Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2006.06.36

ALSO SEEN: Elizabeth Hartley, Constantine the Great: York's Roman Emperor.   Aldershot, UK:  Lund Humphries, 2006.  Pp. 280; ills., maps.  ISBN 0-85331-928-6.  $100.00.  

Reviewed by Michael DiMaio, Jr., Salve Regina University (

At first glance, this catalog of a museum exhibit compiled by Hartley, Hawkes, Henig, and Mee seemed like another typical coffee table picture book -- a work full of pretty pictures and some basic illustrative essays about the history, art, and civilization of the Age of Constantine. When I examined the work a little more closely, I realized that this book was not only a museum catalog but also a substantial work of late-antique scholarship covering many aspects of reign of Constantine I. The work was lucid , clearly written and a pleasure to read., something that -- at least in my opinion -- is hard to find among other such works.

The first half of the work consists of scholarly essays on the history of the age of Constantine which rely, for the most part, on many of the items in the York exhibition, whereas the second half of the tome is exhibition catalog itself. The essays include: Constantine and Constantius: An Exercise in Publicity (Averil Cameron), Constantius and Constantine at York (Paul Bidwell); Emperor and Citizen in the Era of Constantine (Simon Corcoran); In the Pay of the Emperor: Coins from the Beaurains (Arras) Treasure (Richard Abdy);The Owners of the Beaurains (Arras) Treasure (Roger Tomlin); Art in the Age of Constantine (Martin Henig); the Crocus Conundrum (Ian Wood); Religious Diversity in Constantine's Empire (Martin Henig); Constantine and Christianity (Averal Cameron); The Legacy of Constantine in Anglo-Saxon England (Jane Hawkes).

Although all the essays are in my judgment of uniformly high quality, some comments about a few of them are necessary because of my own interests. Because I have dealt primarily with the literary and epigraphical evidence for this period in my own work, I found Abdy's discussion of the Arras Treasure to be a rather interesting introduction to the topic of coin hordes/treasures and their like. Tomlin's attempt to reconstruct the career of the Valerianus the Protector, the putative owner of the treasure, must be considered speculative; because there is no literary or epigraphical evidence that documents this man's career, he argues that Valerianus' career would have been similar to those of other men who held the same office. Although Tomlin may be right, we will never know for certain unless additional evidence is found. He is relying on an argumentum ex silentio to make his case. Cameron's essay on Constantine and Christianity is excellent, although, for some reason, she chides here and in other places any scholar who attempts to come up with a scientific explanation for Constantine's vision in 312, a point I have made elsewhere (BMCR 2000.08.08). If the position she takes is correct, Constantine's vision of 312 is relegated to the realm of mythology. A scientific explanation for the vision at least attempts to square the literary evidence of Lactantius and Eusebius of Caesarea with historical reality.

The actual catalog of the exhibition is excellent; almost all of the photographs of the items on display are in color and the commentary on each item is detailed and, in many cases, quite expansive. I learned as much from the catalog as I did from the scholarly essays. Additionally, the work has a detailed bibliography, glossary of terms, lists of abbreviations and ancient sources, and an index. The book would be of interest to scholars, any student of Roman antiquity, and the general reader.

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