BMCR 2006.06.04

The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine

, The Cambridge companion to the Age of Constantine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. xviii, 469 pages : illustrations, maps ; 23 cm. ISBN 0521818389. £17.99 (pb).

The Bible has a lot to answer for. When the Cambridge Companion to the Bible was published in 1893, it was a serviceable reference work, but only the Bible earned such a thoughtful and attentive dependent. A few other companions began to be provided to lonely canon authors in the 1990s, and then in 1997, the Bible was provided with new solace, edited by Howard Kee, and soon the floodgates were open. A major research library I checked now holds approximately 300 Cambridge Companions and their subjects offer a handlist of the true canon authors and subjects of our age. [Full disclosure: The present writer has contributed his own mite to one of these volumes.] Postmoderns may be glad to know that postmodernism and postmodern theology are both spoken for, but traditionalists will rejoice to learn that Shakespeare is provided with no fewer than eight companions to steer and shelter him through the early twenty-first century.

But it falls to emperors to be awarded companions not only for themselves, nor yet again for their works, nor yet again for something so small as their empire however expansive, but for their whole and entire age. Augustus, Constantine, and Justinian, who have in common a record of bloodthirsty action, the appearance of clean hands, an inclination to dictate religion to others, and a taste for architectural grandeur, have now thus ascended to the Cantabrigian pantheon.

Noel Lenski is known for his fine study of a less bloodthirsty, religious, and grand emperor, Valens, and assembles here sixteen essays by the best current scholars. The rough chronological span is 284-363 (Diocletian to the death of Constantine’s last family member, Julian), with a focus on the reign of Constantine itself. In so doing, this volume provides more compendious and epoch-bridging treatment of the periods covered by volumes 12 (193-337 CE) and 13 (337-424 CE) of the new edition of the Cambridge Ancient History.

The volume comprises: Sources for the history of Constantine (Bruno Bleckmann); Before Constantine (Simon Corcoran); The reign of Constantine (Noel Lenski); The dynasty of Constantine down to 363 (Robert M. Frakes); The impact of Constantine on Christianity (Harold A. Drake); The beginnings of Christianization (Mark Edwards); Traditional religion (A. D. Lee); Bureaucracy and government (Christopher Kelly); Civil law and social life (Caroline Humfress); Economy and society (George Depeyrot); Perspective in art (Jas Elsner); Architecture of Empire (Mark J. Johnson); Constantine in legendary literature (Samuel N. C. Lieu); Warfare and the military (Hugh Elton); Constantine and the Northern barbarians (Michael Kulikowski); Constantine and the peoples of the Eastern Frontier (Elizabeth Fowden). The B/W illustrations include a refreshingly high percentage of non-trite images.