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Review: Constantine at the Bridge

Stephen Dando-Collins

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Constantine at the Bridge

The book “Constantine at the Bridge” by Stephen Dando-Collins tells the story of Constantine I, the man who reunited the Roman Empire in the hands of one man after almost thirty years of separation of powers. What’s more, most people attribute to him that he contributed to the growth of the importance of Christianity in the Roman state.

Stephen Dando-Collins is a world-famous Australian writer of history books, including those on the history of ancient Rome. This is not my first encounter with his work and once again I can express myself positively about his work.

The subtitle of the book is: “How the Battle of the Milvian Bridge Created Christian Rome”. This title may indirectly contain a kind of the author’s thesis, suggesting that the victory of Constantine in the battle at the Mulvian Bridge in 312 CE led to the fall of pagan Rome. As it turns out, the author believes that no matter who won the rivalry for the Roman throne, Christianity would become the dominant religion in Rome. The Edict of Milan was not the first document to legalize the Christian religion and Roman rulers (including Galerius and Maxentius) had already allowed faith in Christ. Each time, these decisions were related to the search for social support for the emperors. Constantine and his approach to Christians were strongly influenced by his mother Helena, a staunch follower of Christ who chose Rome as her home.

Constantine entered universal history as an active follower of a new religion from Judea who, having visions and signals from God, was able to defeat Maxentius and contribute to the triumph of the Christian faith in the Empire. As it turns out, there are many distortions here on the part of Christian historians, who at every step tried to emphasize the early connection of the emperor with the Church and look for symbolism. The truth is that Constantine was in fact curious about the new faith, but practically all his life he was faithful to his religion in Sol Invictus, as evidenced by the coins and reliefs on the Arch of Constantine the Great in Rome. The author very skillfully explains the visions of Constantine, manipulations of Church representatives as to the figure of Constantine and many, many other issues. Regardless of everything, Constantine decided to be baptized on his deathbed in 337 CE, which was more like Pascal’s wager – better believe in God, because it costs us nothing, and may guarantee eternal life.

It should be noted that the author uses very pleasant language that is easy to read and understand. The book is divided into 22 chapters, in which the author devotes himself to subsequent stages and issues related to the history between 293 and 337 CE. The reader receives a solid dose of information about subsequent events in the Roman Empire, battles at the borders, the genesis of the dominate and tetrarchy, and finally gives birth to Constantine or his father Constantius Chlorus. Much of the story focuses on Constantine’s rise to power, his visions, competition for power in the West, and then the subjugation of the entire Empire. The author relies in his descriptions both on Christian authors (Eusebius of Caesarea or Lactantius) and on the accounts of representatives of the ancient Roman faith (Emperor Julian I, Ammianus Marcellinus, Zosimos, Aurelius Victor). Reading the work, you can clearly see the author’s scepticism towards Christianity and the influence of Edward Gibbon’s research.

The only disadvantages of the item are the fact that the footnotes were placed at the end of the book. I always say that it is much more convenient to follow additional information on the topic at the bottom of the page – it makes life easier for the reader.
At the end of the book, we can find an extensive bibliography with books used by the author that can be used by the reader to further explore their knowledge.

The book was published by Turner Publishing. I cannot comment on the quality of the edition as I received an e-book for review; I must admit, however, that it was very pleasant to read, the letters are very clear and the cover is very nice. Also, for my part, I can express myself positively about the e-book.

In conclusion, I think that the book is a very interesting proposal for anyone who would like to learn more about the history of the tetrarchy period, the rise to power of Constantine, the nuances related to the religion and beliefs of the emperor, and the competition for supremacy in the Empire, until the death of Constantine in 337 CE. Stephen Dando-Collins has once again proved that he can easily tell stories, in an accessible way and based on reliable sources and knowledge base.

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