Constantine the Emperor by David Potter was a refreshing bit of history for me. Rather than quenching my quest for ancient history, this book has merely fuelled it.
Potter perfectly juggles the various needs of interest and narrative, the power of historical and critical rigour, as well as a solid amount of reflection and perspective. The result is a book that is engaging, yet informative, dramatic but reflective.
Constantine the Emperor seems to have been written in response to the various pop culture portrayals of the man in the past decade or so – notably Constantine’s Sword (which portrays him as the intellectual great grandfather or the holocaust) and The DaVinci Code (which portrays Constantine as the creator of an ultra-conservative version of Christianity). Potter apparently felt the need to take action to set the record straight and keep Constantine’s reputation from falling into disrepute.
Constantine is properly portrayed in his context as both emperor, soldier, administrator, and neophyte christian. The man that emerges is far from perfect, but with a number of intriguing strengths and personality traits.
I was fascinated, not by the high drama of the imperial succession, but also by Potter’s exegesis of the imperial administrative machinery. While at times this is a bit boring, it is interesting to learn how a Roman Emperor actually governed and lived. If you want orgies and incest, go read: I, Claudius.