My endeavors in reading this book by the magnificent Susan Bauer never ceased to amaze me and enthrall me with it’s incredible history condensed into easy to read chapters.
While it did take me 3-4 months of sporadic reading to finally finish this 700 page monster, from the very beginning I knew I was in for something truly special and epic. From the first records of kings banning people together in ancient Sumer to the glories of the first empires in Asia and the Middle East, to the exploits of Alexander the Great’s Hellenistic world. The book begins with the rise of civilization in 3600 BC to Constantine the Great’s rise in 300 AD.
Bauer’s story is chock full of leaders throughout the ancient world jockeying for power and attempting to form there own marks on the world from the very edges of history. From the first written records and chronicles of war and struggle came stories of great triumph and magnificent works.
It is true when people say that history repeats itself over and over again, with almost the same exact stories coming up again and again, with kings using the same excuse to invade another kingdom or with political ambitions of the ancients catalyzing the creation of something new down the road. Something really starts to become clear after the midpoint of the book, Bauer spends a lot of time describing the political structures of the ancient world and always point to the fact that leaders struggled with the problem of how to claim ultimate power over there respective realms. These men of the past always lacked something that seemed to be the key to hold onto a true collective consciousness every rule desperately seeked.
The final passage of the book is an extraordinary, it details the rise of Constantine as he used the instability of the Roman Empire circa 305 AD to battle against his rival Maxentius. Outside the city of Rome itself, Constantine needed something much more powerful than the promise of liberation to secure the support of the Roman people. That’s when Constantine had a vision
A most marvelous sign appeared to him from heaven, the account of which it might have been hard to believe had it been related by any other person. ——– He said that about noon, when the day was already beginning to decline, he saw with his own eyes the trophy of a cross of light in the heaven, above the sun, and bearing the inscription, Conquer by this. At this sight he himself was struck with amazement…… While he continued to ponder and reason on its meaning, night suddenly came on; then in his sleep the Christ of God appeared to him with the same sign which he had seen in the heavens, and commanded him to make a likeness of that sigh which he had seen in the heavens, and to use as a safeguard in all engagements with his enemies.Eesebuis – page 774
I would like to point out that Christianity had only existed up to that time for only a couple hundred years.
Constantine then engraved the town Greek letter in the name of Christ, the chi and rho, onto his helmet and placing it on his standard. He marched into battle before the Milvian Bridge on the Tiber river, Maxentius’s army crossed the bridge, but was pushed back by Constantine’s assault across the narrow bridge and in the chaos, Maxentius himself drowned in the panic and soon Constantine was master of the Roman Empire.
Constantine saw in Christianity some hope for the future of his own nation. In three centuries of perseverance, that Christian identity —- an identity that became absolutely central to those who held onto it, yet did not wipe out the other identities that came before it, had proved itself strong than any other.page 776
From the beginning of the Roman Empire, it drew lines around itself, conquered it allies, maintained submission first to an emperor, then to an idea of the emperor’s authority; and the empire only grew more splintered and contentious. Meanwhile the Christian identity survived terrible wars and persecution, all while spreading from a minuscule homeland, something the Roman world never managed to do.
This last paragraph is a powerful way to end a book about the ancient world.
In allying himself with the Christian God at the Milvian Bridge, Constantine had turned the empire into something new. He had abandoned that fruitless quest to find a Romanness that was rooted in the city of Rome, but could also transcend it. Instead, he had chosen something else to take its place. When he went forward into the battle with the name of Christ on his standard, he was staking his future on the gamble that this would be the key to holding the whole thing together.
This was the end of the old Rome. But it would turn out to be the rise of something much more powerful, both for good and for evil.Last page
With that paragraph alone, my mind marveled at this revelation, that the rise of Christianity in the Ancient world is what changed the entire course of world history. Religion would be the hallmark of all salvation and conflict for the next two thousand years. I can only imagine what Constantine was thinking when he took up the cross when making the most important decision of the Ancient World.
I love history so much, I thank Susan Wise Bauer for this astonishing read. I hope to read The History of the Medieval World and The History of the Renaissance World in the coming months and will do a review of those books as well. I just needed to share this moment in history with anyone who wishes to take the time to read history and learn from the Ancients. I recommend this book for anyone wanting to learn about Age of Antiquity.