Category: History


 Even the fragmentary picture of Rome in the third century available to the historian provides a valuable context for the tetrarchic and Constantinian age. The dynamics of power required emperors to express their civic sense, generosity, and, on occasion, their personal contribution to religio on the landscape of the city. But quite separately from the emperors, the topography was subject to change or threat from other forces as well. If the presence of Christians periodically caused disorder, including direct imperial intervention from the middle of the century, it was a minor matter compared to the abiding threat of violence between soldiers and civilians. Prudent emperors of the period, like those of the Principate, attempted to balance the competing expectations of di€erent groups within Rome and even the skilful could, like Diocletian, end up pleasing no one. Maxentius, too, may be said to have tried in a short reign to have worked within the parameters of his predecessors, only to end that repeated military emergencies shifted his political balance fatally, leading to a precipitate campaign against the more accomplished Constantine.

 

 In observing the impact of Constantine on Rome, we see many of the precepts of third-century government in high relief. A usurper of outstanding military energy, enthusiastically in personal contact with a great god, captured the symbolic heart of the Roman empire. Understandably, Constantine’s churches have been considered to be the most important of his contributions to the life of Rome. The positioning of these sites relative to `the pagan monumental centre’ of the city, however, has given rise to colourful theories which unconvincingly visualize Constantine as a timid builder of these massive edifices, afraid of piquing the pagans of the centre. But when all the elements of his programme of construction are taken together, it is possible to see a familiar pattern: they were a sustained attempt to make the new emperor known to the citizens of the city and they were a means of erasing the memory of the old regime. While there can be no denying the strength of Constantine’s religious motivation and the unprecedented scale of his Christian building, at the same time there is no concealing Constantine’s tetrarchic pedigree with its taste for urban ceremonial, political propaganda, and the extensive use of imperial property.


 

 

  The complex and surprising history of the Roman landscape prompts a revision of the most important themes of social history.

 

In legal terms, the idea of the pagans of Rome as an embattled group facing an endless succession of hostile imperial edicts is no longer helpful. The mere fact that almost all the emperors of the fourth century were Christian and Rome was the ancient centre of paganism is not sucient to posit an unrelenting religious war. The evidence of the laws themselves, freed from certain modern legal preconceptions, shows that the attitudes of the emperors were not consistent with each other over time and could be inconsistent within a single reign. Until Theodosius I, the most consistent object of attack in the laws of the emperors was not paganism but harmful magic and divination. The pagans of fourth-century Rome, like the Christians of the third century, lived for the most part in peace, occasionally experiencing the uncomfortable attentions of a huge and unwieldy system of government as it attempted to enforce the often erratic wishes of emperors.

 

Much more consistent, however, was the enduring utility of civic patronage. In particular, the exploitation of Roman time by Christian emperors was the key to their search for universal appeal. It is also the aspect of Roman life which illustrates most clearly the eclectic nature of culture in the city at this period. Based upon the kind of preconceptions which have clouded our understanding of the import of the most important laws of the fourth century, scholars have suggested that the festival calendar of the city was either grudgingly tolerated by the Christian emperors or modified by them in an attempt to `neutralize’ the entertainments. This is true only of the last quarter of the century, when, as we saw, the laws of the emperors began to attack the temples and the beliefs of paganism on an unprecedentedly broad front. Until that time, however, the thriving ceremonial life was used by the Constantinian dynasty to promote its own interests in ancient fashion. The fluidity of the calendar and the rituals of the Circus Maximus enabled the Christian emperors to patronize the most lavish and important civic events. The overwhelmingly pagan associations of the venue and its rituals make it impossible to conceive of these entertainments as `neutral’. Their pagan atmosphere, until the Theodosian age, highlights the capacity of Christian emperors to shape their own patronage to the rhythms of urban life.

 

The pleasures and values of that urban life came under attack from Christian ascetics from the middle years of the fourth century. Evidence of the turmoil which this new form of religious expression caused comes most clearly from the ranks of the Roman aristocracy. Dicult as this evidence may be, it nevertheless permits us to dismiss the idea that the division between pagan and Christian was the only or even the most significant division of the citizenry in late Rome. In reality, the situation was much more complicated. The emergence of a senatorial class loyal to the city of Rome and its bishop developed out of a conflict between Christians as much as the process of the conversion of non-Christians. The new asceticism threatened the traditional patterns of holding and using aristocratic property. Thrown initially into disarray by these attacks, however, the moderate Christians of the city produced a coherent response to the criticism that was both Christian and Roman. The tenacity of aristocratic status is illustrated by the refusal or inability of even the most extreme noble ascetics to abandon their earthly prominence in toto. The strength of the aristocratic response to extreme Christian asceticism enabled the senatorial order both to survive the sack of the city in the summer of 410 and to act as the vanguard of a brilliant flowering of Roman Christian culture in the fifth century.

 

 

 

 



 

The Girl Playing Mandolin

There was a youth, and a well-beloved youth,
And he was an esquire’s son,
He loved the bailiff’s daughter dear,
That lived in Islington.
‘The Bailiff’s Daughter of Islington’

There were three lords drinking at the wine
On the dowie dens o’ Yarrow;
They made a compact them between
They would go fight tomorrow.
‘Dowie Dens of Yarrow’ (dowie melancholy; den river valley)

For in my mind, of all mankind
I love but you alone.
‘The Nut Brown Maid’

The wind doth blow to-day, my love,
And a few small drops of rain;
I never had but one true love;
In cold grave she was lain.
‘I’ll do as much for my true-love
As any young man may;
I’ll sit and mourn all at her grave
For a twelvemonth and a day.’
‘The Unquiet Grave’

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