Constantine’s dream

Seen in The Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam, on  11 October 2015:


The exhibition in the Nieuwe Kerk (New Church), on Dam square in Amsterdam, is on Rome, the capital city of the Roman empire at the time of the emperor Constantine, after the edict of Milano (313 AD). I visited it on a Sunday afternoon with one of my daugthers. At that time Rome was a city of one million inhabitants, the biggest city in the world. A reconstruction of the huge statue of Constantine with a copy of the head of the emperor and its fingers are its center piece; it was stunning, impressive, if only by its sheer size. And then there was his dream or vision or celestial sign, at the exhibition on copies of paintings in a reconstruction of one of the Vatican palace chambers: his seeing in his sleep at the battle field of the cross, and his redemption. The unique story was well exposed: the transformation of Rome, the building of the new churches in the city, the new freedom, the old gods, many of them still of Egyptian or Greek (Dionysos) origin, the rise of the Christian god, the celebrated works of the  apostles Peter and Paul, the first Christians, it was all there.

However, what I missed was the decision taken by the same emperor Constantine to build a new city in the East: Constantinople, inaugurated in 324 AD, as the new capital of the Roman empire, later to become the wealthiest and most powerful city on earth. The new city would be free of the pagan past and would be Christian from its first day. It was the emperor’s real dream. So I reread ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ (1776-1781) of Edward Gibbon. Gibbon’s long decription of the unique geographic location, created by nature, its wonderful climate, its healthy environment, its safe position on the border between Europe and Asia. It would be a city that could easily feed its own population; all the resources and freight would sail on ships, on any wind, to its shores on the Bosphorus. But then Gibbon also comments that Constantinople was not Babylon or Thebe, the antique Rome, London, or even Paris. It was far less powerful. Gibbon hated Constantine, so he judged Constantinople also a weak city. Building the new city, he wrote, costed a fortune, and many Roman citizens had to move eastward, leaving a enfeebled hometown behind. But less than a century later, Constantinople would challenge the power of Rome. Its foundation, growth and success are worth a second exhibition. Why wait?





Geef een reactie

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *