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June 12, 2011


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Hume's Bastard

The title notwithstanding, this was a very hard-edged episode without the theological dross. I liked the notion, that Constantine, sadistic statesman par excellence, feared the wrath of the deity he so used for his own aggrandizement. With an eye on the end game and the medieval period to come, Duncan's argument, that it was Constantine's heirs who spoiled Constantine's legacy, seems a bit too easy on Constantine.


I think Mike's assessment of Constantine was balanced pretty well. Gibbon, on the other hand, is a bit narrow-minded and bigotted. It wasn't a bad decision to settle Germans into depopulated parts of the Empire and the army. It might have been the only way the Empire was going to survive the serious lack of manpower. The Germans who settled during Constantine's reign should probably be distinguished from the Germans and Goths who settled and rebelled during the much later reigns of Valens and subsequent emperors.

How many times in previous episodes have we heard about Rhine and Danube legions rebelling under a usurper? Also, the potential barbarian invaders in the 4 and 5th centuries seem too numerous, determined and united for the standard frontier legions of the first and second centuries to whip. Centralising the Imperial Army would seem the sensible solution.

As for the succession problem, no other Roman Emperor seems to have solved it either. While it is fair to criticise Constantine for killing Crispus, it would also be fair to criticise Marcus Aurelius for not killing Commodus and Septimius Severus for not committing the double infanticide of Geta and Caracalla.

I am not sure why Gibbon blames Christianity for the fall of the Empire. According to his own gigantic work, the decline really becomes obvious with the pagan Commodus and accelerates during reigns of the pagan emperors of the third century. Also, the Eastern (Christian) Empire outlives the Western one by 1000 years.


Mike, would it possible to do a rough outline of the roman worldview that is about to be replaced by Christianity? What I mean by this is that we all know what the Christian worldview is regarding how old the world is, where humans came from and how the world was meant to end. Yet I cannot for the life of me find anything about what the Romans thought about these questions pre-Christianity.

Obviously Rome had many cults and maybe they had differing answers, but surely there was a broad cultural consensus, just like the belief in multiple gods.


- how old did they think the world was?

- was time viewed as cyclical or linear?

- where were humans thought to come from?

- how was the world meant to end?

If anyone else knows anything about this let me know. I want to get a fuller sense of what is about to be replaced by the Christian outlook.

(btw, I'm currently writing this from a cafe in Diocletian's Palace)



Great episode. This is my first time commenting, but I've been following the series for a little while filling in the huge holes in my ancient Rome knowledge (which would be everything except Romulus, Caesar, most of the people who show up in "I, Claudius", the year of the four emperors guys, Constantine and bits and pieces otherwise.) Thanks for running this thing for so long. I almost feel bad for saying this, but I'm looking forward to the chaos that's probably coming after Constantine checks out.


@Ben. Great questions. It seems they, like the Greeks, believed time was linear - ie. it had a beginning and will have an end. Stoics believed the Universe was created from something called 'Mind'. Although Mind has deistic qualities, Mind itself was composed of matter. Humans were created from Mind. Epicureans (eg. Lucretius) believed the Universe and everything in it (ie humans) resulted from a conflux of atoms. This has no theistic or deistic characteristics. Ovid's Metamophoses recounts a few creation myths about the Universe which are probably just poetic counterparts to the Stoic and Epicurean beliefs.

I think the cynics were an exception, believing the Earth, stars, Sun and humans had always been there and will always be there.

I can't tell you how any of them thought the world was going to end.

Hume's Bastard

@Mark: OK, god points on succession. But, Diocletian had indicated a way to avoid messy succession crises, institutionalization of redundant organizations. It was Constantine who undid Diocletian's reform. In that sense he's a throwback to Octavian and M. Anthony.


@Hume's bastard. What I find amazing about Diocletian's Tetrarchy is that it actually worked
All prior power sharing attempts had failed i.e. 1st& 2nd Triumvirates and Gallic-Palmyrene-Roman Empires.

@Mark. Unlike Augustus and Aurelian, Constantine did not groom a worthy surviving heir.


@Hume's bastard and Lesceau. All true about Constantine. I think, though, there has been a trend in modern times to vilify Constantine while legitimising Diocletian, romanticising Julian and deifying Augustus. In terms of the top ten Emperors of all time, Constantine seems to be at the very least as good as Augustus and better than Trajan, Hadrian and Marcus. In terms of the ten most influential people in all of history, he surpasses them all.


@Lesceau. You forgot to mention the hugely successful diarchy of Caracalla and Geta.

mulberry bags

Those are super cute. I like you on Facebook.

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