01A: Constantine’s Rome and the Rise of Christianity


Levels of focus in this course

  1. International: the big (political) picture
  2. Regional: Italy
  3. Christianity and the church
  4. Local

Today: ca. 300-600

Major transitions: end of antiquity

Rome in the Roman Empire:   a regional city

Newcomers: “Germanic invasions”: ca 380-600

Early: Romanized gradually via army

Late 4th c+: larger numbers, inconsistent in familiarity with Roman society

Italy: East Goths, also West Goths (Ostrogoths, Visigoths)

  • 410 Sack of Rome by Visigoths
  • Visigoths move to Iberia

Huns: invaders not settlers Attila king   434-453

  • negotiations: included Bishop of Rome Leo I (452): “Pope”


Ostrogothic rule in Italy

Kept Roman administration

Arian Christians

476 (or 480) “Fall of Empire in the West”  Ostrogothic king answers to Emperor

Mausoleum of Theodoric (Ravenna)


Franks: northern and western Europe

480s cross Rhine to support Gallo-Roman armies against Visigoths, Huns

Took over much of Gaul

493 Leader, Clovis, converted to Catholic Xianity

Baptism of Clovis I

Baptism of Clovis by St. Remigius. Saint Remigius binding, last quarter 9th century CE, ivory, Musée de Picardie in Amiens, France.

Law codes vary by populations


500s: an effort to re-unify Italian peninsula under imperial rule

Justinian I (527-65): wars against Goths


560s: Lombards enter Italy to support Goths against Byzantines

  • Dukes; Po valley, Spoleto, Benevento (Byzantine control in between)
  • Own law code
  • Pavia: capital
  • Lower taxes but less support of trade; land the basis of both wealth, power

Byzantines: southern Italy, Sicily, Ravenna-Rome

  • Exarchate of Ravenna: combines civilian, military rule
  • End of Senate in Rome
  • Ex: Sarcophagus of Isaac, a 7th c exarch (using 5th c relief)


Rise of Christianity


Beginnings: Roman Judaea

Jesus of Nazareth approx. 3 BCE-30 CE

Writings by followers: from end of 1st c

  • Gospels, Acts, Letters (or Paul and others—Paul, ca 5-ca 67), Apocalypse
  • 180 ca: Collected, canonized
  • Greek

Development of Christianity as religion: banned until age of Constantine (Internalist historical view)

Standardizing belief

  • Canonical text: New Testament
  • Creeds
  • Disagreements: should tools of Greek philosophy help address them? Mostly yes

Organization: an emphasis on community

  • bishops
  • priests or presbyters
  • deacons and deaconesses


  • eucharist, baptism


Christians in the Roman Empire (externalist historical view)

Inconsistent enforcement of ban assisted spread: first in Greek-speaking cities, also Rome

New hero: the martyr

Rome: Peter (apostle), Paul (doctrinal leader)

Catacomb of SS. Pietro and Marcellino: Crypt of the Saints: Christ between SS. Peter and Paul

St. Agnes (between popes Honorius and Symmachus) 7th c, Sant’Agnese Fuori le Mura

Constantine (emperor 312-27): the transition point

Edict of Milan 312-313

4th c: spread among many elites

394: Christianity only accepted religion in Empire (exception for Judaism)

Councils: establishing standards of correct belief

  • Ex: Nicaea, 325
  • Heresy
  • Orthodoxy
  • Heterodoxy

5 patriarchates (Apostolic sees):

  • Rome (Peter and Paul)
  • Constantinople (St Andrew)
  • Alexandria (Mark)
  • Antioch (Peter)
  • Jerusalem (Peter and James)

Local: What did Constantine add to the city?

  1. Public buildings: baths, basilica
  2. Monumental displays: arch, also Janus arch
  3. Christian: St John Lateran; St. Peter’s, other churches outside city

Richard Krautheimer (1897-1994)