- Costantino e il suo secolo: L’“editto di Milano” e le religioni by Massimo Giudetti
The term Edict of Milan, which occurs in no ancient source, was invented by Cardinal Baronius in the 1590s. Hence, it is most unfortunate that this purely hypothetical document, which never in fact existed, has dominated so much modern scholarly writing about Constantine. It is incomprehensible why this “edict” continued to dominate debate even after Otto Seeck completely exploded it in 1891, when he acidly observed that the so-called “Edict of Milan” was neither issued in Milan nor by Constantine, but issued by Constantine’s imperial colleague Licinius specifically and exclusively for the eastern parts of the Roman Empire. Massimo Giudetti, who is a careful and judicious writer, is fully aware of this, and he avoids most of the notorious pitfalls of his subject, since for the most part he deals directly and honestly with the ancient evidence. In particular, unlike some very famous twentieth-century historians of the period, he records Lactantius’s report that immediately after his proclamation as Augustus in York in 306, Constantine “aveva deciso la restituzione dei cristiani al loro culto e al loro Dio” [had decided on the restoration of the Christians to their worship and their God], correctly noting the sharply different modern evaluations and interpretations of what Lactantius says (p. 35).
Giudetti shows a good working knowledge of the vast modern bibliography on Constantine and “the Constantinian question.” Yet there are some surprising blind spots in his knowledge, which result in unfortunate episodes where he goes seriously astray. As is required of everyone who writes about the emperor, Giudetti discusses the vision of Constantine and its relevance to his conversion to Christianity, which was announced to the world in 312 (pp. 18–23). But Giudetti makes no reference to the important and original article by Peter Weiss, published in German in 1993 and translated into English by Anthony Birley with addenda and corrections by the author.1 In this reviewer’s opinion Weiss has solved the long controversy over the conversion of Constantine by showing that both the panegyric of 310 and Eusebius describe the same well-known celestial phenomenon: Constantine and his army saw a solar halo in the sky in northern Gaul in spring 310, which the emperor initially credited to the Sun-god Apollo, but subsequently in 312 (or possibly already in 311) reinterpreted in a Christian sense, and it was this “sign of God in the sky” (caeleste signum Dei) that, according to Lactantius, Constantine saw in a dream before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. Another central and familiar crux interpretationis is the Speech to the Assembly of the Saints, which Constantine delivered at Eastertide in 325 in the city of Nicomedia, a city that he had “liberated” from Licinius some months earlier. Giudetti denies both the unity [End Page 804] and Constantine’s authorship of the Speech, which he describes as a composite that the imperial chancellery cobbled together from statements made on various occasions to justify imperial policies (p. 25). But Giudetti fails to analyze the detailed content of the Speech, which fits perfectly into its historical context between Constantine’s conquest of the East and the forthcoming Council of Nicea.
Giudetti writes with a clarity, elegance, and lack of bombast that makes his book a better introduction to Constantine than almost anything else available in Italian.
1. Peter Weiss, “Die Vision Constantins,” Colloquium aus Anlass des 80. Geburtstages von Alfred Heuss, ed. J. Bleicken. Frankfurter Althistorische Studien 13 (Kallmünz, 1993), 143–69; “The Vision of Constantine,” Journal of Roman Archaeology, 16 (2003), 237–59.