rebelliousness, as with the Christians, but formed with deliberation and gravity and, if it is to be convincing to others, with an absence of all heroics.”
  11. 11. Elagabalus: a state religion?11 Elagabal: an oracular solar deity from Emesa, Syria; also known as Sol Invictus („The invincible sun‟); cult spread all over Roman Empire from 2nd C CE Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus (= Elagabalus): Severan emperor from Syria; The Roses of Heliogabalus, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1888 priest of this cult; became emperor in 218
  12. 12. Elagabalus (218-222)12  220 CE: he tried to impose Elagabal as the supreme god of the Roman pantheon  He was later (not while he was emperor) called by the name of Portrait of Emperor Elagabalus, the God, as a form of Capitoline Museum, Rome abuse
  13. 13. 13 Aureus. Struck 218-219 Antioch mint. IMP(erator) C M(arcus) AVR(elius) ANTONINVS P(ius) F(elix) AVG(ustus) SANCT DEO SOLI, ELAGABAL in exergue, quadriga right bearing stone of Emesa upon which is an eagle; four parasols around Read Herodian on the emperor‟s project:
  14. 14. Empire and Religion in the 3rd C14
  15. 15. The Decian „persecution‟ (250/1)15 P. Ryl. 12, Certificate of sacrifice, 250 CE (1 of 47 certificates of pagan sacrifice from Egypt) To the commissioners of sacrifices from Aurelia Demos, who has no father, daughter of Helena and wife of Aurelius Irenaeus, of the Quarter of the Helleneum. It has ever been my habit to sacrifice to the gods, and now also I have in your presence, in accordance with the command, made sacrifice and libation and tasted the offering, and I beg you to certify my statement. Farewell. I Aurelia Demos have presented this declaration. I Aurelius Irenaeus wrote for her as she is illitterate. I Aurelius Sabinus prytanis saw you sacrificing. The first year of the emperor Decius, Pauni 20 (= 14 June 250 )
  16. 16. Diocletian (284-305)16  Traditionalist in religious terms  Reinforced the imperial cult, assuming the title of Iovius (son of Jupiter)  Initiated the Great Persecution (in 303)  But were these persecutions directed against Christians or persecutions to reinforce Roman public religion and relationship of the state with the gods?
  17. 17. Conclusions on Empire and ReligionBefore Constantine17 Some Christian beliefs and practices were similar to those of other religious systems and philosophical schools Religion and politics in antiquity were overlapping Religion: often a rhetoric through which political power is articulated and exercised If the power comes from the God/Gods, his/her/their representatives on earth (such as priests and emperors) control the power itself.  the Roman emperor was the highest religious authority (pontifex maximus)  the imperial cult was an effective way of encouraging loyalty to the emperor and getting provinces to buy into imperial systemDid Roman emperors start to think that monotheism was a better ‘fit’ for justifying and exerting their power than polytheism?
  18. 18. 305 CE: Abdiction of Diocletian and Maximian in favour of the Caesars 304: D suffers serious illness 304-5: Galerius persuades/ forces D and M to abdicate (in 305); both retire Galerius becomes Augustus in east and Constantius I Chlorus in west  Severus and Maximinus Daia (both closely associated with Galerius) declared Caesars  Constantine (son of Constantius I Chlorus) and Maxentius (son of Maximian) are ignored
  19. 19. 306 CE: Constantine I19 Constantius I Chlorus dies, the troops nominated his son, Constantine I, as Augustus at York  C claims the title Augustus but Galerius grants him that of Caesar  He controls, Britain, Gaul and Spain and moves to Trier Maxentius, son of Maximian, pressed for recognition as Augustus too but Licinius, a former military colleague of Galerius, is raised Augustus in the West; this is not accepted and also annoys Maximinus Daia, who had been overlooked 310: Galerius falls ill and civil wars break out 311-12: C marries L‟s sister, Fausta 311-12: Maxentius and Maximinus Daia form alliance 312 (28-29 October): Battle of Milvian Bridge, Rome (Constantine vs. Maxentius)
  20. 20. Seminar questions Source 1: What does this source suggest was Constantine‟s motive for conversion? What benefits did he get from converting to Christianity? Source 2: What does the Edict of Milan enact? Who benefits from the Edict and in what way(s)? Sources 4-8: What changes resulted Piero della Francesca, Constantine‟s from toleration and then adoption of dream, Church of St. Francis, Arezzo Christianity by the emperors? Who benefited/ lost out and in what ways?
  21. 21. A key source: Eusebius, Bishop ofCaesarea (b. ca. 260; d. before 341)21  Student of Pamphilius, a follower of Origen (great 2nd C Christian thinker)  Lived through the Great Persecution  Became bishop in 314  Innovative writer in Greek of history from Christian perspective: 1. Ecclesiastical History (history of the Christian church from Jesus to his own time) 2. Chronicle (synchronic world history from Abraham to his own time)
  22. 22. Eusebius as historian22 Much of what we know about the rise and organisation of Christianity is based on Eusebius Eusebius is our main source on Constantine‟s conversion and his policy towards Christianity  He is not an objective source (though his use of sources sometimes appears quite modern; e.g. in his citation of „primary sources‟) Conversion of Constantine 1. closely linked to political events within the Roman Empire 2. has serious political and social implications for imperial history (e.g. last week on role of bishops as judges)
  23. 23. Constantine: The many faces of an emperor 23 Coin with Sol Invictus, Trier 329 Sardonyx cameo withColossal statue of Constantine crownedConstantine, from the basilica of by Constantinople, 4thMaxentius, Rome (314-324 ca) cent.
  24. 24. 327-329, the Sun god, wearingConstantine: A Christian a radiate crown (crown of sunEmperor? rays) and a chlamys (small cloak) fastened at the24 shoulder, with his right hand raised, holding in his left hand a globus (celestial orb) decorated with an equinoctial cross (representing the spring and autumnal equinoxes), offering the globus to Constantine (symbolizing Sol granting Constantine the power to rule the universe), standing on the exergual line, inscription "SOLI INVICTO COMITI" or "To the invincible Sun god, companion of the Emperor," T and F in the reverse left and right fields may stand for "TEMPORVM FELICITAS" or "The happiness of the age," mint mark of dot- ATR (last letter looks like an H) in the exergue, with TR standing for Treveri (Trier)
  25. 25. Constantinople: a „new Rome‟ On site of ancient city of Byzantium (investment in previous centuries) Gradual Christianisation of the city  Collection of relics  New Church of the Holy Apostles on site of a temple to Aphrodite
  26. 26. Sozomen (d. ca.450), Ecclesiastical History 2.3:on the foundation of Constantinople in 324CEHe greatly improved this latter city, and made it equal to Rome in power and influence; for when hehad settled his empire as he was minded, and had freed himself from foreign foes, he resolved onfounding a city which should be called by his own name, and should equal in fame even Rome. […]Led by the divine hand, he came to Byzantium in Thrace, beyond Chalcedon in Bithynia, and herehe desired to build his city, and render it worthy of the name of Constantine. In obedience to thecommand of God, he therefore enlarged the city formerly called Byzantium, and surrounded it withhigh walls; likewise he built splendid dwelling houses; and being aware that the former populationwas not enough for so great a city, he peopled it with men of rank and their families, whom hesummoned from Rome and from other countries. He imposed special taxes to cover the expensesof building and adorning the city, and of supplying the inhabitants with food. He erected all theneeded edifices for a great capital-a hippodrome, fountains, porticoes and other beautifuladornments. He named it Constantinople and New Rome-and established it as the Roman capitalfor all the inhabitants of the North, the South, the East, and the shores of the Mediterranean, fromthe cities on the Danube and from Epidamnus and the Ionian Gulf to Cyrene and Libya.He created another Senate which he endowed with the same honors and privileges as that ofRome, and he strove to render the city of his name equal in every way to Rome in Italy; nor werehis wishes in vain, for by the favor of God, it became the most populous and wealthy of cities. Asthis city became the capital of the Empire during the period of religious prosperity, it was notpolluted by altars, Grecian temples, nor pagan sacrifices. Constantine also honored this new city ofChrist by adorning it with many and splendid houses of prayer, in which the Deity vouchsafed tobless the efforts of the Emperor by giving sensible manifestations of his presence.
  27. 27. Points to remember28 The conversion of Constantine to Christianity must be studied in the wider historical context  It drew on religious and political developments of 2nd and 3rd Cs (especially under the Tetrarchy) Although the emperor converted to Christianity, the rhetoric of power remained based on the earlier imperial iconography (including polytheism; see coins and other imperial representations) Eusebius suggests a link between the rhetoric of military success and the benevolence of the Christian God.  But this can be seen in pagan (and non-religious) sources as well, demonstrating continuity in terms of cultural structures, despite the religious „revolution‟ that was happening at the same time.
  28. 28. Further readings on Constantine:29  T.D. Barnes, Constantine and Eusebius, Cambridge Mass. 1981.  H. Drake, Constantine and the Bishops. The Politics of Intolerance, Baltimore MD 2000.  N. Lenski, ed., Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine, Cambridge 2005.
  29. 29. Homework 2000 word essay due on Thursday 6th December  Look at the essay questions on the syllabus (p. 3)  Think about which question(s) you might like to do – you don‟t have to pick one yet...  Spend some time thinking about how you might go about breaking down the question – see next slide for advice on how to do this...  Write down those thoughts and bring them to class next week
  30. 30. Some questions to help you breakdown questions31  Read the question  Break it down into its constituent parts  Think about the following:  What sort of question is it?  What assumptions underlie the question?  What are the meanings of the key terms in the question?  What sort of response is the questioner looking for?  How can I use the question to structure my essay?  How can I go beyond or challenge the assumptions underlying the question?  What kind of thesis statement would represent a satisfactory answer to this question?