The 'Vision of Constantius': Panegyrici Latini 4 and the legend of the Vision of Constantine

Rajiv Bhola (Speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentationPresentation


Even after so much has been said, the story of the emperor Constantine’s celestial vision never ceases to garner attention. Over the past fifteen years there has been growing acceptance, albeit nuanced, of the theory put forward by Peter Weiss that the Christian visions described in Lactantius’ De mortibus persecutorum and Eusebius of Caesarea’s De vita Constantini have their root in the non-Christian ‘Vision of Apollo’ reported in Panegyrici Latini 6. Seldom discussed, however, is yet another vision narrative found in Pan. Lat. 4, delivered in Rome in 321 CE. Speaking on the eve of renewed conflict with the emperor Licinius, the orator Nazarius recounts Constantine’s Italian campaign of 312 CE against the emperor Maxentius, which came to a head at the famous Battle of Milvian Bridge. When Constantine was still in Gaul, he says, a heavenly army bearing flaming arms and led by none other than the deified Constantius I descended from the sky to provide divine assistance. This elaborate vision account is often explained away as either a ‘pagan’ interpretation or a secularisation of the Christian version, but it is my contention that Pan. Lat. 4 cannot be written off so simply. Rather, it informs us as to how the legend of the Vision of Constantine was taking shape in the emperor’s own day. In this paper I assess the chronological and contextual similarities between Nazarius’ account and those of Pan. Lat. 6, Lactantius, and Eusebius in order to demonstrate that it belongs to the same vision tradition. By situating the vision in Pan. Lat. 4 in relation to and against the other sources for the vision, I argue that this narrative not only helps in reconstructing the underpinning tradition, but exemplifies also the mutable quality responsible for the tradition’s longevity.
PeriodMar 2017
Event titleClassical Association of Canada West
Event typeConference
LocationCalgary, Canada, Alberta