When researching an historical figure whose role remains the subject of intense debate to this day, it can be difficult to sift through the historical bias to find the real man. In the case of Constantine, we have a great majority of ancient sources which laud the man, and an even larger majority of modern commentators who vilify him. Odahl, however, avoids both of these extremes. Though obviously an admirer of Constantine, Odahl presents a balanced portrait which neither excuses the emperor's faults nor ascribes evil motives to even his overtly pious acts.
Specifically, I was impressed that Odahl:
- Presented Constantine as a human being--not as a saint or, conversely, as a soulless politician.
- Took the account of the vision of the Cross in the sky seriously, without ascribing it to some bizarre natural phenomenon or claiming that Constantine simply made it up.
- Didn't make Constantine out to be a false Christian who only embraced the faith based on some political calculation.
- Gives a very detailed and compelling account of the great tragedy of Constantine's reign--the execution of his son Crispus and his wife Fausta.
- Dismisses neither the effusive biography of Constantine written by Eusebius of Caesarea nor the vicious attacks of the pagan historian Zosimus, but incorporates both into his narrative.
- Has such an impressive grasp of the numismatic evidence -- including some illustrations of Constantinian coinage that I had never seen before.