BMCR 2002.08.26

Geschichte der römischen Kaiserzeit: von Diokletian und Konstantin bis zum Ende der konstantinischen Dynastie (284-363). Geschichte und Kultur der Alten Welt

Hartwin Brandt, Geschichte der römischen Kaiserzeit : von Diokletian und Konstantin bis zum Ende der konstantinischen Dynastie (284-363). Studienbücher Geschichte und Kultur der Alten Welt. Berlin: Akad.-Verl, 1998. 213 Seiten : Illustrationen, Diagramme, Karten.. ISBN 3050032812 EUR 19.80.

Brandt’s work is one of a series of Studienbücher on Roman Imperial history, the rationale for which is to facilitate for Germans the development of a new historical consciousness, one that transcends an [allegedly] now-dominant restrictive, divisive, nationalistic approach to the past which the editors describe in their spirited Foreword (p. 5) as having reduced the study of history in German schools to “national navel contemplation.”1 Imperial Rome, on the other hand, represents to them (p. 7) a European, indeed Western, order rooted in civil rights ( Bürgerrecht), which provides a successful precedent for the integration of smaller, autonomous units into a greater multi-ethnic and multi-cultural political union and was the necessary historical condition “for the spread of Christianity, for the development of the West and modernity, indeed, for the formation of the concept ‘Europe.'” The editors know well that there was far more to the Roman past than this, that other lessons have been learned, some in living memory, and are still being learned — by Europeans and non-Europeans alike — from the Imperium Romanum. Yet this does not invalidate their essential points.

To achieve their objective, the editors have imposed on the Studienbücher series a format mirrored by Geschichte der römischen Kaiserzeit : the initial portion of each book comprises a descriptive account ( Darstellung, in Brandt, pp. 15-54) of various themes and topics, while a second portion ( Material, in Brandt, pp. 55-190) features explication of the evidence upon which that account rests. This arrangement aims to demonstrate to students, to teachers who deal with ancient history but who neither know the sources nor have the training to evaluate them, to scholars in related disciplines, and to a broader interested readership how various categories of evidence and diverse critical approaches provide the foundation for what too often appears in textbooks or popular accounts of antiquity to be deceptively uncomplicated. It is also meant to counter, through the example of hard-won expertise brought to bear upon intricate problems and sometimes recalcitrant evidence, various interrelated features of an intellectual malaise (e.g., a decline in the ability to recognize the complexity of events, the attractiveness of simplistic, superficial arguments, and a susceptibility to ideologies) associated by the editors with many pedagogical presentations of the past, a malaise painfully evident also in perceptions of and reactions to affairs of the present. Brandt’s book, then, is far more than yet another contribution to the “problems in history” genre, which regularly leaves it to readers who are incompetent to discriminate rationally between alternative views to make choices based on feeling alone or simply to conclude that all explanations are of equal merit. Instead, it links what initially seems to be fairly seamless exposition ( Darstellung) to the Material underlying it and, implicitly, to the training required to analyze that evidence with some independent authority.

Brandt’s Darstellung is an accessible account of important aspects of the reigns of Diocletian, Constantine the Great, Constantine’s immediate successors, and Julian. In the case of Diocletian, Brandt emphasizes three issues: (1) the degree of the novelty of the tetrarchic system, (2) Diocletian’s economic and administrative reforms, and (3) Diocletian’s religious policy. For Constantine, there are five issues: (1) the “Return to Monarchy,” (2) imperial strategy for dealing with barbarians, (3) the foundation of Constantinople, (4) currency reform connected to the aureus solidus, and (5) “The New Course,” set by Constantine with respect to Christians labeled orthodox, to Christians labeled heretics, to pagans, and to Jews. For Constantine’s sons there are three: (1) the struggle for succession and attempts at usurpation, (2) internal conflicts with respect to state, church, and society, and (3) the ongoing conflict between Rome and Persia; while for Julian, there are two: (1) cities and taxation within the context of Julian’s planned political restoration and (2) the Apostate’s policy of religious reform.

The fit between Brandt’s Darstellung and the subsequent Material is uniformly fine. For example, in his chapter on Diocletian and the Tetrarchy, Brandt connects his comments on “The New System of the Tetrarchy” to a description and analysis of a well-known portrait bust often identified as Diocletian’s, to a translation and critical analysis of Eutropius’ Breviarium 9.20-22, to discussions of five monumental pillars that once stood in Rome (these are clearly visible in the background of what is sometimes called the Oratio relief on the Arch of Constantine), to the Basilica of Maxentius, and to a consideration of Diocletian’s palace at Split. In the first portion of his treatment of Constantine’s “New Course,” he examines that emperor’s “Christian vision,” the Arch of Constantine and its famous inscription, the silver medallion of Constantine from Ticinum, and the Lateran basilica of Constantine. Brandt links the initial section of his account of Constantine’s sons to an exegesis of Epitome de Caesaribus 41.19-20 and to a solidus of Magnentius, the reverse of which shows the usurper holding a statue of Victory in his right hand and grasping the labarum with his left. In the case of Julian’s religious program, Brandt deals with two key texts connected to Julian’s school legislation — Codex Theodosianus 13.3.5 and Julian’s Epistle 61c Bidez-Cumont — along with portions of Libanius’ Or. 17, a contorniate medallion struck probably within a decade of Julian’s death, and an often-illustrated panel of a diptych, topped by the monogram of the Symmachi, which portrays the apotheosis of an unidentified figure.

The content of the Material section — featuring illustrations and photographs where appropriate — is carefully and clearly explicated and buttressed by references to much of the best recent scholarship, especially, as one would expect, work done in German. Brandt does a particularly good job of connecting data which, if approached only as discrete units or in other combinations, could support a broad range of interpretations, some far different than his. For example, he places much weight on Eutropius’ testimony ( Breviarium 9.20-22) in his argument that the Tetrarchy — including the resignations of Diocletian and Maximian — represents the imposition by Diocletian of a pre-conceived plan rather than a system developed in great part in reaction to specific events and personal tensions. In so doing, he must make a case against the portrayal of the tetrarchs in the De Mortibus Persecutorum of Lactantius, and he does so by employing archaeological evidence to complement Eutropius. This dismissal of Lactantius obviously has major implications for Brandt’s treatment of other aspects of Diocletian’s reign, not the least of these the persecution of Christians, which Brandt sees (p. 26) as the product of that emperor’s longstanding reflection rather than the result of spur-of-the-moment rage and the prodding of Galerius as detailed by Lactantius’ De Mortibus Persecutorum 10-11. For Constantine scholars, too, this assessment of Lactantius is no small matter, and it is important to note that most of the issues addressed in the Material section are equally significant and deserving of careful consideration and criticism by Brandt’s scholarly peers.

This raises the question of readership outside of the specific audience at which the Studienbücher series aims, a target to which Brandt and his editors have obviously given much thought. But what of potential readers outside of Germany and other German-speaking areas? For students of Late Antiquity, especially graduate students in the process of learning German, Brandt has much to offer. Indeed, the stimulating content of his book will display to the latter some of the rewards to be won by their labors, while at the same time providing readable German apportioned in small units through which to hone their skills in that language. On another level, the pedagogical attention of Geschichte der römischen Kaiserzeit to both Wissenschaft and Bildung is refreshing and worthy of emulation, and the post-nationalistic intellectual concerns which were its impetus certainly warrant reflection.2


1. See the recent BMCR reviews of Frank Kolb’s Herrscherideologie in der Spätantike (2002.07.02) and Engelbert Winter and Beate Dignas’ Rom und das Perserreich (2002.05.06), both from the same series.

2. All Greek and Latin are translated. There are line maps of post-Diocletianic provinces and dioceses, of dioceses and prefectures, of the “Roman East,” and of Constantinople, the first a bit cluttered, but all clearly drawn and more than adequate for the purpose of the book. The quality of the eighteen photographic images and two line drawings is excellent. Among the appendices are a chronology of major events from Diocletian’s accession to Julian’s death, a glossary of twenty-nine intelligently selected terms — e.g., Arianismus, Ciborium, Follis, and Stadtpräfekt — and a good index. Editorial attentiveness is obvious, though there is an odd attribution (p. 161) to Behrend rather than to Dindorf of the Teubner edition of John Zonaras’ chronicle.