Constantine And Christianity

Colossal head of Constantine. The head along with a single hand and other fragments, survives from huge marble statue. Its solemn, abstracted air reflects the new concept of the emperor as a remote, god-like being.

Colossal head of Constantine. The head along with a single hand and other fragments, survives from huge marble statue. Its solemn, abstracted air reflects the new concept of the emperor as a remote, god-like being.

In 306 Constantius I Chlorus, formerly a caesar, was co-emperor ruling the West. He and his son Constantine crossed to Britain and drove back an invasion by the untamed tribes north of Hadrian’s Wall. When Constantius died suddenly at York, Constantine was hailed as emperor by his troops and became a caesar, controlling Gaul and Britain, in a reconstituted Tetrarchy. Six years of military and political intrigues followed until in 312 Constantine was strong enough to invade Italy, defeat his rival Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge, and became emperor the West. Before the battle he is said to have looked at the sky and seen a cross and the legend in hoc signo vinces : In this sign, conquer. Whether or not this actually happened, Constantine favoured Christianity from at least this time, by contrast with earlier emperors who had looked to the old Roman religion to restore the old Roman virtues. By the edict of Milan 313, Constantine and the emperor in the East, Licinius, proclaimed general toleration and the restoration of confiscated Christian property. Later Licinius began to persecute Christians, perhaps because the new faith had become politically indentified with Constantine. War broke out, Licinius was defeated and by 324 Constantine was master of re-united Roman world.

Christians were far more numerous in the East, and Constantine could now safely lavish patronage on the church. Having long made way against imperial indifference or active hostility, Christianity flourished throughout Constantine’s reign, no doubt gaining strenght as doubters realized that it did not involve un-Roman weaknesses such as pacifism. One of Constantine’s earliest actions as a ruler of the Roman world was to convene an ecumenical council at Nicaea in Bithynia 325, which attempted to resolve the conflict between those who believed Jesus and God were of one subtance and those who believed they were separate. The Arian heresy, as the victors later called it, despite the orthodox victory at Nicaea, Arianism was to play an important part in the later history of the Empire. By the end of Constantine’s reign Christianity was effectively the state religion, althought it was not as yet persecuting its rivals.

Constantine’s greatest material legacy was a new capital, begun in 326 and dedicated in 330 on the site of the old Greek city of Byzantium. New Rome, which was soon to become known as Constantinople, “the city of Constantine” was planned as a Christian capital althought pagan as well as Christian ceremonies were discreetly allowed at its foundation, no pagan temples were built within its walls. The site was superbly chosen. The end of a small peninsula on the European coast of the Bosporus where it joins the Sea of Marmara. Surrounded on three sides by the sea, it became near-impregnable when immenselystrong walls were built across the peninsula: indedtations in the coastline provided good harbours, and a long inlet, the Golden Horn, was large enough to shelter a navy but narrow enough for for defenders to keep out enemy ships by stringing chains across the entrance. The city controlled the natural land route from Europe to Asia and the sea route from the Mediterranean into the Black sea, and it served as a well-placed headquarters for an Empire apparently most strongly menaced from across the Danube and the Tigris. Constatine’s choise, not so very far from Nicomedia, confirmed Diolectian’s wisdom in making the East the new heart of the Empire, and Constantinople would be a Christian imperial city for the next eleven hundred years.

In many other respects Constantine furthered Diolectian’s work. The imperial bureaucracy grew still larger and was equipped with everwider powers and duties, the separation between civil and military powers became complete, the admission of barbarians as army recruits continued. Taxation remained onerous, and measures were taken to prevent peasants from leaving the land and the wealthy from evading municipal office. The attempt to create a rigid but stable society had some success for althought the value of the old silver denarius continued to depreciate there was at least a partial economic recovery, mainly thanks to the introduction of a new coin, the gold solidus. And by favouring the new Christian faith Constantine promoted an ideology that was to prove effective in increasing sosial cohesion and would long outlive the Empire and the world of late antiquity.

The walls of Constantinople built in the early 5th century by Theodosius II. Founded by Constantine and named after him, Constantinople remained the greatest city in the western world until the 15th century.

The walls of Constantinople built in the early 5th century by Theodosius II. Founded by Constantine and named after him, Constantinople remained the greatest city in the western world until the 15th century.

Source : Nathaniel Harris : History of Ancient Rome, 2000

Archaeological Site of Leptis Magna

Severan Basilica, Leptis Magna 2nd century AD.

Severan Basilica, Leptis Magna 2nd century AD.

Leptis Magna was enlarged and embellished by Septimius Severus, who was born there and later became emperor. It was one of the most beautiful cities of the Roman Empire, with its imposing public monuments, harbour, market-place, storehouses, shops and residential districts.

Leptis Magna is a unique artistic realization in the domain of urban planning. It played a major role, along with Cyrene, in the movement back to antiquity and in the elaboration of the neoclassical aesthetic.

Market place.

Market place.

Market place.

Market place.

The Phoenician port of Lpgy was founded at the beginning of the 1st millennium BC and first populated by the Garamantes. The city, which was part of the domain of Carthage, passed under the ephemeral control of Massinissa, King of Numidia. The Romans, who had quartered a garrison there during the war against Jugurtha, integrated it, in 46 BC, into the province of Africa while at the same time allowing it a certain measure of autonomy.

Although Leptis (the latinization of its Phoenician name) was comparable to the other Phoenician trading centres of the Syrtian coast, like Sabratha, after Septimius Severus became emperor in 193, its fortunes improved remarkably. Thanks to him, the renewed Leptis was one of the most beautiful cities of the Roman world. It is still one of the best examples of Severan urban planning.

Thereafter, Leptis felt prey to the same vicissitudes of fortune as the majority of the coastal cities of Africa. Pillaged from the 4th century and reconquered by the Byzantines who transformed it into a stronghold, it definitively succumbed to the second wave of Arab invasion, that of the Hilians in the 11th century. Buried under drifting sands, the city has only been disengaged, piece by piece, over the course of a long archaeological exploration.

Arch of Septimius Severus.

Arch of Septimius Severus.

The city, which was constructed during the reign of Augustus and Tiberius but which was entirely remodelled along very ambitious lines under the Severan emperors, incorporates major monumental elements of that period. The forum, basilica and Severan arch rank among the foremost examples of a new Roman art, strongly influenced by African and Eastern traditions.

The sculptures of the Severan basilica, which remain in situ, and that of the Severan arch, in the museum at Tripoli, are innovative in their linear definition of forms, the crispness of their contours and the angular delineation of their volumes: a comprehensive aesthetic, conceived as a function of the blinding African sun.

The ancient port, with its artificial basin of some 102,000 m2, still exists with its quays, jetties, fortifications, storage areas and temples. Dug under Nero and organized under Septimius Severus, it is one of the chefs d’oeuvre of Roman technology with its barrage dam and its canal designed to regulate the course of Wadi Lebda, the dangerous torrent that empties into the Mediterranean to the west. The market, an essential element in the everyday life of a large commercial trading centre, with its votive arch, colonnades and shops, has been for the most part preserved. The building, which dates from the Augustan period, was transformed and embellished under Septimius Severus.

Warehouses and workshops also attest to the commercial and industrial activity of a city whose large prestigious monuments, arches and gates, original forum and Severan forum, temples, baths, theatre, circus and amphitheatre, only occupy a very small part of the total area.

Forum in Leptis Magna, 2nd century AD.

Forum in Leptis Magna, 2nd century AD.

Theatre.

Theatre.

Amhitheatre.

Amhitheatre.

Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC

Photos: Wikipedia

Sarcophagus with Scenes of Bacchus

Unknown, Roman, Rome, A.D. 210 - 220.; with supports: 1800s, Marble.

Unknown, Roman, Rome, A.D. 210 – 220.; with supports: 1800s, Marble.

The inscription on the lid of this sarcophagus identifies its former occupant, Maconiana Severiana, as being from a senatorial family. “To the soul of the deceased. For Maconiana Severiana, the sweetest daughter, Marcus Sempronius Faustinianus, vir clarissimus [holding a senatorial rank], and Praecilia Severiana, clarissima femina from a senatorial family, her parents had this made.” Given the small size of the sarcophagus, Maconiana must have been a child or adolescent.

The front of the sarcophagus shows a Dionysiac revel, culminating in the discovery of the sleeping Ariadne, shown lying down on the right. Abandoned by the Greek hero Theseus, Ariadne awakened to a new life with Dionysos, the god of wine. The goat-legged Pan lifts the veil from her prone figure while satyrs, maenads, and a panther surround the drunken Dionysos.

The back of the sarcophagus shows another Dionysiac scene of winemaking carved in a simpler, flatter style. Panels with related figures flanking the central inscription on the lid. For the Romans, Dionysos was associated with the hope of a better afterlife; thus many sarcophagi show the god and his followers.

Sculpted stone sarcophagi, which came into use in the 200s A.D., soon became symbols of wealth and status. Since Romans favored certain themes for sarcophagi, they were often bought ready-made and then customized by the addition of a portrait of the deceased. The blank face of Ariadne should have been carved as a portrait of Maconiana Severiana. Why it was left blank in this instance is not clear.

left

Sarcophagus with Scenes of Bacchus : Left side

 Sarcophagus with Scenes of Bacchus : Right side

Sarcophagus with Scenes of Bacchus : Right side

J. Paul Getty Museum