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  • Constantine and the Cities: Imperial Authority and Civic Politics by Noel Lenski
  • David Woods
Constantine and the Cities: Imperial Authority and Civic Politics Noel Lenski Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016. Pp. x + 406. ISBN 978-0-8122-4777-0

Lenski is familiar to students of the reign of Constantine I (306–337) as the author of a number of insightful papers on this period and the editor of the Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine (2006). Hence the present volume represents the mature work of someone who has immersed himself in the vast array of complicated primary materials—archaeological, epigraphic, and numismatic as well as literary—and mastered the ever growing volume of secondary material before offering his own contribution to the field. The result is a volume that convincingly analyses the interactions between Constantine and the cities of the empire, focussing upon the emperor's varied efforts to convert these to Christianity and their different responses to the same. However, a warning is necessary. Lenski reserves his detailed treatment of the relations between Constantine and the two major imperial cities of Rome and Constantinople for another volume, so while they do occasionally receive mention they do not dominate in the way that one might otherwise expect.

The introduction attempts to justify what follows in the sort of tiresome theory that is best ignored. No one should let the pseudo-technical jargon ("pre-reflective knowledge"!) therein deter him or her from continuing into what is actually a well-written, highly accessible text. After the introduction, the book divides into four parts. The first part, "Constantine's Self-Presentation," consists of three chapters and focusses on the messages communicated from the emperor to the cities through various official channels. In chapter one, Lenski argues that Constantine's self-presentation went through four successive phases, emphasizing in turn his qualities as tetrarch, tyrannicide, champion of Christianity, and divine ruler. In chapter two, he argues that there were four constants in Constantine's self-presentation, which he identifies as Constantine's use of symbols of light, emphasis on the victorious nature of his rule, his constant receipt of divine favour, and his role as a member of a dynasty rather than as an isolated individual. Finally, in chapter three, Lenski analyses how Constantine presented himself to his Christian subjects in the various communications directed particularly at them. [End Page 280]

The second part, "The Power of Petitions," consists of four chapters analysing the communication flow in the opposite direction, from the cities to Constantine. In chapter four, Lenski describes the traditional system of petition and response between city and emperor in order to demonstrate that the system had evolved by the fourth century so that emperors were now encouraging petitions that would further their own policy objective. This argument proceeds through discussion of the dossier of documents preserved at Orcistus in Phrygia, which demonstrate that the leaders of Orcistus knew which policy buttons to press in order to win their request. In chapter five, Lenski analyses the exchange between Constantine and Italian Hispellum in order to demonstrate Constantine's sensitivity to what was possible in a very different context and highlight his willingness to compromise in order to advance his long-term religious objective. In the next chapter, Lenski examines the nature of Constantine's relationships with cities in the West bearing his name, or that of some member of his family, in order to discover why these cities were so honored. In chapter seven, he performs the same exercise for cities of the East bearing Constantine's name or that of a family member. He concludes that Constantine probably promoted all cities so honoured because of the strength of the Christian community within them and as part of a wider policy of strengthening Christian communities against hostile neighbours wherever possible.

The third part, "Reconstructing the Ancient City," consists of three chapters analysing the main methods by which Constantine sought to promote the Christianization of the cities. In chapter eight, Lenski examines the redistribution of wealth from temple to church, that is, Constantine's confiscation of the landed estates and movable wealth of the temples and his transfer of...


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