Week 15: Constantine

The reign of Constantine (early 4th century) is usually seen as a watershed moment in the history of the Roman Empire, in large part because of his conversion to Christianity and the impact this eventually had on the cultural character of Rome and her empire.  Constantine comes to power after a vicious power struggle with his co-rulers, all part of a system known as the “tetrarchy” – a power sharing arrangement devised by the emperor Diocletian in 385 to try to bring stability to the ruler structure of the Roman empire, which had been in complete disarray for most of the 3rd century – in 50 years there were approximately 50 different emperors.

Well look at the circumstances of Constantine’s rise to power and his conversion to Christianity and how this is reflected in art and monument, and how art was used to communicate the new imperial vision.  Constantine’s consolidation of power and the subsequent building program he embarked upon has been compared in many respects to that of Augustus.  And just as Augustus was responding to certain Roman traditions in state art and monument, so was Constantine.

We’ll look at how Constantine both stuck to certain tried and true ideals and images of Roman imperial power, how he literally recycled images from Rome’s grand imperial past (from monuments of Trajan and Hadrian), and how he forged new paths in Imperial art.


J. Elsner, “Perspectives in Art,” pp 255-77 (plus images) in The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine.  Elsner “Perspectives in Art”

E. Marlowe, “Framing the Sun: The Arch of Constantine and the Roman Cityscape,” Art Bulletin 88.2 (2006): 223-242.  Marlowe


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