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  • Il battesimo di Costantino il Grande. Storia di una scomoda eredità
  • Timothy D. Barnes
Il battesimo di Costantino il Grande. Storia di una scomoda eredità. By Marilena Amerise. [Hermes Zeitschrift für klassische Philologie, Einzelschriften, Heft 95.] (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag. 1995/2005. Pp. 180. €34.00 paperback.)

The story which Amerise has to tell is an extremely interesting one, even if some of its details will probably always remain obscure. The emperor Constantine was baptized in May, 337, when he was very close to death, and the bishop who baptized him was Eusebius of Nicomedia. Eusebius was constantly and consistently reviled by the adherents of the creed drawn up at Nicaea in 325 as an arrant heretic, not merely after his own death in 342, but even while he and Constantine were both still alive, as his political ally Eusebius of Caesarea complained (Contra Marcellum 1.4.9). Hence it is not surprising that the orthodox of later ages found it hard to stomach the fact that the first Christian emperor had been baptized by an "Arian."The truth about Constantine's baptism was, therefore, concealed, adapted, and modified, then eventually completely replaced by deliberate invention. The first part of Amerise's study analyzes the account of the baptism of the emperor in the Life of Constantine by Eusebius of Caesarea (pp. 13-64); the second part describes how writers of the fourth century after Eusebius presented Constantine's baptism in a new way because they depicted the emperor, who had in reality been sympathetic to Arius and had recalled him twice from exile, as an unwavering supporter of doctrinal orthodoxy against Arius, "Arians," and "Arianism"(pp. 65-92); the third part examines the emergence of the completely fictitious account which subsequently established itself as canonical and was accepted throughout the Middle Ages—the legend that Constantine had at first persecuted the Christians and had been stricken with leprosy, but converted to Christianity, was miraculously healed and then baptized by Pope Silvester in Rome (pp. 93-120).

Unfortunately, it is not clear to the present reviewer that Amerise's monograph marks any significant advance on previous scholarship, and her bibliography raises serious doubts about her scholarly expertise and judgment. A bibliography of "secondary literature," which runs to fully twenty-seven pages in what is a rather short book (pp. 145-172), includes several unscholarly and perverse books such as Alastair Kee's notorious Constantine versus Christ. The Triumph of Ideology (London, 1982), yet finds no space for (1) W. Levison, "Kirchenrechtliches in den Actus Silvestri," Zeitschrift der Savigny Stiftung, Kanonistische Abteilung, 15 (1926), 230-240, reprinted in the posthumous volume Aus Rheinischer und Fränkischer Frühzeit. Ausgewählte Aufsätze (Düsseldorf, 1948), pp. 466-473; (2)Jean Gaudemet, "La législation religieuse de Constantin," Revue d'histoire de l'église de France, 33 (1947), 25-61; or (3)Peter Weiss, "Die Vision Constantins," Colloquium aus Anlass des 80. Geburtstages von Alfred Heuss. Frankfurter Althistorische Studien, 13 (Kallmünz, 1993), pp. 146-169, now translated into English by A. R. Birley and revised by the author as "The Vision of Constantine,"Journal of Roman Archaeology, 16 (2003), 237-259. These omissions are regrettable because they are so relevant to Amerise's book. (1) Levison's short paper of 1926 adds to the [End Page 295] arguments for a Roman origin for the Actus Silvestri which he had advanced two years earlier in his long and justly famous paper of 1924, which Amerise cites and uses, although her bibliography does not direct readers, as it should have done, to the revised and more readily accessible version in Levison's collected papers. (2) Gaudemet's study played a significant part in quieting doubts about Eusebius' veracity and authorship of the Life of Constantine in the middle of the twentieth century. (3) Weiss' important and original paper puts the conversion of Constantine in an entirely new light. Amerise's bibliography also misreports a fair number of titles (e.g., books by Richard Burgess and Alexander Demandt), misstates the names of several authors (e.g., "Klein 1974" refers to an article by Konrad Kraft first published twenty years earlier), often...


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