Posted on 1 April 2006
Dr Jane Hawkes of the Department of History of Art has been closely involved with the project throughout and has contributed as academic editor of and a contributor to the Exhibition catalogue, launched at the British Museum by Neil McGregor, Director of the British Museum. The exhibition brings together more than 270 objects and works of art of the period from 36 museums and private collections across the UK and Europe.
"While the focus of the exhibition and the catalogue is Britain within the Roman Empire, the geographic range covers the Roman Empire of the early fourth century, with broad considerations of the transitions from the classical to medieval worlds and from paganism to Christianity," says Dr Hawkes.
"There is a diverse range of art, most notably large-scale imperial marble statues, mosaics and wall paintings from fourth-century Romano-British buildings which are set alongside comparable works from the imperial complexes of Germany. There are also late Roman and early Christian hoards of silver, jewellery and coinage, and early papyrus and illuminated manuscript fragments relating to Roman Britain."
The catalogue includes ten scholarly essays on the art and architecture, religious, political, economic, social and military cultures of Constantine's reign which began in York, then called Eboracum, in AD 306. Constantine was proclaimed emperor by his troops on the death of his father, the Emperor Constantius, while both were in Britain on a military campaign to defeat the Picts.
His influence on Christian history arose out of conflict. Inspired, it is said, by a vision of a Christian symbol on the eve of battle at Milvian Bridge outside Rome in 312, when he defeated a persistent usurper, Maxentius, Constantine associated the Christian deity with the victory (while he continued to honour the Roman sun god, Sol Invictus). Christianity and other religions were thereafter tolerated, not persecuted. In due course the Church was given legal rights and large financial settlements.
Constantine built St Peter's in Rome, at the heart of today's Vatican City, as well as other churches in the city and in Constantinople, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem. Legend has it that his mother, Helena (later made a saint) found the True Cross on which Christ died during a visit she made to Palestine.
In 325 he presided over the first ecumenical council at Nicaea (now Iznik) in Turkey, at which the words of the Nicene Creed, which are still repeated today with little change, were agreed. When he died in 337, Constantine had ruled for more than 30 years, during which time he reunited the divided Roman Empire, reorganised the army, restored the civil powers of government and the Senate, and created Constantinople as the 'New Rome' for the empire on the site of the Greek city of Byzantium, now Istanbul.
In association with York Museums Trust, Professor Guy Halsall and Dr Jane Hawkes have organised a four-day international conference on Constantine and the Late Roman World from 17 to 20 July.
Dr Jane Hawkes is a Reader in the Department of History of Art
Guy Halsall is a Professor in the Department of History