The best books about Constantine the Great

Many authors have picked their favorite books about Constantine the Great and why they recommend each book.

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Helena

By Evelyn Waugh,

Book cover of Helena

Helena is Evelyn Waugh’s most overlooked novel but it is my favourite. I love it for how Waugh depicts Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constatine, but what raises it to a place in any best-of list is a passage of writing that ranks as Waugh’s best - and he sets a very high bar for himself. Towards the end of the book Helena prays for her salvation but, reading it, we realise that Waugh is praying for his own salvation too, for those “who have had a tedious journey to make to the truth, of all who are confused with knowledge and speculation… of all who stand in danger by reason of their talents.” 


Who am I?

I am a writer and historian, specialising in the early-Medieval period and the fractious but fruitful encounter between the Christian and Islamic worlds. My fiction is informed by my non-fiction work: it’s a great help to have written actual histories of Northumbria in collaboration with some of the foremost archaeologists working on the period. I regard my work as the imaginative application of what we can learn through history to stories and the books I have selected all do this through the extraordinarily varied talents of their authors. I hope you will enjoy them!


I wrote...

Edwin: High King of Britain

By Edoardo Albert,

Book cover of Edwin: High King of Britain

What is my book about?

The first of the Northumbrian Thrones trilogy, Edwin: High King of Britain tells how the exiled king of Northumbria, hunted by his enemies, regains his throne. But in the fractured world of 7th-century Britain, there are many men seeking power, and to be a king is to lead a short and violent life. As the High King, Edwin seeks answers to the questions that torment him: his purpose, his destiny, and his end.

Bernard Cornwell said of Edwin: High King of Britain: ‘A splendid novel that leaves the reader wanting more.’

Byzantium

By Judith Herrin,

Book cover of Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire

This is the ideal introduction to the thousand-year, Greek-speaking empire of Byzantium that lasted right through the Middle Ages until the conquest of Constantinople in 1453. A joy to read, and beautifully illustrated, it brings together the strange contradictions of an empire that was at once intensely Christian and spiritual but also loved power and wealth and invented the arts of diplomacy as we know them today.


Who am I?

I was only thirteen when I first travelled to Greece and began to learn the ancient Greek language at school. That double impression of a vibrant, living country and its people, and the extraordinary fact that there they still speak a language that was first written down more than 3000 years ago, set me upon a lifetime of studying and teaching, and inspired me to communicate my love of Greece and Greeks to others. I’ve written several books, all of them Greek-themed in one way or another. These are some of the books that have accompanied me along the way – and new ones that may inspire you too.


I wrote...

The Greeks: A Global History

By Roderick Beaton,

Book cover of The Greeks: A Global History

What is my book about?

More than two thousand years ago, the Greek city-states, led by Athens and Sparta, laid the foundation for much of modern science, the arts, politics, and law. But the influence of the Greeks did not end with the rise and fall of this classical civilization. As historian Roderick Beaton illustrates, over three millennia Greek speakers produced a series of civilizations that were rooted in southeastern Europe but again and again ranged widely across the globe.

In The Greeks, Beaton traces this history from the Bronze Age Mycenaeans who built powerful fortresses at home and strong trade routes abroad to the dramatic Eurasian conquests of Alexander the Great, to the pious Byzantines who sought to export Christianity worldwide, to today’s Greek diaspora, which flourishes on five continents. 

Constantine the Emperor

By David M. Potter,

Book cover of Constantine the Emperor

Constantine has come to be synonymous with the conversion of Rome to Christianity, and in the popular imagination the image often goes no further. I certainly always linked the man with this outcome in my mind. But he was so much more. He was ambitious to the point of revolutionary. He was ruthless to the point of megalomaniacal. He both stabilized the Empire and contributed to the factors that led to its fall. This book helped me understand the whole figure of Constantine, contradictions and all.


Who am I?

I never set out to read & write so much about Roman history; it was an accident. I happened to visit Rome when I was young, quite poor and decidedly light on my knowledge of Roman history. Five minutes out of the train station and into the streets and I was hooked for life. I had to know more and started reading. Then I found gaps in the library and started writing. Roman history never stops changing, even thousands of years later. New discoveries, new scholarship, new interpretations, all keep Roman history fresh & exciting. I love sharing what I find. Thank you for joining the adventure.


I wrote...

Evil Roman Emperors: The Shocking History of Ancient Rome's Most Wicked Rulers from Caligula to Nero and More

By Phillip Barlag,

Book cover of Evil Roman Emperors: The Shocking History of Ancient Rome's Most Wicked Rulers from Caligula to Nero and More

What is my book about?

Nero fiddled while Rome burned. As catchy as that aphorism is, it’s sadly untrue, even if it has a nice ring to it. The one thing Nero is well-known for is the one thing he actually didn’t do. But fear not, the truth of his life, his rule, and what he did with unrestrained power, is plenty weird, salacious, and horrifying. But was he Rome’s worst ruler?

Roman history, deviant or otherwise, is a subject of endless fascination. What’s never been done before is to look at the worst of the worst at the same time, comparing them side by side, and ranking them against one another. Until now.

Emperor

By Colin Thubron,

Book cover of Emperor

There are a great many novels about Roman emperors, and even a few about the rulers of the later age – Gore Vidal’s Julian, for example – but this one stands out for its originality. The emperor of the title is Constantine, one of the towering figures of Roman history, and incidentally quite important in my own books too. The novel covers the two months leading up to the battle of Milvian Bridge in AD312, but rather than giving us a panoramic view of the military campaign in Italy, Thubron chooses to tell the story as a collection of letters and diary entries. So we get the internal thoughts and reflections, ambitions and fears of a range of protagonists: Constantine himself, his wife Fausta, a Christian bishop, and several competing imperial ministers and servants. The central dilemma is the emperor’s own crisis of faith, which will lead up to his…


Who am I?

Ian Ross was born in England and studied painting before turning to writing fiction. He has been researching the later Roman empire and its army for over a decade, and his interests combine an obsessive regard for accuracy and detail with a devotion to the craft of storytelling. His six-novel Twilight of Empire series follows the career of Aurelius Castus as he rises from the ranks of the legions to the dangerous summit of military power, against the background of a Roman world in crisis.


I wrote...

War at the Edge of the World

By Ian Ross,

Book cover of War at the Edge of the World

What is my book about?

The epic first installment in a sequence of novels set at the end of the Roman Empire, during the reign of Emperor Constantine. Centurion Aurelius Castus - once a soldier in the elite legions of the Danube - believes his glory days are over, as he finds himself in the cold, grey wastes of northern Britain, battling to protect an empire in decline.

Constantius II

By Peter Crawford,

Book cover of Constantius II: Usurpers, Eunuchs and the Antichrist

Dr. Crawford, a specialist in ancient history and religion, offers a detailed and readable account of the life and reign of Constantine's longest surviving son and successor in the mid-4th century (A.D. 324-361). Often criticized by ancient sources and modern scholars alike for not being as great a soldier as his father and for favoring Arian-leaning bishops, the author tries to rehabilitate the reputation of Constantius as a capable ruler in difficult times.


Who am I?

Charles M. Odahl earned a doctorate in Ancient and Medieval History and Classical Languages at the University of California, San Diego, with an emphasis on Roman imperial and early Christian studies. He has spent his life and career traveling, living, and researching at sites relevant to his interests, especially in Britain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey Israel, Egypt, and Tunisia. He has taught at universities in Britain, France, Idaho, and Oregon, and published 5 books and 50 articles and reviews on Roman and early Christian topics.


I wrote...

Constantine and the Christian Empire

By Charles Matson Odahl,

Book cover of Constantine and the Christian Empire

What is my book about?

A detailed biographical narrative of the life and career of the first Christian emperor of the Roman Empire (A.D. 273-337). Covers the crises of the late Roman world, Constantine's conversion to and public patronage of Christianity, his victorious military campaigns, and his building programs in Rome, Jerusalem, and Constantinople which transformed the pagan state of Roman antiquity into the Christian empire of medieval Byzantium.

The Final Pagan Generation

By Edward J. Watts,

Book cover of The Final Pagan Generation: Rome's Unexpected Path to Christianity

Dr. Watts, a prolific author on Roman history, gives a detailed survey of the lives and careers of some of the last prominent pagan intellectuals who lived from the time of Constantine's conversion to Christianity to Theodosius' outlawing of paganism. He shows the intellectual, social, and religious changes in the fourth century as the Roman world was transformed from a pagan to a Christian society. A fascinating story brilliantly told.


Who am I?

Charles M. Odahl earned a doctorate in Ancient and Medieval History and Classical Languages at the University of California, San Diego, with an emphasis on Roman imperial and early Christian studies. He has spent his life and career traveling, living, and researching at sites relevant to his interests, especially in Britain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey Israel, Egypt, and Tunisia. He has taught at universities in Britain, France, Idaho, and Oregon, and published 5 books and 50 articles and reviews on Roman and early Christian topics.


I wrote...

Constantine and the Christian Empire

By Charles Matson Odahl,

Book cover of Constantine and the Christian Empire

What is my book about?

A detailed biographical narrative of the life and career of the first Christian emperor of the Roman Empire (A.D. 273-337). Covers the crises of the late Roman world, Constantine's conversion to and public patronage of Christianity, his victorious military campaigns, and his building programs in Rome, Jerusalem, and Constantinople which transformed the pagan state of Roman antiquity into the Christian empire of medieval Byzantium.

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