“In this sign shall you conquer… No, not in that sign. In *this* sign!”

Among the remains of Latin antiquity to reach us is a volume known today as the Panegyrici Latini, or Latin Panegyrics.  These are twelve orations delivered to emperors, nearly all from the late empire, but also including the (unreadable) panegyric for Trajan by Pliny the Younger.  They are, in short, examples of flowery, professional-grade bum-sucking and arse-licking from the late empire.  But of course they inevitably have historical value, as the flatterer recounts the deeds of the emperor in question.

Then again, the account is inevitably sanitised.  Uncomfortable facts are glossed over.

The Latin text of the 1874 Teubner edition may be found at Archive.org here.  An English translation does exist, by C. E. V. Nixon &c, under the title of In Praise of Roman Emperors: The Panegyrici Latini (1994), preview here.

Panegyric 6 was delivered before the emperor Constantine in 310 AD, or so it is believed, and consists of the usual flattery, ending in a plea for a building programme in the speaker’s home town of Autun, to construct a circus, basilica, and so on.

It is best known, however, for some remarks which the orator makes about a visit by Constantine to the temple of Apollo, somewhere in Gaul.  Let’s hear them:

For on the day after that news had been received and you had undertaken the labor of double stages on your journey, you learnt that all the waves had subsided, and that the all-pervading calm which you had left behind had been restored. Fortune herself so ordered this matter that the happy outcome of your affairs prompted you to convey to the immortal gods what you had vowed at the very spot where you had turned aside toward the most beautiful temple in the whole world, or rather, to the deity made manifest, as you saw. For you saw, I believe, O Constantine, your Apollo, accompanied by Victory, offering you laurel wreaths, each one of which carries a portent of thirty years. For this is the number of human ages which are owed to you without fail—beyond the old age of a Nestor. And—now why do I say “I believe”?—you saw, and recognized yourself in the likeness of him to whom the divine songs of the bards had prophesied that rule over the whole world was due. And this I think has now happened, since you are, O Emperor, like he, youthful, joyful, a bringer of health and very handsome. Rightly, therefore, have you honored those most venerable shrines with such great treasures that they do not miss their old ones, any longer. Now may all the temples be seen to beckon you to them, and particularly our Apollo, whose boiling waters punish perjuries—which ought to be especially hateful to you.

Immortal gods, when will you grant that day on which this most manifestly present god, with peace reigning everywhere, may visit those groves of Apollo as well, both sacred shrines and steaming mouths of springs? Their bubbling waters cloudy with gentle warmth seem to wish to smile, Constantine, at your gaze, and to insert themselves within your lips.

You will certainly marvel at that seat of your divinity too, and its waters warmed without any trace of soil on fire, which has no bitterness of taste or exhalation, but a purity of draught and smell such as you find in icy springs. And there you will grant favors, and establish privileges, and at last restore my native place because of your veneration of that very spot.[1]

Some suppose that this statement about seeing laurel wreaths at the temple of Apollo was a vision by Constantine, along the lines of the more famous In hoc signo vinces.  Recorded by Lactantius in De mortibus and Eusebius in the Vita Constantini, the latter records how Constantine saw a vision in the sky, of a Chi-Rho, the monogram of Christ, and marked the shields of his soldiers with that emblem before his battle with Maxentius.  The thinking is, therefore, that Constantine was a bit prone to visions!

But … I didn’t see any mention of a vision in the account, until it was drawn to my attention.  At first reading, I visualised the emperor seeing the statues of Apollo and Victory, each bearing laurels, put their by the priests, who acted out a little play, that the god was offering laurels to the victorious emperor.  Their  motive is obvious; to curry favour, as a certain sort of priest does.  The emperor is to be flattered that he looks like a god – easily understandable if a cult statue is involved.

I believe that there is an enormous literature on this “pagan vision”.  But … I am uncomfortably reminded that attacks on the Christianity of Constantine were made in profusion in the 1840’s, for political reasons.

Cameron and Hall, in their magnificent translation of Eusebius’ Vita Constantini, recount how those who sought to overthrow the Austrian and Russian emperors, made attacks on Constantine.  For these polities drew their ideological legitimacy from the concept of Christian empire, reaching back to Constantine.  If Constantine could be shown to be a pagan, that would help to overthrow the self-belief of the hated Hapsburg despotism.  Casting doubt on the accounts of Eusebius was part of this politics.

Knowing this, I feel wary.  I really don’t think that Constantine’s dedication to promoting Christianity is doubtful.  In the early years of his rule, and especially in the west, he had to humour the pagan establishment.  Surely this will be another example?  It is not, after all, Constantine or one of his circle who is making these claims.

But I have some doubts that anyone would describe this as a vision, were it not for the fame of In hoc signo vinces.

It is one of the curses of ancient history, that people project Christianised ideas onto ancient paganism.  Ancient paganism was not a form of Christianity-lite.  It was its own thing, and had its own nature, and approach.

I have yet to see any example where analogies with Christian history or practice illuminate any element of pagan history.  But I have seen many where it darkened, obscured, or confused the narrative.

The account of the panegyrist is certainly interesting.  But let’s be wary here.

  1. [1]Pan.Lat. VI, c.21, v.4, , Nixon, p.248-251.

Did Constantine put the Jews to death at Passover? A passage in Eutychius

In a comment here on an old post, an interesting question is raised:

Hi, do you have a translation of Patrologiae Graeca 111, pages 1012-13 where Eutychius talks about how Constantine killed the Jewish Christians on Passover?


The link is to column (not page) 1012 in PG 111.

Doing a google search for a source for this claim – which it is always prudent to do -, I found this Israeli page which said the following:

“From the late account of Eutychius (Patrologia Graeca 111, 1012-13) that, just at this time [333 C.E.], the faithful while they were leaving the church on E*aster day, were forced to eat pork under pain of death. We know how the Judeo-Christians refused this in order not to transgress the Mosaic law to which they held they were bound” (Bagatti, p. 14).

Bellarmino Bagatti, The Church from the Circumcision (Yerushâlayim, Franciscan Press 1971), pp. 13-14.

I found it quite interesting that Bagatti was published by Franciscan Press, as they published the translation of Eutychius into Italian, and I bought my own copy of it from their bookshop in Jerusalem.

Now Eutychius of Alexandria was the Melkite patriarch of Alexandria in the 10th century AD and wrote his Annals in Arabic.  It was translated into Latin in the 17th century by Edward Pococke; and Migne has reprinted Pococke’s translation.

The passage does, of course, appear in Bartolomeo Pirone’s modern Italian translation of the Annals.  Rather than translate Pococke’s Latin, based on who knows what text, let’s look at Pirone’s Italian, chapter 11, section 20, p.203:

20. Il re Costantino diede disposizione che nessun giudeo abitasse a Gerusalemme né che vi transitasse e ordinò inoltre di mettere a morte tutti coloro che si fossero  rifiutati di farsi  cristiani (58). Moltissimi pagani e Giudei abbracciarono allora la fede cristiana ed il cristianesimo prese ovunque piede. Fu poi riferito al re Costantino che i Giudei si erano fatti cristiani per paura di essere uccisi ma che continuavano a seguire la  loro religione. Il re disse: “Come potremo saperlo?”. Paolo, patriarca di Costantinopoli, gli disse: “La Torah proibisce Idi mangiarel il maiale ed è per questo motivo che i Giudei non ne mangiano la carne. Ordina quindi di far sgozzare dei maiali, che ne vengano cotte le carni e siano date da mangiare ai membri di questa comunità. In tal modo si potrà scoprire che sono ancora legati alla loro religione tutti coloro che si rifiuteranno di mangiarne”. Il re Costantino replicò. “Ma se la Torah proibisce il maiale, come mai è invece lecito a noi mangiarne la carne e farla mangiare agli altri?”. Il  patriarca Paolo gli rispose: “Devi sapere che Cristo, nostro Signore, ha abrogato tutte le disposizioni della Torah e ci ha dato una nuova Legge che è il Vangelo. Egli ha detto nel santo vangelo: “Non tutto quello che entra per la bocca contamina l’uomo (ed intendeva  dire: ogni cibo). Quello che contamina l’uomo è solo quanto esce dalla sua bocca” (59), ossia la  stoltezza e l’empietà e tutto quanto è a ciò simile. Anche l’apostolo Paolo ha così detto nella sua prima lettera ai Corinzi: “Il cibo è per il ventre e il ventre è per il cibo, ma Dio distruggerà entrambi” (60).  Ed è anche scritto nella Praxis: “Pietro, capo degli Apostoli, si trovava nella città di Giaffa (61) in casa di un conciatore di nome Simone. All’ora sesta del giorno salì sulla terrazza di casa per pregare, ma un sonno profondo cadde su di lui e vide il  cielo aprirsi. Dal cielo vide scendere fino a toccar terra un manto in  cui c’era ogni specie di quadrupedi, di bestie feroci, di mosche e di uccelli del cielo, e sentì una voce che gli diceva: “O Pietro, alzati, uccidi e mangia”. Pietro rispose: “O Signore, non ho mai mangiato alcunché di immondo”.  Ma una seconda voce gli disse: “Mangia, ciò che Dio ha purificato tu non ritenerlo immondo”. La voce lo ripetè per tre volte. Poi il  manto fu riportato in cielo” (62). Pietro ne restò meravigliato e si chiedeva perplesso cosa potesse significare l’accaduto. Ma per quella visione e per ciò che Cristo nostro Signore ha detto nel santo vangelo, Pietro e  Paolo ci  hanno ordinato di mangiare la  carne  di ogni quadrupede e perciò ci è lecito mangiare carne di maiale e di ogni altro animale”. Il  re allora ordinò di ammazzare dei maiali, di cuocerne le carni e di farle mettere alle porte delle chiese in tutto il suo regno nella domenica di pasqua. A chiunque usciva dalla chiesa veniva dato un boccone di carne di maiale e chi si rifiutava di mangiarlò veniva ucciso. Fu cosÌ che molti Giudei furono uccisi in quella circostanza. Costantino fece erigere un muro attorno a Bisanzio e la chiamò Costantinopoli. Ciò avveniva nel suo trentesimo anno di regno. Elena, madre di Costantino, morì all’età di ottanta anni. Costantino regnò  per trentadue anni e morì. Era vissuto in  tutto sessanta cinque anni: Lasciò tre  figli.  Al maggiore aveva dato il suo nome, Costantino, aveva chiamato il secondo con il  nome di suo  padre, Costanzo, ed  il  terzo  l’aveva  chiamato Costante (63).  A Costantino assegnò  la  città di Costantinopoli, a Costanzo Antiochia, la Siria e l’Egitto, e a Costante Roma.

This I translated here:

20. The King Constantine gave orders that no Jew should live in Jerusalem or pass through it, and he also ordered to put to death all those who refused to become Christians (58). Many pagans and Jews then embraced the Christian faith and Christianity took root everywhere.  It was then told to king Constantine that the Jews had become Christians for fear of being killed but that they continued to follow their religion.  The king said: “How will we know?” Paul, the patriarch of Constantinople, said: “The Torah forbids [eating] pork and it is for this reason that the Jews do not eat meat. Order that the throats of pigs be cut, that the meat should be cooked, and fed to the members of this community.  In this way you will find that all those who refuse to eat are still tied to their religion.” King Constantine replied. “But if the Torah forbids the pig, why is lawful for us to eat its flesh and make others eat it?”. Patriarch Paul replied: “You must know that Christ our Lord, repealed all provisions of the Torah and gave us a new law which is the Gospel. He said in the Holy Gospel: “Not everything that enters the mouth defiles a man (and he meant any food). What defiles a man is just what comes out of his mouth” (59), i.e. folly and wickedness, and all that is similar to this. The apostle Paul said so in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will destroy both” (60). And it is also written in the Acts: “Peter, chief of the Apostles, was in the city of Jaffa (61) in the house of a tanner named Simon. At the sixth hour of the day he went out on the terrace of the house to pray, but a deep sleep fell upon him and saw the sky open. From the sky he saw a mantle descend to earth in which there was every kind of quadruped, wild beasts, flying things and birds of the air, and he heard a voice saying: ‘O Peter, get up, kill and eat.’ Peter replied: ‘O Lord, I have never eaten anything unclean.’ But a second time the voice said: ‘Eat, what God has cleansed you must not consider unclean.’ The voice repeated it three times. Then the mantle was taken back into heaven.” (62) Peter was amazed and wondered what it meant. Because of that vision and because of what Christ our Lord said in the Holy Gospel, Peter and Paul ordered us to eat the flesh of every quadruped and therefore it is not wrong to eat pork or any other animal.”The king then ordered him to kill the pigs, cook the meat and put it at the doors of the churches in all his kingdom on Easter Sunday.  To everyone coming out of the church a bite of pork was given, and those who refused to eat it were killed.  Thus it was that many Jews were killed in that circumstance.  Constantine erected a wall around Byzantium and called Constantinople.  This was in his thirtieth year of the reign.  Helena, mother of Constantine, died at the age of eighty years. Constantine reigned for thirty-two years and died.  He lived in all for sixty-five years. He left three children.  The first was given his name, Constantine, he had called the second with the name of his father, Constantius, and the third was called Constans (63).  To Constantine he gave the city of Constantinople, to Constantius Antioch, Syria and Egypt, and Rome to Constans.

The historical value of this anecdote, complete with “he said, he said”, is probably nothing, at a distance of 7 centuries.  Constantine did not force pagans to become Christians, and indeed paganism remained the state religion for another 50 years.


Constantine banned crucifixion – sources

Yesterday someone told me that crucifixion was banned by Constantine.  I wondered how we knew this.

The actual edict has not survived, and is not included in our collections of Roman law.  Our source is only Sozomen, Ecclesiastical History I, 8:13, it seems.[1]  First Sozomen:

He regarded the cross with peculiar reverence, on account both of the power which it conveyed to him in the battles against his enemies, and also of the divine manner in which the symbol had appeared to him. He took away by law the crucifixion customary among the Romans from the usage of the courts. He commanded that this divine symbol should always be inscribed and stamped whenever coins and images should be struck, and his images, which exist in this very form, still testify to this order.

There is no indication of the date on which this was enacted, however.

Aurelius Victor, De Caesaribus, 41:4 is also referenced in this context:

Denique Constantinus cunctos hostes honore ac fortunis manentibus texit recepitque, eo pius, ut etiam vetus teterrimumque supplicium patibulorum et cruribus suffringendis primus removerit.

Finally, Constantine received all his enemies with honour and protected them by allowing them to retain their properties, and was so conscious of his obligations that he was also the first to abolish the long-established and utterly frightful punishment of the forked gibbet and the breaking of legs.[2]

Whether this passage refers to crucifixion depends on the meaning of the word patibulum, which can mean a number of things.  I find online everywhere the statement that the “patibulum” is the term for the cross-piece of a cross, as “stipes” for the upright; but without any adequate references.

The translation of patibulum given above – “forked gibbet” – is the standard meaning, and it may be found in Lewis and Short.  In Du Cange we find that the term was used for the cross itself in the medieval period.   But dictionaries are not reliable on technical terms.  Thus in the fragments of Plautus (Carbonaria, fr. 2) we find a usage of patibulum in connection with crucifixion, perhaps as the cross-piece:

…patibulum ferat per urbem, deinde offigitur cruci. [3]

…he carries the patibulum through the city, then he is fastened to the cross.

Fortunately Gunnar Samuelson has written a magnificent volume on the terminology.[4]  Unfortunately he does not discuss the use of the word in Aurelius Victor.  Nor does Hengel in his older study of the subject.[5]  Samuelson gives various instances of varied usages, but concludes (p.286, with references):

2.4.6. patibulum

patibulum is a pole or a beam in a broad sense. When used in connection with punishments of humans it is also a pole or a beam in a wide sense. It could be used as a punishment or torture tool used in connection with crux and perhaps also as an equivalent to crux. A condemned person could be forced to walk attached to a patibulum, but it is not sure in what way or in what sense he or she walked. It may be only a variant of walking sub furca. The etymology could be interpreted as support for the notion that a spreading of arms was connected with the noun. In the studied texts patibulum is used in the following sense:

patibulum – “a beam or pole in a wide sense; a beam, a yoke or perhaps a standing pole to which victims were attached (by their limbs); a beam or a yoke which a condemned person carried with outspread arms.”

The statement of Aurelius Victor, considering that it refers to “breaking the legs”, is indeed probably a reference to crucifixion; but perhaps we should be just a little careful here, and mark it as merely a possible.

  1. [1]H/T Sarah Bond, via Dorothy King’s blog, here, for some references.
  2. [2]H.W. Bird (tr.), Aurelius Victor: De Caesaribus, Liverpool (1994), p.49.
  3. [3]M. Hengel, Crucifixion, 1977, p.62.
  4. [4]Gunnar Samuelson, Crucifixion in Antiquity, Mohr-Siebeck, 2013. Preview of p.191 here.
  5. [5]M. Hengel, Crucifixion, 1977.

List of inscriptions and literary works of Constantine

A very useful list of these is here at Fourth Century.  Very useful indeed!

I’ve noted an omission from their page on Eusebius of Caesarea, tho: they do not list the translation of Eusebius Quaestiones that David Miller &c made and I published.  Unfortunately there seems to be no way to contact them!