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April 24, 2011


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It was a bit jarring to hear Church history, but I understand why Duncan included the section on the Donatists and the Council of Arles. And, it got me thinking about how the narrative has not only gone from tetrarchy to dyarchy, but it also seems Rome is more of a theocracy now. So, I ask, are Constantine's actions during the Donatist controversy different from how emperors generally acted in regard to the imperial cult?

I also read about Popes Miltiades and Sylvester I, who led during the time of Constantine. Just how did Constantine interact with these leaders?


Excellent podcast.
Question Mike (or anyone)
How often and when did the Romans use crucifixion? I can't get a clear answer.


I'm a bit confused by the bit where you went "And of course the child would be a boy"/"Gave birth to a son. Of course it was a son!". Is that noting an unfounded certainty on the behalf of Constantine (The odds are pretty good, but it's hardly a sure thing. Especially with infant mortality.) or is it simply noting that he would eventually wind up with several sons?

You also seem to be keeping it objective on Christianity so far, which I am very grateful for. Please, by Odin's beard, don't treat Christianity any different in future podcasts than you would the Roman Pantheon or Omens, since you're not disrespectful (shouldn't unnecessarily antagonize Christian listeners if it doesn't have a place in the narrative, after all), but not afraid to have fun with it. Just telling the truth is probably going to offend some Christians as most are very ignorant (in the literal sense, not as the insult) about the history of their religion, such as the councils where the high clergy vote on the divinity of Jesus and so forth.

Things like Lars Brownworth's take on heresies also make me go "..Wait what?" since he actually said "In the first century heresies could usually be cleared up by those who actually remembered Jesus, but as these people died off--". Now that presumes Jesus as an historical person, which there is very poor evidence for and certainly nothing that could validate anything miraculous, and that the cause for the later heresies weren't something as basic as "more Christians over a wider area lacking good communication with different cultural backgrounds and opinions, without any centralized authority on Canon".

Just treating Christianity as true and "Obviously Constantine -is- Great. Says so on his name!" attitudes are probably a big part of what has made me actually dislike him as both an Emperor and a person. :)

P.S. On the "Jesus as a real person": Obviously there were people around with the names attributed to him (as there still are), but that's not what defines a person. If we found out that Hernán Cortés was a lumberjack from Valdetorres then having a historical account for that person couldn't possibly show the truth of anything Conquistador-related. Also sorry for the long post, I just believe it's important for the quality of the PodCast. <3


@ Dave

Crucifixion was a standard punishment for vile crime (ie treason) to act as a deterrent to others.
The Romans used it most famously after Spartacus' slave/gladiator revolt in 73BCE where sources tell of 6000 slaves crucified along the length of the Via Appia.

My understanding is that it was outlawed by Constantine, probably as a political sop to the newly legalised Christians, but it had been in use around the mediterranean for about 1000 years, and was not invented by the Romans. I do not know how common it was in the 3rd/4th century - does nayone have any info.

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I too am pleased by the neutral tone of Mike's podcasts in relation to the history of Christianity as it becomes legal and dominant.

My take on Constantine is that he was a consummate politician who realised that christianity was not going away and so decided better to have it "in the tent" and control it than outside the tent being difficult. Obviously from the 4th century onwards all sources are slanted with a christian perspective, and many will have been wilfully "updated" by medieval monks to perpetuate their position. A good example of this is the so-called "Donation of Constantine" which supposedly had the Emperor giving the city of Rome to Pope Silvester, and thus formed the basis for the temporal power of the papacy in the middle ages. By the 1400s it was shown to be a 7th century fake!!!

Anyway, the next period in Roman history is going to be fascinating ...

Great job Mike - keep it up.

Stuart Harvey


Mike this podcast keeps getting better! Thanks for taking the time out of your week to record and research!

Question: Why didn't Licinius kill Constantine during the siege (or what sounded like a siege) of Byzantium?


Another fantastic podcast, Mike! You make a very complicated time in Roman history engaging and understandable. With regards to Constantine's and Crispus' 'legitimacy', legitimacy in the pre-Christian Roman world was determined exclusively by recognition by the father, the 'Pater familias', not by whether the child was conceived or born in wedlock.ie. If and only if the father recognised the child as his child, then that child was legitimate, irrespective of his or her birth. There is no evidence that either Constantine or Crispus was considered illegitimate during their lives. Crispus' 'illegitimacy' might have been a retrojection following his death and 'damnatio memoriae'.

@mainframe Actually, most if not all credible historians - atheist, theist and agnostic - accept that Jesus ('Yeshua')was an historical person, whose life has been reinterpreted in the Christian Gospels. My Christian (and atheist) friends are less offended by the truth than by misinformation.

@Stuart I don't think Constantine was just paying lip service to Christianity, even though a sizable proportion, if not majority, of his army and subjects was probably Christian. His mother, after all, was a devoted Christian, towards the end of his life he assumes the title of 'Equal of the Apostles'('Isapostolos'),orders his sarcophagus erected in a Byzantine cathedral with 6 Disciples on either side and has himself baptised as a Christian on his deathbed. As Mike says, he was a man with a 'divine' mission.


Only if "credible" in this context means "people who already agree with me". Have a look at the actual evidence - there isn't really any of it. Or are you saying that he was simply one of a multitude of itinerant preachers and happened to be named Yeshua? The books of the new testament are not contemporary and even if they were they have an obvious bias and are unreliable in the extreme (They all disagree with eachother, and themselves). There is no evidence from the actual timeperiod other than passing references to "Christians" (so what? No one is saying Christians don't exist) and a mention of "Yeshua, the brother of.. ," which was later obviously forged into saying "who IS the Christ", which the writer - who wrote as a Jew, not Christian - could not have written.

I'm fine with there being a person that preached the things that would eventually break off from Judaism, obviously someone had to, but there simply isn't any good evidence for any of it and it's silly to claim there is (most is simply Confirmation Bias). Him existing makes sense in the context of the time (as in the effects that would result from it), so that's why people just go with it. One should take a note from the chaotic 3rd century that we've just been through in the Podcast and remember all the times Mike had to say "..If he/she even existed at all". Some things are presumed roughly true for a cohesive narrative.

But no textual account could ever be sufficient to believe anything miraculous what-so-ever. How could you be? You're not justified in believing something someone tells you directly, so how does them doing magic become more believable with being scribbled onto a letter and kept in a box for a few centuries?

That is why I'd say that having "Jesus word" in living memory isn't relevant (besides just being an assertion). He'd just be a revolutionary rabbi then, so it'd be fine to disagree with his interpretations. The relevancy of his own words is contingent upon his being the "Messiah" which he supposedly showed through 'miracles'/catering. The difference being "This rabbi said.. but this other rabbi said" and "This rab-- Well screw you, God said this!". Which is pretty much the point.


Uh guys, I don't think this is the place for discussions about Jesus. Shouldn't we just be discussing how his believers affected Roman history? We haven't had such a storm in the comments section since way back #93 when Mike recommended Zinn.(Which by the way isn't in the audible recommendations list :O Sorry if I ruined your damnatio memoriae, Mike.)

That being said, I think Mike has handled the topic beautifully and I hope he continues in the same vain as I am learning a lot about the church that my 13 years of Catholic education conspicuously made no mention of.

Bertrand du Guesclin

@ Mainframe
By 'credible' I meant that they try their best not to impose their prejudices on their interpretation of historical events. Personally, I am happy to go where the evidence points. As a rule, historians - John Dominic Crossan, Michael Grant, Rudolf Bultmann, Marcus Borg etc - take a non-literal interpretation of Jesus' 'miracles', unlike theologians.

@ Daniel
I agree that Mike has handled the discussion beautifully. The problem now is that the demarcation between Roman history and early Church history is going to get a little blurred. It is all too easy to reinterpret Roman history with 21st century predilections. The scandals that understandably put people off Christian institutions today were not present for the 3rd and 4th century Romans. With the advent of Christianity, for the first time in the Classical World it seems, pederasty was condemned. Inexplicably, paedophilia does not appear to have been a crime in the pre-Christian Roman World. Three of the so-called 'good' (non-Christian) emperors (Nerva, Trajan and Hadrian), for example, had reputations for liking 'young (under-age) boys'. Christianity acknowledged the equality of women and slaves with male Roman citizens. In the Classical World, slaves and women usually had no status. In Diocletian's time, 'the Church' had little or no wealth, power or political influence. This made its members easy targets for persecution by the ruling elite.

The sense of community in the early Church, involving charity to the poor and caring for the ill and disabled, meant that its members were more likely to survive war, famine and plague. I think these characteristics made it more attractive than the alternative religions and secular philosophies to Constantine and the average Roman. The Church, however, was not free of serious problems - I hope we hear more about them in future podcasts.


This has absolutely nothing to do with this topic, but I just wanted to give you a massive compliment for your podcast! We listen to it every night before we go to sleep and we both love it. Actually my husband discovered it first (he studied history) and was listening to it from the beginning when I first heard it. So then he was kind enough to start over with me and we're now at the 106th episode. It's so interesting and you have a great voice to listen to. Now we just wished the roman empire would have lasted a lot longer, so we could listen indefinitely. But we could always start over again. Keep up the great work!

Greetings from the Netherlands

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