Book Review: The Roman Revolution of Constantine


by Raymond Van Dam

New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Pp. xv, 441. Maps, append., notes, biblio., index. $29.99. ISBN: 0521133017

Harking back to Ronald Syme's 1939 classic The Roman Revolution , which argued cogently that the civil wars that began with the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BC sparked a revolutionary transformation of the increasingly dysfunctional Roman republic into a fairly efficient monarchy, Prof. Van Dam (Michigan), argues that the Constantine's reform of the Roman state in the early fourth century was equally as radical.

However, while Van Dam does focus on Constantine's numerous political, administrative, military, and other innovations, the case does not seem well made. He tends to pass over the many reforms in the administration, economics, politics, and military establishment changes that were begun by Diocletian, a generation before Constantine, many of which were merely completed by the latter, who also, of course established Christianity as the state religion and finally solidified the concept of the imperium as a hereditary institution, all of which would characterize the Roman state for the next 300 years. 

Nevertheless, there is much of value in this book, notably its discussion of Constantine's adoption of Christianity, the institution of a genuinely hereditary succession, and the foundation of Constantinople, and the book may be read profitably by those seriously interested in the later Roman Empire.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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